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SNP Should Bide Their Time

No doubt Nicloa Strugeon is seeking PR spin to try and come out shining from either backing a hard indryref2 or backing down from it – for now. Both are kind of wrong in their own ways – the mandate is reduced by the first past the post system, and there is less than half support for a new referendum, with some of that being from No voters wanting to bury the SNP once and for all time.

The SNP and others who are keen on independence, would be better to bide their time. They need to make a far better case for an economically successful Scotland back in the EU. Time should be on their side, and they need to reflect on why this is so.

Firstly we do not know much about the shape of Brexit, and secondly, it means on ecomnomic policy that there will be some very arrogant decisions made if Theresa May manages to hang onto power. There will be headline disruptive media policy making, while behind the scenes more power will be taken away from workers and more money taken away from the weakest in society, while on the other hand, more public money will be going to profits in privatised sectors. That is the Neo (liberalist) Conservative way – feed the rich first and well, trickle down is a nice theory isn’t it?

Given that ‘trade deals’ are the great white hope and pretty much an empty policy in fact, then that should be a good number of remain voters north of the border, who had a larger majority than No, who will be prepared to vote YES. But that will take time for the deals to show how ‘assymetric’ they are or how little effect they will have on business growth, contra the inflationary pressures of being outside the EU.

The trouble is that the EU is our largest and nearest trading partner, and disruption to supply in both directions threatens businesses with inflation and reduced productivity from slower supply chains. Also if the UK think they are getting out of lots of ‘silly straight banana legislation’ then they are about to find out that the global market doesn’t care for also ran standards. Due to economies of scale, the UK will have to accept that the vast majority of products and many services will be ISO EN compliant. Only this time the UK will have little or no influence over the content of these standards. Jam makers rejoice, but in fact if they want to expand and export their high quality wares they will need to CE label and conform to EN. Or the US standards.

China is the sunrise hope for many conservatives who have been making overtures to them for years, ignoring not only their human rights- record but also their economic philosophy which is straight out of printing money, controlling prices, controlling supply keynsianism of the 1940s and 50s. The Chinese deal with Switzerland is illustratory – China gets access to Switzerland now, but cuckoo clocks, swatch watches and emental cheese must wait almost two decades to have tairff and quote free access to China. It is a market size thing. We big, you wait long time. UK schools are hardly geared up for Mandarin lessons either.  It will offer the supermarket chains access to cheap produce and despite all the talk of food security, China actually has plans and the force to be self sufficient.

So come the actual time of Brexit and year or so after, the gloss of trade-deals and kicking foriegners out so youth can pick fruit and work on building sites, will have worn off. Also the little elephant in the living room is that immigration is fuelling the housing market on which so much of the English economy depends. UK ethnic women are not having kids, they are having careers and divorces. It is not only adult immigrants who boost demand in the housing market, the east europeans still have a culture for having more than one kid and starting a decade before educated UK women do.

So biding time for the real shape of Brexit will be good, and while the Labour party continues to hate its self, split between power hungry blairite Neo Conservative appeasers and ground swell from the actual left of centre behind Corbyn in the rank and file membership. You know the people who haven’t had a pay rise for a decade and have to have top up benefits and tax credits to try and make ends meet.

The other worthwhile factor in this is to see if EU nationals get the vote or not post Brexit. It is unlikely, in which case at least 100,000 Yes and Back-In voters north of the border are lost to Brexit. On the other hand if they retain their vote by residency or dual nationality say, then this is a powerful force given that BrexPolicy treats them as disposable and deportable if they for example, lose their jobs.

On time then too, the SNP would do well to let the war time generation and national service ‘in this together’ generation slowly die away. They are solid No voters. Baby boomers will start to see that all is not so shiny with the threat of inflation and possibly falling house prices post Brexit. So those in their 60s now will be looking at a retiral with less certainty offered by the union. We then have more youth becoming old enough to vote and having their naive hopes of course for something better than UK employment legislation in front of them.

For the SNP it is really a case of letting these factors run their course and being opportunistic only when there is an opporuntiy and a sea-change towards a solid Yes vote. Also that will give them time to address their bug-bear of education, and re-route investment into education. This is currently the stick all the pro unionists want to beat the SNP MSP base up with, and they are willing to ignore any positives and dig out any negatives on education to try and make it all stick. Would Labour have done a better job in managing the cuts in central funding and appeasing the teaching unions if they ran Holyrood? Or the conservatives, with their £7bn for purchasing new grounds for ‘free schools’ – a subsidy to tiger mummies and cricket snob daddies. Underfund public services and then replace them with over-funded private or independent solutions which look all shiny and attract the aspirant voters who managed to get their kids in or want to. What happened to good comprehensive education for all? Did it not quadruple the number of university graduates, and render Scotland (not that the BBC will say anything) the highest educated country in the EU ?

There will be a very clear choice for voters in future, between a weak and divided labour party and a bunch of charlatans in the conservatives looking to make a name for themselves by making it easier for landlords to exploit their tennants, or businesses to avoid health and safety or over time.

The choice isclear, between a society which is hell bent on following the neo conservative American model, which does so little for half of society, or the continuing success of the European / Scandinavian social democratic route to a meritocrical society rather than a silver-spoon baby wins society. Scotland has continued to diverge from this true-blue, sod-the-poor centre of gravity south of the border and will continue to so because of the egalitarian nature of life. England is a society in the throws of re-stratification, and where you are born and into how much wealth will increasingly determine your prospects in life due to differential access to qaulity education along class and geographical lines, the cost of higher and even further education and then the social circles in which you have grown up being more closed to “lower” classes.  For thirty years they Tories have been selling snobbery and one up man ship to a sector of society and it has been a success, only that other sectors of society see the result as negative for them.

Unfortunately for the Leavers and Conservatives in power, the EU is doing rather well with even the basket case economies turned round and growing more than the UK. Wages have kept up and outstripped inflation, and employers and the state have invested in productivity which goes hand in hand with higher wages. The UK has a productivity ‘puzzle’ to many, but there should be no surprise – so much of the English economy and that of Wales and Ulster are tied up with consumer services and consumer financial products that it is easy to see why productivity is in a long term hole.

Independence can offer a different route which also reflects the fact that Scotland has a highly diversified primary and secondary economy which outperforms the rUK economy when London is taken out of the picture it can be argued.

For now people are bored with politics and likely to punish the SNP as they did Theresa May for bringing more blah blah to their TV screens. Nicola would be best to think up a good PR strategy for now which is a step down not a climb down, and eat some humble pie in the face of the Tory revival north of the Border which has been fuelled by No /Leave voters.

A Sunny Day In An Argyll Sound or Loch……

Oh for a sunny day like this only in my home land, on a quiet loch or a tranquil sound with the grand vistas of Jura, Mull and the Western Highlands as company. Sunlight making the diamonds dance on the water and an easy breeze blowing us along to nowhere in particular perhaps.

I am warming to the idea of cruising after almost three decades of racing. Being however amongst the lucky ones to have raced in the majesty of western Argyll, I have of course done not only four west west highland weeks, but also a Tobermory race and been honoured to have helmed under spinnaker through the Cuan sound in the Round-Shuna delivery race. However very much of the scenery and of course nearly all the nooks, crannies, hook-holes, beaches and not least bars are just just whizzed past at 7 knts with an eye on the luff of the sails. 

