Monday 30 January 2012

50 things I have done at least once in my life

50 things I have done at least once in my life.
I was inspired to draw up this list when reading a blog I always enjoy and much admire:

I make no claim that they are necessarily good things or in any way exceptional, just hopefully a quite interesting sequence of snapshots of a life.
They are very deliberately in no meaningful order.

1. Swam in Indian Ocean on Christmas Day
2. Danced sur le pont d’Avignon
3. Visited Franz Kafka’s Castle in Prague
4. Saw Shakespeare on stage
5. Went to Turin, Italy to buy a briefcase
6. Sailed over the sea to Skye
7. Started my own business
8. Went to school in foreign language (Afrikaans)
9. Built a toy fort for my son
10. Saw Mont Blanc from the terrasse of my home
11. Sailed into Sydney Harbour
12. Saw a shooting star in Venice, Italy
13. Wrote a children’s book
14. Drove through Pyrenees in a 2CV
15. Had a pet chameleon
16. Saw Michelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence
17. Flew over Jura Mountains in single-prop 2-seater plane
18. Attended a Burns Night in Alloway
19. Went to the Bath Blues Festival
20. Taught my daughter to ride a bike
21. Saw Johnny Hallyday live in an open air arena on the shores of the Mediterranean
22. Played rugby for school in morning, soccer for club in afternoon, went dancing at night
23. Saw the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen
24. Climbed Ben Nevis
25. Crossed the Danube via the Budapest Chain Bridge (built by Scottish engineer Adam Clark)
26. Saw seals at Scalpsie Bay, Isle of Bute
27. Won a trophy for Boxing
28. Had a close friend who spoke only French
29. Rode on a tandem through a forest in Frankfurt
30. Had a bi-lingual dog with a tattoo
31. Drove through Belgium without stopping
32. Swam in Pacific Ocean at sunrise
33. Taught Katy to parallel/reverse park
34. Travelled on airboat through the Everglades
35. Gazed in wonder from the top of the Eiffel Tower
36. Stayed in the House of the Rising Sun
37. Took my grandson on PS Waverley, the world’s last ocean-going paddle steamer
38. Saw Puccini’s La Boheme
39. Drove from Calais to the Med
40. Saw a wild bear in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
41. Saw Leonard Cohen live at Edinburgh Castle
42. Scored 6 off 1 ball in school cricket
43. Took the canal trip in Amsterdam
44. Saw Scotland score fastest ever try in 5-nations rugby
45. Got stung by a bee at the Jet d’Eau in Geneva
46. Abandoned a car in a Luxemburg car-park
47. Saw sunset in Key West
48. Skied in the Alps
49. Saw Blind Faith live in Hyde Park
50. Had my mother’s name inscribed on the Memorial Wall in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum

 Had a tricky time deciding what not to include, like live concerts by some of the greatest names in music,  landmark sporting and cultural events, professional achievements and a raft of personal triumphs and disasters.

And I am not dead yet .......

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Happy Birthday, Rabbie

If he had written
Haikus we would drink far less
Whisky on Burns Night

Happy Birthday, Rabbie, and thanks for everything!

Sunday 22 January 2012

a bit of a rant

In the continued absence of the smart and talented half of AnElephantCant (if the brain isn’t here, guess which part of the elephant you are left with), I feel like a bit of a rant.

We are all aware of the dumbing down of the English language, in whatever flavour we use it.
The ever increasing use of email stripped the written word of much of its form and formality (and I confess to being as guilty as anyone in this) with the omission of pronouns, punctuation and even capitals.

Now the use of text has created a whole new language, much of it well-nigh incomprehensible to old fuddies like myself, and has wiped out almost entirely all previous notions of spelling and grammar.
This is not necessarily a bad thing per se, but I do wonder when ‘text’ became a verb and created the ugliest and most unpronounceable word in the language in its past tense.
Texted! Really?

But I am much more dismayed by the collapse of proper pronunciation in much of our day-to-day speech.
Here in Scotland this has, I believe, always been the case to some degree.
The omission of the ‘g’ at the end of ‘-ing’ is a widespread example of this, but the most common is the glottal stop which replaces the ‘t’ or even ‘tt’ in the middle of a word.
This is applied even in the name of our own country, Bonnie Sco’land!

We also lose the ‘t’ from the end of words, giving us cannae, willnae, dinnae and disnae.
And don’t get me started on such linguistic atrocities as ‘gauny’ or the execrable ‘um ur’ which in some circles seems to have replaced ‘I am’.
(My apologies to non-Scots speakers here – some of that must be utterly unintelligible.

And now onto the English!
By this I mean mispronunciations not found in Scots speech, but widespread among TV folk.
Let’s start with the much-abused letter ‘r’.
It is often omitted when it should be pronounced, as in poor, which becomes poo-wah.
Think also of door, car, sore, and pretty much anything ending in the comparative –er.
It is like a mass audition for the ‘Fwee Wodewick’ scene in Life of Brian!
Now, to be fair, this callous abandonment is compensated by the apparently spurious addition of the wretched ‘r’ to words ending in ‘aw’.
Think saw, claw, flaw and that famous Scottish footballer, Denis Lore.
If the family pet hurts its foot, imagine the consternation over its poor paw!

