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It takes an awful lot of courage for the soldier to admit that he’s finally had enough. The military is built around seemingly burying the natural urge for self-preservation. Nearly everyone tries to hide from those around them just how scared they are. That’s why a wise man said, “Everyone gets scared, it’s what you do about it that counts”. Some people end up more scared of being regarded by their peers as a coward than they are of being killed or badly injured. That’s why I liked Canadian special service force veteran Maurice White, who died earlier this month, so much. After serving in Italy during the Second World War with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment young Maurice went on to see action with the joint US-Canadian Special Service Force, immortalised by Hollywood in 1968 as The Devils Brigade. When the force was disbanded in 1944, White decided he’d seen enough frontline action. He opted to become a military policeman, a cushier number than a commando or infantryman. Maurice was a brave man, in more ways than one. 

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I tried, but I've failed: I've just got to say something about the odious Aung San Suu Ky's appearance at the International Court in the Hague late last year. I don't think she really believed that she would change world opinion when it came to the genocidal explusion of Muslims for the Northwest of Myanmar. She went there only to demonstrate to the Burmese people and so-called Military, which has a dismal record fighting the country's other national minorities, that she was standing up for them. She has never had any interest in human rights or democracy. The only right she challenged was the Military Dictatorship's decision to exclude her from power just because she was a girlie. If she had been a boy she could have smoothly, automaticallyperhaps even,  followed her pro-Japanese collaborationist military strongman father to national leadership. This family are quite some pieces of work. Considering the long line of murderers and sociopaths who have been honoured with a Nobel Prize, why anyone is suprised this woman is on the list beats me. 

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I have never spoken to the legendary BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson. I'm not sure if he will ever live down his over-excited claim to be the first journalist in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban. Funnily enough, it was in Kabul that I encountered him. It was a couple of days before the first Afghan presidential election in 2004. Most of the western aid workers, etc, in Kabul had been told to make themselves scarce just in case the election got out of hand. The main tourist shopping area, Chicken Street, was almost deserted. What better place for Simpson to do a piece to camera about being the only westerner brave enough to venture onto Chicken Street. At least that's what he seemed to be implying to his audience back home as myself and legendary Canadian foreign correspondent Matthew Fisher got out of an SUV behind him. From Simpson's point of view, or so it appeared from where we were standing, there couldn't have been a worse time for Fisher buy some blankets. I have a feeling the folks back in the UK saw a second version which did not include two obvious westerners giving lie to claims that only the BBC was brave enough to visit Chicken Street. 

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A while ago there was talk here in Canada about boycotting the Olympics. Which Olympics that was, I can't say now. Here we take the Winter Games seriously and probably win more medals at them than we do in the Summer version. Anyway, one of the Canadian would-be competitors announced that the government had no right to forbid her from going to the games. My feeling was if she had ever taken a penny of public money, she could only enjoy free choice in the matter once she'd repaid it. You take government money, you do what the government says. These people almost always compete for themselves, not for sake their neighbours. I certainly take no pride in their win. It's their achievement and they can have it all to themselves. And I'd rather they financed achieving their dreams from their own pocket. International sport is big big business these days and many of the successful sports people are mercenaries who have little in common with the people of the countries whose colours they wear. I don't see many of the competitors who do win and then land a lucrative endorsement deal putting the money back into their sport or reimbursing the taxpayer. 

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I was listening recently to a radio documentary series about GCHQ, Britain’s communications intelligence agency. What struck me was that many of the senior staff interviewed did not sound as though they had enjoyed the benefit of a private education. To me, that suggested that ability was more important there than privileged background. GCHQ is one of few British government agencies these days that enjoys a worldwide reputation for excellence. Could there be a link between the promotion of talent regardless of secondary school attended and a British agency that actually functions acceptably well? 

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The BBC has a series called In The Studio in which the creative process is followed for a period of usually about a year. What is being created can very from a new comic book to a shoe to a new ballet or opera. The presenters are often not professional broadcasters. Sometimes they are fresh voice; a change from the decidedly chattering classes usually employed by the BBC. Some are friends of the subject of the programme. Others would like to be friends of those subjects. The results are mixed. Some programmes are fascinating. Others are basically exercises in sucking up in the hope of furthering the interviewer's own career. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. This sort of thing is, of course, not restricted to radio. I remember many years ago  a newspaper or magazine feature article about then highly successful Scottish journalist Andrew Neil. The only thing it told me was that the author was desperate to work for Neil and hoped a sychophantic article would be their passport.  But it is especially creepy when public money is hijacked by mediocrities, or worse, to further their own careers. 