If i do miss Scotland then in fact I miss inexorably bachelor life and had I stayed on there is a chance I may have worked hard and played a little less hard in the cities, and been more out in boats. Where I doubt very much I would have met a lady love to be honest, not going into details, perhaps things have changed. A self made, educated Gentlemen of yore could affrord a thirty five footer and have two weeks away with the family each season plus some racing holidays. Not now. Especially not for employeess. None of my well paid pals own boats even. But however there is not that much holding them back, especially when the average foreign holiday costs well over two grand for a family of four. 

I  think most of them are spoiled with OPB (other people’s boats) over 40ft with full head room and new carbon sails, and of course immaculate and untouchable IRC certificates! In the 70s these folk would have been Sonata owners, maybe the odd one upgrading to an Impala. These days they buy new hooses and BMWs and holidays in Gran Canaria or Corfu and wonder why they never have cash spare for a boat. Sonatas seem to be being snaffled up by the younger generation even! Those who are determined to do some sailing, rather than putting quality demands on interior and high profile sponsorship and parties perhaps? 

I never have quite liked sonatas. It is a snob thing I will admit. They popped up in the 70s all over the Clyde and have never looked very elegant with their chopped transom. They were always to be a bit kind of looked down on, as racing caravans, for the hoi palloi some would say. However they are an extremely attractive package for the money, then and now. They feel like a bigger boat once on board, because they are chopped off by at least four feet of transom where you are not often looking and a relatively deep proportioned cockpit and companion way. 

Accomodation is of course Tardis like on a Sonata,  rivalled only the great Scandinavian ‘people’s boat’ the Maxi 77. It really is a racer cruiser which fullfills both very admirably if you are looking for that kind of one design racing and compact, four up cruising. Some of the best sailors on the Clyde have owned or helmed Sonatas and the fleet is friendly and a good place to hone skills and get your head around owning and campaigning a boat which features in class or HC starts in all the main events of the Clyde. 

As I said I am a bit of a snob in terms of aesthetics and the other draw backs for me in the Sonata are the outboard which can spend half its time out of the water in a following chop, and their roly-poly DDW antics which really do not suit any crew members who are a bit ‘feart’ .They even seem to make better VMG in those violent antics sometimes! 

For that sunny morning heading off from anchor or berth up the Lorne, what boat for me then? Given I would be modest of budget or running a racing boat / dinghy in the la’lands, what fir the Heelan’s? Well there are a few boats that stand out and which are incredibly affordable. 

Firstly there is the Maxi 77, and despite being a little long in the tooth, well rennovated examples are to be found around the UK and ireland with good itineries, and importantly for family cruising, roller furling headsails. They seem to be fairly bombproof so a sub 5000 pound example as a rennovation project may be worth a survey and consideration if you can do glass work and redo gel coat. My brother had one with an inboard, which looked quite prof’ so I wonder if they were offered with this as more or less standard for the British Isles, being more open to serious seas that the shelter of the Swedish coast. The outboard sits a bit nicer than on a Sonata though and the boat sits better in the waveform, having a hull form really much more like boats which came 10 years after when tonne designs had gone out of favour. That tumble home gunwhale gives a nice window, often in need of sealing !, but also of course a good headroom inside, and a nice flush deck with only that stupid little gaurd rail near the mast on some models to trip over. 

The Maxi 77 sailing wise is quite a surprise. Despite its’ rather puny mainsail, the boat trucks along to windward driven by its generous genoa, which is about 160% it seems! I have sailed with full genoa in abour 13knts true and it starts getting a bit hairy, but boy, when you crack off just a bit from a beat the easily driven and very stable hull form is doing 7 knots!  Another surprise , which may be a bit too much of one for families who are eager sailors, is that the Spinnaker is pretty huge, being masthead. Unlike a Sonata or many old, thin ended designs, the 77 trucks dead down wind in the sea train when racing, and sits very comfortably on a broad reach with the kite dare i say cleated while No.2 makes a cuppa down below. 

Another wee peach of a boat  is the Contessa 26. This was quite a popular boat around the western highland lochs in its day, with I guess many folk upgrading the the 32 version and into other bigger boats. They do look quite small, having quite a low freeboard, but they have four berths, galley and heads and their owners love them for their practicality, affordability and most of all seaworthyness. I do not know if they have the same ‘bench mark’ stability of the Contessa 28, but they certainly look the job for crossings to Colonsay and Tiree. For racing, well you would need to look at the CYCA and Portsmouth on them, there are very few raced which kind of suggests they are either very sort after by cruiser sailors, or avoided by racers. There was a very well sailed example out of Ardfern in the 2000s, but I dont remember it winning anything.

Boat chosen then, for some elegance and seaworthyness, I chose the Contessa 26. There I be exiting one of the western anchorages into the sound of Islay in my 26 with Girl Friday, a good book, camera at the ready, and a big glass of malt! 

Slainte!  

Election Night Surprises

Two big risks have blow up in the faces of two major party leaders in Scotland and rUK tonight. Firstly Theresa May is shockingly denied a majority, and will only have a majority by appeasing the DUP in ulster. The gains in Scotland are a hollow victory, because Scottish MPs cannot vote on England only laws and policy,  much of it key to the mannifesto in terms of Schools, Transport and Policing. Nicola Sturgeon was handed a major blow losing at time of writing 21 seats, but retaining a large majority of seats.

We await postal votes, which have been Tory biased in the past, but now many UK expats will be worried as hell about their EU and EEA residency ( it mildly concerns me too of course) But Corbyn will not get an SNP supported government. He will though get a huge amount of credibility both in rUK and Scotland at beating the Tories down with their £11m estimated spend, using a paltry £3m.

It looks like voters are a little tired of Leaders in their respective countries calling referendii and elections for their own ends and opportunistic advantage. True 62% of voters in Scotland on Brexit said no thanks, but not in the seats which are a surprising shade of blue today. Also IndyRef was a very high turn out, as it has also been in these seats, with all parties but the SNP gaining in some. There is a clear vote against indyref 2 so soon and as I have said before rightly so.

The SNP knew they had demographics on their side in the longer term, and even without EU citizen votes (which may or may not be withdrawn from residents we do not know) , but they decided there was a concrete connection between Remain and Indy. There wasn’t.

The SNP have for years done a terrible job on actually painting an economic picture that is anything else than a wish-list and speculation. They bind themselves to the GERS figures whcih show a ScoGDP at around 145-162Bn pounds, which is only in line with a per capita proportion of the UK.  Why is Scotland so much Smaller an Economy than Denmark? It is placed around the same size as New Zealand, which has fewer people but a larger country. Living in Norway, I do not beleive the Scottish economy is around the £320bn GDP for Norway (2015) because although Scottish Waters have delivered the same amount of oil in total since 1969, Norway now produces far more per annum from investment and exploration down within it’s larger continental shelf. Denmark is around £244bn depending on the year and exhcange rate, but this is perhaps even as far as I would say Scotland could be.

With a centre left Corbyn revival, it could be that the Blairites buckle down to their new surprise success story, a modest gentleman, so smeared by the right wing media, yet able to come through with huge credibility from grass roots, town to town campaigning. Also Theresa May and hence the Tories will face ‘LibyaGate’ regarding the manchester bomber and one of the London suspects who were able to travel to fight in Libya to fight as Jihadists against Gidafi, and return. The allegation is that MI5 were involved with them in order to gather or intercept intelligence on the ground in Libya. The story in the news is their passports were confiscated by their Father, but is that really true?

