Friday, June 30, 2006

Commiserative Scribes of Repulsive Alien Blather,

My editorial stewardship of The Bellyaches, all 6 months of it, has been building slowly and ominously to today’s article. After the article has been published, there may seem to be little purpose to any which follow, or, indeed, have gone before.

The skies are not wide open. On Tuesday evening, around 11pm, somewhere along the A92 in the north of the Kingdom, I saw a black triangular object hovering over a field adjacent to a plantation of fir trees. The object had small red lights at each corner and a larger bright white light in the centre. I’d be quite prepared to accept that it was a F-3 Tornado from Leuchars with a kind of search light on carrying out some kind of mission, if the RAF would like to confirm this intimation.

I, like many other members of the public, have noticed lots of strange occurrences in the skies: stars that twinkle just too much, stars that move, vehicles with unfamiliar arrays of lights, craft that cut disturbing paths. I think of these events, which are usually at a distance, as adventitious, but still fascinating, strange and definitely extant. But it’s the crackpots who get over-excited by these – they give everyone else who shows an interest a bad reputation. I’ve always been quite reserved in my judgement of strange lights in a night sky, I don’t believe extraterrestrials have to call under the cover of darkness; they would have to be so technologically-advanced in order to visit, they could afford to appear stridently during daylight and obliterate us all if need be.

Apart from funny lights, I would say I’ve had three properly strange encounters. The best of them happened around 6 years ago on a winter’s evening, possibly in October or November. It was the best because I was with 5 other people who saw exactly what I saw. It was dark and probably between 8pm and 9pm. We had finished playing football tennis, using the Methilhill Primary School gate and then later, wall - it was lower and they were rubbish – as a “net”. We went to the shop, possibly for juice, and afterwards when we were loitering on Chemiss Road, it happened. At an height of not much greater than that of Methilhill Parish Church’s spire or the tall beech trees in the park, the brightest white light I ever did see moved slowly and silently, between the church and the park (it’s recently been cordoned off because of fears that the land will subside into the mines below, just weeks after the council built a new skate park in it) I couldn’t see what form the UFO took; the light was the so bold, it was impossible to determine the size or the shape of its physical source.

The intensely glowing thing hung mute in the air for 2-3minutes, lingering along the 100metres or so stretch of Chemiss Road between the church and the park, until suddenly, and instantaneously, it disappeared with a massive bang (I wonder if this was a sonic boom). Surprisingly, given how low the entity floated, we aren’t the only 6 witnesses I know about, the light and the bang was observed by my brother and his posse in Buckhaven, which is approximately 1 mile away.

Two of the witnesses tried to make the UFO incident the talk of the geography class for the remainder of the school year, one of the witnesses tried to retain his dignity by telling the geography class of the exploding weather balloon. That was all that happened, there was no UFO sighting reported in the East Fifecestershire Mail. It was an extraordinary event. I’d be quite prepared to accept that it was Jesus above the church with a kind of search light on carrying out some kind of mission, if God would like to confirm this intimation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Donaters of Panegyrics for Laconic Scrawlings,

I think about me and what I’ve become.

I received an unexpected emither this morning, it was opportunistic but not opportune, based on what I’ve become, but I’d rather it was about me.

When I worked in the shop, I used to feel guilty after selling sweets to fat kids.

I returned some books to the library. Parking was difficult because there was a well-attended funeral in the church opposite, the police were managing the traffic. I can’t imagine ever becoming so influential. I felt awkward walking through the mourners on their way to the church, in shorts and t-shirt.

The library was filled with cranks. I hate to see people waste fair weather days.

We visited Pete. Pete moved to the city to study teaching at Dundee yooni. Pete is probably the most honourable person I know.

Wind turbines have been erected recently at Dundee Docks.

I claimed to have seen a UFO.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Compassing Pilots and Peregrine Coasters,

Since my address to the Patrons of Limned Barrenness but with Wrecks, I’ve lamentably spent a lot of time in bed, feeling ill, but today, I’ve recovered considerably. It wouldn’t have been worth recovering if today hadn’t been so glorious. The morning sky seemingly consisted of perfect blue sheets stitched together by the contrails, it really was quite magnificent and welcome after the unsettled weather the Kingdom of Fife has received of late. When I looked around the corner of my house to the north, the sky was filled with grey cloud and to the south, the sky was filled with white stratus cloud. The IR satellite picture taken in the afternoon confirms the Kingdom of Fife was resplendent under a lucky belt of cloudless sky (those thunder storms over France must have been really special).

I still didn’t feel like I could manage to do anything that required any really energy so I spent the day lying on cushions, saved from the reams of broken sun loungers, on the patio. I may have just looked like another piece of the debris – spars for fences yet to be built, cuttings yet to be dumped - in the yard, propped up against the fence, sheltering from the breeze but it was a fine, and probably the only, way to pass the day.

So I lay, reading and listening to CDs (Nada Surf’s Let Go, My Latest Novel’s Wolves and Asleep in the Back by Elbow), my peace was only intruded upon between each CD finishing and the act of starting another by my favourite neighbours, the Sectarian Bigots, swearing at each other and, later, by the piteous groans of Screech’s trampoline. I was reading, and I indeed did finish, Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram by Iain Banks.

Iain Banks is my favourite author; he’s most famous for being the author of The Wasp Factory but I think Walking on Glass is his best book. Walking on Glass is the most imaginative, clever and rewarding book I’ve ever read – a third of the book is quite turgid but it was worth persevering with because I was clever enough to understand why it was so, I’ve known a few English teachers who weren’t. It’s not just a book that finishes after the final page; the digestion of the book is as pleasing as the reading.

Raw Spirit is Iain’s first published work of non-fiction and although, he is my favourite author, I had dismissed the book, when it was first released in 2003, because I have little interest in alcohol and even less in whisky. However, with limited choice in Methil Library, this was the book I chose and I’m glad I did. It’s not really about whisky, Iain isn’t an expert on whisky-taking, he just likes tasting whisky. What emerges most from this book is Iain Banks’ passion for Scotland, he’s a self-confessed petrol-head and although he’s a bit over-zealous when discussing his cars and the road trips, I still really want to drive down all these GWDs (Great Wee Roads) and see all the amazing scenery Iain passes through en route to visiting Scotland’s far-flung distilleries.

The book is filled with all sorts of anecdotes, whether they are about fitba, Drunken Urban Climbing, his friends, music, Iain’s adventures with his cars and boats, his books (of which, it seems he’s rightly very, very proud) or his childhood, they’re always amusing, whisky really is just a broad platform on which to collect all these autobiographical tales on. I didn’t really like the political rants on the war in Iraq and George Bush, it was no surprise to me that Iain said he was reading Stupid White Men by Michael Moore during his whisky quest. I read Stupid White Men and while I think it’s easy to agree with many of the sentiments, I didn’t enjoy reading it because I hate being bombarded with one side of an argument.

