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I always felt the winter solstice festive period was a season of two parts. Christmas was for family. New Year was mates and community. Most folk, at least in theory know how Christmas is supposed to go. But I'm beginning to wonder if the Art of Hogmanay is being lost. It's hard to say from here in Canada. If the Canadians ever got New Year, it was long before my time. I once went to the square outside Edmonton City Hall for Hogmanay. Folk just stood in their own little groups and didn't mingle. I think the square was almost empty by 12:15am. It was a poor imitation of something folk had seen on television beamed from New York. A similar event in Scotland, at least when I was young, would have have involved the whole crowd trying to interact with everyone else in it. Though there was the occasional empty bottle launched into the air. And everyone seemed to throw their home open to everyone else, even if they didn't particularly like them. Everyone was pals for one night, or at least pretended to be. But I gather things are a lot quieter in Scotland these days, and have been since  long before Covid came along. Maybe folk these days have nicer furniture that they don't want damaged or stuff around the house that they don't want people they barely know, if they know them at all, pocketing. Or maybe I'm just getting old. 

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I'm getting fed up translating ignorant into English on a daily basis. And I'm not thinking of slips of the tongue, but scripted material delivered by supposed professionals. "Journalists" who believe that situations are exasperated rather than exacerbated. That preempting is the same as predicting. And the plural of child is childs. And they are all being paid to produce this confounding drivel. I shouldn't have to work out what they are trying to say or mean. It's their job to use the correct words. 

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So, excited about the impending announcement of the SMD 2021 Book of the Year? Probably not. I think the only folk who might care are the ones on the shortlist. That's because I'm not beholden to any publisher and don't have to creep up to any fellow writers.  A lot of those pithy quotes from reviewers  on the back of new books are more about getting the some publicity for the reviewer, often a writer, than guiding potential readers. And I can think of one Canadian best seller praised for its originality by reviewers who did not realise that the central "revelation" had formed the opening chapters of British book two years earlier. So, the choice of SMD Book of the Year is usually less tainted than most such awards. The same goes for all the reviews that appear in Book Briefing. 

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Does anyone else remember a Scottish TV drama series from the 1960s called High Living? I remember it was about people living in a Glasgow high rise but that’s about it. Was it some kind of Scottish Coronation Street? I have no idea. It was in black and white. Or was it? Maybe we only had a black and white TV and really it was in colour.  I remember getting an old camera and automatically assuming it would only take black and white photos. Strange sometimes what I come up with. Am I only person who remembers Pogle’s Wood? I think I always hated Andy Pandy but used to make sure to be home from playing in the dark woods for in time Bill and Ben. It turns out that the dark woods where we were sent to hunt rabbits every morning takes up a space about the size of a football pitch. But when I was three or four and armed only with a bag of salt, which I was told if I could sprinkle on a rabbit’s tail would paralyze it, the dark woods seemed massive.

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Many of us have been brainwashed by the shear weight of American self absorption into believing that the Second World War in the Pacific theatre began with the Japanese air attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec 7 1941. Not so. Several hours before that the Japanese shot down an RAF flying boat which was shadowing the invasion fleet heading for the Malayan Peninsular. It's a mystery as to whether the plane from 205 Squadron failed to get off a radio message before it was blown apart, or whether the message was not received, or whether it was simply ignored; because the crew were all killed. Certainly, RAF and Australian air force planes had been aware of the invasion fleet since December 6th, though no-one knew where it was headed at that point. When the Catalina flying boat was was first raked by Japanese machine gun fire the fleet was only 150 miles from the invasion beaches. Actually, perhaps few people are aware that the first Allied casualties of the war in the Pacific were flying with an RAF squadron rather than Americans at Pearl Harbor because the incident raises too many  questions about British military ineptitude. 

