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When I much younger, a lot of lot of years ago, it sometimes seemed that almost every weekend at least one of the Scottish Mountain Rescue teams was called out for some English climbers. At first I used to think that obviously English people weren't used to real mountains. I mean, the rescue folk never seemed to go out for Scots or people who actually made their living working on the mountains. It finally dawned on me what was going on. These folk had come up a long way from England on a special trip, often taking time off work, and they were damned if bad weather was going to make them call off their mountain climb for perhaps another year. So, they were going up the mountain in weather that meant they were just asking for trouble - and sadly sometimes they got it in the worst way. I was reminded of all this recently when I saw a TV programme which involved a well known TV personality doing stuff in the Scottish mountains. It seemed that nearly everyone he met in the Scottish mountains was English; but that's not important. One English guide started taking him up a mountain and then declared the weather was so poor that the trip was off and back down they came. The programme makers didn't spell things out but it seemed next day he went up the mountain in much the same weather with yet another English guide. Perhaps the first guide was a little too sensible for a TV production company keen for some footage of their man on top of a mountain and a filming schedule that did not involve returning to the area any time soon. One thing that struck me about the second guide was that he kept his wedding ring on while rock-climbing. I always thought that was a big no-no because the ring could get trapped in a rock crevice and that when the ring finger is gets tapped it holds the whole person unless very drastic action is taken which involves a hopefully very sharp knife. But then I'd always thought was a wise person who knew when the weather was too wicked to risk going up the mountain.

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Hey, has your government done something terrible to you? Want to share it with the rest of the world? Then we at the BBC World Service's programme Outlook want to hear from you.  We don't bother to get the other side's story. They would only, anyway, deny what you say happened. And because we're on the radio, there's no chance of any embarrassing photographs or television news footage that might cast doubt on your version of events. Just don't worry. Only last week the BBC World Service repeatedly told listeners that that 1969 British robbery caper film the Italian Job featured little Fiat cars and not, as many who saw the movie thought, Minis. Why would they call it the Italian Job if the cars were British? And if the balance of interviewees on our BBC news programmes are to be believed, at least 50% of Dutch people hate Muslim immigrants. Hey, after being caught out by Brexit and Trump, we at the BBC don’t want people to think we’re out of touch with the xenophobes. And if the tone and balance of BBC coverage appeared to back Turkish Government claims that the Dutch are Nazis, we can assure you that it has never been proven that any BBC employee is on Ankara’s payroll.  We particularly want to hear near death stories from countries not usually accused of attempting to murder their own citizens. [No actual BBC employees were involved in the preparation of this appeal for contributors to Outlook]

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There used to be a radio programme here in Canada which was an unabashed and unacknowledged rip-off of a very popular American radio programme. This show used to be broadcast from a different location in Canada every week. The presenter would talk a little about whatever place the broadcast was in and speak about the couple of days he'd just spent there. He always mentioned some popular local hang-out or institution. And then he would leave a pause in his script for a cheer or a burst of applause. Most times he got it. But there occasions when the mention was met by silence. It would appear that the hang-out or institution wasn't as popular locally as the presenter and his team of researchers had been led to believe. Perhaps the people who ran it were deeply, very deeply, unpopular with the locals. But the programme was like something out of that Hans Christian Anderson story, the King's New Clothes; you know the one about the foolish king and the invisible, non-existent, suit of clothes that all the fawning courtiers insisted was a thing of beauty, and then a kid who doesn't know any better announces the king is naked. Anyway, few would publicly criticise this show. I remember a visiting writer in Edmonton agreeing with a member of the public that the show featured some of the finest modern short stories being written in Canada today. I asked him afterwards if he really believed that, as I often found the stories trite, predictable and saccharine. No, he didn't think the stories were that great either, "but what can you say". Recently another visiting writer threw out to an audience at one of his talks that he was looking forward to spending some time while in Edmonton with a well known local author. The local author is a git. I really think folk should be careful risking their own reputation by trying to curry local favour by invoking supposedly popular community institutions. I'd had a lot of time for that visiting writer until he mentioned his new local best buddy. I'd liked him when we chatted a couple of years ago about Afghanistan. 

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I don't know about you, but I cringe when someone on television or radio starts spouting in that synthetic version of English known as Lallans, which some like to describe as "Guid Scots Tongue". There's something just bogus about it all. You can almost see them translating from the way they usually speak into this essentially made-up language. And I kind of resent having to translate it back into normal speech. A lot of the problem is there has never been a single Scots language which could be understood throughout Scotland. Each area of the Lowlands had it's own variety of English, which had evolved by mixing old Anglo-Saxon with even older tongues spoken locally. To this day, folk from various parts of Scotland have trouble comprehending what natives of other parts are saying if the dialect and accent is not toned down a bit. That's why education is best done in standard English. Many kids are tri-lingual; the English of the classroom, the English spoken in the playground and the language of home. And some lucky kids can also throw Gaelic into the mix. It's important that Scots conduct a national dialogue and the best language for that is as close to standard English as they can manage. Children should not be educated in language of the playground.  I actually find it a bit rude when someone on television or radio launches into a language that doesn't really exist and I have to make a big effort to comprehend. I think I can understand why sixty years ago, or more, some people thought there was need for Lallans but it was always a muddle-headed project. Language is constantly evolving and flowering - we don't need artificial blooms.

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If there is one kind of advertising I cannot stand it is for news programmes. These seem to consist of bimbos trying to look intelligent and earnest as they hold a cellphone to their ear before jumping into an SUV to rush to some kind of news story. The voice-over is meanwhile telling me, "You know what's happened, we tell you why". Well, for starters, I don't know what's happened because the programme's motto seems to be "Yesterday's News Tomorrow!" And the chances of a superficial news medium like television being able to explain much is very tiny. I've written for television; that's why I stuck with newspapers. TV news is footage of a broken doll or ripped teddy bear at the scene of a 10-killed-in-motorway-pile-up. I hardly blink an eye these days when seeing  actors in an advert wearing white coats pretending to be scientists quoting evidence that Product X works better than Product Y. Or even a happy chicken laying a egg. But news isn't a product like soap powder. Film of some bimbo running to an SUV with a cameraman, or woman, not far behind isn't going to persuade me of anything. Most people can judge for themselves who provides the best news coverage. And it's seldom the organisations that run adverts saying how wonderful they are. I would advise them to spend their money on journalism and wean themselves away from staged events and publicity masquerading as news.   

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