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It seems nearly every week that a new British spy heroine appears in the media. Then it turns out that the old trout had been a clerk at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. I blame Dominick Cumberbatch. The film he starred in about the code breakers at Bletchley Park drew the attention of a new wave of self-obsessed and pitifully ignorant journalists to the fact that the British could read top secret German radio messages for much of the Second World War. Some of these stories in which the "spy heroines" finally speak about the "vital" work they did even include a photo of Cumberbatch alongside a photo of the now very wrinkled old trout. For goodness sake; these women were clerical workers who hardly risked arrest by the Gestapo at any moment. These stories trivialise the genuine courage of the women who really did risk their lives in Occupied Europe. But any excuse to print a photo of Cumberbatch, I suppose.

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I haven't lived in Scotland for years. One thing I've always been conscious of when I have made visits back home is not to show off by slipping North American words and phrases into conversations. "Pants" for trousers and "sidewalk" for pavement immediately spring to mind. When I worked on Tyneside, there were words and phrases that I used without thinking that were meaningless to Geordies, though oddly I found Canadians understood them after I crossed the Atlantic. On another side note, it used to be I had to translate words in my head when I spoke to Canadians, or as they would say "spoke with" Canadians. Now on visits to Scotland I have to translate Canadian English into English English. I have obviously gone past some kind of tipping point. Anyway, back to my point that using North American phrases in Scotland is considered showing off. Imagine my disappointment when I heard a BBC "journalist", Nuala McGovern, talking about people running out of gas as they fled the fires in Fort McMurray. Surely folk in Britain still fuel their vehicles with "petrol". Well, isn't Nuala "special": She has lived in America. She obviously lived there long enough to become a devoted agent of US cultural imperialism.  Good for her not being afraid to show off, something Americans are often accused of but British people used to be shy of doing. But's it's kind of scary that after seven years back in the British Isles that she still hasn't regained the use of her native tongue. Perhaps she suffered some kind of catastrophic brain fart while living in the United States and had to re-learn English. But then if that were the case, it's odd that she kept her Irish accent.

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I think it was the American wit and comedian Groucho Marx who said he was disinclined to join any club that would have him as a member. I think I would be equally disinclined to join any club that did not want me as a member. What is the point of demanding entrance to somewhere you are not welcome on grounds of creed, colour or background? Why would anyone want to mingle with narrow minded blinkered bigots? Someone also said something about not agreeing with what someone said, but being prepared fight for their right to say it. So, I have to respect the Muirfield Golf Club's decision not to admit women members. I feel sorry for the people who voted against women members. But it is a private club with the right to write its own rules. What got my goat was the BBC quoting a number of people condemning the golf club's decision and none speaking in favour; though it might be hard to find anyone who would defend such stupidity. I felt the BBC should have added a rider that it endorses sexual discrimination. What else can "The Conversation", which bills itself as produced for women by women about women, be but sexual discrimination? Perhaps its producer could have gone on air to defend the Muirfield Golf Club's decision. Or, come to think of it, if the BBC had any real journalists left, they could have interviewed a spokeswoman for one of the women-only golf clubs in Scotland. I understand there are more women-only clubs in Britain than men-only. 

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Here's something that has long puzzled me: When I was in Afghanistan, long long ago. a high ranking Canadian general came to visit. No, that's not it. His machine-gun toting bodyguards stood out like sore thumbs in their baseball caps, designer khakis and wrap-around sunglasses amongst the gaggle of uniformed aides surrounding him. Now, I'm no expert in bodyguarding but I would thought a protection squad would not want to draw attention to itself - or the guy it is supposedly protecting. I thought they might be better advised to blend in with the crowd and wear uniforms that day. I had a nagging feeling that they wanted to advertise how "special" they were. I remember when the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher came to visit the Gateshead Garden Festival that there were several Special Branch officers and other cops whom I recognized, mingling with the crowd in casual street clothing. But all were also wearing same apparently innocuous and non-descript item. I guess that was so that if something happened and guns had to be drawn that Thatcher's London Boys wouldn't shoot them dead in the confusion. I can't help feeling that the British approach was better.

 

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A study of hospital admission figures by Glasgow University researchers raises some interesting questions about combat related mental health problems. A lot of modern journalists seem to believe that the higher than normal admission rates for soldiers and veterans can be firmly attributed to combat stress. These keen young scribblers strongly believe killing bad guys must inevitably result in stress conditions such as PTSD. The Glasgow study shows that soldiers who quit the army before completing their training are most likely to suffer mental health problems. After four years of service soldiers and ex-soldiers are no more likely to have problems that civvies. Long service members of the military, possibly the most likely to have been through multiple combat deployments, are half as likely to have mental health problems than those on civvie street. The question is why those who do not complete their training are so much more likely to suffer from depression, stress disorders or psychotic illness. Could this be because they enter the military with existing mental health problems or vulnerabilities? Or perhaps there is something about the military life that makes people crack. Sadly, bullying and ritualistic humiliation have not yet been entirely erased from our military bases. Either way, the military, and the Army in particular, have questions to answer. Is the selection process selective enough? Money spent training someone who drops out is money wasted. Or should the officer corps and the senior N.C.O.s be doing more to clamp down on those sad-sods who get their kicks from bullying and humiliating new recruits?  

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