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Well, the day many of you have been awaiting with bated breath, not, has arrived. The 2023 Book of the Year has been announced. Most years the short list is four or five books. That works out at maybe one book every three months. And that's from a field of 52 books in a year. It's been decided not to name and shame the worst book of the year. But regular readers of Book Briefing will know 2023 was not without its stinkers. The things I do for you. Anyway, check out Book of the Year to find out this year's winner. The book reviews part of the website can be viewed at Book Briefing.

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I don't know what the latest medical orthodoxy is but it used to be said that a glass of wine or a beer in the evening were part of a healthy lifestyle. A little relaxer. But I often wondered if the advice was based on surveys of the lifestyles of folk who reached an advanced age. Perhaps it wasn't the modest daily alcohol intake that was contributing to longevity. Maybe it was moderation itself. Moderation in all things.

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When I was around 10 years old we used to live on what was basically a building site. Our house was one of the first to be completed on a pretty substantial new housing estate. It was being built, by the way, by a company that had originally made its money running whaling ships out of Leith. Anyway, there wasn't a lot, apart from playing football at The Atlas Park, for kids to do. But there were a lot of empty oil drums on the building site. So, guess what we did? Yep, we used to cram ourselves inside old oil drums and roll down the hill until we hit the wall of a house under construction at the bottom. Do kids still do that kind of thing? Or are they too busy on their smart phones?

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The fellah in the poster’s standing there pipe in hand and his two mates are warming themselves by a roaring fireplace. What’s he selling? Why, a life in the Australian Army. The selling point is Comradeship. I reckon from the battledress that the three are wearing that the recruiting campaign must have been in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The poster is a bit different from most. They tend to feature The Missing Man, or What Did You Do in the War Daddy?, or A Square Meal and Plenty of Time Playing Football with Training for a Civilian Skilled Trade , or Be Part of A Proud Tradition, or Travel and Adventure. Roaring log fires and pipe smoking at the hearth and a promise what the Aussies these days I think call Mateship is an interesting approach to recruitment.

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If chattering classes dominated radio is to be believed then the most pressing issue in Afghanistan today is female education. Nope. The average Afghan father is way too poor to send his daughters to high school or university and not being able to do so is the least of his worries. And, anyway, education for most boys doesn't go much beyond learning to recite the Koran by heart. No, only the urban elite could afford to send their daughters to university. But that is who our western media identify so strongly with. Diversity in newsrooms is thought of only in terms of skin tone or sexual preference. But a Home Counties Pony Club lesbian whose parents come from overseas is indistinguishable on the radio from one whose ancestors have lived in Hampshire for centuries. By the way, the Taliban strongly identified girls' education with the western military. I seem to recall that the prime reason, almost the only one, given to the public as to why Canadian and British youngsters were being killed and maimed in Afghanistan was girls' education. So, perhaps no surprise the Taliban regime has curtailed it so drastically.

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Years ago I saw a documentary about an American black doctor taking his daughters to West Africa to celebrate their heritage. I can't remember if he knew for sure that his ancestors came from the country he chose for the family expedition. Perhaps he'd hired some scam family tree expert who claimed to know. Anyway, this fellah was immensely proud of his slave ancestors and of his own professional success. The thing is that at every turn during his African trip he was swindled and cheated by the locals. All they saw was another rich gullible Yank. Skin tone counted for nothing to them.

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Last week I heard some classic hubris. A radio presenter was recounting on air how her waitress was worried about flitting after a light snowfall. "I told her I read the weather forecast on the radio and that there would be no snow left by the time of her move," recounted the presenter. Maybe I'm being too harsh and she just meant that she kept a regular eye on the forecasts. But it came across as suggesting some expertise in the meteorology. I would no more take this woman seriously regarding forthcoming weather than I would take medical advice from an actor who declares "I am not a doctor but I play one on television". You may well wonder how such a piece of self-regarding banality as the waitress story came to be broadcast. Indeed. But these are same people who believe the solution to the Cost of Living Crisis is simply to pick up a smaller size skinny latte on the way to work.

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Here in Canada, Remembrance Day is a public holiday, or stat as most folk call them. Most stats are on a Monday to create a long weekend. There are about 10 a year and I think majority are Mondays. The exceptions would be November 11, July 1 (Canada Day) Christmas Day, and New Year. OK, so five the stats are Mondays. Good Friday is also a specific day, rather than date, stat. To make up for all the stats, Canadian employers tend to give folk a week's less holiday entitlement than folks in the UK enjoy. At the Edmonton Sun there was an odd stat holiday tradition. A few days before the stat someone would pin up a notice informing folk of their legal entitlements if they worked on the holiday, which I seem to recall included double pay. Once the notice was up, the question was how long would be before it was torn down. It might have made an interesting sweep stake - entries being in 15 minute increments after posting. I wonder if management ever worked out who was doing the posting.

