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I once crossed the Atlantic trying to sleep on a giant packing crate containing a jet engine being carried in the belly of a Hercules transport plane returning from Europe to Canada. Believe it or not, that was not my worst transit of the Atlantic. That honour has to go to a commercial flight from Boston to Glasgow. I was reminded of it a couple of days ago when I saw that one of the airlines is getting rid of reclining seats on its planes. Big deal, said many in the comments section of the website that I found the story on. What's the big deal about two inches of headroom, asked the posters to the website. If they had been on that accursed Boston-Glasgow flight they would know that some of the seats go back more than two inches. When the fellah in the row in front of me put his seat back, two inches was the distance it stopped from my forehead. OK, maybe it was four inches - but not much more than that. The flight was the stuff of nightmares. The plane had 20% more seats squeezed into it than was wise. Legroom was minimal and when the seats were reclined, headroom was completely inadequate. The air recirculation system was not up to processing all the carbon dioxide the cramped passengers were breathing out. The body heat they were generating pushed the temperature up to hot-house proportions. Then someone had the bright idea of supplying the passengers with limitless free alcohol. Normally, I would have thought this was welcome development. But with sweltering temperatures, inadequate oxygen, and seats reclined into people's faces, well, tempers were easily frayed. The men drank too much and their wives loudly nagged them for drinking too much. My idea of Hell would be that flight going on in perpetuity - a sort of airborne Flying Dutchman. Give me sprawling out on a giant packing in the belly of a piston-engined plane shuddering its way across the Atlantic any day.

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When the 3rd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were sent to Kandahar in Afghanistan in early 2002 I was still a newspaper reporter and I put together a story about the equipment they would be taking with them. One of the officers said an interesting thing - "The most important thing is my weapons delivery system - my body". He may well have been repeating something he'd read in Soldier of Fortune magazine but I liked the quote and used it in my story. It was an interesting way of putting things. But I have to wonder if it's a view shared by the men running the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Apparently, the regiment has a major fitness problem. Over a three year period something like 630 of its soldiers failed the British Army's fitness test. Some would say that comes to one-in-five members of the regiment. When I first read that the army had an fitness problem, with almost half the troops overweight and one-in-five judged obese, I thought the fatties would be concentrated in some of the more sedentary army trades. So it was a bit of a shock when it was revealed that the RRoS has fitness issues. And I would suspect that it's not the recruits from overseas who are the problem. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that a regiment that recruits from the country that brought the world the deep-fried Mars bar is experiencing fitness problems. But anyone who knows anything about Scotland would have grip on the situation. There are Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. The bare figures never give the full story. But it does seem there is cause for concern. A little more PT may be the answer but the worry has to be that this is a symptom of a more deep-seated leadership problem within the RRoS.

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As I get older, I get grumpier. One of the phrases that increasingly gets my goat is "investigative journalist". Surely all journalists are investigative?  Otherwise they would just be shorthand typists. Or even just typists. Of course, some stories do take longer to put together and involve more digging than others. But all stories involve a bit of thought and, dare I say it, investigation. I don't know if the sort of investigations that say the Sunday Times Insight team used to do are becoming rarer or not.  One of the biggest problems with Insight-style journalism is that the reporters have to get a result and that result has to be legally water-tight. Cops don't lose their jobs, usually, if an accused walks free from court after a jury of his or her peers finds them not guilty. But losing a libel case can bring a journalist's career to a sudden and irrevocable halt. The chances of a journalist managing to get his or her hands on irrefutable evidence are not good. A lot of what passes for Insight-style journalism these days seems to rely on making mountains out of molehills found sitting in files available via an access to information requests lodged with some level of government.  I used to have a boss who thought that he was entitled to describe any story he wrote that the competition didn't have as an "exclusive". Technically, that was true and he had a lot of "exclusives". Sadly, he failed to grasp an important thing about true exclusives - that competitors had to want the story. I can't remember a single one of his "exclusives" that a competitor actually followed up. Regrettably, he was typical of a lot of people who call themselves "investigative journalists". When I hear someone describe themselves as an investigative journalist I often also hear the words "pompous" and "egotistical" echoing around the extensive caverns of my mind.  Can I add "pretentious" as well ?

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Thanks to online search engines and such sites of Wikipedia, reference books are going cheap at second hand bookshops these days. In fact I might go so far as to suggest that the book dealers are almost giving dictionaries of biography, atlases, and encyclopedias away. These books may be going for a song but are they worth even that? I guess a lot depends on how much reliance can be put on the information a person finds on the internet. Even Wikipedia has problems. Self-appointed guardians of the truth, often former lecturers at such hallowed halls of academia as Coventry University, can wreak havoc. Oh, don't get me started on how Margaret Thatcher kept her promise of widening access to a university eduction by allowing technical colleges to call themselves universities. But back to how reliable the internet is. When I was researching Scottish Military Disasters, book after book named a Commando regimental sergeant major who took charge after all the officers in his raiding party in 1941 were killed or incapacitated as Campbell. But I also stumbled across a website set up by the son of one of the soldiers who fought in the same battle and it named the sergeant major as Tevendale. That was a red flag that I paid attention to and further research found the website was correct and the books were all wrong. It turned out that one author had got the name wrong just after the Second World War and his mistake had been repeated again and again by nearly every subsequent author. As a young newspaper reporter I soon became aware that just because a dozen people all said the same thing, that didn't count as corroboration of the facts if they all got their information from the same single source. Anyway, the moral of the story is that while those who supply words to usually reputable sources of information are often held to a higher standard of fact-checking than some enthusiast writing for their own website, they are not infallible. A copy of the BlankBlank Dictionary of Biography for a pound is a good deal, but run the relevant entries through an internet search engine too. That's what I think anyway.

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Apparently, the Ministry of Defence doesn't trust British Members of Parliament. A House of Commons attempt to investigate just how much British officers were to blame for a disastrous 2012 Taliban attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan found the MoD "obstructive and unhelpful". It would appear that the MPs ended up relying heavily on a censored US report that they found on the internet when they prepared their report into the attack. The Americans sacked two generals after six Marine Corps Harrier jets were destroyed by 15 Taliban raiders. The commander of the Harrier squadron and a US sergeant were killed. The incident failed to put a brake on the careers of any British officers. Of course, one can understand why the MoD decided the MPs could not be trusted. I mean, everyone knows that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent. Don't they? Statistically, Harold Macmillan was more likely to have been the traitor. Nearly all the damaging and grotesque British traitors that we know of came from privileged backgrounds - Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and Kim Philby. By pretending to be a fascist sympathiser, Philby managed to become head of first of all the anti-communist counter-espionage and then MI6's liaison with the American CIA. He was able to pass on the secrets the Americans thought they were sharing with their British allies direct to the Kremlin. Speaking of stupidity, I can only hope that the members of the RAF Regiment photographed posing next to the body of one of the Taliban raiders at Camp Bastion will find themselves on civvie street sooner rather then later. Posing with the bodies of dead enemies is juvenile in the extreme. Perhaps with adrenalin pumping through their veins the RAF folk weren't thinking straight. But being photographed suggests a degree of stupidity that should mean they should not be allowed to carry guns ever again. We will obviously have to be more careful about to whom we give guns.

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