Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Oh god

Can you refrain from giggling at this? Because I can't.


After weeks of checking every day and thinking "When is the next chapter coming?"... here it is.

Viewing and listening

Channel Five had a very interesting programme tonight (The Real Rain Man: Extraordinary People) about Kim Peek, the 54-year-old autistic savant who inspired the character of Raymond in Rain Man. It was fascinating to see the things he can and can't do, and to get an idea of the underlying neurology of his condition (basically the main link between his brain's two hemispheres never developed; instead, the neurons grew in other direction forging connections most of us don't have the potential for). The connection between his limitations (his total inability to handle metaphor, for example) and his astounding memory was neatly demonstrated by an experiment where he was read a list of words connected with the concept "sweet" (pie, heart, bitter, dear, chocolate) which did not include the word "sweet" itself. After a pause, Kim was tested on whether particular words had been in the list. He scored 100%, and in particular he realised that "sweet" had not been in there. Most "normal" people would conceptualised the list and expected "sweet" to appear. Kim doesn't do that, treating the list totally literally and thus making no mistake.

It was especially interesting to watch the programme (or part of it) with my son Ruairidh. Ruairidh hasn't seen Rain Man, but does suffer from mild Asperger's Syndrome, and it was interesting to discuss Kim with him, noting similarities and differences from one end to the other of the autistic spectrum. An example: Kim's inability to appreciate metaphor meant that he didn't know what was meant by "George Bush is no rocket scientist, is he?" (Answer: "No, he's President of the United States.") Ruairidh had no problem understanding that, but - especially a few years ago - he used to take things very literally. One of the best examples was when Hilary was picking him up from school for an appointment, and asked him to come out of school very smartly (as he had a tendency to dawdle). He thought for a moment and asked "Will my school uniform be smart enough?" I have to say that Ruairidh now finds that funny.

As well as a small dose of Kim's problems (Ruairidh is a creature of habit, but not to Kim's pathological extent), he has a little of the upside. He can't remember whole encyclopaedias, but if there is ever an argument in the Saunders household over a piece of film or TV dialogue, we always know who will have the right (or the closest) answer.


Because I was watching that, I wasn't listening to BBC Radio Two who have started a new series of Radio Ballads inspired by the classic Ewan McColl/Charles Parker ones from the1950s and 1960s. The originals used traditional and specially-written songs and music, along with interviews, to give a sound picture of a community, industry or minority group. (They covered railwaymen, herring fisheries, teenagers, polio sufferers, travellers, coal miners, boxers and the people building the new M1 motorway.) Tonight's offering is The Song Of Steel, charting the decline of the steel industry with a stellar musical cast incuding John Tams, Julie Matthews and Kate Rusby. I wasn't listening but my MD recorder was, and I'm looking forward to hearing it.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Other stories from the weekend

Ken Livingstone was suspended as Mayor of London.

I've always rather liked Ken Livingstone, but I think he's been a complete idiot over this business with the journalist. (He was approached - after a party where the wine had been flowing, one must say - by a reporter from the Daily Mail, a paper he has issues with. He made several offensive comments, comparing the reporter to a concentration camp guard, despite the fact that (a) the reporter was Jewish and had said so (b) he knew he was being recorded.) I cannot conceive why he didn't simply apologise, admit that he was pissed and letting fly at the Mail, and put it behind him. As it is, he simply looks foolish and cheap.

Nevertheless, he is the elected Mayor of London (with, as the Guardian this weekend pointed out, the largest popular mandate of any politician in Europe). I fail to see how his actions have brought the office of Mayor into disrepute (obviously they have brought him personally into more than just disrepute). And I completely fail to see how the government-appointed Adjudication Panel imagined that it had the authority to suspend an elected representative, who has not broken the law, from office. So while I think the man has behaved like a total twat, and still owes both the reporter (and other Jews) an apology, I hope he wins his appeal against suspension.

At last, the backlash against animal rights terrorists

Following years during which the Animal Liberation Front and others have been largely allowed to carry on unhindered with their business of issuing death threats, fire-bombing houses, harrassing businesses and individuals and destroying property (I'm thinking especially of their hounding of Huntingdon Life Sciences), it is highly gratifying to see a contrary movement developing, with considerable public support. While I feel that experiments on animals need to be thoroughly justified (no more smoking beagles, if you please) I can see that there is a place for them. In many experiments, probably a majority, the animals are unharmed. I'm thinking here of the various psychological experiments in which rats etc run through mazes to test learning strategies, or memory, and the numerous studies of social structures in animal species. No harm at all befalls these creatures, unless they have the misfortine to be "liberated" by the ALF (i.e. turned out into the night to be eaten by the first passing cat). Then there are the experiments which do result in suffering to the animals. The only justification for these is that they save human lives. The ALF consider that no justification; and I consider them wrong. The difference is, I don't post shit or petrol bombs through the letter-boxes of people I think are wrong.

So how gratifying it is that people have finally decided to start saying "Not In My Name" to the ALF bullies. A special hero is Laurie Pycroft, the 16-year-old founder of Pro-Test (and there was a name waiting to be discovered...). Here is a link to his site. Only 16, and already he's done more for humankind than the whole of the ALF (not, to be fair, that humankind enters into the ALF's considerations at all).

One question: if the government is so concerned about terrorism, why does it waste its efforts and our money pursuing the largely fictional al-Qaeda while allowing very real and highly murderous nutters to terrorise entire districts at home? Do you have to be a Muslim to get locked up in this country? Just asking.

Worra lorra notes

This last weekend was busy with two concerts: the same programme in two venues (Edinburgh and Haddington). It was Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra, and we were doing

Richard Strauss: Don Juan
Rachmaninoff: Piano COncerto No. 3 (soloist: Nadejda Vlaeva)
Shostakovich: Symphony No 5

with Gerry Doherty conducting.

A very rewarding programme, but tough on everybody. None of the pieces is easy: the Rachmaninoff is famously the most difficult piano concerto in the standard repertoire, and while that's meant to apply to the solo part it pretty much applies to the orchestra too. DOn Juan has a notoriously difficult first page, especially for the strings (often set as an audition piece for professional orchestral players, apparently). And the symphony has all kinds of difficulties.

However, as far as I can tell we didn't bite off more than we managed to chew, and while there was the odd glitch there were no more than for any orchestra in any concert. Bioth audeiences loved it, and Nadejda in particular was outstanding in both concerts. Having seen and heard this thin sliver of a woman whacking the piano in the Rachmaninoff it's easy to understand why one should never take a bet on an arm-wrestling match with a pianist, whichever arm they're using.

