A History of Brief Time


A noteworthy remark in support of Scotland’s autonomy recurs again and again in social Internet sites, sometimes published in newspaper letters to the editor. It comes from the elderly and follows the same course: ‘I hope to live long enough to see Scotland independent, the country it once was and can be again’.

From the heart

Their heartfelt remark is followed by an expression of profound sadness. ‘I hope I can live that bit longer to see our dream become reality’.

It takes on greater meaning when the Referendum was lost by a small anguished margin. It is said more elderly voted No than Yes, mistakenly believing there is safety in Westminster. Alas, much in life comes too late: career opportunities, genuine loyalty, the right priorities, unconditional love, a tree planted grown to full splendid height, and that old elusive thing, wisdom.

Elderly, aged, old, dotage

A novelist friend, stuck for a line of transition in his latest book, asked me if I knew when people shifted from elderly to old. I thought about it a while before answering. “I think it’s when we stop saying so-and-so fell, and instead we say, “He took a fall.” He nodded and smiled. “That’ll about do it”, he said.

Elderly know how the fickle finger of fate seeks them out. Illness and infirmity besets the autumn of life, some brought on by accident or ignorance, some creeping up on you when you thought you were the picture of rude health. It was inside you all the time.

The elderly learn how not to complain but to bless each day they awake from night.


An anecdote on certainty

I am reminded of advanced age etching life’s vicissitudes and our mortality by the arrival of my local window cleaner, Ewen, an extremely tall, lanky Scot.

Sixty-five and all of six feet eight inches tall. His immense height is enough to clean second floor windows without using an extended brush. With his simian limbs and long be-speckled Mount Rushmore of a nose he cuts a Dickensian figure amid the Georgian tenements of Auld Reekie. (Considering the geographical origins of this essay, I should say he creates an R. L. Stephenson figure!)

Sixty-five years of age. He has been cleaning Edinburgh’s windows all his life, self-employed since he was thirty-three, a never-ending job, one of the few Thatcher did not manage to eradicate in order to cause mass insecurity, to make us too engrossed surviving daily life to rebel against cruel, inhuman Right-wing ideology.

“A’hm retiring soon. Must have cleaned thousands of windows in Georgian Embra in ma time, a thousand times over. Ma job is to help people see oot better”, he said with a wry chuckle, cleaning my office window as he wrung out his sponge.

“I hoped ma son would take over the business but he’s no interested”. And then he adds, “Sometimes I wonder the point of it, but Ah do it for others, no jist for a livin'”.

On the day he confided in me he had brought along an assistant. “Gie him the money” he instructed. His ‘assistant’ was his close friend of many years made redundant. Ewen was sharing his wages with him. This was camaraderie of the best sort. True friendship.

Portrait of a senior couple standing on the beach

A purpose in life

Our elderly have seen Scotland send an army of Scotland’s youth to wars and their death, and MPs to Westminster and years of ridicule from our colonial masters, the same who send our youth to wars to this day, wars we never began.

Our elderly have seen the opponents of reason swept aside. They must have been surprised as I was at the political authority rising determined and renewed from the disenchantment of the Referendum result. What a triumph. The enemies of democracy are worried their win is Pyrrhic, far too close a finish to uncork champagne or take a holiday in celebration. They will never manage to get the better of a man like Ewan.

Ewen’s philosophy is simple, while we have life we should all do something for others so that “the Almighty notices us”. If we don’t, “there’s nae hope for us”. He’s the kind of man that shows his dislike of profanity but remaining silent, eyes to the ground until you finish cursing.

I would think that to fight for your countrymen’s rights and the common good is about a noble a cause as exists. And to round this history of brief time, and how Time treats us, and how it takes so long to make its damn judgment, I should mention Ewen still has hope his son will carry on his work.

Hope. The one quality no one can take from us. Isn’t that why we all fight for Scotland, for our children’s tomorrow? It is not a cliché. It is the meaning of life.

What is a brief time in human terms? To paraphrase philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell: The sea is where life began and the sea is where it will end.

Our life truly is a river. We begin a narrow burn, bubbling up in the hills; we skip and meander this way and that, down slope and scree, between rock and heather, swelling in size from trickle to stream as we go; deeper and wider and faster until a river in full spate, strong and powerful, swift, sweeping aside embankments, until one day we reach the land’s estuary … and merge with the sea.

