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The problem with recycling old events and packaging them as news is the danger of being scooped. Perhaps that's why news organisations marked a couple of recent anniversaries so early this year. I'm thinking of the 10th anniversary of the tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people on Boxing Day 2004 and the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce between British and German troops during the First World War. The media started running tenth anniversary stories in early December and I'm sure I heard Truce stories in November. The problem with News is that the media has a short attention span, so, events are surrounded by a flare up of white-hot saturation coverage and then forgotten. There is little calm later analysis or follow-up. But both the anniversary "stories" I'm talking about were stale, stale, stale. In the case of the tsunami most were interviews with survivors who had been interviewed a decade before. A more interesting story would have been the damage done by the self-interest of so-called non-governmental aid organisations. Basically, as far as they were concerned it didn't matter what they did as long as they were seen to be doing something and doing it quickly. Long term meaningful help was not a priority for many aid organisations. Instead the priority is income-generating publicity. In the case of the Christmas Truce the stories basically involved reading out some diary or letters from participants. No attempt was made to look at how widespread the fraternization between the troops actually was. A couple of years ago few people were even aware of the Truce and now it has reached mythic proportions. In view of the unimaginative coverage of both events, I can see why media outlets were scared of being scooped and marked the anniversaries so far ahead. It's only four years until the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing, expect the first commemoration "stories" before 2015 is over.

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I have a pal who decided that women were not getting a fair kick of the can when it came to jobs in his office. He was responsible for hiring and he went out of his way to make sure vacancies were filled by women. Eventually, he was the only male in the office. His female colleagues decided they would be more comfortable in an all-women work environment. They conspired to get rid of him. He only just kept his job. I was reminded of this by a couple of job adverts I saw recently. Both mentioned recipes. Now, it's possible that this was a heavy-handed attempt to demonstrate that the successful job candidate would be joining a "fun" organisation. But there is a more sinister implication. Could the mention of recipes be code for "males need not apply". I know a lot of guys who like cooking and might welcome a new chocolate chip cooking recipe or one for banana-bread. But I also happen to know that both the departments advertising the jobs are 100% female at the moment. I would have thought these days any office that was 100% one gender or the other would raise a red flag. But apparently not. I've said it before and I'm prepared to say it again - discrimination of any kind is wrong and that includes so-called positive discrimination.

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Just how low can the BBC World Service sink? Most hostage situations are about gaining publicity. So why would the BBC spend 90 minutes or so in two hours of broadcasting on Monday's hostage taking in Sydney, Australia? The facts could be summed up in four or five sentences. So, the BBC filled the rest of the time with speculation and bizarre interviews with people who had seen police cars near the coffee shop where the hostages were being held. Police at the scene of a hostage-taking - Hold the Front Page! What the BBC was basically saying through its prolonged and unenlightening coverage was that if you are a maladjusted loner, take some hostages and we'll devote three-quarters of our news programming to giving you publicity. Sadly, news broadcasting is becoming less about the facts and more and more about what social media is saying about events. A friend down in the United States was complaining that the BBC World Service news is now being carried by his favourite radio station in the morning. At first, my national pride was hurt. But then when I thought about it, he had a point. The time is coming when the pompous and self-satisfied National Public Radio network in the United States is going to be a more reliable news provided than Auntie Beeb. A couple of months back in the space of an hour the BBC World Service told me that Oscar Pistorius's defence team had requested a psychiatric report on the legless killer during his trial in South Africa and that rogue Toronto mayor Rob Ford was expected to announce that day whether he was going to run for re-election. Neither was true. The BBC World Service is taking a wrong turn. It's attempting to be social media on the wireless. Why would any professional media outlet ape social media? The internet is where I go for social media, the wireless if where I go for news.  I'm not saying that the Sydney hostage-taking should have gone unreported on the BBC; just that when there is little to report, then report little. I can't help but wonder if the hostages had been taken in Islamabad or New Delhi  whether so much time would have been devoted the covering events. People like us?

