Yes. It’s the best part of a year and I have not been keeping up. Guilty as charged.
We have seen a lot of developments in the last year. Not many of them are ones I would wish to see, if truth be told. I am against the idea of our press being regulated in any way. Freedom of speech is central to our way of life. That has been undermined for far too long by our membership of the European Union. That Union is run by unelected Commissioners who cannot be removed. That is dictatorship. The “Parliament” of the EU cannot initiate legislation. It is told what to talk about by the Commissioners.
I was brought up to believe in certain values that made this country the best in the world. Like Andrew Marr (broadcaster), I believe that it is an amazing stroke of luck to be born British. The trouble is that the EU and the last Government, believed that everyone else in Europe should be able to come here with precious little scrutiny (sometimes, it seems, absolutely none) and settle down, claim benefit (often for children who then go home, but for whom we still pay) and then vote on our affairs.
Well, that is one big bug-bear of mine. Another, is the culture which has been carefully cultivated in Scotland, of thinking that anything done in Britain that does not immediately come Scotland’s way (only if it is positive, of course) is some form of anti-Scottish prejudice. We hear the sounds of spiteful Nationalists calling other Scots who do not subscribe to their point-of-view as being “anti-Scottish” and we can find analogies in 1930s Germany. There are lots of flags and costumes to be seen in Scotland these days. Marches are held in the same way and there is an increase in a view of “us” and “them” arising, which is worrying.
Scotland has a lot to offer the world. Since the Union, we have probably contributed more to the world in terms of scientific discovery (eg inventions like logarithms, the pneumatic tyre, the telephone, TV, radar, the test-tube baby and the world-famous, deep-fried pizza and deep-fried Mars Bar), but also, our literary influence has been amazing (Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, RL Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Kenneth Grahame, John Buchan and – our current Ian Banks, who has just announced that he is dying of cancer – what a loss he will be).
However, turning in upon ourselves is not the solution, any more than immersing ourselves in a massive organization like the EU can be. The EU has removed two elected national governments in the last couple of years (Greece’s and Italy’s) and it has forced the Cypriot Government to accept a bail-out which depended upon their elected parliament NOT being allowed to vote on it. That’s EU democracy for you!
Many of you reading this may think that my views are wrong, or unacceptable. I doubt, however, that many of you who think so would disagree with my basic tenet that we have to have freedom of speech and freedom of government. Without those, we are sunk.
I have been made aware of how dependent I am (as most of us are these days) upon IT. I lost my pc to some malfunction last year and managed to recover pretty much everything. I then had a similar occurrence earlier this year. Again, although I may have lost some things, I had sufficient backup to be able to cope. Nonetheless, it highlights the fragility of our knowledge-base in this computer age. A solar flare, back, I believe, in 1859, startled the world when telegraph wires transmitted messages, even when they were not powered up. Another, similar event, in our age of electronics, could be disastrous. Not only could we lose screeds of information; we could also end up with very dead astronauts and cosmonauts in the International Space Station and potential hazards being created in nuclear power stations world-wide. In such an event, how would the onboard computer systems of aircraft cope?
I am a creature of my age and my time. Although I am writing this on my keyboard, tapping out the letters, finger-by-finger, I do still entrust certain things to paper. All my business contacts are noted in pen. I write my diary by hand. I print hard copy, which is what I read. Do you read things at length onscreen? Really? Hmmm.
I sometimes take the mickey out of people by telling them that I have a system which is the most bang-up-to-date way of never losing data; of knowing exactly where to be and when; of people’s telephone numbers and addresses. My system never crashes, I tell them, tongue-in-cheek. What is it? Well, it’s pretty obvious, really. It’s a hand-written notebook.
