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17 March, 2017
The social media attacks on Scotland’s leading women politicians shocked me – what kind of people write that stuff; sometimes the ferocity of public life gets me down – feel the need to shut it out.  When alcohol was part of my life – a few days ‘on the pish’ was my respite; people use all sorts of strategies to keep themselves sane – hobbies, religious practice, frequent travel etc.  I’m fortunate that I can easily ‘lose myself’ in some physical project – in the garden or around the house – which I did last week.             A letter from my landlord six months ago, cautions me to stop using my wood burning stove until I can provide certification that my chimney is swept and safe – I accede.  Now, trying to embrace more physical activity, I decide to restore wood burning; spend the week erecting and varnishing storage racks on each side of my front stoop (IKEA) – then shifting barrow loads of logs from shed.  Front door now framed by a pleasing tunnel of 200 neatly stacked logs – dead chuffed.             Contact chimney sweep – make appointment at £60 plus VAT.  After a quick inspection (head up lum) he says he can’t sweep or certify my chimney – as its illegal; it needs to be ‘lined’ and a steel plate fitted – to prevent falling, smouldering soot.  I ask how much; about a grand he replies; no thanks – he leaves.  So, sadly, wood burning has not yet been restored – but the primary purpose of last week’s project (a pleasant distraction) worked fine.  Come April, my Estepona bolthole will offer a warmer distraction. - Read full bulletin

10 March, 2017
At a recent 80th birthday party – one of my former golf mates is remembering my ‘hole in one’ on the short first at Kilspindie – 20 years ago. His dramatization bears little resemblance to what happened – but the listeners are enjoying his version – so I just smile. I reflect again, that the fragments of our personal history which might survive, will be the bits which make the best stories – drama, humour, tragedy etc – and why not? Some try to pre-empt this by publishing their 'official' biography – but I can’t see the point in pretending - that any life is a coherent narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Remembered incidents are all subjective – which ones do we record – my clearest memories, sadly, are regrets.             An arrogant attitude to money and possessions caused me early problems; a gradual respect – the acceptance that I must take care to have some; problems with alcohol led to the realisation that I must never have any. Not coinciding with a ‘life companion’ is a regret; telling myself that I ‘chose’ independence is not convincing. Work has been the most consistent approximation of joy in my life – the opportunity to find and follow our ‘bliss’ is a great privilege. But these are just practical observations along the way; the overall meaning and purpose of humankind’s earthly journey is, I believe, beyond the comprehension of even the wisest. The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, had a great line: “The deepest words of the wise man teach us the same as the whistle of the wind". - Read full bulletin

03 March, 2017
Became surprisingly absorbed in the recent TV programme ‘Life on the Edge’ – about Fair Isle; halfway between Shetland and Orkney, it’s the UK’s most remote inhabited island; getting there is by scary 12 passenger ferry (2 ½ hrs) or scary 8 seater plane (25 mins). We learn about Fair Isle’s reknowned hand-crafted knitwear – about the rare migratory birds which stop off there to ‘refuel’ (visiting ‘twitchers’ help the local economy) – but it was getting to know the islanders and their life together which hooked my interest. I’m fascinated by the behaviour of this tiny community of fifty five souls – on a remote island often cut off by weather; the multiple jobs they each undertake; individual survival totally dependent on the group; can such communities survive; do they matter?             Of course there’s a tendency for us ‘townies’ to romanticise the ‘rural idyll’ – but I found myself really ‘rooting’ for the islanders – particularly their commitment to shared living; and I can see hopeful signs going forward for remote communities. In the first place, satellite technology will make the whole world of the internet available everywhere to everyone. Secondly, I believe a future automated economy will provide a basic income for every citizen; belonging to a community where your several contributions are needed and valued, will become a coveted lifestyle. Perhaps healthcare is a downside; a nurse/paramedic for routine ailments – air-ambulance to the mainland for serious stuff; but we all know the NHS is shrinking anyway – you’re going to live better/longer on a working croft, than in our cities. It’s the attraction of sharing, not solitude, that will repopulate Scottish islands - Read full bulletin

24 February, 2017
It has always been important to me to have ‘favourite’ restaurants – where I become a ‘kent face’ – usually eating alone, but part of the social world – like ‘neighbourhoods’.  The food has to be taken seriously; the rooms clean and warm – good light; the morale of the staff is important – professionally courteous but also cheerful because they’re respected; finally, the interaction of customers with all this, imparts a unique ‘ambience’ (or not).  Saturday lunchtime finds me in a current ‘howf’ – a child friendly ‘farm deli and café’ outside Edinburgh – looking over the Forth estuary.             Someone I know called Clare arrives with her two, nursery age, wee boys – I used to work with her partner Andy; tables are scarce – invite them to mine – she looks unwell.  The corner is set-up with toys – kids straight over.  Then Clare is eating her soup – telling me she is receiving chemotherapy for a tumour – very matter of fact – how the scans and stats indicate excellent chance of remission.  She acknowledges her fear and I feel admiration for her courage/stoicism.  From the ephemera of my weekend Guardian to the reality of life and death.             Then Clare goes to the loo to take some medication – could I keep an eye on the kids.  They’ve discovered a sand tray – peacefully occupied - not going anywhere – arrived already.  Clouds clear – sunlight on the windows – on our table – in my face.  In his book ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’ Haruki Murakami says “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.  I reflect on the truth of this. - Read full bulletin

17 February, 2017
Item in the Daily Record this week about the death, in his native Italy, of Michele Cocozza, aged 88.  In 1953, he opened the Cross Café in Rutherglen which became part of local folklore; his son Don, has been astonished by the number of warm tributes posted on the Rutherglen Facebook page from people remembering Michele’s kindness to their parents etc.  Many bulletin readers will likely have fond memories of the Italian café which served their community – where they hung out – but sadly, times are changing.  Education opens up many more congenial lifestyles – fewer young Scottish Italians are attracted to the extreme demands of the catering trade; gradually the dedication invested by that early generation of café pioneers – their contribution of Scottish cultural life – will be forgotten.             I don’t mean to suggest that those early Italian families demonstrated any exceptional benificence; my grandparents were semi-literate ‘contadini’ from a background of degrading poverty – I’m proud of my birth tribe - they opened a café to improve our lives; honest, basic, god-fearing people – only unusual in that they were prepared to work incredibly long hours.  On the Main Streets of hundreds of Scottish towns – the Italian café was probably open from dawn to dusk; as a consequence, the good ones afforded a convivial gathering point for the town – a hub for generations of informal community life.  In times when our Town Centres shrink to oblivion – it’s not difficult to understand how they were held in affection and will be missed; or that Rutherglen this week remembered Michele Cocozza. - Read full bulletin

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