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I heard a woman interviewed on the BBC World Service who was being applauded for fulfilling her childhood ambition of being a war correspondent. It made me uneasy. Would she have received the same adulation if she had said that since she was a child she had wanted to report fatal traffic accidents? I've encountered war reporters in Kosovo and Afghanistan. I was very seldom impressed by them. I can't do better than quote the American journalist and war reporter Martha Gellhorn. "Wars are frightful, wicked things, and anyone who wants to specialize in reporting them is either a charlatan or else lacks a scintilla of humanity."

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Years ago I heard a Scottish teacher interviewed on Canadian radio about how she spent every summer on Cape Breton island in Nova Scotia. At the time a number of Scottish people had realised that Cape Breton was a bit like of a Gaelic world captured in aspic. Some of the Gaelic folk traditions on the island had almost died out back in Scotland. Fiddling was big. Cape Breton had absorbed a lot of Highland immigrants in the 19th Century, many ending up as coal miners and steel workers. This Scottish teacher was a Gaelic speaker. She could tell by the variety of Gaelic spoken in various parts of Cape Breton where people's ancestors came from. One village obviously had been settled by folk from Lewis while a neighbouring community was evidently settled by people from Skye, etc. This was in the early 1990s. Sadly, I suspect the number of Gaelic speakers on Cape Breton has by now drastically shrunk.

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When I was an office boy at the Glasgow Herald one of my bosses gave me some advice. It was not to ask out women who were a good laugh on the phone. His theory, or experience, was that the women with the best phone personalities often turned out to weigh 100 stone or have beards. The good looking are able to get what they thought they wanted without needing personalities. Kind of a superficial notion, but with a possible grain of truth. A couple of years later when I was working as a reporter there was a charming, fun, young woman I spoke to regularly on the phone who was always talking about films she wanted to see at the cinema. Even I knew what expected of me. I think what stopped me was that most relationships don't work out and I didn't want to risk losing a good contact thanks to the almost inevitable breakup. A while later I spotted her standing outside her work. She was drop-dead gorgeous. So much for my Herald boss's theory. 

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When will time come to forgive the Germans and Japanese for the atrocities they committed during the Second World War? The war ended 78 years ago. It is better to forget and be happy than to remember and be sad. But the terrible things done were the work of societies and they last longer than individuals. I heard some Japanese people on the radio recently and thanks to having two atomic bombs dropped on them they were able to portray their country as a victim of the war. It's even possible they don't know about the regular mass murders of prisoners, civilians and the wounded or the wide scale rape sprees. Perhaps the evil that led to these atrocities still lurks unaddressed in Japanese society. I think the time to move on is perhaps when the last person affected directly by their crimes dies. Someone who grew up without a father because he was murdered as a prisoner and who briefly had a little half-Japanese rape brother or sister during their time in a Hong Kong internment camp. So, maybe another decade yet.

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I was reading an article by a black journalism professor about the challenges ethnic minorities face getting into the UK media. Nearly all of the hurdles were exactly the same as those faced by the majority of Britons; at least those who did not go to private school. In fact it struck me that I've heard more black people from the media/arts world from Tower Hamlets, Tottenham, Toxteth and Nottinghill on the radio talking about their childhoods than Scots from Easterhouse, Wester Hailes, Cranhill or Craigshill. The likes of the BBC regards skin-tone diversity as enough. But what we often end up with is the likes of the odious Razia Iqbal who parrots the Home Counties' No Sentient Life North of Watford attitude to life. I wouldn't trust her to cover The Pony Club. The real hurdle is not skin tone, it is parents' address and which high school you attended. To discriminate in favour of is also to discriminate against. Discrimination is always ultimately corrosive.

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It's been just over a year since The Great Eviction when everyone in my block of flats was thrown out. So far, there's only one death that I would link to the mass turnout from the dozen flats. The anniversary had me thinking about how many times I'd been evicted by folk who just didn't care. I counted that in just over 40 year's I'd lived in 18 houses or flats. I'd been kicked out of four of them, five if you count the landlord trying to sell the house without telling us. He had cheek to demand three months’ notice when I moved out. Anyway, that's a scary eviction rate of more than 20%. I hadn't realised how precarious renting was. And there was the landlady in Gayfield Square who after pocketing three months rent announced she was withdrawing access to cooking facilities. The first full eviction was in Shetland when my landlady decided she wanted my room for someone else. Then the guy in Newcastle who said he wanted the house vacated so that he sell it. That was followed by the optician in Oban who wanted the flat for additional storage space. And then last May. Legal rights don't really come into it. Fight the eviction and the landlord puts your stuff in the street in the rain anyway. You could sue, but what's the point in having your worldly goods destroyed for the sake of a few more weeks more occupancy? In any case, the civil courts are only an expensive, and lengthy, game of chance. Don't, ever, confuse the Law with Justice.