I suppose that, as we age, we become more reflective. I know I do. I have memories that speak to me from decades gone by. I remember the first “coloured” person I ever saw. I had been excited when I was told that there was such a man in my home village. I envisaged someone whose skin would be the colours of the rainbow, rather like the sheen of petrol you see on the surface of a puddle. In the event, I was very disappointed. He was just a sort of muddy brown and didn’t look especially different from anyone else. Same number of arms and legs. Eyes on both sides of his nose. A bit like me, really, apart from shade of skin. However, it illustrates the fact that seeing someone who was not native British was a real event, because they were not to be found outside the likes of London.
I remember my Granny’s up in Dundee. A shotgun sat in an umbrella-stand, just inside the front door and eighteenth-century duelling pistols hung on the wall all the way up the stairs, along with old, black and white photographs of my grandpa’s soldiers in the Boer War. His regimental flag, in a glass case, sat in front of the fire and the dining-room was hung with collections of family medals back to the Peninsula Campaign. It was like stepping into the nineteenth century when I visited her, as I did, every fortnight when I was a teenager.
My Great-Grandfather, Col. William Smith
Of course, she would now be the oldest person in the world, if she were alive. However, knowing her and the house she lived in was an experience; whether it was watching “Learie Lamp-Lighter” turning on the gas light in the street outside, with a long taper which ignited the gas, or sending a letter to Santa Claus by thrusting it into the wood, or coal-powered range which was used by her cook to make the family meals.
My father would tell me about his memories, as a boy. He told me how his father had one of the first cars in Edinburgh. It was a Stanley Steam Car. Evidently, whilst driving to the village in the Borders from which my great-grandfather had walked to Edinburgh some decades before, they passed a road-mender. As the car passed him by (I presume it was moving quite slowly), this man leaned on his shovel and enquired, “Whit’s that fur? Brakkin’ stanes?” (“What’s that for? Breaking stones?). Clearly, he had never seen such a contraption before!
This blog of mine was initially started up as part of an exercise in making money online. In truth, it has not ended up being a money-spinner, as such. It is more a way of thinking aloud, I suppose. In a world which is very unsettled, rather than unstable, I feel that there are things that need to be said. Most people keep their heads down and hope that everything will be all right. In this country, we face a dual difficulty; we have an uncertain political situation internally, due to the wish of the SNP (Scottish Nationalists) to break Scotland way from the rest of the United Kingdom. Simultaneously, we have a European Union, of which the UK is a leading member, going through all sorts of difficulties with their currency, the euro.
The effect of the combined shenanigans of the two sides in the Scottish debate have caused the Scottish economy to sit on its hands and not to invest in growth. Property prices are not doing much, because people do not know where they might end up if the Nationalists win. In fact, many thousands would leave, but the property market would be saturated and prices would drop. There would also be a knock-on effect in England, of course, especially since we are a Union and we would then cease to be one. That is great for historians to write about retrospectively, but rather less fun to be caught up in.
As to the EU, we can only hope that the UK (remaining united, I very much hope) develops its historic trading links with the rest of the world, so that the EU becomes a minor player in our economy. The effects of the euro on world trade will be bad enough, but for us to have almost half our trade with the eurozone is very dangerous.
In the meantime, family life goes on and the next generation are taking their first steps into the future. Like many parents, I have immense pride in my children. If they are the future of this nation, then Britain has a lot to look forward to. They have all the qualities that made us great in the first place, hard work being merely one of them. However, although looking forward is something important, it is also important to acknowledge where we learned the things that make us who we are.
When I was at school (well, my last school, as I was at four, all told), I had a teacher who was nick-named, “The Major”. He was in charge of the school “Corps”, or officer cadets. He was also a History teacher. In later life, he became Headmaster of two other schools. Now, as I may (or may not) have told you already, I studied History as a (second) first degree and, later, at postgrad level, covering Medieval History (as it was spelled). This was due, in great measure, to the amazing interest “The Major” had aroused in all my class in his subject. He could cause waves of laughter about anything you cared to be looking at. He would bring a German pickelhauber” (First World War helmet, with a spike sticking out of the top) in to let us see what it looked like. He put genuine, First World War recruiting posters up in the classroom to let us see them. They were vandalised, of course. He had a huge contraption at the back of the class which would enable him to project images from books and magazines onto the wall to illustrate what he was discussing and there was always a board-game being played at the back of the room during breaks. These were usually things like the Battle of Stalingrad, or El Alamein and boys like me would gather there to watch the progress of the two armies as they tried to battle it out and change the course of history.