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I wonder how many people realise that the present 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment was once part of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. And how long will it be before folk forget that the 1st Battalion of the new Ranger  Regiment is descended from the old Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borderers, two of the oldest regiments in the British Army. 2 Para is usually associated with the guys who got the bridge at Arnhem in 1944. But actually what is now the 2nd Battalion started life as the 5th Battalion in May 1943 when the 7th Cameron Highlanders was converted into a parachute unit. The 5th Battalion was was redesignated the 2nd Battalion in 1948. So, there is a precedent for turning what used to be called a line infantry battalion into a specialist unit. Which is what is being done with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, formed from a 2006 merger of the Royal Scots, by the way the oldest line regiment, the old 1st Foot, and the KOSB, once the 25th Foot. In the run up to the 1881 Army reforms there was much talk of making the 1st Foot a London regiment and the 25th a Yorkshire unit. 

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A while back I was reading one of Ian Rankine’s Rebus novels and it involved Rebus phoning a cop in Shetland. The cop was more Western Isles than Shetland in the way he spoke. I thought, wrong island group there chum. But I’d forgotten something. Many of the Shetland cops in the days of the old Northern  Constabulary were from the Skye, the Hebrides or very remote parts of the Western Highlands. There had been a problem with Big City cops raised among the bright lights of Inverness. They hated Shetland and they took it out on the locals. One of my colleagues at the Shetland Times once heard a couple of them as they got into their squad car declaring they would “Spill some Sheltie blood  tonight”. A few weeks after I went to Shetland to work I was back in Inverness for a couple of days and went with a pal to a local hostelry. The owner pointed out  a guy sitting at the bar with very fancy, very shiny, shoes and said he had just returned from the Shetland. It turned out he was cop. Oddly, my pal stayed at the other end of the bar and after I’d finished chatting with the cop I asked him why he hadn’t come across. It turned out he’d met the cop only a couple of days earlier. My mate told me that the cop had wanted to beat the crap out of him for no good reason and had only been restrained by an older wiser colleague. Anyway,the Northern Constabulary had decided only volunteers or cops from remoter regions  of the force area should be posted to Shetland.

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Next time someone trots out the old "The British Invented Concentration Camps" lie, consider that you might be talking to a Nazi. I had forgotten that this canard was a central plank of Nazi propaganda. It even featured in a German Second World War film called Oom Paul, set during the 1899-1902 Boer War. Of course, there was a big difference between a Nazi murder camp and a poorly run British refugee camp for Boers whose homes had been burned down in a savage anti-guerilla campaign. Something like 28,000 died in the British Camps, mostly children and mainly from disease. An estimated 14,000 black Africans died in their segregated camps. Something like 14,000 British troops died in Southern Africa during the same period, also in the main due to official stupidity and incompetence. Official credit for "inventing" concentration camps has to go to the Spanish Army in Cuba around 1896,  once again linked to anti-insurgency warfare. And what were the US Indian Reservations and Canadian Reserves but concentration camps without barbed wire? Another point is that the British brought ignominy on themselves through a basically humanitarian gesture to fellow whites. No effort was made to help the non- white victims of previous colonial punitive campaigns after their homes were burned. Anyway, next time someone tells you the Brits invented concentration camps, you'd be entitled to wonder if they know they are spouting Nazi nonsense. They may well do. Another group who trot out this lie are supporters of the IRA joining the Germans in bombing Britain during the Second World War. 

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For several years now I've been making my own calendars on the computer. The monthly illustration is usually on a military theme of some kind. It is very seldom that any image is used more than once. About the only exception is for the month of November. It is a photo taken of a First World War battlefield dotted with the kilted corpses of soldiers from a Highland regiment. Somehow the glimpse of a scrotum peeking from under a kilt brings home home that we are looking at human beings and not uniformed automatons. And it's a reminder for how soldiering can end. The photo is usually attributed to the Imperial War Museum. But I have seen it credited to the Official Canadian war photographer. So, the bodies could be Canadian. The Canadian forces fielded several kilted regiments during the conflict. I've also come across mention of Zonnebeke, 1917 and the Battle of Passchendaele. Anyway, click here to see the photo 

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So, the BBC has declared Glasgow the capital of Scotland. I take it that it backs what it broadcasts. According to People Fixing The World presenter Marnie Chesterton Glasgow is the Scottish Capital. If it is not, I suppose Chesterton will be fired in a bid to restore the programme's credibility. I mean, if she got something so basic wrong, what else does she get wrong? In real life, I wonder how many other BBC presenters covering the COP 26 in Glasgow will show the same ignorance of life north of Watford. My guess is that Chesterton will not be only one. UK national broadcaster? 