Another general election means that a left wing coalition can arise, given the SNP and Labour agree to cooperate. Even without English Only Legislatory power, such a government would have a majority on the shape of Brexit and macro economic policy, including the much demonised Dept. Work and Pensions.  It may push the credibility up further and allow for a labour majority. That is a little unlikely because it looks like libdem voters and their politicians are not interested in working with labour, so it would just be the SNP. They could reppeal the act though, but it is seen as a natural progression towards autonomy by the SNP. Alternatively a majority like this could introduce a Scottish and Continental style semi Proportional Representation with a regional and city wide ‘list’ of extra candidates reflecting general voting patterns. That would of course lock the UK potentially into years of coalition governance, which would upset the ‘city’ at first, but they like many other EU countries would settle down to the idea of a centre politic, with minor swings right and left.

Now the SNP and Labour have to rally around what they should do, because despite 71% of Scots not voting for them, they got 13 seats (so far at time of writing) which is rather the boot on the other foot when Thatcher ruled supreme on only 37% of the vote, but had a majority, they manage 22% of seats on 28% of the vote.

I would bet on either a fragile, ‘weak and feeble’ DUP back alliance without Thresa May and with compromise on the ‘No Deal’ bravado, which has lost its shine since Le Pen lost and the Euro Zone is growing faster than the UK, even Greece.

 

Sailing into the Blue Yonder

Tommorrow is the final day’s racing at Tarbert in the Scottish Series, a regatta which evolved out of the ‘Tomatin Race’ of the early 70s. I have done five series and made damn well sure I was booked on for the final overnight, on a good ol’ clyde stalwart of days gone by – a hunter Impala, Llamergaya I think she was called.

I am really rather lucky to have not only sailed on the upper and lower clyde, but also on the Forth, the Tay and out of Oban. Of  course I have also sailed in Bergen, Oslo and the South Coast here , but my formative years were sailed on the East Patch.

Apprenticeship Duly Served at the Auld School

I served a rather late apprenticeship in sailing, being an adult new comer to the less subtle arts of racing. Firstly a season and a half on the infamous bene FC Europe ‘ Defiance II’ and then a rather more easy going pace on the Sigma 33 ‘Rajah’ with Roy Summers and Co, who are still going strong and competing this week I see over in Tarbert Loch Fyne.

In between the two boats I actually did the old school RYA course in dinghy sailing at the original Tighnabruaich sailing school ,where Derek who now has his own school down the sound, was senior instructor. It was a good grounding in seamanship as much as helming skills in there hotch potch of different dinghies.It blew old boots most of the time and we had an eclecitc bunch of folk, with Manchester school for girls in attendance and the Kirk’s minister from the isle of Barra.

My visit to the famous school was actually the same time as Scottish Series, I wasnt on the short list or the long list for Defiance (luckily, they had a bit of a mutiny I heard) and I was darn well going sailing that holiday weekend to make the most of the bank holiday. I think it was five days saturday to thursday or the like. Anyway I learned a lot of really good techniques, knots and so on. Derek was a hard task master and was looking after other sailors on the last couple of days so passed me only to RYA 2, which was a dissappointment, and there were mumbles back home that this was part of their marketing strategy! I got the rarer level 4 (surpassing three) over at Minorca sailing five years later.  I still teach some of the wee tricks and general attitude to seamanship in my own instructing, which begins tommorrow night incidentally with adults this time in day sailer keel boats. I put May 1995 as a big milestone in my sailing logbook though. An hour in a dinghy is worth eight in a racing yacht has been my motto ever since!

I signed up with Rajah a month later and was thrown into the deep end so to speak with the classic Tobermory race, a Port Bannatyne start line to Ardrishaig, with Ivanhoe leading our flottila with the scurl o’ the pipes from her foredeck through the Crinan Canal. A 5 am breakfast at Crinan to catch the tidal gate at the Doris Mor was followed by some hard spinnaker work, and a long day up towards the Lorne as the wind died south of Oban. Eventually a sea breeze to the top of 4 came in and we were all in by 4pm at Tob’. As a racing chap, I do sometimes think of how we are rushing past places of my family folklore likePuilladobhrain,. meaning Pool of the Otter, and in later years places which had mythical status to me as a nipper, far away holiday snaps and log book recitals, and reminicing between the crew and my father. Small keep sakes like tiles from abandoned buildings on the Treshnish islands, and much talk of Tinkers hole with the rings in the cliff faces to tie up to.  However coming up Fyne or the Sound of Mull in a fleet eager to hold their time or win their one design, with a full crew and three sheets to the wind,  just beats crusing around on white sails hands down every time. What a privelidge to have raced here often!

I was starting to feel I really had some skills under the belt, afer the baptism of fire on Defiance, the old school basics at Tigh’ and now one of the longest running events in the calender behind me. A delivery cruise through both Easdale and Cuan in blustery, Scotch mist conditions cemented my feeling of having waters past my own keel.

Rajah was a very good apprenticeship with some good sailors on board, and we had the luck of Neil McGregor coaching us for Cork Week 96 when we lighted the boat to class legal minimum, and she lifted her skirts with some whipping of us all by big Neil! 96 was a great year with warm weather and wind most days, and the whole event was a spectalce. Clyde boats dominated the sigma 33 class, with St Joan winning and Vendeval, Phoenix and Pepsi all being in the top ten. We scored a firth and a tenth I believe, having been third boat around the first mark one day when we punched through on the start line and got away with clean air up the beat. That was quite astonishing, a mid fleet gentleman’s boat often accused of being ‘social sailors’ down the Northern, showing a clean pair of heels to over seventy other sigmas!

Moving On Up the Ranks

Now Rajah didn’t sail wednesday nights, so I got the chance to sail with Harold Hood on Odyssey, and that was an eye opener because Harold was a former GP14 champion and veteran of several nationals. He came new into the fleet, having sailed Etchells and some other boats, but managed to be in the top three upper clyde Sigmas within a few outings. It was interesting to sail with them, and fun to win races, and I learned just how much of any regatta is decided on the start line, where Harold was a deamon with no fear what-so-ever, which got him in trouble with Charlie Frize on more than one occaision when the sig’s were thrown into class 1.

Work took me to Manchester for almost three years, and I of course met some sailors in the most likely setting of the Church Inn at Uppermill, about as inland as you can possibly get wothout being up Scafell Pike in England. Dave Cummaford was a regulat and invited me to do some irish sea racing, ISORA, and being young free and single I could spend my late youth bashing around all weekend in the Irish Sea, and then doing half of Celtic Week out of Pwhelli. That was interesting again, because they were a bunch of glamour-pusses in matching jackets on a Corby 35 with a deamon CHS rating. It was a fast, cleanly laid out boat with some really good sailors on board, but nearly all the time was spent sailing in our own wind, quite far from the faster Sigma 400s, and then sitting over a hot laptop waiting to see how we might place. Not that it put me off handicap racing, nor offshore. It was very good experience.