My other criticism of Raw Spirit involves the continual use of “you” to address the reader. It’s not really Iain Banks’ fault, it’s a fault of the English language, it doesn’t have an equivalent of “on” which exists in the French language. I just don’t like it, it’s something those English teachers would warn against, I don’t even write “you” in The Bellyaches – as a result, I sometimes use “I” more than I would like and I imagine I might seem self-centred to some readers. I can’t complain about much in this book, it’s really funny and my own anecdotes can’t compare.

Dalwhinnie Distillery was the first distillery Iain Banks visited. One of the catchphrases in my catchphrase-driven life owes its existence to Dalwhinnie, although I never said the words in question at the time, everyone does a great impression of me saying the words and I can’t rid myself of this catchphrase. When my colleagues have little to do, they love nothing more than to go on a drive. Although inspired by the scenery Iain Banks described, I
’ve never been a fan of these particular drives; they lack purpose, needlessly add to the Greenhouse Effect and they’re never about what they should be about. One day I agreed to go along as a passenger, on the road, I was told the aim of the drive would be to journey up the A9 until a suitable destination was found. Road atlas in hand, I tracked our progress, “let’s just go to Dunkeld.”, “we can turn off here for Aberfeldy.”, “let’s stop at Pitlochry and head back”, “why don’t we just go to Tummel Bridge?” but still we kept driving, past every settlement within reasonable range of Fife, “we can’t keep going to Aviemore or Inverness”, and into the clouds. Eventually, we pulled up at Dalwhinnie, the highest settlement in Scotland, and, between us, we bought a packet of crisps, a cold sausage roll, a tub of Pringles and a can of coke from the petrol station before going home. When the others recounted the tale of their exciting journey, somehow I was portrayed as the unreasonable whinger and the immortal “We’ve gone too hiiiiiigh” catchphrase was born.

I could tell the stories of the “You always have to ruin everything” and “Let’s go down the sunny side of the hill” catchphrases but they’re rotten in comparison to the tales of Raw Spirit. There’s loads of little bits for the reader to ponder and on many occasions, I can identify with Iain; I like maps too (it’s a pity there isn’t a map included in the book), I’m not religious but I believe in the “it’s-going-to-be-alright-good-omen feelings” and I’m fascinated by fireworks too, but someone else will identify with different parts of Iain’s persona and that’s the real charm of Raw Spirit.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Patrons of Limned Barrenness but with Wrecks,

I have developed a sore throat and feel a bit ill. I don’t get ill because I eat 5 pieces of fruit, take multivitamin and mineral capsules, drink 5000 cups of tea and coffee and eat bar upon bar of chocolate each day. I’m blaming the graduation, I only ever feel ill as a result of being extremely worn down, but I suppose it’s all worth it because my name was listed in The Scotsman, which is of prestige because it’s not The Sun. I suppose parading around in the storm with only a shirt didn’t help either.

I did not eat breakfast. I decided to walk to Leven before the inevitable downpour. I walked via “the dam”, a notorious area that runs alongside the River Leven. I never have seen any incident of the kind that would earn "the green valley of death” this infamy but I suppose I’ve seen the evidence of what might go on when I’m not there. On my way down to the River Leven, I saw two burnt out cars, I was quite surprised to see a Fiesta, probably in the last week, had been added to the Metro – there’s plenty of room for more.

The tide was in when the river and I eventually reached the Firth of Forth. I decided not to walk along the narrow strip of beach left but to take the high-tide alternative path across the side of the golf course. A stray shot missed me by six feet.

I walked back into the town via Silverburn Park, it has nice gardens and animals. I visited Sainsbury’s where I bought a sandwich, a bar of Black & Green’s milk chocolate, 4 passion fruits, 4 bananas and 3 Braeburn apples - I reckoned some of these would help me to feel better.

It rained after I arrived home. Ghana defeated USA 2-1. I listened to My Latest Novel’s album whilst reading. I tried reconnecting the PC speakers in an attempt to get 5.1 sounds –only 4 speakers seem to work – but after trying and failing to record something with the microphone, I think the sound card must be damaged. Of course, I had to eliminate the possibility that the microphone wasn’t working hence I rather immaturely created a 2-minute long radio show on my brother’s PC using the same microphone. DJs really do have a tough job, it’s difficult to think what to say and breathe properly and it’s quite easy to babble nonsense.

There was a very poor episode of Horizon. The programme debated whether Pluto should retain its status as a planet – an inconsequential dispute.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sympathists of Cloaked and Eccentric Tykes,

I have recently broken my New Year’s resolution for the first, second and third time this year.

I generally dislike the Christmas and New Year period, but I began observing the tradition of setting a New Year’s resolution two years ago. I had become tired of meetings, training events, team-bonding charades and other gimmicks at work – some days I would make the hour-long journey only to keep these silly appointments in which I didn’t need to contribute and only my presence was mandatory. My New Year’s Resolution, always constant so perhaps more of a life ethic, is that I will not do anything that I don’t want to do. It’s a fine principle to uphold, but this does not mean that I won’t wash the dishes or pay the window cleaner – behind every unpleasant chore, there must be a desired positive result; clean plates or no court battles.

The resolution was first broken when I went for a haircut - no good can ever come from this act – for the first time since January. Despite giving the hairdresser orders, she refused to obey them. My hair was understandably long, I requested that it was shortened yet left long by relative standards, but she seemed too frightened to cut it at all, perhaps because its greatness should have been left alone in the first place. After half an hour of nibbling at my hair, and my complaints that it wasn’t what I wanted, I lost my patience and agreed that it was fine.

Even before going home to look in the mirror and try to reason with it, I decided to get another haircut at a different place. This technically may not be breaking the resolution twice but it was still a haircut.

Of course, all these haircuts were in aid of another violation of the resolution – the act of attending my graduation ceremony. I was loath to attend and conform to the stuffy protocols, the sheer pomposity of it all rankled me severely. I also didn't like the presumptuousness required in agreeing to attend the graduation ceremony before being notified of my exam results. The whole experience was needlessly expensive.

Firstly, a mandatory fee had to be paid to be entered into the General Council of graduates. Secondly, the dress code has to be adhered to: dark trousers, white shirt and white bow tie or highland dress under the gown and hood appropriate to degree awarded. I was able to hire the gown and hood but I had to buy a white shirt and bow tie. I’m not a goth but I only had 3 shirts in my cupboard and all 3 were black. I wish I could be a goth, they have remarkable strength of character - to go around in large groups intimidating others being individual - but I could never afford the lifestyle; it’d require a complete wardrobe overhaul and that’s costly. I couldn’t just buy the one set of black clothes and then become smelly wearing them day after day (evidently most do) or be a gothic person one day and then return to wearing my usual threads whilst my black things were in the washing, that’d just be silly. At the graduation, a black shirt with a suitable tie would have been fine under the black gown with green hood, but there was to be no room for such anarchy.