It being ESO, I was responsible for shifting instruments, a task which began last Wednesday when I moved them into the concert venue ready to rehearse the concerto, and finished this morning when I got them all stowed back where they normally live. Because of the two concerts I had to hire a self-drive van instead of using our normal removal firm, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it, though it did make for a late finish last night.

Finally, here is a picture of the orchestra rehearsing, taken a couple of years back (funnily enough, on Nadejda's last appearance with us doing the Beethoven "Emperor" concerto) and featuring me just right of centre, above and just to the left of the visible music stand.

Just to prove I do play the thing....

A word cloud of this blog

Available from here (via Cloud)(who else?)

Friday, February 24, 2006

The wind is in the East

I was reading my library book a little while ago and came upon a passage which reminded me of one of Clare's posts. Here it is:

Over the coming three weeks we would grow fond of Dewan; even begin to find endearing his habit of paragraphing his speech with farts. While he refrained from letting rip inside the car, public spaces the length of Madhya Pradesh and half Maharashtra would resound to his brazen bombast, always preceded by the insouciant raising of a buttock. (*) Dewan's habit has long attracted comment from further west. According to al-Biruni, the Indians 'consider the crepitus ventris a good omen, sneezing a bad one'. A little earlier, the poet Aban ibn Abd al-Hamid observed similarly that

The most sagacious men of Hind
Have spoken to the point on wind:
'If you should feel a fart come on,
To hold it in is very wrong.
Fling wide the gates and let it loose -
Its breeze to ease will sure conduce!
We class as not nice habits these:
To blow one's nose, to cough, to sneeze;
The oral fart, or belch, is worse -
It smells far sweeter in reverse.

* Which prompted me to tell Martin the story of Max Reger, the German composer and organist. Once, while giving a recital, he felt the need to break wind. He waited for a crescendo, then leaned over. As he did so, his knee brushed the General Cancel button. The stops shot in, the organ cut out and the church, famous for its acoustic, was rent with a fortissimo fart.

(Tim Mackintosh-Smith, 2005)

Hilary and I actually met Tim once on our sole visit to Yemen in 1987. He was teaching at the British Council, as were Hilary's cousin Susan and her husband Mike. Mike took us to visit Tim, a Cambridge Arabic graduate who had already gone native in a big way and was living in an amazing house in the old part of San'a. Something like this:

I remember its front door key was just like one in Arthur Mee's Book Of Ten Thousand Things (my favourite book as a child), in the section on "Pictures from Bible Lands". That is, it resembled an oversized wooden toothbrush with pegs where the bristles should be, which displaced similar pegs in the enormous lock.

Tim took us out for lunch to a restaurant which was visually unprepossessing even by Yemeni standards, but where we ate splendidly, up on the roof which we shared with a cat or three. He then took us to the suk where he spent some time choosing qat which we retired to his living-room to chew. A memorable afternoon in a thoroughly memorable city.

Real men don't commit quiche


Nice to know it's not just me that has that kind of problem.

Zut, alors

Off you go. Over to Petite's site this minute, to see:

(a) a photograph of the lady herself (tastefully flanked by a wheelie bin and a high-tech urinal);

(b) a fun article - in French, but given the calibre of the clientele hereabouts that won't prove a problem - all about expat Parisian bloggers. Which begins adorably by describing expat bloggers as a kind of digital homing pigeon. Even if Le Parisien is, as one of Petite's commenters suggests, the worst daily newspaper in Paris, that image is priceless.

Hear, hear.

This from Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy Blog.

What he said....

OK, I give in.

For years I thought of Neil Gaiman as just Terry Pratchett's collaborator on the splendid Good Omens. Then came the wonderful television adaptation of Neverwhere, which in turn caused me to read the book. Then nothing, for many years. Since I started blogging I have become aware that he has a blog which keeps being nominated for awards. and has indeed just picked up Best Weblog in the AFOE European Weblog Awards.

And then two days ago I picked up Smoke and Mirrors on a charity bookstall at work. And tonight there is a link from House of D to a set of (probably highly illegally) scanned pages of a wonderful Gaiman story The Problem Of Susan, which traces the story of Susan Pevensie after the end of The Last Battle. A little tedious having them as jpgs, but worth the effort.

Clearly the time has come for me to become a Neil Gaiman fan. All right, then. Make it so.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Another gem found while tidying out my files at work....

A magazine recently ran a "Dilbert Quotes" contest. They were looking for people to submit quotes from their real life Dilbert-type managers. Here are the finalists:

1. "As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday and employees will receive their cards in two weeks." (Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, WA.)

2. "What I need is a list of specific unknown problems we will encounter." (Lykes Lines Shipping)

3. "E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business." (Accounting manager, Electric Boat Company)

4. "This project is so important, we can't let things that are more important interfere with it." (Advertising/Marketing manager, United Parcel Service)

5. "Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule."

6. "No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We've been working on it for months. Now, go act busy for a few weeks and I'll let you know when it's time to tell them." (R&D supervisor, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) Corp.)

7. "My Boss spent the entire weekend retyping a 25 page proposal that only needed corrections. She claims the disk I gave her was damaged and she couldn't edit it. The disk I gave her was write-protected." (CIO of Dell Computers)

8. Quote from the Boss: "Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say." (Marketing Executive, Citrix Corporation)

9. My sister passed away and her funeral was scheduled for Monday. When I told my Boss, he said she died on purpose so that I would have to miss work on the busiest day of the year. He then asked if we could change her burial to Friday. He said, "That would be better for me." (Shipping executive, FTD Florists)

10. "We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees." (Switching supervisor, AT&T Long Lines Division)

11. We recently received a memo from senior management saying: "This is to inform you that a memo will be issued today regarding the memo mentioned above." (Microsoft, Legal Affairs Division)

12. One day my Boss asked me to submit a status report to him concerning a project I was working on. I asked him if tomorrow would be soon enough. He said, "If I wanted it tomorrow, I would have waited until tomorrow to ask for it!" (New business manager, Hallmark Greeting Cards)

13. And the winner!!
As director of communications, I was asked to prepare a memo reviewing our company's training programs and materials. In the body of the memo in one of the sentences I mentioned the "pedagogical approach" ("in the manner of a school teacher") used by one of the training manuals. The day after I routed the memo to the executive committee, I was called into the HR director's office, and told that the executive vice president wanted me out of the building by lunchtime. When I asked why, I was told that she wouldn't stand for perverts (paedophiles?) working in her company. Finally, he showed me her copy of the memo, with her demand that I be fired and the word "pedagogical" circled in red. The HR manager was fairly reasonable, and once he looked the word up in his dictionary and made a copy of the definition to send back to her, he told me not to worry. He would take care of it. Two days later, a memo to the entire staff came out directing us that no words which could not be found in the local Sunday newspaper could be used in company memos. A month later, I resigned. In accordance with company policy, I created my resignation memo by pasting words together from the Sunday paper. (Taco Bell Corporation)

Do any of my readers have anything to match that?