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This is a story that got away from me. Mainly because it wasn't worth flying from Canada to Australia for and my Australian collaborators were crap. Like most Commonwealth countries, Australia has pensions for disabled war veterans. Until recently, most of those veterans were from the First or Second World Wars. Many had suffered serious battlefield injuries. But the pensions are also paid out to people who suffered some injury due to their wartime military service. One of the oddest must have been the former Australian aircrew member who wanted compensation for the loss of his teeth. He did his air force training on the Canadian Prairies, as did many Commonwealth flyers. He successfully argued that the quality of the drinking water at his training base was so poor that he was forced to survive on a well-known sugary soft drink. Which in turn rotted his teeth and now he was entitled to compensation. The hearing agreed. I thought it was interesting. The veteran's local paper couldn't be bothered pulling the hearing documentation. With Remembrance Day coming up this weekend, this photo from 1917 may serve as a reminder of what it looks like a battle goes wrong.

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So, when a rich person wins a libel case and then it turns out that they did do what they were accused of, should they have to repay the damages awarded to them? For many lawyers, the law is a only game and the winner not only gets to take all but also to keep it no matter what comes out afterwards. I've sat through enough court cases not to be fooled into confusing Law with Justice. To appeal is to risk all again on a second throw of the dice. Even if a person is telling the truth they could easily lose a libel case. Civil Law is more a matter of the depth of pocket than truth. Most sensible people do indeed cave when they get a lawyer's letter sent on behalf of a wealthy client. There have been several nasty rich people who have succeeded in silencing the truth, even threatening their own families with libel suits, and in a couple of cases have even won substantial damages because the defendant had a bad day in court. Criminals who have their convictions overturned are freed and often compensated. Unsuccessful libel defendants can have their lives and reputations ruined for life. How about when it turns out that someone who did do what was alleged but won their case that they are charged criminal perjury? With guaranteed jail time if found guilty.

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We recently had some overnight snow. The good thing about the snow is that bounces light off the ground through the windows into my flat and that brightens the place up considerably. The bad thing is a fresh fall of snow shows the creeps out there have been out creeping. The residents’ car park shows trails of footprints coming in from the back lane, going to the doors of all the cars there, and then heading back to the lane. The footprints in the carpark snow are not the only signs of the local scum going to places they shouldn’t go but they are among the most blatant. I can do without such tangible reminders of blatant nastiness going on outside my window.

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In my mid-20s I used to be able to grow a pretty-half-decent beard in a fortnight. So, part of the two weeks off for the summer holidays often involved not bothering to shave. Camping or hitch-hiking seemed easier when I didn't have to scrape my face every morning. By the end of the fortnight I was well beyond the designer stubble stage. The problem usually came around Christmas. That was when the beard was becoming more than somewhat bushy. For some reason, year after year I would attempt to trim the facial fungus with the kitchen scissors. And year after year I would only succeed in cutting a series of door steps in the beard. The only answer was to go back to being clean-shaven until the next summer holidays. Eventually someone got me one of those fancy beard trimmers for Christmas. Hmm, kitchen scissors versus proper trimmer.

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Everyone has an excuse for why their life didn't turn out the way they wanted. Sometimes they blame their gender, social background, skin tone, or even their lack of stature. Even people widely regarded by others as blindingly successful feel that but for... (fill in the blank) ... their true worth would have been recognised and rewarded. Dissatisfaction with life is natural, essential even for the progress of humankind. Otherwise, music would still consist only of banging two rocks together. Where the excuses get toxic is when they lead to division and so-called reverse discrimination. Two wrongs don't make a right. All discrimination is wrong and ultimately harmful.

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If one more motorist who runs me down or almost runs me down announces "I didn't see you", I'm going to drag him or her out and beat them savagely. They didn't see me because they weren't looking. Too many motorists only pay attention to what other motorists are doing to the exclusion of everything else. Yesterday I had eight or nine vehicles ignore the flashing lights on pedestrian crossings that should have stopped them. I'm not sure whether it was five or six vehicles zoomed past, one actually accelerating, at the first crossing. The third guy at second crossing half an hour later only just missed me as he accelerated to follow the first two in turning onto the road despite the crossing lights being activated. Motor vehicles weigh a lot and the physics says that if they hit a pedestrian or cyclist there will be a surprising amount of damage done to bicycles, internal organs and bones at even low speed. Driving involves a degree of care which fewer and fewer people these days seem prepared to exercise. The fact that someone didn't mean to kill or veggie me and is sorry is not really going to be much of a comfort.

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What is a “suspected shooting”? Either shots were fired or they were not. And yet the BBC is comfortable reporting a suspected shooting. Sometimes it seems that the world is becoming mired in ignorance and stupidity. How else can the standing ovation for an ex-SS man in the Canadian House of Commons during a visit by Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelenskyy just over a week ago be explained. His acclamation as a “Canadian war hero” also takes some explaining. And how can something be “pretty unique”. It is either unique or it is not. The ignorance extends to adjectives. Why Italy Prime Minister. Why nor Italian Prime Minister. Could be because so many so-called journalists don’t know the adjective? Of course few of the people who cover Scottish matters for the London-based BBC programmes are Scottish. But Our Scotland Correspondent jars for me. Why not Scottish Affairs reporter or something like that?