I had my photograph taken before the ceremony; the “prestige pack” prints will be awful when they arrive, my gown and hood weren’t really designed to fit my zero per cent body fat frame and didn’t sit at all properly or comfortably. One of my bugbears has always been when buying a top (jersey, t-shirt etc), I buy a “Large” - because I am tall and not because I am fat – and it just doesn’t work out.

The time before the bell rang was a bit of a blur: greeting fellow students, further unwanted photo moments and the stress of guiding my parents into the city via cell phone, they were arriving later due to the fact that I had arrived earlier but mainly because of work commitments; much to my annoyance they obviously did not heed my precise directions the night before. However, everyone was in their seats, in the McEwan Hall, for the 30-minute organ recital – not a Ramones, Captain Beefheart or even an ABBA medley but stuff by Bach, Mendelsson and Stanley.

The Academic Procession arrived, and then the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Geoffrey Boulton welcomed everyone and introduced Reverend Di Williams for the Moment of Reflection. Vice-Principal Young Dawkins presented the Alumnus of the Year award to J. Fraser Stoddart, one of the world’s leading chemists and an expert in nanotechnology. Stoddart received wave after wave of applause, magnificently amplified in the grand McEwan Hall, before he began his speech. Stoddart, a three-time graduate of the yooni, reminded the hall that it had rejected his application for a job there many years ago, spoke against the medical profession in the UK and spoke with dismay about educational institutions who have or are closing their chemistry departments.

Once the big award winner had ended his speech, the long list of names began. We had to slide along the row of seats until at the end, when we had to stand up wait for the head of the department to finish reading our name, then walk forward, be slapped around the head with the hat, supposedly make from the fabric of John Knox’s breeks. We then had receive our certificates from a desk at the side of the stage and join the sliding process again until arrival back at our original seats, when the next row starts sliding. That’s it – I didn’t even get to make a speech. If I ever have to graduate again, my only chance to get more time in the limelight will come if I adopt some middle names, after all, I had sit through your actual Timothy James Benjamin Carter-Stapleton and Jennifer Alexandra Barwick-Mitchell. I ought to get some Scandinavian middle names; “Morten Weighorst Leif Eriksson Peter Bjorn and John” might have allowed me to compete with the others if inserted between my two lonely appellations. Afterwards, the concept of name bingo was discussed; participants shout “House”, probably whilst some genius is being bashed by the hat, when all the names on their official grudguation bingo card have been called out, and the prize is be to promptly set upon and ejected from the ceremony by the guards.

After all the chemistricians had graduated, an American, Prof. Harry Gray, was presented with an honorary doctorate. He was desperate to make a speech and he was reasonably jovial. More names, the graduation choir, more names and another speech from the Vice-Chancellor and the ceremony was over, around 90 minutes after it began. We proceeded out of the ornate McEwan Hall and into the storm.

I gathered the family; father had thoroughly enjoyed his day, headed for shelter in the Chemistry department reception marquee, had something to drink and had some cake. A while later, we returned to the Kingdom, where, thankfully, they call a spade “a spade” and don’t need other people to wear gowns and bow ties to do so.

It wasn’t the day of the graduates; it was a day for the parents, for them to look on proudly, if they so wished. I wish my conduct during the day was better, I don't usually lose my patience so easily, but given my all my reservations, it was probably the best that could be expected.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dismissive Gadders and the Ecclesiastical Paradoxes,

I watched Sunday AM yesterday. Jack Straw was a guest of Andrew Marr. If I didn't know otherwise, from his demeanour and mannerisms, I'd have guessed that he was a Tory; he doesn't seem to the kind of person who represents the working classes that Labour had traditionally battled for. Nevertheless, Straw gave an immaculate performance, of the kind that would make him a Tony Blair dream player - he spoke diplomatically, derided Conservative policy, praised the work of New Labour and revealed nothing of Labour's plans to deal with the House of Lords. I'd abolish the House of Lords, its mere existence debases any democracy that exists in this country. In many ways, I feel politics and the work of our politicians is futile because there are too many people between Tony Blair and the consumer, the commuter, the patient, the pupil and the employee who don't do their jobs properly and will never do their jobs properly and their lassitude is as damaging as the House of Lords. At recent annual Alternative Land Use Party conference in Kilconquhar, the members seriously debated dropping the party slogan, "That Pigeon Went for Me" in favour of "You Started It" but it was decided the public would not react favourably to being blamed for everything.

Eventually it rained heavily yesterday, fortunately just after the Kirkcaldy Astroturf 7-a-side Football League, to which I have recently been signed up to patrol the backline of the second worst team in the second lowest division. We were defeated 8-3, mainly due to the father and two sons combination that operates within the team. They were at fault for everything but will always remain beyond reproach.

My day consisted of reclaiming some of the sleep I had missed out upon over the weekend and then going to St. Andrews for lunch. Afterwards, I meandered around the town. I visited the remains of St. Andrews cathedral, the only parts that still stand are the east and west gables and a stretch of nave wall, yet upon passing through the west gable, I still had the sense I was inside something quite majestic although I have no interest in organised religion. Also within the cathedral grounds, stands St. Rules Church, which can be climbed by members of the public after purchasing tokens from the visitor centre, and there's something ironic about how its bland structure has outlasted the grand cathedral. Drifting around the gravestones and memorials, I to comtemplated my own wishes upon death: a short affair down at Methil Docks or a burial beside a grandiose monument, possibly a full-scale granite replica of my old Citroen AX, with an epitaph on the driver's door reading, "SJ 1983-2008 Your Loss". After the gratuitous morbidness, I walked around the harbour, and climbed the ladder onto the sea wall to look out upon the Blue Flag beaches and the estuary, over which F3 Tornadoes are frequently seen roaring in and out of RAF Leuchars. St. Andrews is a great town, even though it's nearby and I've been there many times, I wish I had brought my camera. It was an enjoyable way to spend the day, even if I didn't purchase a passionfruit sorbet ice cream cone from the legendary Luvian's Ice Cream Parlour.

