Thursday, 31 August 2017


The new Queensfery Bridge opened today. It joins the south side of the Firth of Forth (Edinburgh side) to the  north side providing a trunck route to the north-east of Scotland.

BBC photo

BBC photo

Iain showed me this article which is about an Edinburgh man who came up with a design 200 years ago.  The bridge is uncannily similar however it was never built.
Times Article August 30, 2017

It has been described as a “feat of modern engineering” but the Queesferry Crossing was first imagined by a little-known engineer whose 19th century plans have been found ion a vault at Edinburgh University (Gurpreet Narwn writes).
The designs drawn up by James Anderson in 1818 look remarkably similar to the crossing, which opens to the public today after almost ten years of planning and six years of construction.
Mr Anderson, the son of a textile worker in Edinburgh, envisaged “A Gridge of Chains proposed to be thrown over the Frith [sic] of Forth.”

The blueprints were discovered in the university’s archive by Bruce Bittings, a researcher.

The plans for a roadway linking North and South Queensferry were proposed 72 years before the completion of Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker’s Forth Bridge, which still carries the railways across the famous waterway.

Anderson’s design and the new Queensferry Crossing are both suspension road bridges, with their supports extending as straight lines from the towers.  Anderson’s scheme has the roadway supported by chain cables, forged from iron bars.

He drew inspiration from Thomas Telford’s bridge across the Menai Strait in north Wales and proudly suggested his timber-decked crossing would “facilitate the communication between the southern and northern divisions of Scotland.”

The project would have cost between £200,00 at the time, which equates to about £840 million today - substantially cheaper than the £1.4 billion Queensferry Crossing.

Whilst his ambitious plans were beyond the capabilities of early 19th century bridge engineers, he has been credited for his visionary design.

A civil engineering biographical dictionary said he “deserves credit for visualising what the suspension=bridge principle would eventually achieve, and for incorporating in his designs some provision against oscillation of the deck.”

Anderson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1836 and died at his home in the city in 1861.

Monday, 28 August 2017


I have just finished reading a remarkable book. Details below * and **
The title comes from a Japanese saying which relates to persistence.

It is a translation of a story written by a Japanese lad, Naoki Higashida. This is him. Photo from the Guardian article here: 

 Photograph: Jun Murozono

As the reviewer Charlotte Moore states: "Naoki Higashida is a 24-year-old man with severe, largely non-verbal autism. Though he cannot hold a conversation, he uses an alphabet grid to build up sentences, which are taken down by a transcriber. By this method he produced his first book, The Reason I Jump, when he was only 13. It quickly became an autism classic."
I have not read the first book (stated above) in which he describes his non-verbal autistic childhood. In this one he is speaking as a young adult; for me  it was an eye-opener. 
The translator, David Mitchell uses the term 'neuro-atypical' for people like Naoki and 'neurotypical', i.e. we might call 'normal' people.

The book contains a collection of Naoki's observations, inner thoughts and suggestions for helping to deal with people like himself.

"The word for 'autism' in Japanese is jiheisho and conveys an image of poeple locking themselves up inside themselves. This is misleading."  He describes life  without being able to get a word or words out.  Where he eventually began to start getting a few words to come out after many years, he describes the mental process to get there and the effort it involved.  He also gives lots of example of things that really throw him e.g. change of plan in, say, a journey.
He says that trying to change behaviour that is causing distress is like asking someone to stop vomiting.  
I realize now that I used to baby-sit for a family whose middle child was like this...but as far as I can remember the word 'autistic' was never in use.
* Details:

Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man's Voice from the Silence of Autism is a book written in 2015 by Japanese author Naoki Higashida when he was between the ages of 18 and 22. [Wikipedia] 
Author: Naoki Higashida
Page count: 240
Publisher: Random House

Preceded by: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
Published in English: 2017

** This book is published 2017 in UK by Sceptre


Saturday, 26 August 2017


Edinburgh Festival time....

Marc-André  Hamelin

[Photo: Rob McAlear at English Wikipedia]

Last week I went through to Edinburgh to a concert in the large Usher Hall where Marc-André Hamelin, Montreal born pianist, was playing with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The conductor was Jukka-Pekka Saraste.

It was a good concert.  Yes, he played beautifully but he did look pale and tired.  It finished at 9:30 pm which gave me comfortable time to walk to catch the Glasgow train at Haymarket Station.  That was the good news.  The bad news is that some of Glasgow's finest were also on their way home and were definitely the worse for having had too long in the wine bar.  A steady stream of foul language shouted throughout the journey until they finally got off ...

... and they were all girls. 

As it happens I had a completely different sort of bad luck last year for a similar concert. I had a ticket (not cheap!) to hear the Chinese pianist Lang-Lang.  Unfortunately he had to cancel because of illness. (Pierre-Laurent Aimard from France filled in at the last minute.)  It was fine but I was really keen to hear Lang-Lang.

Never mind, maybe I should stick to the excellent concerts on TV and YouTube, also on BBC iPlayer where the Proms are now in full swing.  Such high calibre camera work, e.g. zooming right in to the orchestra pit!