I was ‘booked’ for Converting Machine again for Scottish Series 1998 but got on board another boat who needed me all week, and kind of ignored Dave’s protestations later and got flicked from the crew list no dounbt for this misdemeanor. We were able to stay at someone’s hoose, Uncle Willy, who was an old retired fisherman with a big front room to his house with extra beds for about five of us. John from Ardershier was in two with Rob Inglis and some others, and we had a rather jolly time, us being commandeered onto the Irish IMX 38 ‘Braveheart’. I remember meeting them in the pub on the friday night after the delivery, and they were looking dejected, after a poor result and a lack of crew for the event. Me and john and perhaps another punter were as delighted to offer our services as they were to welcome us to the team.They were all called Brian if I remember rightly. Brian Matthews, a veritable legionnaire of Scottish Series and the Irish cicuit, was their coach and gave mes some of the best advice and tips on trimming I have ever had. I kind of forgot to sail with conveting machine which was running an odd mainsail in dacron to go trophy hunting in  a CYCA class of all places, I mean Tarbert was the annual shake down for IRC craft and their new sets of sails!

I think I will have to blog again from this point forward, but basically with this and then 2000 at Minorca Sailing in performance dinghies for a week, cemented my skills and knowledge and made me a useful guy on any boat, be that front, back or the middle bit where the boxing matches happen. I am far from a master dinghy sailor, nor I am Sir Ben on the stick of bigger boats, but i feel a certain road to mastery was taken by my route and Minorca honed my skills for boats of all sizes.

Coasts Apart

I moved to Edinburgh from my stint in Manchester and ended up working for what was then quite a high profile internet design and programming agency as a project manager. The pay was mediocre but it came with wheels, so I was able to shoot around the place. This meant I could sail at Port Edgar and Dalgety bay, keel boats and my own Tasar and other dinghies respectively. Also I decided to do some more west highland weeks, on my own terms, with a share of the helm.

Oban replaced Rhu as my ‘home port’ for two very enjoyable seasons sailing with Twig Olsen and Peter Duggan, with various crew including Gill Reavley, one of the Thomas brothers, Sandy Loynd from Tob’ and Alistair Olsen. It was a rather illustrious time for the boat ‘Fly’  and my helming too with wins at West Highland Week and Round Mull, and Peter and Sandy won of course the Scottish Two Handed on the clyde.

Like my father before me, I felt that the ‘real stuff’ begins once you’re over the top of the Crinan canal summit and venturing westward, so this move was cutting out the middle man. Also I got to sail on one of my favourite designs of all time, the Hunter Impala, called Fly. Much nicer than the Sonata to live in and far more sporty in feel and response than the Smeg when you consider David Thomas’s other two big UK successes.

Round Mull must surely be one of the best stage races in the world as far as scenery and craic goes, and I see it has grown in popularity and hull length ever since, with a move I believe to a week later in the calender coming more into holiday sweet spot. It is done by quite a select band of sailors who commit to having their boat up there for the season.

We were also lucky in competing in feeder races to both WHW and Round Shuna, the latter necessatating sailing under spinnaker through the Cuan sound, although we avoided Easdale. Round Shuna is another wee peach of a race and social, which anyone who happens to have sailed WHW should consider keepng their boat on God’s side of Kintyre just to do this event, once in a lifetime at least.

WHW 2000 was wonderful weather by in large, with the Hunts winning the event overall having eaked a fine tune out of their laser 28 ( relatively it didnt have a bandit handicap like say a comfort 30, and they could have won on IRC I dare say!) We had a support boat , Twig’s Nelson and we did Ken Grant’s after party at the light house at Corran ferry, with a final, peaceful late evening cruise back to N. Ballachuilish.

After WHW 2001 we also enjoyed some interesting crusiing in some bloody aweful weather. Jackie Stewart of motor racing fame was celebrating his 60th or 70th birthday and had hired I beleive the entire Hebridean Princess, with Sir Sscchean on board. We saw her steaming north as we made it to either Arisaig or Coll. We were ‘storm bound’ in both ports, with a dash in better weather made from Arisaig to Coll with a really big beam sea on the go, great mountains of green would suddenly rise and I had to turn the bow up on more than one occaision to bob over rather than risk being rolled (that extra lead on the keel is only a wee bitty bit on an Impala actually!!)

We had two nights on the tourist moorings there, each time walking the rubber dinghy the half mile up to the hotel, and then drifiting on the strong north westerly down the creek of a loch, aiming the dinghy as best we could at the impala and hope to hell we did not overshoot or loose grip on Fly ! It would be a long trip to Bunessan or Staffa in that wind with a half skinful in you.

Finally it came time to travel back home and we did a fairly ambitious Coll to Ballachullish three up wi’ the then wee man, Alistair Olsen. On the way up the firth of Lorne, there lay the Hebridean princess in that sandy bay on the Morvern side, we had heard there were a good few sea sick from the tour and I can remember why – force 8 two days and top of 6 several other days, with temperatures as low as 8 ‘c at night!  The temperature picked up too that evening, and we slept off a long day on the mooring at the little pool there which I cant remember the bloody name of, but is a kind of cosey little Caladh type place. With itinerant midges of course, but we slept pretty well in the dead calm of the bay.

That actually marked the end of my love affair with sailing the west coast at that point in time. I knew you cannot really go back and expect things to be the same, and Fly was due an inboard and so on. In truth I wanted to do more helming as i felt that I had come as far as I possibly could with crewing, and Pete was of course most interested in helming most of the time, especially when I pulled out Fly’s first and rather illustrious win on the Oban-Tob leg of WHW in 2001, in the old sea dogs class 5 as it was then, against all the bandit handicappers and all the local back eddy knowledge, and three other impalas in class!

I regret losing touch for a few years with Pete and Twig but hope we can get a sail together next year.

East is East

At the same point in time I was also sailing on a 707 over in the east coast, and got my company to sponsor East Coast Week. This was run at Dundee out of the Royal Tay, and I was able to sail a few times with the once infamous west coast boat Rhett Butler, then passing to the sober hands it has to be said of Dave Suttie. The DB2 was a proper old race boat, a little tired but still able to impress up wind. I got to sail a couple of days at the ‘week’ and was on runners when we hit the shelf at Broughty castle. Bump. It was a falling tide and we did not really know about the shelf. The boat developed a slow leak and needed repairs, Silvers taking on the job that winter.

The 707 was a good experience too, because before I had done a winter series on a lone FC 8m, whcih was fun but often a little hairy. We had the sail maker Simon Jackson on boat ‘ Activ8or’ and I learned a good few more tricks it has to be said, plus more fine details on use of the rules from a fantastic sailor. The 707 was also hairy, we often sailed just three up which made upwind a struggle and off wind a blast. However after a decent broach at 12 knts I got used to the feeling of not quite trusting the helm, another Dave IIRC, and enjoyed the wee machine. Once we were going so fast under the forth bridges that the displacement boats literally looked like they were sailing backwards!

Never Quite Fitting In

It was really high time to concentrate on my own boat, but a year of part time work and a mediocre salary in my new job at Inchinnan meant that Ididnt have budget. I tried sailing with a couple of other boats on the clyde but I was  a bit of a spent force if truth be told in terms of social network there.

On the Clyde I never felt I quite fitted in, or was accepted into the core of crew around my own age. They had all been dinghy and day boat sailors in their teens, most had crewed on Drum in her day, and really I was an outsider who also got labelled as pretty rubbish from my early days out as a virtual novice to keel boat racing, and then sailing with the rather unfarily branded ‘ social sailor’ boat Rajah. The trouble there was that they were all older on board and the usual crew bonding and beer swilling in the throbbing crowd in the beer and bands tent was lacking. Being with other crew was ok, but it would have been better to be in a team and bond with folk around my own age then I can see that in retrospect.