My heart goes out to the elderly who fought again and again all their lives to see Scotland take its rightful place amongst the nations of the world, only to experience defeat again. I wish them a long life, long enough and longer to join in the celebrations of independence regained when that day comes, as it must and surely will.

Courageous senior citizens – you have my undying respect. Scotland will be free again. Liberty is life!


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28 Responses to A History of Brief Time

  1. mary docherty says:

    The last paragraph I have written down to keep and read .Thank you.

  2. YESGUY says:

    Nice one GB.

    At 52 and failing health I warmed to the words. I too hope to see Scotland free. For my kids and grandkids. That’s what we live for. Nearly got it Sept past but theres still time yet .I hope.

    I take great satisfaction knowing if i die the fight goes on with the younger fitter Scots .

    Love the last paragraph buddy. Very much.

    RIP Charles Kennedy

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    Am concerned to learn of your poor health! From the bouncing optimism of your posts I took it for granted you were almost finished a full quota of Munro bagging!

    Keep posting, your sentiments brighten the day. 🙂

  4. YESGUY says:

    Need only to take things easier these day GB.

    The only munro’s I see are the butchers. Might be one of the reasons too for the health thing. 🙂 But no worries as I am in better nick these days. Medicine has come on leaps so enjoying things lately. Wear and tear they call it. Damaged lungs. Hard to fix.

    Actually enjoying my 50’s GB. (am 52) Watching the changes in my humble lifetime has past any of my expectations. Communications have changed the whole world. Gave voices to us all. As an old Army signaller I feel chuffed, it’s made it easier for me to keep up with the pace of this world.

    Scotland has a generation pc users and have capitilised by educating us online and things will never be the same. I can see a statue to the internet going up when we’re independent. 🙂 You never know.

    The older Generation are catching up too. Moble phones and facebook. etc.

    Too many are quick to blame the auld yins for the Ref. Utter rubbish. They always vote, the newcomers never bothered when Thatcher came or Blair with his wars. Most voted SNP at this election too. The auld yins are Our Mothers and Fathers and Grandparents. No one has the right to slight them, some do.

    You wrote a nice article GB. This was a wee change from the usual. It’s why I enjoy coming here and you’re getting better each passing week. Good with words GB. It’s so easy to picture while you read along.

    Need to get you on Wings bar. 😉 I Google and copy all your stuff and post it everywhere anyway buddy. Theres a wealth of talent out there and your one of them .

    Keep it up GB 🙂

  5. Grouse Beater says:

    “The only munro’s I see are the butchers.” Still chuckling. 🙂

    On WoS bar idea – I have a feeling Wings has criteria this site doesn’t quite fit, though one or two there stopped writing ages ago, or are sporadic in posts or quality, or post commentary not essays. I might be writing for the National were it not for self-enforced anonymity and no e-mail address! Well, a man can dream, can’t he?

    Anyhow, lung damage sounds like smoke, but perhaps not from fags.

    By the way, I wonder if any reader spotted the word play in the title, or over-familiar with Hawking’s book read it as ‘A Brief History of Time’?

  6. donald says:

    The word play did not escape me. Its funny. Only the other day my wife and I were shopping and the retired couple behind us were counting out their cash to make sure they could afford to eat. It damn near broke my heart to watch. They were frail but proud. I wanted to offer them something. It’s disgusting to watch the contempt some people have for the retired when our current prosperity (whats left of it ) was built on their sweat. We owe them.

    In OZ they are trying to raise the age of retirement so the govt can buy more of those useless crap heap YSF 35’s. Such a crock, when they already have stuff way better on the QT.

    Anyway its time to briefly shut up about my families History. Time is a river with many estuaries but the analogies did not escape me GB. I enjoyed it. My wife and I used to love river rafting and tubing in the US. Life is the same. When you jump right in to the flow instead of watching it from the bridge ,you know your alive Eh?

    Gentle rain, new life.

  7. donald says:

    Hello yesguy. Same age as you! Apart from a serious motorcycle accident that left me with a stiff ankle , im not doing to bad . I do notice my energy level is not what it used to be sometimes . I got the riot act read to me by my doc a few years back so I started bicycling again to loose weight and get my fitness back a bit . Its helped a lot.