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Now Ebeneezer Scrooge was not big on Christmas but at least he didn’t steal Christmas presents. Come to think of it, Dr Seuss’s Grinch is a fictional character who did steal presents. I don’t know if you have anything like Santas Anonymous where you live. Here in Edmonton one of the local radio stations, hey, let’s name it, why not, CHED630 puts out collection boxes and accepts donations of toys which are then given to kids from families who have trouble affording decent Christmas presents. Volunteers fan out a couple of days before Christmas to deliver them. A couple of days ago I went to the local shopping centre to drop of a donation on behalf of a neighbour. The donation box  wasn’t where it used to be, next to Santa’s Grotto, and when I did find it, it was almost empty. Emptied in fact; a few days earlier it was starting to fill up with toys which were appropriate for various ages and genders. Oh, and there was a loaf of bread. You guessed it, someone had stolen the presents. The Food Bank donation bins will probably be appearing at the shopping centre any day now. Last year folk were helping themselves to the contents of those bins too. Was it Jesus who said God helps those who help themselves? I’m not sure what’s going on at the shopping centre is quite what he meant. 

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Looking at events at Batang Kali in 1948 where 24 ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers were murdered by a patrol from the Scots Guards it is hard not to conclude that both the military command and the colonial administration in Malaya was not even second rate, but decidedly third rate. So, I was surprised to learn that the decidedly seedy administration there was rated among one of the best in the British Empire. One cannot help wondering what the majority were like. Empires are based on race and any organisation built on such a foundation is inevitably both corrupt and corrupting.  Nowadays, the kids who would have gone into the old Colonial Office now work for so-called Non-Governmental-Organisations. They do not seem to be doing a very good job of avoiding the pitfalls that plagued their grandfathers, great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers. 

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The Scottish National Party was the third largest in the House of Commons. If you get your news from the BBC, you might think the third party is the Social Democrats. The SNP won greater than 50% more seats at the last General Election. The argument goes that as no-one outside Scotland can vote for the SNP, there is no point giving the party air time on the British stage. In Canada, the leader of the pro-separatist Bloc Quebecois was invited to take part in the leaders' debates, even though no-one outside Quebec could vote for his party. That meant that Canadians could see not only where the Bloc was coming from but where the other party leaders stood in relation to it. In Canada there was a national election. The broadcasters in the United Kingdom are treating the General Election as an English Election and only the leaders of the two main parties south of the border merit debate time. There is much nonsense spoken and written about Scotland at the moment  and the chance to nail some of the lies on a United Kingdom stage is being lost. Something is not right. 

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I was a little miffed at a suggestion in a history of the Royal Flying Corps that life in the trenches during the First World War offered an improvement in quality of life for the numerous slum dwellers who found themselves sent to the front line. A bit patronizing, I thought. But I think the author got the idea from a classic novel about the war in the air called Winged Victory. The point made by a fictional pilot in the book was that he couldn’t see what motivated the downtrodden slum dwellers to fight for a country that treated them so badly. Good question. The Second Boer War of 1899-1902 resulted in a flood of volunteers to fight in South Africa. But the authorities were appalled by how many of them had to be rejected because they were in such poor physical condition, rotten teeth being a particular worry (a quick survey of the newspapers for 1900 and 1901 shows that on several occasions as many as 50% of Edinburgh volunteers were rejected on medical grounds). The school dinner programme came just in time to beef up the boys who would be sent for slaughter 1914-18. And the Land Fit for Heroes promised to the survivors by Prime Minister David Lloyd George failed to materialise. The children of the warriors of the First World War were a little smarter and less trusting when the second round broke out in 1939. It was clear the status quo would not be acceptable after the war was won. It is only recently that the Establishment has dared to start taking away what they successfully fought for 1939-45. Mind you, British veterans of the fighting 1939-45 are becoming scarce on the ground. 