I don’t regret a god-darned minute though, and my social awkwardness is something I just have to live with.
Mera Norvegicus
The  east coast followed including East Coast Week out of Royal Tay, on the now no longer infamous ‘Rhett Butler’ and planing under the Forth bridges on a 707. Three more Tarberts and a total of four West Highland Weeks and I had my spurs and some scars to show.

Where now though?
Well it has to be a new blog that one too I am afraid! I need my kip and my berth awaits.

Prions, just what the….? 

It has been a good decade since I worked  in biotech and back then there was still a great deal of concern about BSE and CJD as fatal diseases with serious epidemiological consequences and many unanswered questions as to the mode of infection and replication. 

Thirteen years on from BSE gels at Invitrogen being the big thing, Prions remain a bit of a mystery and pose questions about the very origin of life as we know it- invasive, replicating and diversifying!

What Do We Seem to Know About Prions? 

Prions are very odd, they are an enigma to molecular biologists and may prove to be a factor in more disease aetology than we currently know through the more severe and easy to diagnose brain and CNS diseases we know today. In theory a single abbertant protein can precipitate many other proteins in a kind of chain reaction where they then semi crystalise in a new, stable state. This can be described as abberrant and altered protein folding, rather like a slinky *TM spring you are playing with which suddenly gets a little damaged and forms a new shape. 

. As the cell perhaps make more proteins to replace those which lose function, then the chain reaction continues until enough of the cell machinery is either overloaded or the cell is full of prion material and is subject to cell death and lysis. Thus prions are released to infect, or you could say damage other cells, in what many argue is a purely chemical way.

Protein folding is something which happens usually within cells as the peptides are being built on or through the Ribosomes, a nano 3D printer nature happened to fall upon over a billion years ago, or they are meddled with by other entities in the cell,  including  ions and importantly for Prion mechanistics, other proteins with which they form useful big proteins with, like haemoglobin or enzymes. Where as on sister or cousin protein will guide a newly made ‘wobbly’ string of amino acids, a peptide, into being a useful part of the cellular machinery, a Prion will cosey on up to it, and make it fold differently, into long beta sheet folds, which become like fibres in the cell once they start to precipitate. It is theorised that a prions could cause pre-made proteins to fall into a new state, by sliding on up beside them and coaxing them into spreading out and lieing beside them.A chain reaction may then ensue from protein to protein, within fairly specific classes of proteins, which for some reason are usually found in central nervous tissue so far at least,.. These ‘prionised’ proteins become far more stable than other forms, and difficult to get rid of, blocking up the cell and leading to misfunction and eventually cell death.

Ye Cannae Defy the Laws of Physics Jim….

 There is a fundamental bit of philosophy and physics here, that molecules will find a most stable state and persist.  Biological enxymes are inn contrast rather dynamic molecules, where often parts of the molecule act like hinges, or even become temporarily covalently bound to the ‘ligand’ which they are acting upon. Some complex proteins like Haemoglobin, harness both other organic molecules (porphyrins) and metals, iron of course in the case of most higher organisms. These complex proteins then are often not verry stable in terms of structure   or become a little ‘poisoned’ as catalysts. Hence our excrement is brown, as the unstable haemoglobin protein aggregates burn out so-to-speak,  and the more toxic break down product from their catabolism, bilirubin, gets secreted in our guts. 

Plaques they are called then  these aggregates of duff, structurally stabilised  protein, or fibrils to be more precise to mol’biologists. An analogy would be a seed crystal in a salty solution which creates a large, branching crysal, or for example a spec of dust which allows super cooled water in clouds to crystalise and become snow flakes. There is a natural, entropic tendency to assume certain structures and a single, small entity precipitaes out the bigger structure, which may be non homologous or semi homologous in the case of the proteins in animal cells. Without that seeding entity, there is no crystalisation. 

Molecular Intelligence or Pure Chance Entropic Effect ?

One of the main lines of thought is that Prions are a purely chance phenomenom which has arisen through a classic of evolution: perpetuation by surviving, accumulating and replicating. In that though there is a fundamental dileman or even oxymoron. Do Prions really replicate via a protein to protein route or is there as many suspect a viral type of nucleic acid vector? 

In theory though we could be looking at something which occurs by pure chance and is related to some fundamentals of the thermodynamics and entropy of protein folding. It could be that there is a weird chain reaction which is purely physical in nature, and propagates purely by re-release of ‘prionised’ proteins into the infected creature and then out into other  creatures. This is no bad stance to take on the theory, because it is known that CJD is spread from cattle to humans via consumption or exposure to body fluids and materials at work. 

However that stance is equally as enticing for an infectiious agent which uses a nucleic acid. Or as was propsed by some headline grabbers at the time, that there was a new route to replication of proteins outside the central dogma of DNA-RNA-Peptides. That a single protein agent could instruct the cell’s DNA , or mRNA to do something odd and cause proteins to build up and kill the cell, thus perpetuating the ‘species’.

. At one point it was believed that the Prion acted like a virus, devoid of nucleic acid code, but with a kind of proxy message – it could perhaps turn on genes which favoured certain protein production which then lead to more prionisation and inevitably, some proteolysis would create new prions. Or even more sinister, that the seediing Prion could both kill the cell having made more of itself by directly controlling the nucleic acid pathways. This would point to a most uncomfortable ideom for geneticists, the instructive method of gene control, where proteins tell the cell how to change, and the cell line alters, rather than the mechanism of natural selection being at work. There are though some special cases where this happens, in immunogenetics at least as far as I know, perhaps elsewhere, but that is for very specific purposes. Is there then a dastardly signal and almost alien life form mechanism behind Prion replication? 

No Signs of Message So Far?

More than a decade on from the BSE -CJD – Scrapie Pie scare in the UK and around the world, researchers have not found any nucleic acid or other set of instructions encoded in protein or anything else which would point to a little mastermind of an infectios agent behind the Prions. It could be though on the one hand that they just havent been looking in the right places or something has been taken for granted. 

On the other hand it could just be that we have that grain of sand in the mother of pearl, which makes a pearl in the one cell that is, which then bursts down to a million new grains of sand and is infective and replicative that way. Furthermore, if this latter be the case, it could be purely the fortuity of probability,  that these fibril bodies are proteolysed by cellular immune systems or post cell death, and a very few become ‘ seed prions’ as a matter of due course, given enough of them. .

Prions Are Perhaps a Clue to the Origins of Life 

We get back into the concept of the very origins of life, especially when the space ship Cassini finds liquid water and organic compounds on a moon of Saturn, and Mars , well is NASA holding back on us a bit here?  

Prions exist and propagate because they can exist and propagate. This is very much the kind of concept of very early life, when it has been hypothetised that peptides predated nucleic acids as the means of firstly ‘precipitating’ enough material so as to be able to replicate, and then to do this replication accurately enough to spread the proto organism. Proteins (peptides) very often naturally ligate metal ions, which then create a lot of useful and immensely powerful chemistry – the power to split water, carbon dioxide, oxygen dimolecules and nitrogen, phosphorous and sulphur compounds. to other thermodynamically useful ends. More replication, more accumulation of building blocks, more interesting things being built, chance  events. 