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A couple of days ago while looking for some on the interweb I came across an appeal from some guy who wondered where he could download one of my books for free. I wonder if he would have gone on the interweb asking if anyone knew of a shop where the guy behind the till was blind and deaf because that would make it easier to steal. Perhaps he would. I followed the link suggested by one of his fellow creeps. I was delighted to recognise it. Anyone who downloads from the site is almost certainly going to regret it. Put it this way, it's not just a book they're getting. The only legitimate free book downloads I know of involve publications that are long long out of copyright. Quite often there are a couple of pages missing due to whoever scanned the book being in too much of a rush. None of my books are out of copyright. There are no legitimate free copies available for download. Maybe some musicians encourage free downloads of their tunes. But musicians have diverse sources of income and perhaps their business model includes offering free downloads. But most authors have only one source of income. I wonder if that creep was stupid enough to give that "free book" download site his credit card number so he could subscribe to their "service".

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I wonder if bank robbers have a problem with the eye-holes on their balaclava ski masks stretching. If you roll the ski mask up, the eye holes get stretched. I know this not because I rob banks but because I live in a sometimes cold country, Canada. We've just had a heavy dump of snow, it looks like about eight to nine inches so far today and it's still coming down, and the temperature is -20oC (knock off another -10oC for windchill) and so it's time to think seriously about Winter-wear. I couldn't help noticing that the eye and mouth holes on my white balaclava are getting a bit big. I'm not worried about being recognised, the reason bank robbers wear them, but every micro-square-inch of bare flesh exposed to the elements is an invite to a frost-bite. And I take frost-bit seriously. A couple of years back one frigid lunchtime I took my gloves off to wrestle with the handbrake of a car which had become stuck. The gloves were only off very briefly and though I was aware of a tingling in my finger tips, I thought I'd got away with it. Next days those finger tips looked like bleached white ripped rags. What to wear when the temperature plummets and the snow gets deep can be a challenge. Wading through freshly dumped snow soon builds up body heat. Not enough clothing, you freeze, too much and you end up at your destination covered in sweat. And footwear is also a challenge. Out here on the Canadian Prairies nearly everyone has what I like to call Snow Wellies. The foot part of them is rubber and then they reach wellie-high up the leg in some kind of water-proof fabric. They usually have a felt-like insulating liner and tie-off at the top to keep the snow going down them. Army surplus ones are much in demand. The problem with them is that they have extra-wide soles. A size 10 boot has something like a size 13 sole and acts a bit like mini-snow shoes. They're great when snow needs to be waded through. But once you get into a building; well when's the last time you saw anyone walking the hallways in snowshoes - even mini-ones?  Sun glasses are also a good idea. The Ski Set has long been aware  of how much light bounces off the snow but it was news to me my first full winter in Canada. So, snow-blindness is an issue. And we get a lot of sun during the winter here on the Canadian Prairies. Ah, what to wear!

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The Royal Highland Fusiliers museum on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow is an interesting place. But the regimental trustees would be the first to agree that they are forced by lack of space to cram perhaps too much into the very limited space they have available for display. That's why they have launched an appeal to fund a move to bigger premises. The regimental trustees are the custodians of artifacts and documents relating to two of Scotland's oldest regiments. Perhaps part of their problem is that both the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the third oldest Scottish infantry regiment (counting the Scots Guards), and the second oldest Highland Regiment, in the form of the Highland Light Infantry, lack the glamour attached to many of the other units. And that might make the fund-raising drive tougher than it should be. When I was researching Scottish Military Disasters, several of the regiments were very very helpful: only one ignored me completely. It would be unwise of me to pick a favourite museum or archivist. In fact, not only would it be unwise but it would also be unfair. I'm not even going to name a top three. But I will say that the RHF have some tremendous tales to tell and I whole-heartedly support anything that improves their ability to get their story out. For more information about the appeal -  Museum Appeal.