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In the crime shows on television a lot of suspects seem to know exactly what they were doing on a specific day when questioned, even though the it was weeks earlier.  I have trouble now remembering what I was doing this time last week. But I do know what I was doing around sunset on 13th of July 1985 – I was jumping up and down giving a statue of the Duke of Sutherland the V-sign. There were hundreds of us hoping up and down gesticulating at the statue on the ridge above Golspie that night. The reason I know the date was the Runrig concert at Golspie co-incided with Live Aid. The legendary Gaelic rockers were belting out a lively song about the Highland Clearances named Dance Called America. Not surprisingly, it’s quite a bouncy lively tune. The crowd knew what it had to do. They turned pretty much spontaneously turned their backs to the band on stage, which could easily have been mistaken for a hay trailer, and clearly demonstrated that they knew who the statue on the column on the ridge was and the contribution he and his family had made to The Clearances. It was a memorable but moment – obviously. Oh, the reason I remember it must have been the day of Live Aid was that a blanket was carried around the crowd to collect donations.

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We had a spate of people who died after becoming trapped inside clothing donation bins here in Canada. The bins, like good modern post boxes, have a moving shelf in the opening to stop people reaching in and helping themselves to the contents. Obviously, when it comes to these large clothing donation bins there must be a way around this security feature. But there's also obviously a risk of being trapped. Cue the professional advocates for the poor and their demands that the security feature should be removed. The thing that struck me was that no-one mentioned the fact that those who became trapped were stealing. Worse than that, they were stealing from the poor. I can't say "fellow poor" because I've noticed that some folk engaged in similar activities are driving trucks. I don't like to see anyone dying trapped in a steel box, but is making stealing from the poor easier really the best solution?

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One Tuesday a month I go to a talk put on by the local university and involving students working on their PhDs. Recently the presentation was about fentanyl deaths in prison. The student was more mature than most, in both senses of the word, and had been a prison guard before going to university. I'd turned up early and so had an older guy. The three of us got talking. The older guy suggested that fentanyl deaths in the prison was an excellent example of self-culling among some of the less sympathetic members of society. I can't remember what the former prison warder replied but he handled the quip well and was no bleeding heart. The PhD student invited questions at the end of his talk and I kept expecting that older guy to make his self-culling crack again. But he remained silent. But by then it was obvious that most of the audience for the talk were in fact out-and-out bleeding hearts. And there a few who are so intolerant and closed minded than the bleeding hearts. I'm sure the old guy wasn't the only one who wondered whether the fentanyl deaths in jail should worry society too much. It would have been an interesting discussion. But it was never going to happen. Postcript - I was foolish enough a few weeks later in the same room to question a statement that anyone who had reservations about the tactics of Extinction Rebellion activists  should be regarded as an example of "road rage culture". I should have known better. 

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There is at least one programme on the BBC World Service that I'm tempted to switch off if it's being presented by a certain reporter. But I'm not going to name him or her. And here's why:- Although I know the programme is almost certain to be dross, I don't know whose fault that is. At first I simply blamed the reporter. But then I got to thinking. Maybe what I was encountering was a chicken and egg scenario. Maybe she, or he, had been unlucky and had been lumbered in the early days with a couple of hopeless assignments. These got him, or her, branded a loser and all the really hopeless stories. So, maybe when the production team know they have a lemon on their hands, they call in this presenter in the knowledge that he or she will get the blame. We also have a possible chicken and egg thing here in Canada; only it could be the audience's fault in this case rather than the production team's. The programme in question treats its listeners like morons. It makes the BBC Radio One hourly news bulletins look like Radio Four's Today programme. Then one day there was programme involving a lot of audience participation - and they were nearly all morons.  The question is did the progamme's production team read their audience perfectly? Or had they succeded in driving away any listeners who had more than one brain cell and nearly all the listeners now are morons. 

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When I worked at the Inverness Courier I had two colleagues there who had spent most of the Second World War as guests of the Third Reich after being captured in France while serving with the 4th Cameron Highlanders in 1940. Inverness Town Councillors decided that it would be an excellent idea if the town was twinned with St. Valery en Caux where my two colleagues and much of the rest of the 51st Highland Division had been captured. But excellent for whom? My two pals at the Courier hadn't thought much of the population of the French seaside town back in 1940. They claimed that many of the French couldn't do enough for the Germans, including taking the Nazis to places where the British were trying to hide in an attempt to avoid capture. The pair, and I suspect they were correct, thought the twinning had more to do with trips to France at the ratepayers expense for Inverness councillors than any affection felt by veterans for the seaside resort. I'm sure some French patriots did try to help the men of the 51st get away, just not enough of them to justify warm comfy feelings towards the town from the men who were to lose five of what in times of peace should have been among the best years of their lives.