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In the 1940s the BBC was accused of undermining good English usage. But at least it said what it meant and meant what it said. Now thanks to ever increasing levels of ignorance its broadcasts are a riddle within an enigma surrounded by a puzzle. If a Lebanese politician really relinquished party leadership after 40 decades, why wasn't he interviewed about what it's like to be more than 400 years old? Did RAF Bomber Command really let wireless operators pilot its planes, as the BBC reported in its coverage of recent funeral? Here's a clue BBC, the pilot drives the plane. Zoom Zoom. 

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Just after I started work at The Evening Chronicle in South Shields I popped into the bar where the folk from head office in Newcastle city centre went for an after-work beer. One of the reporters was sitting recounting how she had got a pretty heart-wrenching interview with the mother of a murder victim. She reckoned the mother would be equally candid with other reporters who approached her about her daughter's murder. So, the reporter decided to make the mother so disgusted with the media that she would give no more interviews. Her parting comment to the mother was along the lines of "But she was a bit of a slag, wasn't she? I mean, she basically asked for it". The mother went ballistic. And our reporter was right, the mother gave no more interviews. Her fellow reporters were almost unanimous in applauding her initiative. 

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I heard recently of a scumbag who set fire to his rented flat while trying to burn off the plastic coating on stolen copper wire in his livingroom. The blaze was confined to the livingroom. Grounds for eviction. You'd think so. But his social worker didn't agree and helped him fight the eviction. The social worker wasn't bothered that next time the scumbag wanted to "process" stolen cabling the fire could burn the whole block of flats down and kill people. The very same people who pay the social worker's wages. One of them is a former neighbour of mine. I wonder what his social worker makes of the situation. Or maybe my former neighbour and the scumbag share a social worker. In the latter case it must hurt that the social worker puts the right to commit crime without fear of eviction above my former neighbour's life.

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One of the problems with new recipes is deciding whether to risk splashing out on required ingredient only to find that the meal is a disappointment and that almost full jar of something is never used again. Several years ago a lot of voluntary groups used to raise money by putting out cook books with recipes contributed by the members. Some were very good. Others were rubbish. One of the worst I encountered was put out by a listener funded radio channel called CKUA. This shouldn't have been a surprise. Years before one of its star presenters was in a serious road accident and as a reporter I had to phone some of his colleagues. Without exception they were rude and unpleasant to me. Pretentious people, pretentious recipes. 

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Here in Alberta welfare benefits are paid by the provincial government. Old age pensions and the dole are federal responsibilities. Anyway, an awful lot of criminal scumbags aren't turning up for their court appearances. Someone suggested the no- shows should be encouraged to show by cutting off their benefits if they didn't. Oh, no, said the bleeding hearts. No benefits means they'll have to commit more crimes to address their budgetary shortfall. That's not how the scumbags' minds work. They get their benefits and they then still make everyone else's life a misery. But the bleeding hearts are saying that we should be bribing the bail-jumping scumbags not to commit crimes. I say to the crooks,  play by the rules and show up if you want my tax money.

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I was reading a history of New Zealand recently. One of the most interesting aspects was how the European and Australian settlers, and their successors, treated the descendants of the people who were there when they first arrived, the Maoris. And more interesting were the contrasts, and similarities, with how the Canadians dealt with , and continue to deal with, the Indians. Canadians should know more about the histories of the other parts of the old British Empire. I don't just mean New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Looking at India, the Far East and the former African colonies could also yield valuable lessons. 

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Many many years ago some folk who'd recently moved into a house across the back alley held a really really noisy barbecue in their back garden. I was tempted to ask them to turn it down a bit. But then I noticed a number of them were wearing Hells Angels leather waistcoats. The Hells Angels don't like non members wearing their logo, so these were real Hells Angels. I didn't ask them to turn down their music. But if I had, I think they would have done. It became apparent that the last thing that my new neighbours wanted was for police to have an excuse to come into the area. The scary thing was that that included no more petty crime. For years, folk didn't have to worry if they forgot to lock their front door. It was scary that  the Hells Angels had that kind of control of all local crime. Undercover police surveillance of the house was so cack-handed that I could believe that for some reason it was supposed to be obvious to the gangsters. So, I doubt if it was the police presence that was creating a crime free zone. Once the Hells Angel moved out, crime levels went back to normal. Though I think the house was still owned by them because when I told the arsehole  who moved in afterwards that I was going to speak to his landlord about his antisocial behavior he got really really scared.  