Wandering by the Old Course, I saw a car drive across a fairway, it struck me as an odd occurrence that a road used by public vehicles should exist on the revered golf course, but on remembering the BBC's Coast, I recall being informed that the Old Course is common land and people can legitimately graze their cattle or hang their washing out on it. Coast was an excellent programme and although it didn't feature enough of Scotland for my liking, it did show St. Andrews golf courses and its beaches, where a Polish man discussed the invention of the mine detector in Fife by the Polish Army based here during the war. There were brief glimpses of Leven, Methil and West Weymss during flyover shots as they travelled towards the Forth Railway Bridge. I'm glad that a second series of Coast is planned.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fellow Coveters of Western Sanctuaries,

Saturday began unceremoniously just after 23:59:59 on Friday night. I decided to watch Later with Jools Holland, which I know I should never do because it only makes me angry. This episode was true to form; despite having Dresden Dolls and Gogol Bordello as guests, the viewers were lashed with torrents of drivel courtesy of The Dixie Chicks, The Automatic and The Fratellis. In fairness, Dresden Dolls and Gogol Bordello were each allowed to perform two songs – a prize not awarded to Paolo Nuttini – but this was not enough. As the show entered its final minutes, I felt that nyaff Holland could have redeemed himself if Dresden Dolls were to sing Sing – a song worthy of closing any show – but that distinction was bestowed upon The Automatic who served up another of their forgettable numbers, with their keyboardist’s antics as equally embarrassing during this paltry attempt as their previous two.

I switched on Radio Double One to listen to Mark Lamarr’s as yet unnamed radio show; its rare delights did more than dampen my rage but that was soon to be revived. So far using Holland and Lamarr’s programmes I had managed to drown out the sound from our “new” neighbours – I don’t know their names yet but in my brain, I think of them as Lardinho, Screech and Vicky Pollard – and I even managed to fall asleep towards the end of the radio show. Around 45 minutes later, I was awakened by more of their noise. Their racket was soon translated from above my head to outside as they began bouncing on their trampoline at 3am, minutes later Simon was scrambled by Father to bark at them, and soon the rumpus was above me again. I tried to smother this with some relaxing music, I chose Storytelling by Belle & Sebastian, given their incessant loud squawking and intermittent bursts of such luminaries as 50 Per Cent, Knackered Breeches and Will Yuck, this then had to be bolstered to Tigermilk at unprecedented and intrusive volumes by 4am standards. Nearly 3 cycles of Tigermilk later and it was time for the Blue Room – no off-duty person should ever have to listen to the Blue Room live. I stole another hour of sleep and began the day.

Somehow the day was lost upon sports shops, sandwiches, cups of tea, Sainsbury’s and laundry and by 5pm I was seriously wilting. The atmosphere was extremely muggy and I longed for a tornado, a thunderstorm or at least some rain to relieve the humidity. A cup of tea, a cup of coffee and another cup of tea later and I was on my way to Glasgow, where the weather was more favourable, to see Camera Obscura and My Latest Novel, as part of the West End Festival line-up, at the QMU.

We fixed the departure time to miss the first act of the evening, Glasvegas, (not out of any prejudice, 4 bands did represent a major endurance test) but we arrived halfway through their set. Apparently, they’ve supported Dirty Pretty Things and they’re quite pleasant to listen to. Some members of the crowd, who were obviously big fans of Grease, as they meant it as a compliment, described the band as “Grease on acid” or “Grease meets the Futureheads”, but I reckon someone ought to have lamped these happy campers there and then. Although are heavily influenced by the rock n’ roll greats of the 1950s and 60s, the band seem able to tap into modern urban culture with ease when recounting their metropolitan adventures. Flowers & Football Tops and Red and White were the standout songs, and I really hope that there is some sort of subliminal, or even blatant, political message behind the latter song otherwise I was overusing my brain.

The Dykeenies were next on stage. Although they enjoyed the adulation of a large proportion of the local crowd, as well as their parents, they were rotten. They didn’t even look like a band: one came as a Mystery Jet, another as a Rake, there was a Killer, a member of Interpol and the drummer came as a gymnast. Their sound was borrowed entirely from the Killers (who are rubbish) and furthermore, they were rather pretentious with this leased style and drone, still, Mum and Dad seemed to enjoy it. New Ideas, their new single, was nearly tolerable.

I can’t praise My Latest Novel highly enough, they played many of the songs from the delightful Wolves album, and each of them perfectly. There are so many delicately positioned instrumental and vocal layerings in their songs, and I was captivated by how diligently they built each of their masterpieces. After their first song, Pretty in a Panic, we just had to wade from our safe position by the railings at the back of the arena to the front of the stage to absorb the sound. They didn’t disappoint with their forthcoming single When we Were Wolves, the song I was really looking forward to, nor with the new song Valour Still. They ended with a dazzling rendition of The Reputation of Ross Francis.

After a lengthy delay because of technical difficulties with a microphone and a smoke machine, appeased considerably by Peter, Bjorn and John’s Young Folks, the legendary Pat Nevin appeared on stage with a bottle of Glenlivet for and to introduce his favourite band, Camera Obscura. The band began their glorious set with Come Back Margaret – not about Margaret Thatcher – and had the crowd singing, dancing and clapping (when possible, they really ought to have given us less complicated beats to mimic) to all the favourites (including Teenager and Eighties Fan) and songs from Let’s Get Out of This Country. The rapport between the band and the crowd was great, Tracy muttered at one stage, “How rude! Someone’s just asked for a Belle & Sebastian Cover. I thought all our songs were Belle & Sebastian covers.” I had previously reported to the Exasperated Inquisitors of Undiscriminating Gulls that the album was slightly one-paced, but on this evidence, I might be wrong.

After an excellent evening, we made the return journey to the Kingdom of Fife. I listened to Ivor Cutler’s Velvet Donkey on the car CD player without complaint as all passengers had fallen asleep, to only awake, briefly and nobly, to pay for the Forth Road Bridge toll.

Upon arrival home, I was treated to more of the same hullaballoo from the neighbours, thankfully, I was only marginally aware of it due to the ringing in my ears. Three hours of sleep later, my immunity had vanished and I was listening to the Blue Room again.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Exasperated Inquisitors of Undiscriminating Gulls,

Vic Galloway conducted an all-Scottish special edition of his Monday night show on Radio Scotland; it was a delight to listen to and is definitely worth hearing via Lishen Again if possible. After hearing the show, my new favourite band is The Pendulums and I’ve ordered a copy of their album, Moon Mountain, on the basis of the infectious Brand New Song.

I’ve also ordered a copy of Jock Scot & Gareth Sager’s The Caledonian Blues. These two characters are legendary, unfortunately evidence of their status has so far eluded me, but I’m looking forward to the arrival of their album in the post after hearing Mod Poem and Barcelona on a few of Vic’s radio shows. Jock Scot is a poet and raconteur and is described as having been a confidant to The Clash, Ian Dury, The Libertines and Nick Cave. Backing Jock on the album is Gareth Sager, a musician formerly of post-punk outfit, The Pop Group.

I bought Midlake’s new album The Trials of Van Occupanther; at first, this disappointed me but I’ve come to accept it for what it is. I bought the new Midlake album on the strength of their new single Young Bride and previous album, Bamnan and Silvercork; Bamnan and Silvercork is an enchanting album that is full of whimsical and fantastical nonsense. The latest offering from the Texans shows a clear musical progression, featuring more conventional songs that are beautifully poignant and wistful, the sprinkling of violins throughout helps to set the mood. Young Bride resembles the style of Bamnan and Silvercork most, but songs such as the touching Roscoe are not to be missed.