Well, I decided to find out where my old History master was and I contacted the last school at which he had been Headmaster. They agreed to forward a letter to him, on my behalf, so I wrote to him, simply to thank him for the inspiration he had given me to progress to the academic study of the subject. History tells us who we are and where we come from. It is an immensely powerful, yet underestimated subject which is regularly used to spread disinformation and motivate people to believe in something which is often utterly untrue. A case in point was that which the Nazis disseminated in the 1920s and 1930s. They claimed that Germany had lost the First World War because the Jews had “stabbed them in the back”. This enabled them to make the Jews a scapegoat and get themselves off the hook. Their generals were exculpated from their responsibility for losing the fight; their soldiers were equally let off the hook and the Kaiser, whose own engineering of alliances had led to Germany being surrounded by foes in the first place was not held to account.
The end result of the lies that the Nazis spread was the Second World War and the attempt to eradicate a whole race from Europe. Germany herself was split in two and Communism sprawled across Eastern Europe; a tyranny only slightly less repulsive than the one that had gone before.
This is one reason why I studied history, because I see similar claims being made about the history of Scotland. The mytholigization of history is always a dangerous thing and it is happening here. Hollywood helps with out-and-out tosh about William Wallace in “Braveheart”, but to many Scots, it WAS history, not myth. A generation of young Scots now believe that the events portrayed in that film are an accurate illustration of what happened during the Wars of Independence against the English.
We are becoming bogged down in an attempt to “Celticize” Scotland. This is being done as a direct attempt to make Scots a different people from the English and it is quite brazen. We have “Celtic” events – a music festival in Glasgow, for instance – and there are efforts to line Scotland up with Ireland and Wales as a group of people of like race. The English are something “other”. This, of course, is utter lies. The fact of the matter is that there is barely an iota of difference between the English and the Scots, if you look at DNA evidence. The language which came to dominate Scotland when it was still a separate nation, was “Scots”, which is descended from Anglo-Saxon, just as is English.
Do you know where the finest English cross is to be found? Well, it is in Scotland, in fact.
The south-east of Scotland was as Anglo-Saxon as the north-east of England. For centuries, it was part of the kingdom of Northumbria, as was much of the south-west, as well. You may have heard of Prestwick, where Scotland’s “fog-free” airport that used to be the place whence you flew to America? It means “priest’s farm” in Old English.
Equally, up in the north and west of mainland Scotland, in the Western Isles and, especially the Northern Isles, a strong Viking influence has left a distinct genetic trace in the population. Moreover, many other peoples have settled in Scotland over the centuries. The Stewarts were a Breton family that settled in Scotland and became (usually disastrous) kings. The Frasers, it is said, came from a Flemish background and many other families can trace their ancestry back to that area. Indeed, the name, “Taylor”, which features in my own genealogy, is a Flemish name.
The most enigmatic of peoples in this land were the Picts. Although claims have been made as to genetic markers that identify them and academics with whom I have spoken have claimed them to be speakers of a “Celtic” language, the truth is that we are still unsure. They left precious little information, since their writing appears to be carvings in “Ogham Script” around the edges of their carved stones. Such carvings are, to say the least, enigmatic and often seem to consist of letters that make no sense. Their legacy of stones left scattered about the countryside of Aberdeenshire and the north-east especially, is simply wonderful. The Roman writer, Tacitus, who saw them, thought they were Germans, as they were tall, red-haired men, but who knows. Maybe, one day, we will find out.