    The other thing that’s really helped me has been making the effort to cook nutrient rich food at least once a week . My favorite is an osso bucco stew . Its the marrow in the bones that does it . I cook it slow all day on the wood stove (to save gas) .It does actually get cold in Oz in winter . Lots of herbs from the garden , a pinch of cumin,coriander seeds ,couple of cloves and some chilli all ground in the mix with a couple of tins of Tomato’s . I cook up a big pot and freeze what’s left over (Three extra meals worth) . Its a really cheap way to cook a really nutritious meal . I have a lot more energy during the day and for a few days after when I cook this meal. marrow is amazing stuff. Cheap cut too from the butcher . I ask for free bones too if they have any and throw them in to anything I am cooking to get the marrow .Curry , hot pot , stews , whatever.

    My business is really up and down so I use my free time to grow food , cut fire wood and make my own ‘money’ instead of using cash, if you know what I mean.

    Herbs (fresh)are great if you have inflammation like arthritis . try rubbing raw garlic on stiff fingers , it really helps. Even better though ( I cured my carpal tunnel and finger joint stiffness using it ) is get something called DMSO from your Vet or equine/farm supplier .

    Its fantastic stuff for tissue repair . natural anti inflammatory . It also removes heavy metals from your body . i discovered it in the US . I had elevated lead/mercury levels in my blood stream. Completely got rid of it with DMSO . If you dont like the liquid , there is a powder form called MSM (methyl sulfonial methane) . works the same .

    I had really bad excema/rash from the heavy metals .Its all gone now. So much stiffness and aching muscle is inflammation . This stuff reduces the inflammation without all the side effects of drugs. Still use it every now and then . I get it from the local equine supplier in roll on form.

    One thing i have learned the hard way . Got to eat well to stay well. My wife taught me this stuff , I just shut up and gave it a go and it worked. And I have to give credit to another ,now deceased friend who was a signals/engineering officer in the Navy (posted in Scotland during the war) he was big in to this stuff too. Lived well in to his nineties .

    Very switched on intelligent man , amazingly knowledgeable . worked on all sorts of classified stuff and shared a lot of things with me that he probably should not have .

    People dismiss the older generation and they are fools . I learned so much priceless knowledge and wisdom from my friend . Miss him badly.

  8. hektorsmum says:

    What a wonderful post GB, thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I lost a friend a few years ago who would be chuffed to bits to see the number of MP’s at Westminster but would be very upset that we lost the Referendum. She was 89 when her brain gave up the ghost and she had another stroke, as a former English Teacher she was formidable, she taught in Craigmillar and she was willing on her pupils to learn the things which most of us take for granted. She was a member of the SNP as well, when we were yet to join again. I will say I do not want to be like her and miss my countries return to independence. I have no children, I chose not to, you see I did not have enough faith to bring them into this world, so I work for others, my niece and my adopted niece and all the children of Scotland.

    Also RIP Charles Kennedy. You might have changed your mind or your politics had you lived longer. Sad that you did not see your son grow to manhood.

  9. Shiprex says:

    I’m no regular reader here but this is indeed a sweet and solemn reminder of our own fragility.

    Great for me to realise that it is likely and most probably the older generation who will swing this for Scotland. I am getting there too and am so pleased that I will be among my fellow batch of survivors of Thatcherism to see an end to all the is wicked about the British mentality especially since the 80’s.

    Thanks for keeping me proud of my homeland.

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    Haste ye back! 🙂

  11. Alex Wright says:

    I’m struggling to come to terms with people of an age group, of which I would probably fit this demographic, voting the way that they did. As I turn sixty this week, I reflect on the country and world that I bequeath to my grandchildren.

    The hopelessness that is prevalent in this post-referendum Armageddon is down to them.

    As we, a country, are forced to play the Westminster game, in the ludicrous position of being “given” new powers, instead of determining our own political direction, we are having to be beholding to two corrupt establishments.

    I’m sorry, but I truly look at these people with disdain.

  12. donald says:

    Im probably really not qualified to give an opinion on this subject because I am not a Scottish resident. It does seem to me that the SNP result may have been partly due to sincere remorse on the part of many voters? If so then surely that’s worthy of some credit. I see pensioners in Oz struggling on their meager pensions every week. Nobody give a damn about them. We struggle on our income which is twice their pension.