The new Camera Obscura album Let’s Get Out of This Country seems to have awoken the media to the band’s existence, and given the quality of the single, Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken, this hype is justified. The album is a perhaps a little one-paced but it’s the kind of pretty orchestral indie-pop that I like. The single, the title track and Come Back Margaret have emerged as my favourite tracks.

On the basis of the airplay given to Psapp by Vic McGlynn and Rob da Bank, I purchased their album, The Only Thing I Ever Wanted (directly from Domino Records, thus it arrived with loads of promotional badges, posters and stickers). Listening to it is probably the equivalent to being trapped inside a hyper-fast grandfather clock with a deranged Newton’s Cradle ornament and a cat-obsessed breathy songstress overworking a xylophone. These plinkety-plonkety meanderings have a diverse quality that is entirely welcome in my CD collection.

I won El Perro Del Mar’s eponymous album on the Mark Radcliffe show (Candy, as performed live, can be heard on the adjacent Putfile link). The instrumentation is minimal, making way for Sarah Assbring’s heart-breaking and melancholic lyrics and her delicate voice that resonates chillingly through the air. The quote from Wurrd magazine, “The compulsion to run over with a bottle of claret and a tub of Haagen Dazs is over-whelming.” is quite understandable.

Other recent purchases of mine include Dawn of the ReplicantsFangs (bizarre, left-field yet pleasing clatterings), My Latest Novel’s Wolves (agreeably somewhere between Mogwai and Belle & Sebastian) and Dungen Ta Det Tugnt (cleverly exploits the hankering for Swedish prog-rock in the Kingdom of Fife). Lastly, I must thank Peter, Bjorn and John for gifting their marvellous song, Young Folks, which features bounteous whistling, to the world.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Woolgathering Conservators of Extraterrestrial Memoirs,

Apart from my three favourites - Apollo 13, The Truman Show and Independence Day - I hate filums; they’re too long and I lack the patience and attention span that’s required. I like The Truman Show not because I’m particularly interested in the story of Truman Burbank, but more so because the plot challenges the concept of reality; The Truman Show makes me fantasise whether planet Earth could ever be part of its own “The Truman Show”, a rock inhabited by billions of insignificant creatures purely for the voyeuristic needs of higher beings. Independence Day is a rare film in that it’s good; I especially like the crazy abductee Russell Casse. Though, in general, I can’t muster the enthusiasm to watch more filums in the hope I might see one as good as these three. I believe that behind most filums, there’s a better book; a prime example of this is the screenplay of my favourite book, Catch-22, which is in essence an edited highlights montage that lacks continuity and as such the plot is addled.

I finally managed to acquire a copy of the book - an old stained and smelly paperback that cost £1.25 over EvilBay – that my absolute favourite filum is based on, Apollo 13 or Lost Moon (as it was originally titled) which was written by Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell with Jeffrey Kluger. Although the book is written by Jim Lovell, the story of the failed Apollo 13 mission is told in the third person and this often made me forget that I was reading a work of non-fiction but it was the correct choice for the book. As explained in the notes, there are many more aspects to the extraordinary events that took place and although the abundance of different people in different jobs is sometimes confusing, what I sensed most was Jim Lovell’s gratefulness to the hundreds of people in Mission Control who guided his sick spacecraft back to Earth. The book, like Moondust, is very well researched, the authors carried out interviews with all the members of mission control mentioned and Jim Lovell’s family and friends and the high esteem Jim Lovell holds everyone in is very clear from the detail and respect with which their roles are described. As well as the interviews, the authors have used recordings and transcriptions of all the conversations that took place at Mission Control, Houston during the Apollo 13 mission to ensure the book is factually accurate.

Lost Moon is a captivating read and for people, like me, who have a fascination with but not an encyclopaedic knowledge of space and are interested in what happened aboard Apollo 13 or enjoyed the Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, I’d highly recommend acquiring a copy.

Amazingly, I still have respect for the screenplay after reading the book, Ron Howard has changed certain elements of Lost Moon but on the whole it remains loyal to the book. Whilst Mission Control Flight Director, Gene Kranz, played by Ed Harris, was undoubtedly central to saving the lives of the Apollo 13 crew, it was only through reading the book that I learned that there were 3 other Flight Directors on rotation with Gene Kranz during Apollo 13. Ron Howard sold the some of events leading up to Jim Lovell’s Apollo 8 mission as the sequence of events leading up to Apollo 13. Interestingly, the filum portrays Ken Mattingly, the astronaut who was controversially grounded because he wasn’t immune to the case of rubella, as the hero whose individual work in the simulator was the key to the rescue of his former crew-mates but in reality, fellow Apollo 13 back-up crew members, John Young and Charlie Duke also worked the simulator with him. Ron Howard also uses his artistic license to create tension and resentment between the Apollo 13 prime crew members, Lovell and Haise, and Ken Mattingly’s replacement, Jack Swigert; there was no such tension between the actual crew-mates on the mission and Lovell writes admiringly of the talents of Jack Swigert.

I love both the filum and the book, and I’ll still be able to watch the filum and when watching with company, use my well-worn joke that works on almost negligible levels. When Jim Lovell gazes out the window of the spacecraft towards Earth, the director cuts to Marilyn Lovell moving towards the kitchen window where she stares at the night sky, I whisper, “She can see him.”

Houston, we’ve had a problem here.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Unctuous Commentators on Fitful Conveyance,

Part of my day has been spent digging up the lawn in the front garden to expand the driveway. After having an old galoot of a 4x4 jeep for a few years, father has belatedly and sensibly bought a respectable new car. When the kids swarm the street and move near it, he becomes jumpy, thus the driveway is being extended to fit his car as well as mine. My car resides in the driveway as I try to drive as little as possible, and as it’s usually at home, I don’t want to risk leaving it in the street. People become really protective and incomprehensibly proud of their vehicles. I hate driving yet I worry constantly about the health of my car.

I’ve had 4 cars despite having decided that I would never drive. Thankfully, my position was changed after much persuasion from my parents but only several weeks after they dumped my first car upon me on my 17th birthday; they were right, of course, it’d have been mightily difficult to succeed without one. I never drove my first car, a blue 1982 Volkswagen Polo Mk II, on the road; it mainly served as a gang hut - occasionally driven back and forward along the driveway – before someone unexpectedly made a good offer to buy it. The car wasn’t on sale, but I wasn’t close to passing my driving test and father suspected that the car might need some repairs on the breaks in the future, so the car was sold.