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I was recently reading a novel set in a British military prison during the Korean War. What struck me about this tale of life and death in The Glasshouse were the parallels with high school in Scotland. No, not the constant drill and endless mindless bullshit, but being forced into the company of nutcases. Maybe Craigshill High School had more murderers and psychos among the pupils than most schools. Maybe some of the staff only kept their jobs in teaching because no- one else was prepared to brave the literally murderous pupils.  I remember years later in a bothy south of Ullapool meeting the brother in law of one of my teachers and voicing the opinion that he and another teacher from the same department were certifiable psychopaths. The brother in law immediately agreed. It was only as an adult that I realised how dysfunctional several of my teachers were. She is only a schoolie and maybe you shouldn't be taking a shower together in the boys' changing room sir.  I guess  the end of National Service meant there was less job opportunity in the Army for psycho inadequates as Glasshouse staff. Shame Scottish Education offered a cosy billet to so many who would have been  otherwise unemployable. 

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that friendship is founded on a communality of thought or of experience; best of all a combination of the two. I recently went camping and hiking in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with a guy I've known since we were at high school together in Scotland. Years ago I slept on the floor of his flat in Edinburgh for several months while looking for job. But I was a little concerned. I think we'd only spoken once on the phone in the past two years and he doesn't give much away in his emails. We're both older than we once were but not much wiser. Was the essential spark of communality of thought and/or experience still there. Fortunately, yes. We were like a well oiled machine. As before, he seemed to be able to read my mind. Years ago I was good friends with one of my flat mates in Newcastle upon Tyne. When he got his girlfriend preggers and they set up home together on the other side of Chillingham Road I thought the friendship would continue. But without the communality of experience we'd shared at old digs, it turned out we had nothing.

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As a child I was once held hostage. Actually, so were my mum and little brother.  I wouldn't say it was birthday nightmare, but it wasn't much fun either. We were living in a village about 10 miles from Hamilton and as a birthday treat we went to a Chinese restaurant in the town. Dollars to doughnuts I had sweet and sour pork followed by lychees in syrup. I wasn't very adventurous when it came to Chinese restaurants. Anyway, when it came time to pay it turned out the restaurant refused the usually widely accepted credit card my dad proffered. He had no cash nor a cheque book. So, my dad made a 20 mile round trip home to get money and the rest of the clan were held hostage at an empty table in the restaurant pending his return. Not, I suspect,  strictly legal. And why not not just one or two hostages? Boring. I have a feeling we never went there again. Overall, the restaurant's loss. 

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I seem to recall that before the collapse of the Soviet Union we in the West were urged to admire a bunch of guys, it was nearly always a man, known as Dissidents. These supposed courageous guardians of human decency were built into heroes by the supposed Free World. Most vanished from the Western consciousness almost immediately after the end of Soviets. Not only were they no longer useful tools in the propaganda Cold War but they turned out to be cranks who hated everyone and everything. Nothing on the post-Soviet globe satisfied them any more than what came before.  In particular they  were not big fans of their boosters west of the old Iron Curtain and their world. It turns out we'd been urged to deify a bunch of cantankerous curmudgeons.

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I heard part of a radio documentary from the Irish state broadcaster RTE recently. 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 back home on 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 finally got to see the controversial Canadian documentary series The Valour and the Horror. The three episodes feature the capture of two battalions of barely trained Canadians at Hong Kong in 1941; Canadians in Bomber Command and finally the mauling of the Black Watch of Canada during an attempt to break out from the Normandy Beachhead in 1944. During the Bomber Command episode two Canadian former bomber crew were brought face to face with two women who survived the horrific firestorm bombing of Hamburg. What were the Canadians supposed to say? It was a cheap trick. The same would have been true if two German airmen had been brought face to face with two survivors of the 1940 destruction of central Coventry. The production crew also tried to bring two Canadians captured at Hong Kong to a gathering of Japanese veterans of the battle. One of the Canadian veterans, a survivor of a hospital massacre, refused to attend. The second one went along and at first it was a case of old soldiers having a lot in common no matter which side they were on. Then the Canadian explained why his buddy had refused to come along. The atmosphere soured immediately. It seemed at least one of the Japanese veterans had been in the area of the hospital at the time of the massacre and may even have taken part. The Japanese veterans seemed to regard the reminder of their dark side as impolite.

