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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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I was talking to an English woman here in Canada when she mentioned that her uncle had been a kiltie during the First World War. I took a flyer and asked if he was from Manchester. Yes he was, was her reply but how did I know. I made the guess, and that's all it was, based purely on the fact that I'd heard that at one point during the First World War perhaps as many as half of the 5th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders were Mancunians. Sadly, I can't remember at which point in the war that was. The 5th Battalion was a Territorial unit originally recruited from Caithness and Sutherland. It would not have been easy to keep the battalion up to strength with recruits from such a sparsely populated area. And, particularly after the heavy losses suffered by units recruited from specific areas, it was policy to mingle troops from various areas of Britain into the different infantry units. The same policy was followed during the Second World War. As far as I know, no-one has ever worked out how many Englishmen served with the Scottish regiments during the two world wars. But I think the answer would be a lot, a lot more than people think. The old joke about the two Northern English members of the 51st Highland Division getting into a row and one eventually declaring to the other "Ah've been a Jock way longer than thee" is an old one. The one thing I can say is that I get a lot of people from England asking me to help identify which Scottish regiment their father, father-in-law, uncle or grandfather served with. There was time, before the First World War, when the Scottish regiments, particularly the Highland ones, enjoyed the same glamorous reputation as the Royal Marines Commandos and the Parachute Regiment have today and Englishmen were clamouring to join them. The Highland brand was valuable. It is quite possible that Scotland lacked the population base to feed all the Highland battalions fielded in the world wars. Even before 1914 Scotland had been struggling to support all the nominally Scottish infantry units. In the 1881 re-organisation which created most of the "historic" Scottish regiments serious thought was given to appropriating the prestigious 1st Foot appellation enjoyed by the Royal Scots for an English-based regiment. The King's Own Scottish Borderers almost became a Yorkshire unit in the same shake-up and the 75th Foot did not, despite its Scottish roots, appreciate becoming a kilted unit as the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. As it was the 94th and 99th regiments of foot lost their Scottish trappings to become, respectively, an Irish and an English regiment. The contribution of Englishmen to the Scottish regiments all too often goes unrecognised.

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There are lies, damned lies and statistics. But people love stats. If the statistics are to be believed, then the Scots Guards are by far the bravest of Scottish soldiers; or at least they were during the First World War. The Scots Guards, the most English of Scottish regiments, netted five Victoria Crosses 1914-1918. Spread between only two frontline battalions, that gives an easily calculated 2.5 VCs per battalion. So, there you go. Whether you choose to believe the Scots Guards were truly the bravest of Scotland's fighting men or perhaps had better contacts when it came to the medals list is up to you. It is harder to work out where the other Scottish infantry regiments place in the table. The Guards had only two fighting battalions, which served throughout the war on the Western Front. The other Scottish regiments had numerous battalions, some of which fought throughout the war, some were disbanded or amalgamated , some were used as labourers, others were solely training or reinforcement units and some were shunted off to quiet theatres of the war such as Salonika in Greece. So, calculating a VC quotient for most of the Scottish infantry units during the First World War is far from straightforward. Including the labour battalions and those sent to Salonika, which did eventually see action, then the next best performer after the Scots Guards would have been the Seaforth Highlanders. But the Seaforths with seven VCs from the eight battalions I calculate could be considered "active" yields a quotient of only 0.87. So, not even half as brave as the Scots Guards. The Royal Scots Fusiliers and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders tie for third place in the table with a quotient of 0.66. The King's Own Scottish Borderers with 0.57 pipped the Highland Light Infantry on 0.53 for fourth place. The Black Watch and Gordon Highlanders took joint sixth place with 0.44. The Cameron Highlanders, Royal Scots and Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) all scored 0.43. Personally, I put little stock in these quotients but knowing how much people love statistics, and having done the work needed to undertake the calculations, I thought I'd share them with you.

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Several years ago I wondered in these columns who the mystery author of an odd little book called Tales of the R.I.C. might be. The book, which purported to be the memoirs of an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence of the early 1920s, bore a lot of hallmarks of being produced by a propaganda bureau. Too much supposedly happened to one policeman and the writing was a little too slick. I thought that perhaps it was one of the last kicks of the can from one of the propaganda units set up by the British government during the First World War to enlist the sympathies of the great American public and to a lesser extent in other "neutral" countries. I had never heard of the Public Information Bureau, a similar propaganda organisation set up by the British in Dublin to influence public opinion outside the Emerald Isle after the Irish electorate turned its back on Westminster in the 1918 elections. Well, apparently a retired Irish civil servant AP Magill  recently identified a former governor of H.M. Prison Belfast as the author of Tales of the RIC. Just what retired King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Major Aubrey Waithman Long did in the years immediately following the First World War and before he joined the prison service is a mystery. We know that he was a budding writer with at least one book to his credit and that he knew the County Clare area, where Tales of the RIC is set, very well. Some say that he did serve with the RIC, others say there is no record of this. The RIC certainly recruited former British officers as auxiliary constables in what was intended to be a crack anti-terrorism force but which quickly gained an unenviable reputation for ruthlessness, lack of discipline and brutality. But it seems more likely that Long put his writing skills at service of the Crown and laboured  in the British administration's Dublin Castle to confect his tales of republican atrocity from a variety of sources, including genuine Auxies. So, there you go, Aubrey Waithman Long and the Public Information Bureau.