Learning to drive was one of my most traumatic experiences. I hired my first driving instructor, Andy Herd, on the recommendation of a friend, one of his pupils at the time, and initially I was progressing well but it soon became apparent that the Andy was only trying to drain money from me – I was taking lessons but father noticed, during the lessons he was giving me in my second car, that my progress was levelling off. After around 20 lessons, the number the AA say an average learner will need to pass the test, I was seemingly far from being ready to take the test and Andy demoted me from driving around Kirkcaldy, the larger town where I would be taking the test, to Leven, the local town that I lurched around when I first started taking lessons. After refreshment with the basics around Leven, we returned to Kirkcaldy for what was to become my final lesson with Andy. I was becoming increasingly edgy and I made a few mistakes, Andy started raging hysterically, whilst flailing his arms, seemingly mimicking a forgotten ancient martial art, screeching at me, “You’re doing that with the clutch.” During this rant I really wanted to walk the 8 mile distance home, but I held my nerve, and politely dismissed him once we arrived back in Methil. I asked of my friend how he was faring with Andy’s lessons, and he told me his progress was deteriorating similarly under Andy’s tuition, “He made me kill a pigeon; there was a pigeon on the road so I slowed, Andy shouted ‘What are you doing? Do you want to kill a pigeon or cause a road accident? Accelerate!’”

My second car was a 1988 Citroen AX 1.1L. Father used to sit with me in it as I practised driving whilst learning. It was an ugly thing; navy blue with its bonnet hideously mottled by oxidation; inside it had a multitude of compartments that could hold trinkets of all sizes. I was finally able to drive it by myself after hiring Alex Cunningham or GUM as my driving instructor. After my first lesson, he said that I was a fine driver and told me to apply for a test date immediately, because he’d make me ready for whenever that date was. He wasn’t just a driving instructor, he was a psychologist and he had the most bizarre catchphrases which I never fully understood, “you’re not cut out for this speed, Matilda”, “What does two in the bed give you? A sore head.” Every time we visited a specific estate in Kirkcaldy, the following exchange was mandatory.

“What do they call this place?”
“I don’t know.”
“Spam Valley.”
“What do they eat for breakfast?”
“I don’t know.”
“Spam. What do they eat for lunch?”
“Ehhh, spam?”
“What do they eat for tea?”
“What do they have for supper?”
“Correct. Take a left at the next junction.”

I passed a driving test on my second attempt and drove my Citroen AX for a year. It developed electrical problems which repeatedly drained the battery, it broke down in the railway station car park when the gear shift snapped but I finally lost patience with it when the key snapped and jammed in the lock, once I got into the car from the passenger door, the spare key snapped and became irremovable from the ignition. I gave up on my Citroen and it was towed from where the key fiasco occurred, the railway station car park, straight to the scrap yard.

My third car was a white 1991 Renault Clio 1.2L. This was, originally, a really neat car. The engine was able to sustain 5th gear at 25mph, so driving was easy. I drove it for 2 years, suffering only two snapped clutch cables; I wonder if my driving style was perhaps to blame. The second clutch cable snapped when my car was in the middle of a busy crossroads on the main road in Dunfermline during the morning rush hour and the only place I could push it to was a restricted parking area, so I did and I phoned the police to tell them what had happened. I apologised for leaving the ailing vehicle there whilst I continued to work by bus; I told them I had arranged for uplift later and had the permission of the shopkeepers’ whose premises my car was in front of and that I had left a note, with a phone number, in the window to alert any wardens to the situation but they unreasonably said that if a warden was to award me a ticket, I would still be liable for the fine. I escaped punishment but I resolved to buy a reliable car seeing as I had a lucrative, multi-million pound student placement contract at the chemical plant and would be travelling many miles each day to Grangemouth.

I bought a Peugeot 206 1.4LX and I can, at long last, bask in the luxury of a car with a CD player, air-conditioning and other fancy bits. I’m grateful that my car hasn’t suffered any technical problems yet. The only trouble it suffered was a woman, coincidentally or not, the nippy nurse that I had to endure at the orthodontists, ramming her car into the back of it. My car was mashed slightly, it was superficial but the mechanics have to carry out stringent integrity checks on the chassis of cars in these cases, and courtesy of her insurance, I was supplied with a silver 2004 Astra 1.8 CDi for around a month. I looked like a respectable company executive as I drove into the works car park everyday, at least until I got out and people gasped in confusion at the horrible mismatch – the scruffy student and the high-class car – but I hated that car during those weeks, obviously because I longed for the return of my own car, and I endlessly claimed unwarranted faults in it. I’d really like to have a car just like it again, it really was spacious and comfortable and not “designed for fat blokes”; I could dig up another patch of the lawn to accommodate it amongst my fleet.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bungling Politicos Foisting Grief,

The World Cup is upon us. It’s at times like this, I regret that the Scottish National Party are a bunch of idiots. Scotland could gain independence if they had some policies; aside from hoping for independence, their strategies consist solely of saying the opposite from what everyone else has said, no matter the issue, and personally, they all need to be dusted. As a result of independence, Scotland would have its own TV stations and wouldn’t have to tolerate the drivel that gushes from the English meedja during football coverage.

I have sensed, during the build-up to this World Cup, that there is a growing element of the English public who have finally realised that the English public behave like fools, especially when sport is concerned. Some of the England has indeed become sick of the English public being English but unfortunately, they form a small minority. I don’t specifically support the teams that play against England, but I won’t be supporting England, I have no reason to do so – their sportscasters are all imbeciles (I think the BBC should perhaps exchange John Simpson with Garth Crooks), their supporters inevitably resort to hooliganism and their players are arrogant. I can’t understand the racism the English meedja, and especially the BBC, exhibit towards Germany, there are 30 other teams that England must overcome to win the World Cup and WWII ended in 1945.

I’m not a fan of the Scottish team either; the Scottish Football Association is generally staffed by idiots with dubious agendas. I even laughed when the world’s greatest defender, Tom Boyd, scored an own-goal to kill any hope of Scotland achieving a famous result against Brazil in the opener of World Cup ’98 in France.