Comprehending IT

While tidying out old files at work I found these, which I can relate to. Even my daughter liked the second one.

Comprehending IT (1)

An architect, an artist and an IT guy were discussing whether it was better to spend time with the wife or a mistress. The architect said he enjoyed time with his wife, building a solid foundation for an enduring relationship. The artist said he enjoyed time with his mistress, because of the passion and mystery he found there. The IT guy said, "I like both." "Both?" The IT guy replied "Yeah. If you have a wife and a mistress, they will each assume you are spending time with the other woman, you can go to the office and get some work done."

Comprehending IT (2)

To the optimist, the glass is half full.To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the IT guy, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

Sounds about right

Thinking of Clare's "404 Not Found" reminded me of this. (Look closely.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Towering Genius.

Clare has finally posted on the blogmeet here. She comments"not one of the buggers who stayed at Sudbery Towers has even mentioned how utterly gorgeous it is". And, you know, I didn't. Too wowed by Clare, Ally, Felix and Dipsy, to say nothing of Mystery Guest (well of course we say nothing), Lisa and Neil. What are bricks and mortar to that? Though I think we made nice noises about the cellar IIRC.

Clare - Sudbery Towers is officially gorgeous. OK?

I would have put this in Clare's comments, but for some reason the comment box for that particular post comes up with a 404.

Set Purple Energy Shields to "Snigger"

Thanks to Joe for this link. I haven't laughed so much for ages. And as I reached the bit about "Discovery of the Lost Cubit" just after the references to orgonomics I couldn't help imagining Sir Arthur Sullivan's "The Lost Cubit": "Seated one day at the orgone..."

As I mentioned to Joe, Nikola Tesla was actually one cool guy and not at all the wacky weirdo you might expect from the Purple People Eater (TM) site. To quote from the Wikipedia article,

"...many of his achievements have been used, sometimes inappropriately and with some controversy, to support various pseudosciences, UFO theories, and New Age occultism."

Well, OK, he was a bit weird I suppose (he had obsessive-compulsive disorder for a start), but unlike your average New Age guru he invented things we use every day. And however entertaining Wilhelm Reich and Kirlian and all the rest may have been, they didn't get scientific units named after them.

Stick that in your tachyonic field and anodise it.

Here comes the judge

I like the sound of this guy.

The problem with independent judges (and the Americans have similar trouble with their Supreme Court) is that they make up their own minds. In Justice Collins's case, I disagree somewhat with his verdict over Sir Roy Meadows. No, expert witnesses should not feel intimidated from giving evidence by any sense that honest mistakes will be punished. (The person whoever made a mistake never made anything.) However, for supposedly expert witnesses to advance opinions in support of their own pet theories, such as Meadows's unshakeable belief in the reality of Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy (posited by, er, Roy Meadows and, er, pretty much nobody else actually) is a serious breach of trust. For an same expert witness to put forward wholly imaginary figures as purported corroboration of those theories (Meadows's estimate of the chance that two siblings could both suffer cot death and not in fact be murdered = 1 in 73 million; actual figure = 1 in 77 - spot the difference) is a dereliction of duty which for anyone other than an expert witness would justifiably attract a prosecution for perjury. That avenue being unavailable to parties injured by Dr Meadows's "expert" testimony, being barred from further practise of his questionable expertise would seem a wholly reasonable outcome. I am sorry that the contrary judgement has given further opportunity for nutters such as Meadows and Marietta Higgs to use untried and unsupported conjectures to advance their careers while destroying families and imprisoning the innocent. To say nothing of the damage it inflicts on the reputation of genuine experts giving actual evidence in good faith.

However, as I said at the start, that's the funny thing about independent judges: they make up their own minds. Look at Lord Denning. Look at Lord Scarman. Would I rather have judges who always did as they were told, if that accorded with my own opinions? Of course I would (let's be honest here). Would that be better for the country, or for justice? Of course it wouldn't.

So three cheers for the right of expert witnesses to screw up now and then (if they are testifying in good faith). And another three for the right of judges to screw up now and then too, if they are genuinely trying to uphold justice and freedom.

Use the Force, Luke

Also from Friday's Guardian: this report.

When I was at school, we had a physics teacher (JH Avery of Avery & Nelkon's Laboratory Physics, if you're a Brit of a certain age) who would have entirely agreed with that article. He always told us that when we did exams we should pick the first couple of questions we meant to answer, and read both of them in detail; then move to the first one we meant to answer and start working on it. Meanwhile, our unconscious minds would be starting work on the second question. Then we should continue this read-ahead approach as we worked through the paper. Ever since then I've done that, and I would say there's something in it.

And if I'm trying to remember something hovering on the fringe of my memory, thinking about something else (doing a Sudoku puzzle, say) usually does the trick.

Still a plonker after all these years

In last Friday's Guardian, this article caught my attention. I quote:

The general synod's call last week for the church commissioners to remove their £2.5m shareholding in Caterpillar Inc - for which Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, voted in favour - has produced accusations of anti-semitism, not least from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who said it made him ashamed to be a church member.

Eh? The Church of England decides not to invest its money in a company whose equipment is being used extensively to carry out collective punishment by demolition of homes, and this is anti-semitism? I realise that George Carey was an ass when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, and evidently he still is, but even so: do these people have the faintest idea of what anti-semitism is? I'm sure there are plenty of Jews, in Europe and elsewhere, who could tell them. (Hint for George: it has to do with persecuting Jews.) Why should a church invest its money in any company implicated in human rights violations? Would Dr Carey et al be happy if the money had been invested in IG Farben when they were the manufacturers of Zyklon B?

And these idiots imagine that somehow their knee-jerk identification of "not unconditionally supporting every act carried out by or on behalf of any Israeli government" with "anti-semitism" is somehow helping Israel's cause. Actually, they are about as useful to Israel as David Irving; and have as much connection with reality.