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I’ve commented a couple of times on people who in reality spoke with Scottish accents being portrayed on television or in film as speaking with English accents. Judge Lord Mansfield and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spring immediately to mind. Watching the excellent Hornblower TV series, excellent at least compared to the hamfisted Sharpe series, I would never have guessed that the hero’s mentor and supporter Captain Edward Pellow was a Cornishman. The usually excellent Robert Lindsay gives no hint that Pellow, who really existed before being immoratalised in CS Forester’s naval fiction, had once been an ordinary jack tar and throughout his life had a discernible Cornish accent. I would have thought these facts make the character more interesting.  So, it’s not just Scots who are being written out of history by the acting profession, it’s the working classes too. 

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I hear there is a campaign for the British Government to compensate Kenyans pushed off their farms in the 1920s and 1930s to make way for white-run tea plantations. I wonder how far back the British would consider making financial redress for past wrongs. I can't help thinking there must be many Irish and Scots who were forced into industrial slums after being forcibly kicked off their farms. And the use of British troops, in both countries, points to official government support for the evictions. Of course, in most instances, those evictions were a long time ago. But some families have never recovered and the tragedy triggered continues down the generations. I also notice that the Archbishop of Canterbury has public apologised for the Armristsar Massace in India in 1919. Words are cheap. The role of the Church of England in the killing of the protestors should be assessed and compensation in line with its culpability paid to the families there that never got over the loss of some many breadwinners and potential breadwinners. 

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That arch Little Englander Matt Damon of the BBC World Service has been at it again. Actually, I know his name is Dan Damon, but I thought I would echo his cavalier attitude to names. His announcement that a Scottish barrister had successfully challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnstone's shut down of Parliament seemed a odd. Scotland's legal system has advocates rather than barristers. But, of course, a Scot qualifying for the English Bar would indeed eventually become a barrister. So I checked. Joanna Cherry is an advocate and not a barrister. Would Damon describe a rabbi as a priest?  I think not. A few days earlier I heard one of his colleagues on the World Service express surprise that the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, could stand next to Johnston and be so rude about Bouncing Boris. He seemed genuinely shocked that a mere Irishman would behave this way to his obvious superior. If this reflects, as I suspect it does, the attitude of the English Establishment to the government of the Republic, then no wonder Varadkar and his people are being so unhelpful when it comes to Brexit. 

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I was disappointed to see that the Inverness Courier is still being credited by many as breaking the story of the Loch Ness Monster in May 1933. It pains me as a former chief reporter of that august journal but I am a sworn servant of The Truth. The fact is that the Courier's rival, the Northern Chronicle, carried a story about the sighting of a large unidentified creature in the loch in August 1930. The stories are very similar and that should be no surprise as the same part-time freelance journalist, Alex Campbell, was responsible for both. The difference, perhaps, was that the Courier story was printed on a particularly slow news weekend in Britain and several Fleet Street newspapers picked it up. The rest is history. What the Courier did do was brand the creature a "Monster". Campbell described it in his report as either, I can't remember which, "a creature" or perhaps "a beast". The then editor and owner of the Courier, Dr Evan Barron, changed it to "Monster". In fact as far back as the mid-1800s the Courier had been reporting sightings of strange creatures in the loch, often thought to be associated with the Highland tales of Water Horses or, if you prefer, Kelpies. I own the typewriter used for the original Courier story, and if you believe that you probably have also seen the Monster. 

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I recently watched a very good, excellent in fact, film about the war in Afghanistan. The first thing that struck me was how realistic the opening scenes featuring  the Danish patrol at the centre of the plot were. It turned out this shouldn't have been a surprise because many of the cast had served with the Danish Army in Afghanistan. The second thing was how probable the plot was. Basically, the politicians back home want a war in which nobody gets hurt and, with the assistance of a cringing military hierarchy, hang the lead character out to dry. Courageous Restraint gone mad. Sound familiar? I suspect that almost anyone who served in Afghanistan would join the film audience in rooting for the lead character. And be thankful that same thing hadn't happened to them. 

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