The ‘primeval soup’ then gets lumpier and lumpier as a string of chance events favoured by thermodynamics snow ball into ‘species’ of proto-organisms, which then either compete with each other, perhaps eating each other, or cooperate with each other. It is theorised now due to the deep hot volcanic vents of the ocean floor, that life could have evolved in many places on earth to the single celled forms. The idea of the miracle, the genesis event only once in the universe, is really put up against the possibility that carbon /nitrogen/phosophorous life is an inevitability if you have the right chemical buiolding blocks and environment. 

Prions – Does Nothing Direct Them, Other Than Thermodynamic Fate?

Personally I am kind of on the fence, just in case because they may well find an infective agent when and where they least expected  it. If Prion ‘seed’ proteins are only needed in small qauntities for the disease to progress, and there is then an advantage to the dark knight infective agent behind the scenes to use this, then it may be that the little nasty thing is a real lurker, or in fact nothing described by science so far – a protein only virus perhaps? On the other side of the fence, there is the pure entropic beauty of a self propagating protein system, which has no forward looking ambition, there is no design in its madness, it purely is a phenomenom because it can be one due to the laws of physics and chemistry. 

Here then we get back to the origins of life and how a ‘soup’ of what ever nutrients and metal ions, could kind of simmer for a while and start to do interesting, large molecule based chemistry which replicated itself. If you replicate something by chance, you get more of it, it accumulates, it propagates. In a more complex way, but yes you can say like a nuclear chain reaction in a fission neutron reactor. Over time we see that which persists, that which thrives, that which adapts. Most of all we see the mechanisms of the universe and life are fundamental and undeniable.

Perhaps indeed Prions are either a very old hang over from the earliest forms of life, which nature never quite managed to kill off. Or perhaps prions are an example of  co-evolution, a secondary meta-genesis event fortuitated by some vagiaries of proteins in brain tissues in particular.  These particular protein systems which were not present in earlier evolution when DNA based systems were kind a pressure to select against Prion type activity as being dangerous and competitive to the new, robust and ‘blindly intelligent’DNA driven core of life to come. Hence perhaps prions can do their dirty work and spread purely because they damn well can, it is an inevitability given the right set of factors.. 

A Day On Loan From Summers Past

Today, late April, but a strong sun burning our eyes. It is a seaside light, which is sharp in spring and early summer before the haze builds to soften the skies and the sun rises above the brim of your finest straw boater. Today I was playing at single parent, with only the wee man there. We were up late so that Aust Agder light I know well now, was sharper and more insolent in its wakening demand. Star Wars I to III, three nights in a row included some minor tardyness on my account, and those films are always longer than I remember.                           The day meant the arrival of the wee man’s pal who lives on a rather idyllic kind of small holding on a lakeside, up a single track road long superceded by the two way trunk road you can heat when the wind blows from the north down that flooded valley.         12 o’clock came shamefully fast upon us, but time to play it was. Being alone parent this weekend, I could also decide the extent of just how many kids could trampoline, and if nosey, uninvited kids could cross the threshold. My other half being more kind of 70s about that, and a little too liberal leading to outstayed welcomes and presumptiousness about me casa su casa, while I like a bit of privacy and to be able to get to know kids before they are hipping on my bed and scubaing in my bathroom.                              There was a fun fair in town,. ironically snow and slushed off on Frdiay, while today we virtually basked in a day on loan from mid summer it seemed. Visiting friend is not B list but does not quite mix with A list so the latter had been joined in fun at the Tivoli yesterday, and I was prepared to be fleeced for a a hefty 400kr for 6 rides each for the two lads today, in the interest of fairness and appropriate groups of birds and their peronality feathers.                   Play commenced before I could say that perhaps the “shows” may well be packing up mid after’ and the sledge-hammer, dragon and mad hatter  would miss their patronage from our fine young princes. Play though stopped for no adult conception of timetable, and in fact visiting bairn was a bit ‘feert’ of the higher G force rides, perhaps finding the tea cups type more passiing to their tastes and workings of their inner ear. Third party , freind to B lister, turned up and decided to stay, making tivoli more complex and as Play with thirdy party, B and Child A was going so swimmngly, one rather hoped Tivoli was rained off with joy of simpler pleasures.                     As it rurned out, a lack of brash pop music wafting over the rooftops from the winter skating rink belied the fact that Mr Romani Mercedes had cut their losses and buggered off early to a more populus township, having had a mediocre thursday eve, a washed out friday but a very good Saturday.                                        Maybe it was somethign about the light, or maybe it was because I was getting on with my Dad type things while being on hand as diplomatic envoy one minute and squash baring waitor the next, but this really started to feel like summers gone of my own childhood.  I wore my boiler suit all day and all evening having changed to summer tyres and done various checks on the car and scrubbed the barbecue grill ….   I felt I was myself an in my element, dad on hand doing dad things with out incurring dad critique and dad penalties………   It reminded me most of being with a wee pal I was so endeared to, Charles Goddard, or was it Gozzard, anyway, a lad of the Naval Officer persuasion, destined to be moved on as they all were, but a really good pal for me he was a couple of years at primary school. We enjoyed long and warm summers in the mid 70s when I was the same age as Junior is now. It doesnt just seem that rose tinted memory, we really did have a run of warm and quite dry summers, with the odd raining off on his cricket lawn. Yes, he had a cricket lawn. Or rather they rented a ground floor appartment in what had been a millionaires country pile, made in a kind of neo gothic style, with a very english front garden which seemed several football pitches in size to us. This little empire also boasted an orchard and a walled garden, and not only the single drive way but two, a tradesmans and the welcomed visitors one which was rather short for a mansion of Lordship proportions, but was cunningly curved such that it was hard for prying eyes to gaze  upon the wealthy at rest. . It was rather magical a place and a view for us all of how the other half, or rather top 1% of society lived. His father was kind and wise, and could come easily to our level but being away on patrol often for months, it was his lovely and rather care free mother who made our summers and other holidays so much fun. I seem to remember being taken by them far more often that we took them, aged 7 to 9 way back when. Maybe that was true, maybe just the impression. We would listen to hans christian andersen stories on tapes in their top of the range renault 16 with sun roof, electric front windows and green sunscreen.     Oour favourite game of all with his wee brother james, was based on an ‘its a knock out’ challenge with glasses of water on a tray, to fill up a recpetical. the Lawn had a grand embankment dividing it from the driveway and house, making th ehouse look all the more grandoise once on the lawn. There was what I suppose was a childs wicket run or maybe I embellesh. But anyway there was than 3 meter embankment and a slide had been installed or laid out sans stationaire, and how we would slide down with those plastic cups on a tray and try to fill a bucket or squash jug at the bottom, and how his mum would laugh. Later on he moved to the very humdrum married quarters, but they were nearer me and I was allowed often to wander up the road alone to visit them and vice versa.    I saw charles once years later when were both perhaps 13 or 14. His father seemed to have extensive burn scars on his face and charles seemed proper and  a little stiff, quite possibly at prep school by then. Part of me wanted to gush and rekindle, but their aire seemed austere and stand off so our passing gaze went just as that. I found Charles on the internet not long ago and he has had an interesting life, I deduce, but I feel guilty for that passing by and in any case, so many facebook style reconnections run to a ‘stump’ after initial excitement and much writing of life stories. Both parties drawing a little blank as to whether they have much in common now, would like to reminiss more, or is the one escaping the past, or is really cyberspace the place to meet ? Mostly we just dont have the time or see the motivation. Old Flames are just that too, they are mere embers which will eventually fade to ash no matter how carefully you try blowing on them.                    Today though I decieded an impromptu taco picnic on the trampoline was in order. Taco is a favourtie amongst kids here, bloody salty crap, but at least it is far from over priced, the salads being now the most expensive component. The trampoline was perfect because with kid B, there is always mess like a pack of hounds eating on assorted offal and biscuits. Outside I could hose it all off later and they loved their al fresco dining. I think now very much and very often that some things in life actually only occur once, or are remembered only once. That people come into your life as you do theirs, yet all this is finite and subject to the vagiaries of life. Charles was a wonderful pal to have, not just because he was kind, interested and a bit wise and funny, but also because his whole family liked me being there too, and enjoyed him sharing his young days with new pals. In fact we became besties for a while I am sure, and hope that was mutual. Between exploring the woods and burns to playing with Action Man, we had a togetherness and Charles would often come with some profoundness of the innane which kind of captured me and stopped me stone dead such that I had to think. He was a child philosopher of the ordinaire, a boy who glorified his own experiences and impressions as being something where in there must lie more meaning……………. I hope the kids remember today, with sqause, taco, trampolining and their hybrid Jedi Ninja battles as I remember those now fleeting glimpses of happy summers in the mid seventies with Charles and other bairns of the wooded and shingle beach lined world I grew up in.