What twunts.

Again, not what I had in mind

I was over on Bad Astronomy Blog to get the link to this site, which I think is great. Maybe that makes me a nerd. Whatever.

But then I felt I had to link to this post. Heartfelt, and very necessary.

Bratsche scratchers

The viola player from our quartet (Elspeth) has decided that quartet playing isn't really her thing. (Straight up: we didn't chuck her out or anything!) She has handed over her chair to Rebecca. Hello, Rebecca.

Meanwhile, here's a goodbye from Elspeth:

Last weekend

OK. We went up to Ballater on Friday, the weather was lovely, so we decided to climb the Coyles of Muick (the three hills which dominate the view south from Ballater, or to be more specific the Easternmost - and highest - one). And we did: me, my wife Hilary, and my 13-yr-old son Ruairidh (Vanessa was back in Edinburgh, pouring cappuccinos in Starbucks and attempting not to crash my car....).

Here we are:

That's Hilary and Ruairidh at the summit. Here is the view towards Lochnagar:

And this is the view up Glen Muick:

Finally, here are Ruairidh and I, striding purposefully towards lunch:

Although the hill was a fantastic viewpoint when you got up there, the actual climb was a bit of a non-event, so if you're thinking of doing it, don't bother unless the weather is good.

On Saturday we pottered about, patronised the new Ballater delicatessen, and then went through to visit our friends the Walkers in Braemar. We had a low-level walk there in slightly iffy weather: good fun but no pictures (sorry).

Obviously Influenced By the Devil

Well, I haven't blogged for a few days, mostly because I've been watching the Winter Olympics instead.

I have, however, installed a stats counter for this blog, Clare having mentioned that it was possible for a Blogger-hosted site.

Excuse me while I go and check it again....

(....just kidding, though Clare described blog stats as the work of the devil, and she's been doing this longer than I have.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Darkness, Glasgow Clyde Auditorium, Sunday 12 February

As it turned out, The Darkness were great. Last time they were up here was at the end of 2004, when they did all the tracks from the first album, plus "Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)". As they would, having very litle else to do at that time. They did it all with great style though, and I'd hoped that this time round would be similar.

Which it was. Totally OTT, as one would expect. Justin Hawkins made a stately entrance in what can best be described as a flying opera box shaped like a pair of breasts - the opening number was "Knockers" - and expressed a delight which may well have been genuine at being back in Glasgow. "As soon as I get out here" (here being over the audience, hanging from an aerial trackway) "the beermugs start flying." Then he challenged the crowd to score a direct hit on his Boob Chair, and (I kid you not) within a second there was one, follwed quickly by two more, then two that went clear over the top, narrowly missing his head and presumably soaking him. Impressive accuracy, but it was the total lack of hesitation that I really liked. And, evidently, so did Justin.

They did all the stuff from the second album and much of the first (no "Stuck In A Rut" or "Holding My Own"), but even though they had less need to pad the evening out they once again left themselves plenty of space for improvising, so it didn't seem too much like watching a succession of TOTP appearances. One or two of the new numbers are, frankly, a bit weak: Justin was clearly aware that he was losing the audience during "Blind Man", but had the brass neck to stop, clearly waiting for a cheer, and say "You'd better cheer whether you like it or not, then this torture will be over that much sooner". I did wonder if he'd be buried in plastic mugs at that point, but he got away with it. (Glaswegians evidently like a certain amount of in-your-face swagger.) That, and the fact that he clearly wasn't taking himself over-seriously: someone in the audience was waving a set of huge imitation breats around, and he insisted they be passed up so he could wear them for one number. Even "Girl With The Hazel Eyes" with its refrain of "Hoots, I cannae get back tae ma hoose in Bonnie Scotland" went down well, and I'd really wondered beforehand how a Scottish audience would take to that. But no, the Weegies loved it, especially the piper (who did a great job).

There was the odd moment when the performance seemed a bit half-hearted ("Dinner Lady Arms" never really gelled, for example) , but these never lasted long. Nice to see that the band can still rock out in grand style when doing stuff like "Love On The Rocks With No Ice" (surely a candidate for the heavy metal riffs hall of fame) and "Black Shuck". Richie Edwards, the new bassist, is definitely an asset, and they made full use of him. And while Justin's keyboard skills are no match for his guitar prowess, they add variety to the sound. Both his and Dan's guitar playing have, I think, improved over the past year. And I continue to be surprised at how unassuming Ed Graham the drummer is when they're on stage; a bit Charlie Watts-ish. Maybe he's waiting for the inevitable Spinal Tap "fatal gardening accident" or "inhalation of someone else's vomit". Plays well, though.

Support were Juliette and the Licks, an American punk outfit who I didn't know. Not as good as Ash last year (all their stuff sounded a little bit the same) but still enjoyable in an Iggy Pop sort of way.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

M The Magnificent

I linked to this site down in the comments box for this post. But as I'm heading up to Ballater for a few days tomorrow I thought I'd give it wider exposure.

And I just can't resist posting THE PICTURE on my own blog. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the most famous character in Ballater:


I've got a little list. Or Cloud has, anyway.

For those of us with sievelike memories, notebooks are good. Neil and Lisa kept a list of the bloggers at the Manchester blogmeet, and here it is.

Thanks, guys. I shall work my way through it, and I dare say some of the sites will end up on my blogroll in the future.

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman.

Anna had directed me over to A Fistful of Euros which is hosting the European weblog awards. And there I found a link to this story. I'd heard about it before, but the piece in Der Speigel is worth reading anyway. To quote from the post with the link:

"It’s a timely story about the fact that Islam the religion and Islam the cultural practice are often quite distinct. It’s a story about the slow and violent death of traditional hiearchies during modernisation, particularly if modernisation is perceived as imperialist. But above all, it’s a story about allegedly legalised crime against a young woman and her incredible courage to resist what would have been her traditional duty: suicide."

Tichu, Tichu, all fall down

This sounds entertaining. I used to play Bezique at school and college, whose rules blew the minds of casual onlookers ("How did you just beat a King with a ten????" "Why did you just get 10 points for playing the seven of clubs???") and then graduated to Tarocco, where some suits have ace high and some have ace low, and where of course you have to sort out what to do with Death, The Star, The Hanged Man etc. Tichu sounds a promising addition to the Weird Card Games archive.

