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I've always thought that before a couple gets married, or shacks up together, or whatever people do, co-habit (?), they should go on a camping trip together. There's nothing like putting up a tent or camp cookery for testing a relationship. Many folk get on fine as long as they are in their element. But take that fish out of its usual pond and turn up the heat with some unfamiliar activities and tempers can quickly fray. Putting up a tent can be a challenging experience, or least it used to be but maybe the makers have simplified things, that even requires working together and co-ordination. Maybe throw in some map reading and mountain navigation just to test things further. Any fools can go to the pub, the disco, a film or a restaurant and not be challenged. But putting up a cramped tent on a rain and wind lashed Scottish mountainside and then trying to heat up some kind of food to keep body and soul together will almost certainly test any relationship to the full. If it can survive An Teallach, it should be sound as pound for many years. 

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Newspapers seem to be in rough shape these days - just ask the folk at The Scotsman. It used to be that reports that newspapers were dead ducks proved premature, both radio and television failed to drive them out of business. This was mainly because both mediums are more than somewhat superficial. The word count on a story for either is so small that only very basic, and all too often inadequate, detail can be given. The shorter the better I've always found when it comes to newspaper stories, but always use enough to tell the full story - usually a greater number than a TV or radio format can accommodate. What did for newspapers was a left-right combination from the internet. People could just steal the news, which costs money to gather, and peddle it themselves. Readers found they could get the news on their computer without having to pay for it. Of course, the news thieves had their own motives for stealing other people's work. There is no copyright on events and a quick re-write of a real journalist's work avoids trouble and expense. As newspaper advertising revenues dropped, so did the number of journalists on the payroll and the standard of work they produced. I worked a place that laid off a lot of people. The thing is they laid off the wrong people. It was the reporters covering the local news who all too often got the axe. They were usually the youngest reporters and had been at the paper the shortest time. Therefore they cost less than the long tenured to make redundant. A lot of older guys and gals simply continued with the various taskless thanks bestowed on them purely for payroll longevity. But it's the local news people buy the paper for; cynics said it was small ads but look at the mess the free-sheets turned out to be . OK, maybe let the young reporters go but re-assign the old hacks back to covering local news. When the paper did do that, one guy tried to sue for constructive dismissal. No surprise that the paper eventually went belly up and became shadow of its old self. Or that it is now owned by what used to be it's main competitor which could well have had to motto "Last Week's News Next Week". And which is by the way is owned by American hedge funds. Who says the quality will out and it's the poor product that goes to wall. Deep pockets speak loud. 

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I'm coming to the conclusion that war films made either during the Second World War or just after it may be better than many made in the decades that followed. I've just finished watching "The Way Ahead", with its strong cast, and an American film "Go for Broke" about ethnic Japanese men who served in Europe with the American Army. Both very good films. And Battleground about the US 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge is also a surprisingly strong film. Of course there's an element of propaganda in all of them. But I think the makers realised that a lot of men who had seen frontline service were going to see the films and they didn't want the cinemas filled with sounds of disbelief or mockery. So, a lot of the nonsense was toned down.  However, as time went on the war films became perhaps sillier. The British were nearly always brave, honourable, clever and the Germans, or sometimes Japanese, were brutal and stupid. The Colditz Story, about prisoners of war, mainly British, is one I find very hard to stomach these days. The British are so brave and clever, the Germans are so stupid. It is only in recent years that war films have improved again. The scripts of all too many films from the late 1960s and 1970s were written by people with an agenda but no first hand experience of war. Mind you, by then there wasn't really much of a British film industry left by then. Lead rolls went to US actors who either pretended to be Canadian for the purposes of the story or were Americans awkwardly thrust into battle alongside British troops. Though generally a terrible war film, Saving Private Ryan, which may well have been pitched in a Hollywood lift as "Gang of Americans defeats German panzers with sweaty old socks", however showed there was still money to be made from war films and we've had some half-decent ones in recent years. It's just a shame that in the case of the Second World War the time when the writers could have benefited from talking to the men who were there are almost gone.  

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As the centenary version of Remembrance Day approaches another military-related story seems to have passed by pretty much unremarked. The European Court of Human Rights ruled early last month that it lacked the powers to force the British Government look into a 1948 massacre carried out in Malaya by the Scots Guards. The court said it lacked the jurisdiction to order an inquiry because the cold-blooded execution of 24 ethnic Chinese men on a rubber plantation occurred a decade before British private citizens were allowed to appeal to it and, secondly, that the 1969 admissions of massacre from squaddies involved were made too long ago. So, that's the Law. But what about the moral obligation to give the families of all involved the truth? The "shot while attempting to escape" official version of events at Batang Kali was shredded in 2015 at the High Court hearing in London. The court accepted that the massacre had taken place. But the Government's long-disseminated deep background version that the killings were done by a rogue patrol has still to be independently and thoroughly examined. The whole incident stinks of cover-up. And the British Government and British Army's silence and stone-walling continues to hurt the United Kingdom's reputation worldwide. Just do an internet search with the key words "Scots guards, massacre, 1948, Malaya" and you'll quickly see what a gift this cover-up is to Britain's enemies. Also see Batang Kali Revisited 

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I sometimes think that DNA is regarded as the new magic or religion. But like all science, the results are not always clear cut as they first seem. Example: - most post-mortems reveal food in the stomach, therefore eating causes death. OK, that's a bit extreme but every week we hear of some amazing scientific "discovery" which requires just a bit more money to double check through more research. And then the claimed breakthrough is never heard of again. Anyway, DNA. I am just waiting for some bright spark to announce that the Anglo Saxons settled the West Highlands of Scotland in the distant past. This is based on the DNA of the entire population of the remote Knoydart Peninsula now being heavily Anglo Saxon. That may be what the DNA science says. But history says that the original population was forcibly removed in the mid-1800s. Attempts in 1948 to use legislation first introduced after the First World War to allow returning servicemen to claim crofts on under-used agricultural land were defeated. The courts sided with Nazi-loving landowner Lord Brocket. And I wonder how scientists would fare when it comes to untangling the DNA of the historic population of the rural Highlands anyway. Many of the long standing families were kicked off the land, or emigrated, years ago to be replaced first of all by Border shepherds and these days by English estate workers. I say "English estate workers" because it seems that every stalker and ghillie I hear interviewed on the radio is from south of the border. And then there's a problem that DNA testing is revealing very few family trees are good guides to genetic make-up. A lot of dad's in them are not biological fathers. Personally, I don't care. I think nurture is far more important than nature. It makes no difference to me if one of my great great great grandfathers is no blood relation of mine (not that I’m saying that anyone has said such a thing). I find fascination with DNA misguided and even a little fascist.  

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