….Dear Old Glasgow Town

I am thinking back to my last visit to my birthplace and my alma mater, in a typical cool and showery spring,  but for a with a single day for a waddin’ stolen from June as the weather gods shone upon the bride and groom and the short cavalcade arrived at the city chambers on George Square bathed in startling golden light.

It had been some time between actually taking a good wander round the place rather than stringing a couple of visits to attractions and family together. The time before this it had been for a funeral and a chance to update my passport. That part of town, Cowcaddens , from Buchannan galleries upto Dobies Loan had changed little, evolving over the years of my life from a set of gap sites and the location of Scotrail HQ and the ‘Tech on the old Buchannan St. railway station. The North Gate had been there for many years now, still looking modern and with the offices unchanged, only difference being they were now privatised and more double the price for the essential wee burgundy book in ten years.

While waiting for my passport , I had wandered into the Horshoe Bar, Drury Lane, for old times sake, a kind of touchstone for me going back to 1987 or perhaps earlier, when we would pop in on the way further or as a warmer before the O’Henry’s on the other side, or going further out on the big town centre nights, or just catching the train. It is kind of an oasis now,very much quieter than times gone by when there was a babble at lunch time of railwaymen and office clerks discussing the fitba, or politics. I used to go in once in a while just for a random conversation, usually with some forty something men, who were pleased to tell me their opinions but equally pleased to here my young impressionable ones back.

Taking though the bigger picture, Glasgow has gone through a bit of a revolution it seems the last five to ten years, but that is just my bad statistical sampling technique, the same maybe as finding the Horshoe half empty on a Tuesday lunchtime.  You can hark back and be all nostalgic, but the auld sole of the city was pummeled out by the M8 and the slum clearances, and the danergous buildings, and the new 60s and 70s monstrosities of mediocrity which arose in the gap sites, or the austere, pebble dashed replacement to queen street station. Very much of the town centre remains intact however, and it is really quite a lot of tatt which has been swept away by the new broom of one the one hand hipsterisation, while on the other corporate service sector invasion.

I had always fancied loading my old Ricoh 35mm compact up with some ektachrome or maybe investing in a small mFT camera with a street lens on it, and going the lengths of Argyle and Sauchihaul streets from their Kelvingrove beginnings and out beyond them to the east end. Capturing the oddly american style shopfronts, which could have been used to represent brooklyn or the cheap end of high number streets on Manhattan in the 60s. In fact the stretch from Glasgow Central underpass to Anderston was used at least once for this very purpose in film or TV advertisement now that I remember. They both had scaggie ends.

Towards Kelvingrove there were always closed down shops, shabby appartments above them, and a run down feel to an area which had lost its wandering in local shoppers and lost most of its electrical or office equipment customers to out-of-town shopping parks long ago. Now though it was different. Where once the ubiquitous Indian restaurant or cheap, caged in off-licence would sprout and offer some sign of economic activity, the whole of western Sauchiehall and Argyle Streets were buzzing with hipster pubs and eateries or all shapes and forms for cuisine. We did Sauchie’ on the way into toon, and Arygle on the way out on a hire bus from the reception at the sports club up Gartnavel end.

This evolution doesn’t make me gasp, guffaw and gesticulate! Far from being a chastity to my memories I was delighted to see the development of the town now, and how many people were enjoying them selves. I had lived down on St Vincent Crescent a summer while working in labs at Yorkhill Hospital on a ‘vampire’ DNA project, worth a different blog on the science and the long, hot summer of 1989, and found that there was a kind of dead zone between the Lorne bar where the Teuchters gathered and Gaelic was almost first language in the 80s, to Murphy’s pakora bar, a wonderful emporium dedicated to Glasgows favourite starter, and with of course, the stout of the same name selling always very well. Murphy’s and the Ashoka could get pretty busy.

There were plenty ‘no go’ bars it seemed for students round there, the dodgey looking Calipso across from the art galleries amongst others, but we used to congregate at the Stirling Castle of a Thursday or friday. It was cosey, but there was a kind of wee snide inverted snobbery towards the hospital lab staff, and worse, students like us,  who did seem to be becoming their best clientel at vespers and into eventide.

A fine summer then, a coming of age passage between an awkward and quite boring third year course, losing my fist love to I believe a posh vet student over in Edinbra’, and getting my teeth into what being a professional scientist might be like –  helps if you are a darn sight more introverted and pedantic than I am even now in my reserved middle age. That summer I really did kind of find my way into adulthood more than any other and in fact, the year later, graduating and moving home to pay off debt with menial jobs darn well broke me as a person. But 1989 was a long hot summer, where most all my pals were in the town and I took to cycling about 8 hours a week or more, got a saturday job in Dales Cycles, and got on very well with the decent folk at work up at Yorkhill.

 

They were to put in mildly an eclectic bunch. There were some ageining lab rats who came from it seems public school backgrounds, and would have fitted in well in London’s west end theatre crowd. There were taciturn working class lab techs, and a wide boy with an XR3i. Then there were the professors, like mine, Charlie MGone from Tanzania, and the prof of the Medical Genetics unit whose name escapes me, ( mick’ something?) but he was very well known across academia, and landing a summer internship apparently was a bit of a catch, even though it confirmed my suspiscions that I was not, at that point, really cut out to be a poor PhD student for five years. I celebrated my 21st with them all, twice in fact, once at the flat and once at Oblamov’s on Byres road (although it may have evolved into Whistler’s Mother that very year). There was also a youngish lab rat turned research scientist from the east, called Derek, who was kind of a prototype for me to look at, being quite extroverty but also a good scientist if his chat was to be believed. Not that he put me off, it was just the project was slow and dull, as would my final year lab project be too.