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Remembrance Day is a big deal here in Canada. It is marked not on the nearest Sunday but actually on November 11th and is a public holiday in many parts of the country. There are ceremonies at war memorials across the nation. But the grandest of all is at the National War Memorial just outside the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Following the recent murder of a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada while on ceremonial guard at the memorial by a loner sad-sack convert to Islam, this year's commemoration attracted a bigger than usual crowd. So, maybe not a good day for a someone to allegedly dress up in a military uniform and pretend to be a serving soldier. An even worse idea to be interviewed on national television while wearing that uniform. And even even worse to wear one of the highest awards available to members of the Canadian military for bravery. Straight away geniune members of the military called "fake" and many of them howled with rage. It's a criminal offence in Canada to wear military medals that have not been earned or to impersonate a member of the army, navy or air force. Jail time , if found guilty of the alleged offences, seems a bit severe but a fine would probably in order to show society's disapproval. I know a lot of people here in Canada wonder what all the fuss is about. Years ago I tried to follow-up a tip that a frequently quoted in the media and supposedly highly decorated veteran was really a navy cook. What harm is he doing, I was asked by the people who controlled the purse strings I needed loosened to pay for a couple of searches of military records I wanted done before outing the old fraud. The answer is plenty. He was filling folks' heads, including young soldiers, with nonsense about war. War should never be undertaken lightly and the last thing people need is fakers muddying the waters with their fantasies when decisions that put people in harm's way are to be made.

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You don't need me to tell you that the First World War was a turning point in British history. In fact it may have been THE turning point. The conflict is all too often portrayed in British popular memory as futile. I can believe that my great-grandfathers were duped by their political masters and social betters and herded like cattle to the slaughter grounds. As two of them were killed in the war and the other two died long before I was born, I never had the chance to ask them what their thoughts were when war broke out. What did they believed was worth risking death to defend? But the First World War was not an exercise in futility. The Germans were stopped. It's too often forgotten that the German commanders who pillaged and murdered and created so much havoc during the Second World War had learned their trade during the First. The populations of German-occupied France and Belgium were enslaved and starved. Hostages seized by the Germans to ensure local good behaviour were murdered. One of the greatest libraries in Europe was torched. The only things missing from equation were Death Camps. The Kaiser's Germany was a vigorous and lusty parent of Nazi Germany. The Treaty of Versailles was indeed a mistake. It was harsh enough to create resentment in Germany but not harsh enough to prevent the Germans resuming the work they had started in 1914. If you want to talk about harsh peace treaties, have a look at the one the military dictators who ran Germany imposed on the Russians in March 1918.

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Calling film buffs everywhere. In the deep dark recesses of my mind I seem to remember an old British black and white film which featured in the climactic scene a Centurion tank busting its way into a bank.  It was obviously a robbery caper and I have a feeling that the bad guys did not get away with it. Can anyone remember the name of the film and/or anything about the plot? I used to think that the film might have been called Robbery Under Arms. Then I decided that was the name of a Stanley Baker film about a gang trying to steal an army payroll around the time of the Suez Crisis. Wrong yet again, the Stanley Baker film I was thinking about is called A Prize of Arms. Anyway, without any idea of the title of the tank-in-the-bank film or what year it was made, or who was in it, I haven’t managed to get very far. I am beginning to wonder if I dreamt the whole thing and there's no such film. Anyway, if you know anything about this film, hit the comment button below and let me know.

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The thing about politicians - apart from being unable to look beyond the next election - is that they feel they have to be seen to be "doing something". I'm sure I'm not alone in becoming increasingly concerned about the proposed curbs on free speech and civil liberties that seem to be accompanying the rise in Islamist extremist violence. The United Kingdom managed to survive the threat of Northern Irish terrorism without many of the powers which we are now told are essential to deal with the rise of ISIS and the ilk. I don't remember all the passengers getting off the ferry from Larne to Stranraer being herded into detention camps for questioning. Here in Canada the murder of two soldiers, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, in separate incidents by sad-sack loser loners, both converts to Islam, has led to calls from a couple of MPs for some form of internment.  I suspect that there are already adequate means in the legislative toolbox to deal with the present threat. I would have thought extremists should be encouraged to shoot their mouths off. That way we know who they are. Then we can watch them and anyone who associates with them. The Number One aim of terrorists is to provoke an over-reaction that shoves recruits into their net. What is needed now is some finesse and imagination, not a blunt instrument forged because some politco feels "something should be done" to secure the vote of Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells or Toronto.