Rocking in the Free World

Riverbend may not post very often (much less often and I'd have to take her off my "Premier League" blogroll. But when she does, it's always worth reading. As here.

On accents and stuff

I was born in Manchester in 1955. My parents came from Dorset, so I had the only accent in my primary school from further south than Gorton. I blame the repeated playtime experience of being herded into a corner and told to "say something" for my general weirdness. (Like Lucky in Waiting For Godot when instructed to "think". And I was born on the day Godot had its British - hence its English language - premiere.)

Anyway... moved to Stockport in 1965, went to Stockport Grammar School (then direct grant, now independent, so I suppose that counts as 'minor public school' as an accent influence). (Founded 1487, though, so helluva old, as I like to rub in when talking to arrivistes from George Heriot's in Edinburgh, or indeed Rugby, or Sherborne...)

University in Durham, with most of my close Uni friends/lovers coincidentally hailing from Yorkshire.

First job in London.

Then moved to Scotland (1981), living in Stirling, working in Glasgow. Moved to Edinburgh in 1986.

OK, so that's my history in terms of what my voice sounds like. Obviously, I still sound the same to me. I remember, though, hearing recordings of myself at school and university, where my Dorset antecedents were still clearly detectable. I suspect they no longer are. I'm told I sound Mancunian when telephoning my brother (confusingly born in Dorset and now living there, but spent longer in Manchester than I did). I've been in Scotland long enough that I can distinguish among Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland etc. accents. Edinburgh folk no longer sound to me as though they have an accent really. But I've always assumed that to Scottish folk I sound English. Maybe no longer Adge Cutler, but perhaps something Northern?

Well, at the weekend two people (Clare was one) described me as sounding Scottish, which really surprised me because I don't hear that at all. I mean, I can put on a Scots accent in order to tell a joke (Q: What do you call the man with no name? A: Nathan) or do an impression of Ricky Fulton or Rab C Nesbitt, and I probably do it better than the average Mancunian. But I can probably do a better Durham accent than the average Mancunian, so what does that prove? This is about my throat, not my ear.

However, reality was restored by Ally, whose comment was that I didn't sound Scottish, I sounded Edinburgh. (Ally, BTW, hails from Perth.) Now Edinburgh folk are notoriously English-sounding to the Scots, which added to the fact that the Edinburgh accent is the background against which I detect variations, would explain why I don't think I sound Scottish. And why Clare and Mystery Guest thought I did.

May I just say that having lived in Scotland for over 24 years I find it rather gratifying to be told I sound Scottish. I mean, I eat haggis, do Scottish Country Dancing, drink single malt, support Hibs (kind of), use "outwith" in everyday speech, and am unfazed by Scottish banknotes, policemen in caps, and living on the same latitude as St Petersburg. In a country that had four universities when England only had two. But I don't possess a kilt and hate Irn-Bru, so the validation conferred by a Scottish (even an Edinburgh) accent is very welcome.

Ich bin ein Edinburger.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It's taken me four attempts to get this ****ing thing posted, so read it, already.

The advantage of being a late entrant in the blogmeet description handicap is that all the really good bloggers have got there first, done all the work, and all I have to do is link.

For example, Chern Jie has a great set of photographs. Clare has a splendid line in misdirection (or was it....?)(double- and triple-bluff...) re the Mystery Guest, who may or may not have turned up, may or may not have been male (or female), may or may not appear in any of the photographs. And Lisa has a wonderful post on what a blogmeet actually IS. No need for any of that here then.

Most Important Thing: a huge and heartfelt thank-you to Clare for organising the whole thing and for providing me with somewhere to sleep, stuff to drink and smoke and a dog to cuddle. What more can anyone ask? Also a big thank-you to Ally who had four strangers descend on his house and consume his Laphroaig. Ally reckons I was just as he'd imagined me. Well, he was just as I'd imagined him., which is to say, a great bloke.

Ally and Clare have a very amusing photograph album documenting their relationship up to and including Felix's arrival. This contains all the pictures you're likely to have seen of Clare on her blog, and many more. (Some demonstrate the boobs, though none, sadly, the pencils.) I suppose however I'd imagined Ally I could have found a picture in there that would have fitted my preconception. But it was nice that the here-and-now Ally fitted it best.

Next Most Important Thing: a very large indeed thank-you to everyone else who was there and made the day such a success. Especially, for me, Lisa, Neil, Dan and Chern Jie. Oh, and Tim. (Even if in his notice of the blogmeet on When Worlds Collide he manages to mis-spell Clare's first AND second names.)

OK. here's one of Chern Jie's pictures, showing the back of my head (the bald patch gives it away - the Friar Tuck look) and, as CJ suggests, the Mystery Guest. Somewhere....

Clare is just left of centre, but we can do better than that:

I must come clean and admit that I didn't recognise Clare from the pictures I'd seen before Lisa pointed her out to me. OK, glasses. OK, longer hair. I dare say I'd have got there eventually. But when I arrived at the Kro Bar, I was looking for two things. (1) a wonky-looking sign advertising the blogmeet with 'BM' on it (actually it was 'MB', though my immense intellect got over that hurdle pretty quickly) (2) a non-wonky-looking Lisa Rull who would be, I was assured, wearing stripes. And she was:

L-R we have Tim, Dan, Lisa, the sign, Clare, Chern Jie and Neil (Cloud).

More of those stripes:

And the Mystery Guest? Well, I thought everybody knew by now that it was Defective Yeti:

At least, we seem to have been visited by a defective yeti, with or without capitalisation.

Which may explain the presence of the anthropologist (in the hat) studying us all.

The cast list of this blogmeet was beginning to resemble something from a mid-sixties Dylan song.....

After the Kro bar, we went for a walk, with Dan pointing out items of interest. We descended on the Manchester Central Libary to admire its stained glass, and McDonalds to admire its lavatories. Then we fetched up in Efe's: by this time there were about a dozen of us. We ate and drank very well indeed (dolmades and knuckle of lamb in my case, with a nice Rioja). And so we came to the High Point Of The Weekend (or one of them), which was the Presentation to EineKleineRob (moi) of the Through The Keyhole Award.

The award consists of a key (to Clare's heart, apparently, which could come in handy some day) wrapped up in a box covered in a selection of the Through The Keyhole pictures which I was slightly less inept at identifying than my fellow-bloggers.

Here are a couple of pictures of the TTK award:

Then on to Mother Mac's pub, where we didn't ask to see the dumb waiter (look here for details) and where I had the rare pleasure of drinking draught mild...