In the absence of Republic of Ireland and Denmark at the finals, I’ll be supporting USA, Spain and Australia. USA have always impressed me whenever I’ve seen them, they’ve developed into a really strong team since World Cup ’94 in USA. I like Spain because they always have two tricky wingers; traditional wingers are why football is referred to as “the beautiful game”, apart from Denmark, Spain were the only team practising this most pleasing system at the last World Cup. I’d like Australia to do well, the route by which they have to qualify for the finals is completely unjust – the top team in the Oceania qualifying group has then to enter into a play-off with a South American team to reach the final – and despite FIFA trying to project a spirit of fair play throughout the world game, they discriminate against the Oceania region, and it’s a real shame because Australia have a team that deserves to play at the highest level, thankfully this time, they’ve overcome the unreasonable play-off system. Finally, due to the fact the England fans loathe him, I’ll be supporting Bundesliga superstar, Owen Hargreaves.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Scrupulous Ears Intimate with Providential Eyes,

My appreciation of radio, over the last 6 months, has grown to a state that can probably only be described as over-zealous. I started out as a Mark and Lard fan, loving their limited free choices as much as their comedic capers, and since then I’ve searched out more alternative music. At first, the birth of 6music quenched this thirst, but with the changes in the direction at the station, I’ve had to also find other quality radio shows to listen to. In the last year, with all the stude-ing I’ve rigorously had to carry out, I’ve come to rely upon the radio, but unfortunately I’ve grown militant in my dedication to the this assortment of shows, and now not only of music shows but also the delights of Radio 4 and BBC7. Listen Again only fuels this addiction, as a result, I have little time to listen to all the CDs my favourite shows goad me to buy; it’s a Catch-22 situation.

I obviously listen to Mark Radcliffe’s and Marc Riley’s new shows, a few weeks ago, an assortment of esteemed listeners to the Mark Radcliffe Show observed that regular guest, Noddy Holder’s TV programme reviews were somewhat extraneous to a radio programme. As a compromise, the jovial Noddy conducted a radio review; in my estimation, it wasn’t greatly enjoyable or enlightening – no really interesting documentaries or fun comedies were brought to my attention and they never even discussed any of the BBC’s top music shows.

I loyally listen to every episode of the Mark Radcliffe Show on Radio Double One, it’s a brilliant show even if it is confined to a station that strives to cater for all, but ultimately delights and angers people in equal measures with its schizophrenic scheduling. They do weird things over at Radio Double One, for example, a random week of broadcasting from Aberdeen was one of the highlighted events from last year and they bring in random and ostensibly unsuitable celebrities to host shows regularly. The other Radio Double One show that I listen religiously to, mostly via Lishen Again, is Mark Lamarr’s Friday/Saturday Show, he throws out some amazing records. I usually like radio shows that play music that I want to buy but I know it’d be impossible to find some of the rarities featured given that I was looked at as thought I was stupid and shooed out of Avalanche Records, a high quality independent record store, when I asked for the Rainbow EP by Rainbow Family.

Rainbow Family are a Scottish duo whose single I Can See a Rainbow was the one of the Blue Room’s tunes for May, the tune is simple, derivative and unoriginal but I like it. The Blue Room is locked away in the early hours of the weekend, it’s perfect for those who are up too late or are awake too early, but of course, it’s probably a show more suited to Listen Again and that’s what I unfailingly do. Radio 1 have classified the show as “Dance” on their website, however in reality they just play anything – indie, dub, dance, folk - almost in the style of John Peel, but the tunes are usually more relaxed, low-key and chilling. Late night Radio 1 is now filled with loudmouths who bark things like “ripe for da remix” even after the most delicate and heart-warming acoustic folk tunes and “beats for jeeps and even for the peeps who don’t have jeeps” but amongst the chaos, Rob da Bank’s other show – the Thursday OneMusic show – shines and is part of my mandatory Listen Again schedule. This show is much more upbeat than the Blue Room but again, their playlist is almost as wide-ranging as the kind that was on the John Peel show.

I like listening to Vic Galloway on Radio Scotland, he plays the best new music and as expected he gives exposure to Scottish artists. My CDs arranged into two categories; Scottish and other; although I like bands from all over the world – maybe the Australians struggle a bit – I’ve always thought that Scotland produced the best artists and those Scottish bands deserve more exposure. Vic also gives Scottish acts more airtime when he sometimes deputises for Rob da Bank on Thursdays. Oddly though, I’ve never liked Vic’s Radio 1 In the Nations show, I’m always disappointed that it never differs greatly from the standard UK fair and the show really doesn’t highlight Scottish music to the extent promised.

On Radio Scotland, in the afternoon, is Tom Morton. I first started listening to Tom, the Monday after the Biggest Show ended; I was twisting the dial until I found a song I liked when I heard a Sleepy Jackson album track and I decided that this would be my new FM afternoon radio show. Tom is a musician himself and he also writes the legendary The Broons and Oor Wullie cartoons for the Sunday Post. He broadcasts most of his shows from his home on the Shetland Islands, and occasionally from the BBC studios in Aberdeen, so he always has an interesting tales to tell about that wonderful part of the world.

In the afternoons, I often find myself flicking between Tom Morton and Vic McGlynn on 6music. Vic’s shows are packed with competitions and features and her 3 freeplays each day are invariably the freshest tracks to feature on 6music each day. Vic seems to have a penchant for tunes that are different and a bit quirky, and, like myself, tends to veer away from bog-standard 3 or 4 piece bands.

On Sundays, at 6music, Andrew Collins conducts another brilliant show; he has a great rapport with the audience who send in reviews of TV, radio, gigs and books. Comedian Richard Herring helps Andrew carry out a paper review that’s always funny. The other main part of the show is a feature called "Sunday Best", where the public vote for the best of a particular category, and I’m strangely absorbed by what the public say the best breed of dog is or the best holiday destination is when I really shouldn’t care.

Other shows that I enjoy listening to are those of Phill Jupitus, Liz Kershaw and Gideon Coe. Stuart Maconie’s Freakzone is also a fine show.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Adventurers Fenced in on the Tellurian Kingdom,

After bedding in as editor-in-chief of The Bellyaches, I became aware of how much of a privilege it is to write free of charge to the world. Rather than underestimate the value of this gift and continue writing my cat stories unabatedly, I decided I should try to repay; the only way I knew how was to take an interest in the other blogspots. I like reading the music reviews and I occasionally mull over the political ramblings of people like Bawbags and his linkees, I found the stream of police officer blogs disturbing but I strived and failed to find other people who could write cat stories quite as brilliant as my own. Andrew Collins writes cat stories but they are actually cat stories. I cannot find a blog that reviews music, books, radio and TV, discusses important issues integral to the future of the planet such as global warming, UFOs and ghosts, employs a fantastic photographer and has its own innovative and completely genuine political party.

Those fanatics who follow The Bellyaches, the 2-strong massive, would surely enjoy the book that I have just finished reading, Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith. Moondust is the fascinating story of how journalist Andrew Smith attempted to interview all of the surviving Apollo astronauts who had set foot upon the Moon. The feelings, fears and hopes Andrew gleans from the Moonwalkers, compounded with the scrupulous research he carried out, evident from the many references to key memoirs, makes this a complete and incredibly insightful biography of the Apollo programme.

In Moondust, the lives of the astronauts before, during and after their trips Moon are recounted. The politics involved in crew selection and relationships between the astronauts are uncovered and discussed; some of the revelations are quite surprising – for instance, Apollo 11 is generally perceived as a triumph of teamwork and human ingenuity, but at the helm of the mission were 3 astronauts who, by all accounts, barely shared a working relationship and remain, to this day, remote from each other. After returning to Earth, almost all the astronauts encountered difficulties; after having been to the Moon, they understandably struggled to find purpose to their lives on Earth and some regret the way they used the extremely short time they were allowed to spend on the surface of the Moon.