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I was intrigued to hear that the British invented poison gas warfare around the turn of the 20th Century. The claim was made on the BBC World Service – so it must be true. The BBC for some reason thought it might be a good idea to have a panel discussion in German city of Dresden about whether the Germans were to blame for the First World War. Dresden was an interesting choice of venue, having been heavily bombed by the British and Americans in the closing days of the Second World War. I would have thought Louvain in Belgium might have been a better choice as the historic library there was torched by the Kaiser’s men in 1914 and around 250 civilians murdered. The audience in Dresden were invited to participate and maybe it should not have been a surprise that at least one member believed the Germans could not be held responsible for either World War. Another announced that it was the British who first used poison gas artillery shells, during the Second Boer War, 1899-1902, rather than the Germans pioneering effective chemical warfare in 1915. That’s the problem with such radio events – absolute twaddle often goes unchallenged during them. I suspect that our little German friend was referring to the use of lyddite shells by the British. Lyddite is based on picric acid and the fumes can cause vomiting.  Not exactly on a par with the clouds of poison chlorine gas the Germans released on French and Canadian troops at Ypres in 1915. I got the impression that someone is teaching the Germans that every frightfulness they perpetrated in both World Wars was actually pioneered by the British in 1899-1902. There are those who will claim that the British pioneered concentration camps. The camps the British herded the families of Boer farmers into were a disaster and countless women and children perished in them. But the point of the camps was not deliberate extermination.  The deaths were due to British incompetence and indifference. The Spanish had a few years earlier herded the civilian population in several parts of Cuba into similar camps as they struggled against an independence insurrection. So, the British operations in South Africa were not even a very original solution to guerrilla warfare. And what pray what were the Indian reservations/reserves of North America but concentration camps without barbed wire? 

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I recently picked got some old episodes of an old British TV series called Tales of the Unexpected on DVD for a couple of dollars in the bargain bin at a local supermarket. I won't go into the fact that very few of the endings were actually that unexpected. One episode was very like a true story my mum told me years ago. She said a guy she was at primary school with attributed his later millionaire status to the fact that he was illiterate. He couldn't read or write but he was an excellent car mechanic. He parlayed mechanical skill into owning several garages which he then sold for a couple of million. Illiteracy's contribution to his millions was that because he couldn't read or write, he got experts in from the start to handle his accounting and legal needs. He thus avoided the rookie error made by many self-employed people of trying to do handle these things themselves. This meant the business was run on a rock-solid foundation from the beginning. The Tale of the Unexpected episode was about a former butler, played by Richard Briers, who lost his job as a church verger because he was illiterate but went on to own a tea-shop business worth millions. If he hadn't lost his job, he wouldn't have opened the tea-shops.The episode was apparently based on a short story by Somerset Maugham. I have no intention of reading that short story. You see, Maugham believes that I, my dad and my brother, my auntie, my uncles and cousins are all scum. I have two volumes of Maugham's short stories at home which I will now never finish. Life is too short to read everything and the author calling me scum is a good way to put his book at the very bottom of the “to-read” pile and keep it there for eternity. A number of family members benefited from going into higher education thanks to government grants. But according to Maugham, folks who go to university on a government grant are “scum”. I'm sorry he felt that way because I enjoyed the short stories of his that I had read before learning of the contempt in which he held me and my kin.

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Anonymity can hide a multitude of sins. The Crown Prosecution Service in Wales has announced that there is insufficient evidence to lay negligent manslaughter charges against two members of the Special Air Service following the deaths of three reservists during a mountain route march on one of the hottest days of last summer. I can understand why the two men are not being publicly identified - they are innocent until proven guilty and as they were never charged, the extent of their guilt, if any, cannot be established in a court. What interests me is not the names of the men but what their part in the events was. Are we talking about two instructors who failed to pull the men out of the march, one of the main tests would-be SAS troopers have to pass, when they were obviously in distress or are we talking about the senior members of the regiment who may have failed dismally to meet in their supervisory responsibilities. Say that the men at the checkpoints the three reservists had to pass through took rather too macho an attitude to what the three should be able to stand in the way of heat exhaustion, which may or may not be so. Are the men at the checkpoints to blame for that or does the blame lie with the senior soldiers who put those men on the checkpoints? Soldiers cannot be wrapped up in Health and Safety regulations, soldiering is inherently dangerous and until recently the British Army used to lose more members in training than it did in action. But one cannot help but feel that Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, Corporal James Dunsby and Trooper Edward Maher need not have died in July 2013. A Coroner's Inquest is to be held later this year which will no doubt make some systemic recommendations along the lines of more medics on the course with the power to pull people from the march against the wishes of both the candidates for selection and the instructors. It remains to be seen if the Army will hold those truly responsible for the three deaths to account. Anyone remember Teflon?