Mixining in with the great age range at work was then one big brick in me coming to adulthood, perhaps starting at my first summer job at Faslane with Balfours where I was offered the chance to become a civil engineer, having unbeknowingly impressed them enough for them to want me in their tribe.    However another very big passage of rights was underway. Sandra, love #1,  left me without any good reason, just a moving of flats to mark the change in wind at her end, and I was left heart broken. Worse I was alone at my mum’s house for some reason on a sunday during the night when she phoned and wanted to ‘reassess’ the situation. Later in the summer two things would happen which were rather marevellous after the usual early adulthood feelings of emptiness and despair and thoughts of ending all the pain, Firstly I had a dream one of the long sunday mornings I used to lie late in bed, awoken only by the cooing of bowling balls gently buffeting each other across the road. I dreamt that I climbed a hill, at a waterfall dived int the deep, cooling waters. I was at once refreshed in my soul, and free of Sandra. Later I went to meet her because there was the usual hostage exchange of records and forgotten clothes, but we went for some drinks and had a good laugh, kissing goodbye with a glint in each other’s eyes like we could perhaps strike up again once what ever had perturbed her washed past.

So back to the early summer, May when Sandra dumped me, without a place to live as my Brother was taking in Mary and Joseph with nay room at the hotel and turfing me out such a more comfortable pregnancy could brew away to near fruition. I had a miserable few weeks or month even back home at my Ma’s but got the chance of the room on St Vincent Crescent and knew one of the (beautiful) flat mates to be who was also called Sandra oddly enough. I had fun flirting with her occaisionally but was both a bit burnt round the edges of my heart and not really in her league of babes. The flat though was a marvel of delapetaded grandeur and a haven from what was a very active lifestyle outside.

St. Vincent Crescent had been town houses for the well heeled long before sauchiehall street became a little more seedy, and so became a rather incongrous grandoise terrace with an elegant curve and marble fountain at its climaxing east end, amidst the dead standard, blackened sandstone tennements of the Finnieston area.  It was a dead end, with an electric cable depot on the dead ground towards the main commuter railway lines still ploughed by the shoogely ‘blue trains’ when I was at uni.

Being a cul-de-sac meant that it had very little traffic, especially at night and attracted less break ins, in the days when security closes off the main thoroughfares were rare. Tea Leaves dinnae like being caught “going equiped” with no reason to be up a cul-de-sac other than bad intent, nor finding a blue flashing light upon exiting the scene, swag over shoulder.

These days I would have a whale of a time with all the wee eateries and micro brew  pubs that line Arygle street, where once tatty convenience stores, cheap curry houses and billboards predominated. I doubt very much that St Vincent Crescent boasts a single student tennancy now. It was quite a working class renter type as far as I could gather in the ‘closes’ while the private door and gardens inbetween seemed to be occupied by gardening-shy hermits and old maids, or just lay empty. The shape of things to come was already there in 1989, with the newly opened international student accomodation round the back of the crescent on Kelvinhaugh Street. They were anonymous yellow and orange brick affairs, which looked uninviting. I seem to remember there was a cheeky short cut if the security door was on the latch at these, into our back ‘midden’ , and we were once confronted by an irate pair of greek post graduates about our thorough faring.

My summer took a bad turn, with a silver lining. I broke my arm at Partick Cross, when my back wheel wasn’t quite firmly locked into my fancy ‘chromed drop outs’ and I pulled it jammed into the frame and came over the bars, locked hard set on my Look pedals. THis was all much to the amusement of one of those Glesga walruses who had wanderd out one of the several boozers at the corner, who laughed and laughed at me. The other side of glasgow soon showed its face as a friendly couple in their forties, him an ex racing cyclsit of sorts too,  saw me limping along with sore crotch and arm, and took me home with my bike and then back to A&E. “Well Mr Melvin, your cycling days are over for the time being” came an almost cliched response from the Orthopedist. I had a light bandage wmaybe even without plaster of paris over a fractured elbow and was back on the bike in three weeks time, but not after a chance to really go on the booze, at the likes of Lock 27, which was in my opinion and many others back then, Glasgow’s premiere outdoor drinking bar when it was fair roastin outside as it often was that long, long summer.

 

At the end of the summer I did a mini interrail with my pal Raul, covering the meat of the dinner of interrailing for many, Paris and Amsterdam. A blog in itself but I came back to glesga with a renewed vigour and lust for knowledge and even acheivement without that just meaning jumping through the hoops of course content and exams.

So that summer down what was not a very traditional under graduate area , became a real coming of age and I felt kind of back to the womb of Glasgow from where in fact I had emerged from the womb at the Queen Mother’s maternity suite at the self same Yorkhill hospital site. I remember standing at partick station looking up to that great phallic spike on Garnet hill, the university tower, and thinking of this as some kind of trinity of my life. Where I was born, where I was educated to be an adult and where I would always be in movement to and from.

My last visit was different this time, because I really felt the passing of time as if I was revisiting a place in my early adulthood which as a fleeting memory from being a toddler. I no longer felt like I was haunting the place as I have done before on many occaisions. This time I felt I was revisting, and exploring, rediscovering and just enjoying the west end by in large and some of the town centre.

The one really big change, as you kind of get from dipstick visits, was the demographics, certainly of the town centre and it being an easter holiday time now that I think back, Byres road and the west end had a decidely older feel. Down town though, it was shocking how large a proportion of the shopping and drinking population were in their 60s, and just how busy it was with them all! The baby boomers who had all those easy going, fairly well paid jobs back when we were young struggelign adults trying to get our careers underway,  are all now nearing retirement. They were lucky for th most part, they got their trade or education, or just ‘start’ in the relatively booming 1970s and held onto their jobs or developed careers for almost forty years of course, blocking often the way for new blood as of course, Scotland created few if any (net) jobs in the years 1986 to 1997.  If they worked hard, they could buy a hoose of their ain, and Thatcher sold them their cooncil hooses by the barrel load in the late eighties, for better and for worst in the grand scheme of things. We were the first generation to really struggle and the first to discover that a bachelors degree is very often not worth a penny unless you have connections who can get you a start. Okay I turned down my career and went into business via sales, but plenty of folk I know kind of meandered through jobs in the 1990s before retraining as teachers or college lecturers, or what ever semi skilled job sitting at a screen or caring for folk.

I get no gut feeling now, no nostalgia. It is like in fact that I have had a tumour removed from my emotional circuits in the brain because I can learn to love and share the city again with my family without that harking back to the old days, that feeling that things have slopped away. Many things you took for granted or said you would love to do again, actually become once-in-a-lifetime experiences and that is why you bloody well cherish their memories. You forget all the usual dates you went on, and remember your first or last. With Brexit happening, and until any real notion that 55% are going to vote Yes to independence, I felt more like a visitor in some ways, an exile being allowed back in. I can never really go back, I would be trying to rekindle something which is not of a time for me anymore, not with kids and so on and a new career, and not with of course the uncertainties of brexit and where the hell my pension will eventually come from.

No it is now possible to see that period of 1986 to 1994 when I lived in the Dear Green Place as a very, very well written book. A wonderful , technicolour mural on the wallking wall of life. It had a beginning, a middle and an end with a full stop. Glasgow though goes on, unabated, embracing the bloody tertiary service economy, but doing it oh so much better than many other cities I have had the opperchancity to visit.

Glasgow had a real buzz to it back then, 1990 being the city of culture, but 1987-89 being the best and most over budget MayFest years. The town and especially the west end, were like a well kept secret, often thought of as dirty, violent and uneducated from outside. They were fantastic years, and judging by the people out in town and the west end on an unseasonally warm day in spring, it is buzzing today again, and a little hidden away once more whilst Edina, capital in name only, has all the limelight.