...and the even rarer one of drinking it with Clare and Lisa, who - let's be honest here - were the main reason I'd travelled down from Edinburgh.

Future historians might care to note the cigarette in Clare's hand, marking this as a blogmeet in the Dark Ages BT (Before Tony).

In the immortal words of Kevin Ayers:

That's the end of the message.
Thank you. Very. Much.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Curious Affair of the Blog in the Night-time

OK. I've just made two (2) attempts to post a report on the Manchester blogmeet. And both of them have vanished into sod-all.html. Life, and the Internet, are clearly trying to tell me something here.

Honest. I was there. And I have pictures. And I can add something about the Mystery Guest that hasn't yet been said.

Meanwhile, here is something for Dipsy (the Sudbery dog).

God Dog

by Robin Williamson

(recorded by the Incredible String Band in their Chelsea Sessions, but better known via the cover version by Shirley & Dolly Collins on Anthems In Eden)

This dog is no puppy dog
She's strange as the trees
She's brown as the mountain
And white as the breeze
She walks on the water
Without any boots
And her eyes are as fine
As the music of flutes
But she will not sweep chimneys
Nor will she pluck corn
But she is the best little dog
That ever was born

I have lain in the womb
Of the rocks cold and chill
While she speaks in my heart
With the voice of the hill
And when I am risen
And ready to run
She will laugh without laughter
To welcome the sun
But she will not learn language
Nor will she bear scorn
But she is the best little dog
That ever was born

The water god offered me
The ring of his rings
To buy the dog from me
To teach the poor kings
The ring's on my finger
The dog runs behind
Since watery palaces
Would ne'er suit her mind
But as yet she can't fly well
Nor play on the horn
Still she is the best little dog
That ever was born.

Excuses, excuses

OK, after the Manchester blogmeet I had to travel all the way from Manchester to Edinburgh, three changes including a bus from Carstairs to Edinburgh. Then I had to take my son to see The Darkness in Glasgow (I'd have gone even without him, mind). Then on Monday I was on a 1600-2300 shift, before which I was sorting out the photos. And I can't blog from work any more. So there.

Posts on the blogmeet and the Darkness gig will follow in due course.

Friday, February 10, 2006

You could die laughing

Here is a site packed with splendid cartoon ripostes to the Danish Muhammad cartoons. (Via.)

More great posts from other people

Well, Mike may not be doing Post of the Week any more, but he still has a good eye for a great post. For example:




Also for a good blog. I shall be adding The Church of Me to the blogroll. Dammit, I read it for three and a half minutes and went off and bought a CD. Sad? Maybe. Old? Uh-huh. Nostalgic? Damn right. And whenever I listen to "Classical Gas" it now reminds me of this film.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Not just underground music....

What a great idea: showing the links between different musical genres by means of the London Underground map (via).

I guess I hang out mostly on the District Line, though sometimes I change at John Adams, and either Philip Glass (Eastbound) or Pierre Boulez (thereafter sometimes again at Four Tet).

My old regular commute when I was a Londoner ended at Finlay Quaye (whom I don't know). However, my home station was Buddy Holly: kinda cool.

Really very clever.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A place for everyone and everyone in his place.

An excellent two-part article by Chris McGreal in the Guardian on Monday and Tuesday. I'd always felt, like some of the people interviewed, that comparing Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories to South African apartheid was like comparing it to the Nazis: that while some kind of case could be made, the purpose of such a comparison was generally rhetorical rather than for purposes of enlightenment. And sometimes, of course, the intention was simply to annoy, or offend.

However, after reading the article I'm no longer so sure. It hadn't really struck me that apartheid was mainly about grabbing land, though it has been obvious for years that the Israeli occupation is all about that. Nor had I applied the comparison to Israel's shameful treatment of its own Arab citizens, where it arguably fits rather better than in the OT. And I was previously totally ignorant of the close political and military links (described in the second article) between the Israeli government and the apartheid-era South African one.

Partners in peace: (l-r) Menachem Begin, Moshe Dayan, South African Prime Minister John Vorster and Yitzhak Rabin finding plenty in common on Vorster's 1976 visit to Israel.

Like any analogy, though, it should be used with caution. Just because it really is true doesn't mean that it isn't being pushed further than is appropriate.

And the analogy also gives cause for hope. The apartheid regime eventually collapsed because it was too much trouble to sustain it. There are plenty of Israelis who think that their government's policies are close to that point now. We can only hope so.

One final point. I have never had any sympathy whatsoever with those who wish to see Israel dismantled, destroyed, or dumped on in any way beyond withdrawal to its internationally-recognised 1967 border. However, if the Knesset really does approve the bill which it is considering (and which has government support) for declaration of a national memorial day for Rehavam Ze'evi, I truly shall begin to wonder whether I've been wrong all along to stick up for Israel against those who would like to see Iran use it as a nuclear test site. If anyone more evil has attained a position of influence in the region since Israel's foundation, I don't know who it would be. (It is pleasing to note, though, that the acting Prime Minister of Israel was Ze'evi's bitterest political foe, so maybe the whole Let's-Glorify-A-Genocidal-Nutter business won't happen.) Perhaps the most fitting response if such an outrage did occur would be for other countries to declare national holidays for Abu Ali Mustafa. 27th August would be good.

Hi, my name is Heather, how can I help you?

I'm sorry, it may be an old post, but Dooce posted a link to this this week and I laughed so much I had to share it with the rest of you.

These are not the sites you're looking for. Move along.

Life's like that, isn't it? Connections crop up in the oddest of ways. One day I do a post on censorship. The next, the operating system in my work PC is upgraded. And as part of the upgrade, the list of blocked sites is greatly extended. The main way this affects me is that Blogger is one of the sites I can no longer access. This is a bummer because while I can read my blog from work, I can no longer post. Nor can I read any of the comments. Other blogs fare even worse: there are many whose comments I can no longer read (Joe in Vegas appears to have disabled comments altogether, though I'm glad to see that's just the way it looks from work) while the block stops me reading some altogether. I thought it would be interesting to run down my blogroll and see which ones were deemed wholly unsuitable. I know there is a block on drink, drugs and weapon-related sites, as well as porn and hate sites. OK, pause for a moment to look at my blogroll and predict which ones will be disallowed. Ready?