The “Maiden Stone” near Inverurie (about 10 feet tall)
However, the Scots are, in short, what I call, “Heinz 57”. We are a thorough mixture of peoples and it is disingenuous to make us out to be one lot, when that is only part of the truth. I do wonder what people would make of it if the story came out that we were Germanic warriors, just as a certain political party did in another northern European country in the 1930s. Changing the race to “Celtic” is just as obnoxious to my mind. It’s something we can well do without. Indeed, when I was invited to fence in a “Celtic” event in Wales, I asked them, tongue-in-cheek, whether I would be allowed to take part, as I came from a non-Celtic area.
However, lest any of you reading this should doubt what I am saying, do what I have done over the decades. Go to a sporting event – let’s say an international rugby match – and wander in to a beer tent. Watch the people there. If you cannot tell an Irishman, or a Welshman from a Scotsman, I would be very surprised. They just look different. The Scots around Edinburgh particularly, are indistinguishable from the English, however. Interesting, eh? Also, for those of you who doubt what I am saying, it was, I believe, William McIlvanney who I saw on television some years ago, telling how, as a young man, he used to find that gangs would stop him and ask him the question that may still feature in the west of Scotland; “What foot do you kick with?”
To those of you outside Scotland, who have no idea what that means, let me explain that the Protestant Scots of the Glasgow area call Catholics, “left-footers”. The Irish immigrants of the nineteenth century were overwhelmingly Catholic and that was a way of distinguishing them from Protestant Scots. The man I saw, who may have been McIlvanney, said that he learned, very early on, to distinguish an Irish face from a Scots one and then to give the “correct” answer. That way, he avoided being beaten up.
If the propaganda which says that the Scots (especially in the west) are of Irish descent was true, there would not be any such distinction. Indeed, an eminent Scottish historian (an academic) has explained that the archaeology of the original Scottish settlement in Mull of Kintyre shows that the traffic with Ireland was FROM Scotland TO Ireland, not the other way round. That will present future historians with a few problems, as it confounds the origin myth of the Scottish people. To my surprise, this is now accepted by some, to the extent that the official Scottish education website confirms it. If you want to explore this a little more, go here:
Anyway, rant over. We are just people. We are very clever people. We have done more than any other comparable people of our numbers (five million) to create the world we all live in. We have created everything from logarithms to television (John Logie Baird invented the first full-functioning television, before Philo Farnsworth invented the electronic television we use nowadays), radar to penicillin, Long John Silver to Peter Pan and the first fart-powered flight across the Atlantic. No. I made that last one up, actually. Even so, we are still doing things. Indeed, I know someone who is part of a team which has developed a chicken that can lay antibiotic eggs, which means that you don’t need a factory any more. You have an organic one that lays its supply daily.
So, I have consigned a whole year to one entry. I may also change the layout of this blog and remove some of the information which is aimed at the internet. I have found that the online world is no more likely to yield millions that the “real” world. Most of the so-called “gurus” made their money in old-fashioned ways. Indeed, a number of them, when you read enough, actually started off with newspaper advertising and mail-shotting people by post. They may well operate in the new world in the internet, but they use the experience gained in the world of the printed page and the letter through the letterbox.
My advice to those of you who want to make money is to spread your bets. I do make money online, but I do not do it in the way that many of the fast-talking lizards who send you their latest way of selling snake-oil for $47, or $67 claim to. I am as sick as you of slick videos featuring people in unlived in houses with rented planes and rented Ferraris in Florida, who are out-of-work actors trying to sell me systems that don’t work. I always type in the name of the system and the word, “scam” in Google before I buy anything. Yes. I do buy things, if I think that they tell me something useful and there are people I think are genuine out there, but there are a lot of sharks as well.
If you look at my page, “Essential Reading”, you will find a very interesting book called, “Success Engineering”, by Phil Gosling. Now, Phil Gosling is a straighforward guy who started in pre-internet sales and has continued over into the present world. He tells you how things are in reality and how he has made a success of his life (and become a millionaire too). Why not grab a copy for yourself? I strongly recommend it.