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It would appear that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II shares my concerns about bravery medals. She recently, for the first time in history, took a soldier's bravery medal away from him. The rescinding of Major Andrew Armstrong's Military Cross appears to have opened a can of worms. A review is going on into all the bravery awards given out to the Royal Artillery in Afghanistan. The suspicion appears to be that some of the recommendations for the awards contained exaggerations and distortions. One has to wonder why it has taken so long for the Palace to become suspicious. The British officer corps has a long tradition of looking after its blue-eyed boys and a nice little bravery award can often help when promotions come around. And not all bogus citations are self-serving. One of the founders of the Special Air Service, Paddy Mayne, was recommended by his officers for the VC. He may well have earned the VC several times over - probably not for the action which led to the recommendation. His subordinates were more than a little economical with the truth. They concocted a recommendation that they believed pushed all the right buttons to spit out a VC for their boss. He ended up with a fourth Distinguished Service Order.  Some units keep score of the number of VCs they have won in their history as an indication of military prowess. Other units regard extraordinary deeds of valour as all in a day's work and seldom apply for them. I say the only recognition that counts comes not from the Queen or the chain-of-command, but from fellow members of the unit involved.

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At a recent job interview I was asked how I felt about working in an environment in which most of my colleagues were black. Or was it Chinese.? How is a person supposed to answer a question like that? There's an implication in the question that is very unpleasant. Actually, the working enviroment was going to be heavily populated with women. Does that make the question any less objectional? Or the implication any less vile? Maybe I had a close escape when I didn't get the job. A less welcome escape was when I was refused a roof over my head because I was male. I had just returned to Edmonton and was sleeping on a friend's floor until I could find a place of my own. I found a nice little granny flat in the basement of a house in my old neighbourhood. I met the people who rented the main floor and they were really nice. The landlord's factor was not so nice. She would not lease the place to a male. That might have been understandable if the people on the main floor had an objection to males or a fear of them. But they didn't. It doesn't get much meaner than refusing someone a roof over their head on the grounds of gender, colour, country of birth or sexual orientation. But I just moved on. No human rights case lodged with the courts. No attempt to bully someone, no matter how loathesome they were. So, I didn't have a lot of sympathy when I heard a woman in Saskatchewan had taken a barber to court for refusing to cut her hair. There are far more important battles out there that need fought before we should get around to tackling loony barbers and sexist factors.

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In the words of the old song - if you're going to love a woman, be sure and do it right. The same goes for fighting a war. I'm not sure how the apostles of air power manage to get away with it; convincing their bosses that it's a war winner. "Boots on the ground" do not appear to be a priority when it comes to defeating Islamist hard-liners in Iraq and Syria. Western politician after western politician promises their nation's warplanes will take part in air strikes but their will be no "boots on the ground". I guess that keeps the number of body bags down and the political cost at home to a minimum. But it's no way to win a war. We're assured that the Kurds and the Iraqi Army will provide the necessary boots on the ground. I don't think so. Does anyone remember how Libya turned out? And no-one likes to mention who will be providing the boots on the ground in Syria. Anyway, if the Iraqi Army and Kurds can't do the job, who can? Perhaps it's time for mercenary man. There is a long long history of kings and governments hiring mercenaries to do their fighting for them  - particularly when their own countrymen are unlikely to cut the mustard. I strongly suspect that the presence of "contractors" is yet another of the things we are not being told about the conflict in Iraq. That and the number of civilian casualties being inflicted as the Islamic hardliners embed their positions in amongst the local population. 

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I heard some purported expert on the Scots in Canada on the radio recently havering about the "native genius" of the Scots. I don't believe the Scots are naturally any smarter than anyone else on this planet. But during the years that the Scots did punch above their weight in Canada they did have something going for them - educational opportunity. When Scotland did indeed produce more than its fair share of doctors, scientists, inventors and other contributors to the general good it had one of the most highly educated populations in Europe. That wasn't actually saying much, because outside of Germany, there wasn't a lot of commitment to the idea of universal education until quite recently. And Scotland was only a little further down the road than most countries. The availability of universal educational opportunity was in reality pretty limited. Few of the Scottish doctors of English stereotype were from the Gorbals. But enough Scots did get an education to validate the notion that it was well worth giving as many people as possible the opportunity to develop whatever talent they had. Developing and harnessing talent benefited everyone. A nation that only believes the existing elite is worth educating is doomed. Universal and equal educational opportunity is a worthwhile and sensible aspiration. I just hope that the fruits of the recent independence referendum include the chance to move the dream a little closer to reality. 