Thankfully I am able to forget about tiresome behaviour in public places by
... getting out and smelling the flowers...

or   ....   getting out the baking tins...

I made (another) Spiderman cake for the children.  Couldn't think what to put on top for a 'spider' so opted for a daisy from the garden.

... or having an unexpected visitor!

The other day the doorbell rang and a young lad I know presented me with a box in which there were 2 strawberry tarts!  He is a student who helps my next door neighbour with her garden and we often share a cup of tea or a wee blether over the fence.  For example, he told me about the flight tracker app []  so that I can identify the planes heading for Glasgow airport. 

Well I was really touched!  Iain, of course, doesn't eat such things but I was more than happy to tuck in.  It has been a long wet summer! That plus coming at the end of a long day really boosted my spirits!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017


A new book is due out this week:

MacCloud Falls by Alan Jamieson*

The following article by Harry McGrath is in this week's Scottish Review of Books.
The novel is set "in British Columbia [where] he focusses** on the province’s Scottish connections, First Nations’ land rights, illness and Burns." 

The main character is "an antiquarian bookseller from Edinburgh who has taken a Greyhound bus to a small town in interior British Columbia ...." He meets a girl when his flight from Scotland stops over in Calgary.  The above full length article traces how he uses historical people and places to create his narrative.  

Fascinating!  I recognized so much of it! 

The Edinburgh Book Festival is on all month so no doubt the 'Bookshop' tent will have a copy. It's a good job I did not articulate my complaint of that Book Festival!... namely that it is a huge marketing exercise where one can never get a ticket to hear a speaker/meet a writer in the small-audience tents.   Now here I am wanting to get the (very convenient Milngavie to Edinburgh) train simply to make a purchase in their huge-bookstore tent!

It reminds me of Banksy's 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' (which relates to art galleries).  How about 'Enter Through the Book Shop'? Yes, as I recall, it is, indeed, located at the one-entry-point-only entrance of Charlotte Square where the Book Festival is annually held.


*Publisher: Luath Press Ltd   ISBN: 9781912147076  320 pages.

** I would use 'focuses' but never mind!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017


Over the years I have observed creeping Americanization in its many forms, e.g. clothing (baseball caps, T shirts) but language is the one that intrigues me the most.  To be fair I have been using American, i.e. North American, turns of phrase for all of my 50 years living in the UK. I use them without thinking. Indeed, nowadays so many of these phrases are global. 

One particular phrase that has become common now is the greeting "Hiya".  It used to be more used by children and is a good example of this cultural change.

However the other day I confess that I was quite taken aback with a brief encounter locally! I had parked my car in a British Rail car park and had gone into the station to hand in some brochures and was returning to my car.  Next to my parked car was a family getting out of their car preparing to head to the train.  As I approached my car the father and his 2 little boys passed by me.  Then behind them came mother. The wee boys were skipping about and my attention was vaguely on them, I suppose.  I was aware of the mother coming towards me but was not looking very high off the ground. When she was shoulder to shoulder with me I heard this cheery greeting .... "Hiya!"  I looked up to respond and only then noticed that she was veiled, wearing what I see is called a 'niqab'.   I found the whole encounter curiously odd, i.e. the juxtaposition of a throwaway familiar greeting from a person who was totally  'unfamiliar'.


It's been wet for the most part this summer.  For sailors that is not a problem; all they want is a fair wind.  To that end Iain has been away with friends for one week sailing.  

Here they are on their return Saturday when I drove to Kip Marina to collect them using Iain’s big ‘sports car’ *.     The couple are Peter and Dilys Macdoanld who live in Gairloch.

The Good News:   they had reasonable weather and fair winds and visited many remote anchorages full of wildlife, feather, fur and fin.

The Bad News: Nearing the end of their week’s holiday Iain fell in the cabin in rough seas and cracked a rib in his back, right side.  It is similar to incidents before…  oh dear!  :-( 

He is fine, except that he is now grounded in base-camp again and forced to take life very gently.  Fortunately, life is quiet at the moment (except for yet another funeral!) so we are at home and sit in the garden when the sun shines.

 Lovely weather for ducks   Photo by Jan Piecha, Flickr

Two weeks ago I headed to Giffnock to visit some friends. It had been raining with sudden heavy showers.  At a point in the road en route to their house, the road dips and rises again.  I came upon a ‘lake’ where the water had collected in the dip in the road.  Cars coming toward me had stopped to consider this flood; it looked like the water level could be up to the underside of one’s car.  With a line of cars behind me and also beside me, all stopped, thinking “Oh hell!  What is to be done here?!”  I took a decision as if I was in deep, or at least, deepening, snow. I put the car into 1st gear, stepped on the accelerator and headed steadily into the water…. a slight pause midway …. kept my nerve and up … up … up and out the other side.   Phew!   I certainly am my father’s daughter when it comes to handling cars!   When I got home I said to Iain that I was very impressed with that VW Golf!  I checked the brakes afterwards… OK.  A very good little car!