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Why do many English people pronounce Loch as Lock? And yet they say the composer Bach's name correctly. I don't think there is something genetic that has malformed English vocal chords and prevents them making the "ch" sound in Loch. To pronounce Bach as Back would reveal ignorance. But then again the Welsh word Bach is often pronounced Back by English people. These are not bad people. But they are buying into an arrogance which says We Don't Care how You Say It, This How We Say It and That's What Matters. The same goes for North Americans who call Edinburgh Edinburg. I recently heard either Americans or Canadians interviewed on the Royal Mile say Edinburg. I'm pretty sure that by that point they'd heard it correctly pronounced Edinburra several times during their visit to the city. 

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It seems to me that the only people wearing Covid masks outdoors these days are sketchy characters who just want to hide their faces. I'm thinking of the young guys who zip along the pavements on children's bikes. The fact that they're riding on the pavement suggests that they are not the most socially responsible members of the community. More likely, they are simply using Covid as an excuse to wear a mask. I wonder if they wear their masks when they steal the tiny bikes they favour from small children.

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I'm toying with awarding  a Worst Book of the Year to compliment the annual Book of the Year announced every January. A sort of name and shame. There are a surprising number of really really bad books being published. I say  "surprising" because it's not easy to get published. My concern is that the Worst Book would be dominated by American academics. I foolishly thought American books would be give a fresh perspective from the histories written by the English Officer Class. Instead they usually turn out to be ill informed, muddle-headed, sloppily researched and nationalistic in the extreme. Though, that's not say that there aren't some pretty dire books from British and Canadian writers, but they are usually a better bet for a good read than their US cousins. But then again:- Any Fool Can Criticise; and They Frequently Do. 

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I heard part of a radio documentary from the Irish state broadcaster RTE recently. Most of its documentary output is little better than an hour along the lines of "Cork Man Saw photo of Hitler in 1935 edition of Daily Mirror" and stretches the subject matter way beyond how far it can be stretched. And let's not forget the sequel Limerick Man Once Met Cork Man Who Saw photo of Hitler in 1935 Daily Mirror. The half- decent documentary I'm referring to is one of the half dozen or so I've heard in the last decade that demonstrated even competent journalism. It was about fellahs from the Irish Republic serving in Afghanistan with the Royal Irish Regiment. Contrary to what the Australian Broadcasting Corporation declared when it rebroadcast the programme, the regiment is not exclusively recruited in the Irish Republic, far from it. But since 1922 when the Free State was created, everyone from the island has been able to serve in the British armed forces. Lads from Northern Ireland have been equally welcome to serve in the Irish Defence Force. I remember meeting a crowd of them on home leave in Northern Ireland. They held the IRA in complete contempt. But then the IRA was the main threat to their lives in the early 1980s. Every security van in The Republic needed a army escort and a carload of detectives as escort to foil the IRA's fundraising hold- ups.

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I recently came across an American book for people who collect old military vehicles, as in tanks. The 1994 book gave details about how to refurbish and maintain your tank. It turned out that about the cheapest tanks to buy at the time were British Centurions and Chieftains. Both were being sold off in some numbers by the Ministry of Defence  around 1994 for $10,000 a piece. But the book advised going for the older Centurions, originally designed during the Second World, as the Chieftains  were a little more complex and difficult for the enthusiast to maintain. I seem to remember when I was younger a lot of ex-Polish Army T-34s were being imported into the UK by collectors. I believe the customs forms described them as "agricultural vehicles", as in heavy duty tractors. 

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Who could be against the 1914 Christmas Truce on the Western Front? British and German troops in some sectors clambered out of their trenches into No-Man's Land and mingled. There was even supposedly a football game. But here's the thing. Breaking the enemy's morale is a key part of war. The Germans were, and are, even bigger on Christmas than the British. Many British Christmas "traditions" were introduced by our German Royal Family; don't be fooled by them calling themselves Windsor these days. The Christmas Truce boosted German morale to a greater extent than it did the British. Of course, the Germans didn't throw up their hands and surrender in the sectors where there was no mingling. But The Truce did boost their will to carry on with the fight. 

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