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Shock-horror – small children allowed to look through army sniper sight near Stirling! How long before they turn into killing machines? Apparently, the Army had some of its equipment on show at the recent Armed Forces Day in Stirling and it let some kids touch it. Any tacky journalist can see a chance of generating a story here. There must be someone out there who thinks this is a bad idea. Why yes, there’s at least one so-called Human Rights lawyer and a spokesman for the Quakers who will speak out against this outrage.  I wonder how many Human Rights lawyers and Quakers survived Dachau or Bergen-Belsen.  That’s of course providing that looking through the sights of a sniper rifle or an anti-tank missile launcher will indeed start children on the slippery slope to becoming a mindless mercenary killers in the pay of an evil British government.  Perhaps we should stop children from learning to read – that way they will be unable to take in the war pornography that is an army recruiting leaflet.  I myself remember that it was seeing an army parachute display team dropping into the carpark at East Kilbride Town Centre that came close to setting me on the road to ruin. The news that I had 12 ½ years to wait before I would be allowed to take the Queen’s Shilling didn’t discourage me in the least. The wife of one of my mates wouldn’t let her sons have toy guns. They made their own out of Lego.  Somehow I don’t think their dad lives in fear that this means that they will quit school so, in Winston Churchill’s words, “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm”. Thank goodness there are brave journalists out there prepared to take a stand.  We can all sleep better knowing we can never do too much to discourage interest in our own defence.  Never remember that if you want peace, prepare for war.

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I just listened to some BBC World Service mischief making. Its United Kingdom reporter Rob Broomby went to a Glasgow bar for the World Cup game between Uruguay and England and asked the patrons who they were shouting for. He expressed surprise that they declared themselves firmly in the Uruguay camp. If he was genuinely surprised, that only adds to the red flags already flying high regarding his suitability for the job. The English throw their support behind the Irish, Welsh or Scottish if their own team do not qualify and are hurt to discover that this is not reciprocated. And to be frank, the guys Broomby interviewed came over as boorish and ignorant. But I have no way of knowing how many sensible people he taped who gave a more rational explanation for their choice - sensible people to not make "good radio". One of the reasons is the BBC itself. Before the English Football Association killed off the oldest international football fixture in the world because they said the Scots were too crap to be worth playing, Scottish fans were subjected annually to the most obnoxious English partisan punditry by the so-called national broadcaster. The BBC more than lived up to its reputation as the Home Counties Broadcasting Service. I have avoided discussion of the Scottish Independence referendum because I do not live in Scotland and may be missing some of the nuances of the debate. I have plenty of friends and family members to keep me up to date. But one thing I will say, every time Prime Minister David Cameron opens his mouth he puts his foot in it and displays a lamentable lack of awareness of how things stand in Scotland. Perhaps he is relying too much on the BBC World Service for his information.

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I've often thought that it might be better if people had to pass their motorcycle test before they could sit the test for a full driving licence. When a car and a motorbike collide, the car usually comes off best. I don't know if there are any figures to back this up; but my feeling is that the car driver is usually to blame. Motorcyclists are not stupid and they know they will end up paying for car drivers' mistakes. This makes them more aware and safer drivers than their counterparts on four wheels. And the good driving habits they learn on two wheels can be carried forward when the graduate to four. As a teenager I had a motorbike and attempts to teach me to drive a car did not go well. I felt sitting in a steel box divorced me from the realities of what was going on on the road. Looking through the windscreen was like looking at a television screen. But maybe that was just me. Of course, insisting on folks sitting the motorcycle test before they can sit the car test would not be a smooth process. Those learning in the winter would face greater challenges. I had to give up my motorbike and switch to four wheels when I was a reporter on Tyneside. When I was heading to work in the early hours of just too many winter mornings there were two things on the road - black ice and big lorries. It was only a matter of time before I ended up being crushed in the middle of a road junction when the bike slid from under me as I tried to stop at a red traffic light. Of course, the real answer is to make the driving test more demanding. But in a democracy, no government is going to deprive the majority of the electorate of their cars.

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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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