From My Favourite Blogs:

Baghdad Burning
Defective Yeti
Latigo Flint
My Boyfriend Is A Twat (ha! saw that one coming, didn't you?)
Troubled Diva
Troubled Diva Annexe

From Other Blogs I Like:

Abu Aardvark
Boing Boing
Crockatt & Powell (that's the one that surprised me most)
Don't Bomb Us
Girl With A One-Track Mind (well, OK...)
Going Underground
Gordon McLean
Heretics' Corner
Inveresk Street Ingrate
Jonny B's private secret diary
Naked Blog
Overheard In New York
qarrtsiluni (the second weirdest blockage)
Real E Fun (.....and the third)
Said the Gramophone
Scottish Blogs
Unkempt Women
Velveteen Rabbi

While not for a moment disputing the right of employers to restrict Internet access (I suspect my employer is a good deal more permissive in that regard than many) it seems to me that this list shows how totally arbitrary such restrictions can become.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Voltaire said it so much better

Well, so much of what I would like to have said has already been bettered, not least in Mike's Post of the Week. Thanks also to the Guardian Unlimited site for linking to the original images here. I'm a sucker for source material.

A few comments. Firstly, let's just remember why the cartoons were produced. A guy was trying to get an illustrator for a children's book on Islam, and had several contenders pull out because they were scared of possible violent consequences. This led to an article on creeping self-censorship and how it could eventually paralyse writers completely so they dared not write anything about some subject areas. The cartoons were commissioned to illustrate that. One of them shows a cartoonist drawing a turbaned figure (as someone on the Guardian blog asked, given the ban on images of the Prophet, how would any devout Muslim recognise him in a cartoon?) while sweating and looking over his shoulder. One might say that the recent protests illustrate the writer's point perfectly: especially the various suggestions that yes, we have freedom of speech but writers should voluntarily limit themselves so as not to risk upsetting sensibilities. Which is exactly the attitude the article was complaining about, hence neatly showing that those voicing the opinion haven't a clue about the topic they are declaiming on. Though as most of them are MPs this is hardly a shock.

Personally I take a pretty hard line on freedom of expression. A lot of stuff is published that I don't agree with, and that I find offensive. When I read Creationists demanding that Intelligent Design be taught in schools; when I read articles suggesting that Amnesty International supports terrorism; when I reads "supporters of Israel" claiming that any criticism of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories is supporting terrorism, or is anti-Semitic; then I briefly wish to have Charlton Heston's job in Fahrenheit 451, and to be able to burn the lot. But I don't, and I shouldn't. (And of course a lot of Heston''s own pronouncements on gun control offend me.) These views need to be aired, and laughed to scorn. As do the views of the real Islamophobes, anti-Semites, and so on. I have never been wholly comfortable with the idea of ideas being unvoiceable (as for example Holocaust denial is in Germany). Publish and be scorned, is my view.

I remember when Mary Whitehouse brought her private prosecution for blasphemous libel against Gay News. Gay News had published a poem (The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name) by James Kirkup, whose subject matter was the sexual fantasies of a Roman soldier at Christ's crucifixion. These included some novel uses for the additional holes the Romans had made in Jesus. The poem was accompanied by a fairly explicit illustration. How do I know all this, not being gay and never having bought Gay News? Well, as soon as the poem was banned, samizdat photocopies began to circulate around London. It struck me then that (a) the poem was singularly awful, and without the libel action would have been binned in seconds and forgotten forever; (b) the illustration was more tasteless than I could possibly have imagined; (c) a crappy porno-poetaster had been elevated by the (clearly-unsuccessful) attempt at censorship to the status of a dissident poet.

In the same way, the twelve cartoons at the centre of the present controversy are mostly unmemorable, especially to non-Danes (who will miss entirely the caricatures of prominent journalists and MPs). Left alone, they would probably all have sunk without trace. Now their originators are acquiring the aura of persecuted artists: which of course they are, but they would probably have preferred to be persecuted for some genuinely radical piece.

'Twas ever thus. What is D H Lawrence's most famous work? Lady Chatterley's Lover. Does anyone pretend it's his best? It is famous solely on account of the obscenity trial it evoked. What is Salman Rushdie's most famous novel? The Satanic Verses. Again, not his best work (though not the unreadable slog it's sometimes held to be - it's OK, with a few memorable passages) but the business with the fatwa rendered it undeservedly immortal.

For my money, the only cartoon of the twelve which actually makes a good point, in a witty way, and is thus memorable, is this one:

Though it might have been even better without the sword.

Monday, February 06, 2006

...but I'm not the only one.....

Regulars here will know that I have become rather fond of Latigo Crane's blog, on account of its surreal humour. However, while this post isn't particularly funny, I find myself in almost total agreement with it. I remember reading The High Frontier many years ago and thinking that while O'Neill was ahead of his time, that time would, eventually, come round. Still true.

Not that one wishes to pick nits, but while O'Neill's vision was predicated largely on the vastly improved efficiency of solar power when your collectors are in orbit, he didn't (IIRC) envisage beaming the power down to earth as microwaves or anything else (atmospheric absorption would cause heavy losses, and as Latigo Crane pointed out in his previous post, if your beam slips off track you end up vaporising Des Moines). He was thinking more in terms of moving the power-hungry industries up to orbit, and while that may seem odd, when your electricity bill is effectively zero (and when all your earth-bound competitors are being carbon-taxed to death) you wouldn't want to rule it out.

Funny how I've recently posted on both Virgin and astronomy, and now linking to Latigo's post brings them both together.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Astronomy Domine

So farewell then London Planetarium. I hadn't been there for a long time but I remember its show as being rather good. No better, probably, than the one at the smaller planetarium in Manchester I went to with my school once (I believe a new one is about to open there). I also remember that when I first moved to London two new laser light shows had just opened. This was when laser light shows were state-of-the-art stuff, before the rock bands got hold of them (first band I saw with one - a rather basic green one with minimal scanning - was Yes in 1978 so they weren't too far behind). One of these was Lovelight at whatever the theatre opposite Victoria Station was called then. Lovelight had a composed soundtrack, and the lasers drew little (OK, big) squiggly cartoons on a screen set up over the stage. Not bad, and technically very advanced, I believe, but not a hugely memorable aesthetic experience. Meanwhile, at the Planetarium (you knew there was a point to this, didn't you?) we had Laserium. This unfolded to a mix of classical music (including a couple of bits of The Planets - duh!) and rock (Pink Floyd, ELP, etc.) and was wholly abstract. Also wholly fascinating, and of I close my eyes I can still recall some of the patterns being traced out. I saw it three times, with different people (including my parents).