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When you think about it, perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Scottish referendum was that 45% of the electorate was prepared to take an enormous leap in the dark, for that is what it would have been, to escape from the deadening grip of Westminster. I hope that the imagination and energy generated by the debate can be sustained. By the time the votes were cast last Thursday it was hard to see how Scots could lose. Thanks to a last minute panic in Westminster which led to promises of more powers to the Scottish Parliament, the democratic deficit at the heart of the debate looked set to be addressed to some extent no matter which way the vote went. When I left Scotland it still had a colonial administration in the form of the Scottish Office. That's why I find the rediscovery of the West Lothian Question by English MPs something like 35 years after it was first asked so amusing. The West Lothian Question dates back to the devolution debate of the late 1970s. West Lothian MP and silver spoon socialist Tam Dalyell pointed out that if Scotland got devolution it was unfair that Scottish MPs at Westminster would still be able to vote on bills that affected only England and Wales. I agree. But when the Tories swept to power in 1979, falsely promising by the way to introduce their own referendum bill, the West Lothian Question lost its currency. English Tories flooded the chamber to vote on bills that affected Scotland only and imposed such joys as the Poll Tax. The Scots would probably still have the Poll Tax if the Tories hadn't tried to impose it on the English too and the voters south of the border realised just how unfair it was. I wonder how many of the English MPs who thought that was OK to vote on purely Scottish bills before devolution in 1999 have in the past few months suddenly rediscovered the West Lothian Question. And does the fact that they have say something about the extent of the powers presently vested in the Scottish Parliament? And why haven't the English MPs been screaming about Northern Irish MPs at Westminister following the 1998 establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly? What I'm worried about now is that the democratic deficit in England will be used as an excuse not to the fulfil even the vague promises made before last week's vote in Scotland. Westminster has always been the English Parliament in all but name. There is no need to create yet another level of government in England. And the English regions have up until now been luke warm about creating yet another tier of administration anyway. All that has to happen is that Scots and Irish MPs absent themselves from the chamber when the Blah Blah (England and Wales) Bill is debated and voted on. Too simple? I hope the rest of world is watching closely to see how much reliance can be put on the word of a British Prime Minister.

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I remember when I was a newspaper reporter here in Edmonton I used to be ordered to phone members of numerous immigrant groups in the city for reaction to events in their old home countries. I did it, of course, but I had serious doubts about the value of what they said. Who were these people? Why didn't they live in their own country? Was is possible that they were ex-secret policemen and torturers? Only this morning someone was asking me if I thought the people of Scotland would vote for independence later this week. My answer was the issues are so complex and the nuances so subtle, that you would literally have to be there to give a sensible answer. It's all about who to trust and to work that out a person would have to be a lot closer to the scene of the action than I am.  I know how I would vote if it was the same Scotland I left more than a decade ago. But it isn't. Chatting with friends and family back in Scotland and reading the Scottish papers online just isn't enough to yield an informed opinion. I know enough to know that almost without exception London-based commentators haven't a clue. The most sensible and rational discussion I've heard was on Australian radio. There are a lot of Scots in Australia and though they don't have a vote in the referendum, it has major implications for them; from pensions to the right of return. But, as one of the interviewees on the radio programme told them, they have already voted; voted with their feet when they left.  Of course, even being there isn’t always enough either when it comes to being well informed. I remember one of the Canadian radio stations had a United Kingdom correspondent who never seemed to leave London. Her entire view of life in Britain was based on what she heard at dinner parties in Chelsea, Hampstead and Notting Hill from the Chattering Classes. That was just after I moved to Canada and I certainly didn’t recognise the country she was describing. She may have been living in the UK but she had no idea about what was going on in the country.