Smith doesn’t just concentrate on the astronauts; much of the book is about himself and his own emotions during his journey, he notes his private thoughts that occur during his interviews and they’re often amusing – the kind of thoughts that should remain as thoughts and as they would surely offend those in their presence – as when he describes his struggle to tap into the personal emotions of Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt and his cynicism over some of the spiritual ideas elaborated by Apollo 14 man Edgar Mitchell or Apollo 16’s Charlie Duke. The book also gains a sense of completeness from Smith’s personal memories what life was like as an 8-year old boy at the time of Apollo 11, important but not too complicated discussion of American politics and popular culture – unsurprisingly, given Smith’s work for Melody Maker, music is referred to frequently throughout the book, and Smith includes interesting and often humorous quotes from interviews he carried out with musicians such as Robert Plant and Wayne Coyne.

Smith asks of all of the Moonwalkers how they felt about the fact that soon there’d be nobody left on this planet that had been to the Moon; this doesn’t draw interesting answers from any of the astronauts due its solemn nature, it’s a very sad thought and it makes Apollo seem more mysterious than ever. The people who were involved in one of the greatest human triumphs ever will soon be gone, and with any return to the Moon or a journey to Mars being only remote possibilities in the far-off futures, the success and the technological momentum of Apollo were never capitalised upon and as such the 12 gallant Moonwalkers’ legacies were betrayed and possibly destroyed.

Moondust is a captivating tale and although the 9 surviving Moonwalkers are the heroes; to me, Andrew Smith is just as inspiring. I can identify with his writing style, he tries to incorporate many strands in to the story - perhaps too for some authors – because he has an admirable appreciation of the information and opinions he has gathered and although working them all into a narrative might be difficult, any omission would be detrimental to overall product. Moondust isn’t just a book for the space enthusiast; it’s a book for everyone, not just any book is inducted into Richard & Judy's Book Club.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Seekers of Befuddling Grandiloquence,

Around eight weeks ago, in the middle of the night, I received a text message, once my initial rage at having ever bought a cell phone had subsided, I arose from my bed as I had to either read the message or switch it off, otherwise, it would have beeped forever due to some unfathomable setting. I chose the former; the message read; “Sorry if I have disturbed you. Do you want to climb Ben Nevis?” Flabbergasted and irate, I immediately returned to bed. A question such as this, asked of a person - on the eve of one of the most important days of his life – with only meagre climbing experience deserved no reply.

In the interim, I tried to live an honourable life, but this struggle was compounded with constant badgering from the eager and ambitious, although equally novitiate mountaineers. With time, and realism, the target of reaching the summit of Scotland’s highest peak was downgraded to reaching the pinnacle of a munro, Ben Lawers was talked of as the potential challenge; at this stage, I became slightly interested in joining the rookies’ expedition. With further days and sense, the target was reduced to a smaller munro, Schiehallion, and I was beginning to seriously contemplate climbing a munro too. However, we climbed East Lomond, and I was bored – one foot ahead of the other, staring at the ground. I ruled out taking part in a munro ascent but a few days ago, to escape the dilemmas of being an author who doesn’t know which of his many ideas he should begin developing, I joined them on their final “training” climb of West Lomond. Again I was bored, but I enjoyed marvelling at the landscape during rest breaks and upon the summit, so I decided I did want to climb Schiehallion, if only to take photographs, but then I thought of the politics that surrounds the organisation of every recreational event and I returned to vacillating. However, the decision was taken from me, due to inadequate Ticket Services at Celtic FC, the act of going to Glasgow to hand-deliver season ticket application forms was unavoidable.

The ticket service at Celtic Park has been hopeless for many years now; the new online booking service is temperamental, the call centre is seemingly run by just one woman and the ticket office itself is similarly understaffed. After trying the online service repeatedly with no success, and the deadline for applications impending, I drove across to Glasgow – a few hours in the car with some records was preferable to spending a day being on hold. When I arrived at Celtic Park, a number of the notorious figures from the Scottish sports meedja, Kheredine Idessane, David Tanner et al, were just being shuffled inside; unfortunately I had forgotten my Bellyaches Press Pass, thus I delivered the application forms and then hung around outside waiting to see if I could figure out what the exciting news was. After a while, in an Andrew Collins sports reporter-stylee, I planned to ask the cameramen waiting outside what was happening once I came back from buying a latte in the shopping centre 10 minutes away, inevitably when I came back, there were no cameramen left. I learned from Radio McScotty on the way home that the ex-Manchester United player, Quinton Fortune was inside Celtic Park to discuss signing a contract, he’s a good player and I’d be glad to see him join the team.

I wasn’t able to join the national press today, but I was bemused by yesterday’s East Fifecestershire Mail’s headline, “TERROR”. The story concerns a local man who has been charged with being a member of a banned paramilitary organisation, the UDA, after detectives found UDA and Loyalist paraphernalia and several weapons in the man’s flat and it was discovered he was running Loyalist functions from a local Masonic Lodge. Buckhaven is a small town, remote from Northern Ireland or even the west of Scotland, this worrying incident is further shocking evidence of how deeply Northern Irish sectarianism is ingrained in Scottish culture. I’m sure there are many more local people, sympathising with either side of the divide, who could be arrested for similar offences. I’m surprised the East Fifecestershire Mail chose such a dramatic headline this week; after all, I wrote to the editor a number of months ago with respect to an advert that was placed in their newspaper:

Dear Sir, I write with respect to an advert placed in the “Thrifty Fifties” in EFM issue of dd/mm/yy. One particular advert reads "Nine loyalist flags, cost £90 sell £45. Tel:xxxxxxxxxxx". I would like to question the decision of the EFM team to publish such an advert. First Minister, Jack McConnell, several police forces across Scotland and a number of pressure groups have all in recent times launched high-profile campaigns against bigotry and sectarianism in the country. I sincerely hope that my local newspaper is not promoting this kind of behaviour; one might interpret the act of publishing this advert as the local press condoning the possession of effects which are intrinsically linked with intimidation, hatred and violence. Does the sale of these flags mean the vendor has thought better of their ways? I do feel the motives of any particular buyer certainly need to be questioned. Perhaps there is some perfectly rational explanation for the need for the people of Levenmouth to possess these items, may I refer them to the advert "Step ladders, surplus to requirements, will deliver £5", should the buyer need help hanging these items have they indeed been bought for innocent needs.Yours etc;

On review, the letter might appear rather contumelious, which is probably the reason I received no acknowledgement at the time. I ought to have written a less pointed letter, I might have offended my future employers.
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