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  1. A  hell of the lot of people don't know their history. That makes it easy for those with an agenda, often not obvious, to whip up hysteria and actually silence those who question their twisted version. People have recently lost their livelihoods for querying the exaggerations being pedalled. Even worse, still living witnesses to history who would once provide more nuanced accounts  of events are now afraid to speak out due to fear of the wrath of misguided mob. In 1908 the authorities in Vancouver on Canada's Pacific Coast turned away a Japanese ship containing almost 360 would-be immigrants from India who had sailed from Hong Kong. Immigration rules were that immigrants had to sail from their country of citizenship and had set the amount of cash needed on entry for non-Europeans at a higher level. The intention was obviously to discourage non-European immigration to Canada. The ship had been chartered by a US financed and based terrorist organisation called Ghadar to challenge the immigration rules. Those who were not terrorist sympathisers when they boarded the Komagatu Maru on Hong Kong almost certainly were by the time they arrived off Vancouver. The ship's arrival was like a plane charted by ISIS touching down at Vancouver airport today. And yet demands for a modern government apology were taken seriously. No- one seemed to remember that two Vancouver members of the Indian community who assisted immigration authorities were later murdered, as was one of the leading immigration officials involved. Nor were the 24 passengers admitted to Canada mentioned much during the Centenary. Never mind the truth, feel the emotion. 
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The recent evacuation of people from Kabul international airport was presented as a matter of life and death. And yet among those spirited out of Afghanistan were two paralympians who wanted to compete in  Tokyo. Since when was taking part in the Tokyo Games a matter of life and death? Did this pair take places in the evacuation that should have gone to people with much more to lose under the new Taliban regime in Kabul? And who else got a seat that could have gone to someone with a legitimate fear of the Taliban? And let's not go into the morality of airlifting 150 cats and dogs instead of people. Many Afghans would have been delighted to fly out in the cargo hold.  Too much was the western media's coverage of Afghanistan has involved interviewing the English-speaking chattering classes in Kabul. Kabul is no more of a microcosm of Afghanistan than London is of the United Kingdom. What I want to know is what is happening to ordinary Afghans.

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Just after the Saskatchewan Party here in Canada, a supposed merger of the corruption discredited Provincial Tories and their Liberal counterparts but really just a Tory vehicle, kicked the New Democrats out of power, a vacancy came up for someone to work as a media relations officer for the party. One of the party officials wrote the job description when the vacancy was posted. He knew what the job involved because he had worked next to someone who had done it. One of the duties outlined was to find members of the public to put their names on newspaper Letters to the Editor actually written by party headquarters. Another was to recruit supposed ordinary Joes and Josephines to phone radio call-in shows and spout party propaganda over the airwaves. This was an interesting one because the host of the province's biggest call- in show was quick to "out" any callers with even tenuous links to the New Democrats but somehow never apparently spotted the Tory plants. Anyway, needless to say the aforementioned job posting was disavowed by the Tories. Hilarious

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There is a question mark over how many killers I went to high school with. The town was plagued by a gang of almost homicidally violent teens. The thing about teen killers is that a murder sentence in juvie jail comes nowhere near life. I think they served about seven years or so for their first murder. The story goes that one nasty killed again. He realised that he'd get more than seven years for a second murder. So, he persuaded an associate to go to the police and confess to the killing. The alternative to confessing, so the story goes, was that the real murderer would kill the associate's mother and sister. I questioned whether someone  could be convicted by a Scottish court on only confession - collaboration, a second finger of evidence pointing at the accused, is required under Scottish Law. But I suppose the real killer would have little problem providing his associate with the murder weapon or something along those lines to show to the police. Now, whether the story is true I don't know. But it's interesting that it gained such widespread credibility around the town. 

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