A more recent abomination is the emphasis on the internal ‘g’ in words like singing and ringing. In fact, it is pronounced as though there is an additional ‘g’, giving sing-ging and ring-ging. Why?
Do some morons think it is posh?
Or do posh people think it is moronic?

And what about the letter ‘h’?
Yep, aitch is now pronounced with a leading ‘h’.
What on earth possesses folk to just change a word?
Are we going to start breathing fresh hair?
Be all hakes and pains?
Maybe drink a pint or 3 of real hale?

I would also like to mention words that are used wrongly.
Recently every semi-literate sports ‘expert’ uses the expression ‘begs the question’, when he really means ‘raises the question’.
Begging the question is something quite different, meaning to imply the answer in the question itself.
I suggest you look it up.

My last comment is more of an observation.
We in Scotland now use ‘never’ in place of ‘not’ in many situations.
I never saw him last night.
I never went to the match on Saturday.
And perhaps especially in a denial – no, I never!
So it appears to be used for emphasis, for when ‘not’ just isn’t convincing enough.
This is what happens when the good old ‘f’ word is so overused that it no longer has any impact!

End of rant. For now.

Friday 13 January 2012


The park can be a wondrous place
Full of strange exotic secrets
A twilight land of shadowy shapes
And dark mysterious creatures

T Rex and mammoth flourish here
Imagination has a feast
A creative mind (with grandpa’s help)
Conjures up amazing beasts

Jack runs tireless through the mud
His spirits never flagging
He’s on the hunt - has he found the tracks
Of the Sabre-dino-dragon?

They nest high in the leafless trees
They sometimes lurk around the pond
They move noiselessly up steep wet slopes
To the flag-pole and beyond

Bushes protected by twig and thorn
For unwary clothes to snag on
The perfect hidey hole for boys
And Sabre-dino-dragons

Jack’s mum says we are crazy folk
And it’s hard to disbelieve her
But we have studied their environs
And seen the signs they leave there

Is it all in my aging brain?
Is my sanity a-sagging?
Or has my bonnie brilliant boy
Discovered Sabre-dino-dragons?

Friday 6 January 2012

The King and I

Not long ago I got involved in one of those conversations. You know the kind of thing, the meaning of life, will we ever win the World Cup, what’s your favourite movie of all time, and so on.
Well, it was the movie bit that got interesting. What does ‘favourite’ mean? The best? How do you define that? And so on.
So we agreed to nominate the film which had the greatest impact on our lives, the one that most changed our way of thinking.
There were the usual proposals – The Godfather (I think II was top here), Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and so forth.
But my choice caused some disbelief, consternation, and even laughter.
Until I explained the background.
I was brought up in what was then The Union of South Africa, in the late 1950’s.
There was no television.
(This, incredibly, was true until the 1970’s!)
There was not much in the way of radio, and most of that was in Afrikaans.
For those of you unfamiliar with Afrikaans, it is an offshoot of Dutch with a sprinkling of other, mainly African, words.
If you are unfamiliar with Dutch, try to imagine someone speaking German in that clipped, slightly nasal South African accent.
It is not the most mellifluous of the world’s tongues.
Now I spoke the language fluently, because I attended an Afrikaans-speaking boarding school in Newcastle in the Drakensberg Mountains, where I was sent for health reasons.
My poor brother was sent along just to keep me company - even then I felt that was somewhat unfair!
Regardless of fluency, Afrikaans is not the natural medium for song, comedy or entertainment for a 10-year old boy.
I am struggling here to get to my point.
I was raised on a musical diet of Al Jolson, my father’s favourite, and Kenneth McKellar, my mother’s, from the long-playing records brought from Scotland.
To this day I know all the words of everything Al Jolson ever sang.
Not just Mammy, Sonny Boy and Swanee, but Toot Toot Tootsie, A Rainbow Around my Shoulder, Baby Face and a hundred others.
I am not here to denigrate these great singers from an earlier era but, for a pre-teen boy, they were not quite doing it.
We went to the cinema, or Bioscope as it was known in South Africa, and saw The Wizard of Oz, Show Boat and other musicals, not always too contemporary!
The drive-in cinema was a great favourite there, for many reasons.
You sat in your car as a family – my parents, my two brothers and I – so you could talk and make the kind of jokes that families do, eat and drink, or even – in the case of my much younger brother – have a snooze without inconveniencing anyone else’s enjoyment of the evening.
You had the speaker set to the volume that suited you, so it didn’t have to be deafening.
I always thought it a great pity that our climate is so unsuited to the drive-in, when it is dark enough it is way too cold!
So one night my father took us to the drive-in to see a new film from America.
I sat open-mouthed, stunned, unbelieving, totally enraptured as Elvis Presley slid down a pole and ‘The warden threw a party in the county jail’!
Yep, Jailhouse Rock.
The film that taught me there was a whole new and different world of music out there.
The film that showed me that a man could sing and dance and – no disrespect to the wonderful Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly - still be one heck of a man.
The film that gave voice to a generation, to their music and their culture.
The film that personified the new ‘Zeitgeist’, even if it would be 20 years before I knew what that word meant.
The film that introduced me to Elvis, to Rock and Roll, to a way of life.
The film that had the greatest impact on my life, the one that most changed my way of thinking.

He would have been 77 years old on January 8.
Happy Birthday, Mr Presley.