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Some older readers may be interested to know that Canada's Department of National Defence is finally retiring the venerable Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifle. The rifles are used by the Canadian Rangers, a sort of Home Guard unit in the country's far North, because more modern weapons just can't be trusted to work in the Arctic. But the Department is finding it harder and harder to find spare parts for their Lee Enfields. As far as I can work out, the rifles themselves are issued straight from the packing cases they came in in 1947. The Canadian Army switched from Lee Enfields to the FN SLR around the same time as the British but now uses a Canadian manufactured version of the US M16. The Canadian M16 was actually better than the American version and the SAS used it in Sierra Leone. It was made by a company called Diemaco which was recently taken over by Colt. Colt Canada, as Diemaco is now known, has been given the job of coming up with a replacement for the Lee-Enfield for use in the Arctic. It is expected it will lighter than the old rifle but still bolt-action and using 7.62 ammunition.

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There used to be a fund-raising advert for one of the veterans hospitals in Scotland which ran something like "Tiny was the bravest man I knew; now he's afraid to go out in the dark" or something along those lines. If I remember correctly, Tiny had been caught in an explosion in Aden and was suffering what would now be called PTSD. So, obviously PTSD has never been the unspoken menace to the mental health of members of the military that many of the media would have us believe. In recent years the media has discovered PTSD in big way. I am sure their intentions are good and honourable. But sometimes I feel the water is being muddied and perhaps some harm is even being done. There is not a month goes by here in Canada when I don't hear someone being interviewed about their PTSD. My difficulty  is that while these people certainly have problems, a number of them don't have PTSD or even any other combat-related stress. PTSD is often used as a catch-all shorthand for any stress conditions relating to military service. Even psychiatrists have problems agreeing what constitutes PTSD but some of the people I hear interviewed are not even in the ball park. The public ends up confused and a confused public cannot pressure their politicians to do the right thing. And believe me, politicians often have to be pressured to do the right thing. 

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The tears of a clown - it's a cliche. But like a lot of cliches, there is a grain of truth in there. Humour is a coping mechanism. I think genuinely happy people tend not to need so many coping mechanisms. Basically, happy people do not need a sense of humour. Humour flourishes in grim times. This was brought home to me a couple of years ago. We had a really funny guy at work. He was everybody's pal and always had a great joke or on-the-nose quip. But as I got to know him better it turned out that he was actually a very bitter wee man. The few people he disliked, he hated with a depth that was almost indescribable. Underneath the class clown facade was actually a man weighed down heavily by his own sorrows. When I was a kid, I used to love the old Norman Wisdom comedy films on television. I used to have to pretend to go to bed at the same time as my wee brother but I could sneak back to the living room after he nodded off if their was a Norman Wisdom on after 7 p.m.. Years later, while working as a journalist in Inverness, I met Mr Wisdom. He turned out to be an oppressively serious and earnest man. Then he went on stage and it was as though a switch had been flipped. He was hilarious. Even though I had just seen the other side of him, I was laughing along with everyone else. Which is odd, I think, in view of our chat only minutes earlier. Then Mr Wisdom's public appearance ended and the switch flipped again. He was back to being incredibly serious. Not unpleasant or anything like that. Just really really earnest. I got the impression he was not an entirely happy chappy. So, I'm seldom surprised these days when I hear that the funniest people often do the saddest things. 

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The Christmas before I left high school, my grandfather's sister in Australia sent me a picture diary. For a laugh, I started filling it in. It was basically just a log of where I'd gone and who I'd seen. At the end of the year I put it away and forgot about it. Then a few years later I found it again and had a flick through it. I was astonished. Over the intervening years I had re-written the sequence in which events occurred. You guessed it, I'd created a far more comfortable personal narrative when it came to my last year at high school and going to work for the Glasgow Herald. My recollection had been that I was more sinned against than sinning. But a look at that old Australian picture diary showed that in a least one instance, I was the bad guy. It was me that started the trouble. It was me who set in motion a chain of unfortunate events, not the person I'd been blaming for years. It was a sobering experience. Nations do the same. Scotland's historical narrative seems to have followed much the same course. In it, the Scots are more sinned against than sinning. A nations of victims; be it of Westminister, the redcoats, uncaring and brutal landlords, avaricious mine owners, callous factory owners, slum owners, or the English-dominated Establishment. But what of the people Scots victimised? Sometimes underdogs are not the most compassionate of people. The underdog often seeks out someone even further down the totem pole to exploit. When I was young, the Scots prided themselves on being less racist than the English. But perhaps someone should ask the non-white inhabitants of Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Canada and the West Indies what they think.

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