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Striking up a conversation with the person sitting next you at the beginning of a long journey can be a risky business. I believe everyone has at least one good story. But maybe the chances of it coming out during a casual conversation on a bus, train or plane are slim. Most often the conversation dies out to the embarrassment of both parties. Many people seem to forestall conversation by putting on headphones almost as soon as they sit down. That's not to say I haven't got lucky a couple of times. Once the Australian woman next to me turned out to be the sister of a girl I was at high school with. When their parents split, one girl stayed in Australia with her mum while the other returned to Scotland with her dad. Another time the guy next to me worked with a former colleague of mine. Sadly my seat mate was flying to Scotland to be at his Dad's deathbed. And there was the rail journey to Inverness. For some reason the carriages were the old fashioned compartments with four seats facing each other and a long narrow corridor down one side, or perhaps doors opening directly out onto the platform . I deliberately didn't start up a conversation with the only other occupant of the compartment until we were only half an hour, 45 minutes, from Inverness. What a mistake. The guy was incredibly interesting and amusing. I have no doubt he would have been incredibly interesting and amusing from the moment we left Edinburgh or Glasgow, I forget which.

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Three things struck me when I used to cover Hebburn Magistrates Court. Actually, four things. I decided that if I ever committed a crime I would flee to Scotland and commit another, bigger, crime rather than face England's medieval justice system - magistrates court was only slightly fairer than trial by combat. And I think it was while I was working as a reporter in South Tyneside that I was finally older than most of the accused. Thirdly, the number of crooks who were let off Scot-free provided they fulfilled their supposed "career dream" of joining the Army before their case was called again was noteworthy. If Hebburn Mags was anything to go by, The Light Infantry must have been composed of 80% house-breakers. The fourth thing was how many of my neighbours from north of the Tyne were caught thieving in Hebburn or Jarrow south of the river. It took me a couple of months to work out where I lived was next to a former railway goods yard and for generations whole families had made a living stealing from it. The closure of the goods yard meant the young generation had been forced further afield to pillage.

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If you listen only to the BBC you'd think the sole problem Afghanistan faces these days is lack of access to education for females. You might conclude that one of the Bs in BBC stands for Bourgeois. Because what we're getting is bourgeois interviewing bourgeois. The average Afghan villager isn't planning to send his daughter to university. It's an upper middle class and above issue. Here in Canada when we asked what our soldiers were bring killed and crippled for in Afghanistan, the best the government could answer was Girls' Education. In the long run girls and women have lost out because in the minds of the Taliban their education is associated with foreign military occupation. Afghanistan is, as far as we know, at peace. Afghans apparently do not agree that female education is worth dying or being crippled for. Though, that doesn't make what the Taliban is doing right. But let's hear more in the western bourgeois dominated media about all the problems Afghanistan faces and how we can actually help.

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One of the few useful things we could have been taught on the journalism course at Napier, but weren't, was table etiquette. You know, which implement to use to eat which food. This was brought home to me shortly after I started work in Inverness. There was a fancy meal hosted by British Rail to celebrate the launch of a new train service. I was sitting next to a senior executive and we were chatting away quite happily until plates with an avocado in each were placed before us. I had no idea how to eat an avocado in a formal setting and suddenly felt at a disadvantage. Our places had been set with at least nine pieces of cutlery and I had a feeling picking the avocado up with my hands was not the way it should be done. If only we'd been taught this skill at Napier.

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The radio tells me I live in Amiskwaciywaskahikan, rather than Edmonton in Canada. That's the old Cree Indian name for the area the city stands on. Only, it's not the only name for the area which predates the rebranding to honour a part of London. It has long been an attractive locale and the Indians long fought over it. At one point the North Saskatchewan River, which cuts the city pretty much in half, marked the boundary between the Cree and the Blackfoot. The Blackfoot called it Omahkoyis. The radio station which harps on about Amiskwaciywaskahikan is south of the river. So, if it wants to remind us of the evils of colonialism and settler culture maybe it should be using Omahkoyis. There are even third and fourth names- Titâga from the Nakota Soiux and Nââsʔágháàchú, anglicised as Nasagachoo, from the Tsuutʼina. And dollars to doughnuts, none of the above were the first inhabitants of the area. Shame no-one recorded what they called it. The radio also refers to Planet Earth as Turtle Island. Once again, not all Indians subscribe to the Turtle Island legend. And the radio is certainly wrong when it claims the Innuit of Northern Canada describe it as Turtle Island. It strikes me as much akin to the radio describing Edinburgh as Edinburg.

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