I think it's a shame if the LP is to be changed over to solely non-astronomical shows though. If you grow up in an urban environment, light pollution robs you of a lot of the night sky. I hadn't appreciated just how much until my first visit to Ballater. I was standing in the middle of the caravan site, some way from any local lighting, and there's nothing but small villages for a long way in any direction. I suddenly had my attention caught by something in the sky, and realised it was this big pale streak. OK, I'd seen the Milky Way before, and knew what it was and everything, but never before had it been so clear and bright that it actually attracted my attention without my specially seeking it out.

And certainly anything that helps to teach children about the universe has to be a good thing. If you doubt that we need places like the Planetarium, go and read this post on Bad Astronomy Blog (shortlisted for a Bloggie).

Saturday, February 04, 2006

But this is.

I've been reading Richard Branson's autobiography "Losing My Virginity", which is very entertaining. For people of my age, Virgin is first and foremost about music. We remember Tubular Bells being the soundtrack to our student days, we remember the wacky ads in Melody Maker or wherever, we even remember Hatfield and the North. Every other album seemed to be recorded at the Manor or on the Manor Mobile; virgin artists included some very cool names indeed (they had Beefheart for a bit, they had Robert Wyatt, Ivor Cutler.....) But my over-riding memory of Virgin from my student days (even eclipsing discovering their shop in Newcastle one day and buying all the Stackridge albums) relates to their mail order business. Remember, before they had shops, let alone a record label, Virgin were a mail order record seller with a catalogue to die for. Well, I got the catalogue and found in the imports an album I hadn't known of, entitled The American Metaphysical Circus by Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies. Joe Byrd I knew: he'd had a group called The United States of America whose self-titled album had been a favourite for some years.

So, I ordered up my lovely leap-in-the-dark vinyl import and quivered in anticipation. After a couple of weeks I got an apologetic note saying that the record was currently out of stock and they'd get it for me ASAP. Which they did, about two weeks after that. (And it's ace, and I still have it.)

So far, so mundane and male-blogger, you're thinking. The point is that the apologetic note was so stylish, so memorable, that it turned what might have been an irritation into a positive event. I can still remember it almost verbatim (I'll get there...); it used to be stuck up on the wall of my room; and I must have told this story to just about everyone I know. I suspect at least one of my fellow students ordered a weird import just in the hope of getting such a missive himself . This is the kind of thing marketing gurus rave about, creating extra customer satisfaction out of your foul-ups.

OK, here we go. The original was a postcard, printed in italic script. My copy went missing some years ago, though it may turn up.

Esteemed Count/Countess,

So recherché was your order that we have not one in stock. Not a single copy graces the hand-carved mahogany shelves of this fine old family firm. Rest assured, however, that when our stockman finishes his spell in the dungeon we will have him dispatch you a copy with all haste.

Yours apologetically
Virgin Records

Branson's book is also, BTW, full of amusing anecdotes. My favourite is about when the record label had to drop some unprofitable artists because of cash-flow problems. One of those dropped was David Bedford (ex-Kevin Ayers sideman), who sent Branson a very nice letter saying how he understood he must be pretty unprofitable, bore Virgin no ill-will and wished them all the best for the future. He then penned a vicious diatribe to his mate Mike Oldfield, all about what a shit Branson was, what a rotten label Virgin was, and how Oldfield really ought to be wary of them. He spoiled this, however, by putting the two letters into the wrong envelopes.

This is not a post.

"But come on, admit it, you are a bit full of yourselves sometimes, aren't you? And you do go on at great length about the most mundane of things." Male bloggers, that is, according to Clare (who's been having a bit of a week, so let's not be too judgmental here).

I'd just been thinking I didn't have much of interest to post this week, hence my, er, not having posted very much. Like everyone else in the entire blogosphere, I have been captivated by Forksplit (via). If that woman doesn't get a Bloggie next year I may consider relocating to some other reality.

Anyway: great length....mundane things..... Never knowingly understereotyped, I wondered about telling you all how I had to try five harpists before getting one to play Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra's next concert. Or how I apparently managed to turn off the wrong combination of main switches last time I was in the Ballater flat so I shut down all the storage heaters I thought I was leaving on to prevent freezing. Or something like that. But I really can't be arsed.

So I shan't post any of that.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Last weekend....

... I went up to Ballater again. Just me this time, as Vanessa was working and Ruairidh didn't greatly relish the prospect of spending the weekend effectively by himself, so one of the grown-ups had to stay. Last weekend was my turn to go. Hilary gets a shot this weekend, though, when I'm on call and therefore tied to Edinburgh.

So. Arrived late on Friday having made an arrangement to meet our Braemar friends on Sunday for a walk. Sat up listening to my new CD purchase so didn't get up very early on Saturday. Weather in Ballater was just short of actual rain, so no local walks seemed very attractive. Down the valley towards Aberdeen looked worse, while I would be up the valley the next day. A little lateral thinking, then, suggested a different valley. A quick look in the SMC guide to the Cairngorm area, followed by purchase of the appropriate map, and I was headed over to Donside to climb Tap O'Noth.

This is a small hill which overlooks the village of Rhynie, and is crowned with the second highest hill fort in Scotland. (I just Googled the highest, which turns out to be Ben Griam Beg in Caithness.)

The fort is one of the best examples anywhere of a Bronze Age vitrified fort, which is where the stones making up the fortification have been deliberately heated (by burning brushwood or similar) so they partly melted to form a much stronger structure.

Anyway, the weather over in Donside was much better, so I got a decent walk. Nice to make the right decision for once; so often you head off to find better weather only to find even worse stuff.

Next day I went to Braemar, which is on the route home. Sue and her children joined me and we all drove to Keiloch (a few miles out of Braemar) to do a round-and-over-the-top walk on Craig Leek.

We didn't actually follow the blue route on this map: we started out on it (anticlockwise), then swung West to climb up Craig Leek from the South-west, descending the northern spur before rejoining the blue route (clockwise) and returning to the car. A steep pull up, but good views when you're up. Last Sunday these were of snowy Lochnagar, snowy Culardoch, snowy Cairngorms, snowy everything over about 2,500 feet.

So: two good hills, neither of which I'd been up for some time. And good weather. Not to mention seeing my godchildren, and having an excellent meal from the Ballater chip shop on Saturday night. Pretty good weekend, really.