    Change is hard when your body is bent and broken. I just hope the SNP comes through for Scotland.

  13. hektorsmum says:

    Alex, the number of stupid people in this country sometimes leaves me in despair, but then I realise they have been kept stupid because stupid people lack the ability to make correct choices. With an educated people, and we once were they do not tolerate, they question and if they do no like the answer they do something about it. I sadly think it will take this next five years of deprivation to make an awful lot of people come to their senses but I think as Shiprex said previously that the election just gone was a way of saying sorry.

    I blew my stack in 2010 when after the revelations of the fiddling in Parliament, many of the major fiddlers were returned to office, and I could not believe that after the feeble fifty of Labour Finest in the eighties the Scots sent another bunch of chancers South. Well it seems that we Scots need to learn our lessons slowly but like you I think the oace is quickening, I have always though that Scottish Independence will come in such a way that nobody can foresee it.

  14. Thepnr says:

    Good article Grousebeater. I feel bad now about you and I getting off on the wrong foot, we are not so different. I’ll visit more often, if you’ll have me !

  15. Grouse Beater says:

    I never took offence at the questioning air, PNR, because having studied websites for those years and write about how they are used, I realised caution and challenge is a necessity, though when done by what I call ‘the in-house group’ it can be unnerving to a newbie. Satire, rebuke, ridicule and even snark is okay. Abuse is not. (‘Snark’ lifted from Carroll’s poem ‘The Hunting of the Snark’.) After all, I followed the same principle by calling Stuart to check the aims and objectives of his site in case I was walking into a trap.

    I look forward to your contributions, as others will here, I am sure.

  16. diabloandco says:

    As a Yesser fast approaching three score years and ten and having buried many younger friends and relatives, I worry that I will not see my country free of Westminster shackles.

    I despair of the media and its ability to ignore truth and spread despondency and lies – they cost us the referendum, those parcel o’ rogues.

    The English/UK wide press didn’t really matter but the Scottish press did – they were shameful and continue so to be.

    As for BBC Scotland and STV – I hope the day comes when both get their comeuppance.

    For the children and grandchildren may Scotland’s tomorrow come soon!

  17. Good post – the Yes campaign needs to learn how to address the fears of the elderly who were brought up in an era where the establishment were assumed to be trustworthy. Lets not forget they huge number of elderly people who overcame this conditioning and voted yes

    I really enjoyed the National article a few days ago about the 100 year old lady YES activist finally joining the SNP

  18. Alex Waugh says:

    I have lived to see the dark days of Soviet/US brinksmanship; I have lived to see a man walk on the moon; I have lived to see the end of apartheid; I have lived to see both the building and the breaking down of the Berlin Wall; I have lived to see the fall of the Soviet Union; I have lived to see the love of my gay brothers and sisters recognized as legitimate and worthy of respect. I SHALL live to see my homeland free once more.

  19. John H. says:

    A fine article Grouse Beater, and very thoughtful.

    I’ve just had my 69th birthday last week, and am tired of reading about how the older generation voted no in the indy ref and let down the young ones, so your article provided a nice change. I have always voted SNP, hoping for an independent Scotland in my lifetime. My health is good (I hope) so I have high hopes to see the great day.

    “Hope. The one quality no one can take from us.” That’s exactly what the tories from Margaret Thatcher down to the present crop of barbarians have tried to do though, take away hope from the ordinary people of Britain. If you can take all hope from someone then you can do with them what you will. They won’t fight back because they have nothing left to fight with.

    The people of Scotland seem to be wakening up at last now and are hitting back, so I look forward to the future. It must surely be becoming obvious to all but the most entrenched no voters that Westminster has no intention of giving Scotland anything except more grief.

    I must say, I bought “A Brief History of Time” years ago, and find it a great remedy for insomnia. I usually get 2 or 3 pages in, and then…zzzzzzzz. 🙂

  20. Grouse Beater says:

    Welcome, John.
    You’re right about the awakening of a nation to its own strengths. (And I hope you noticed the word play in the title. )

  21. Clootie says:

    Often read but have never posted. An impressive, thoughtful, well written piece.

  22. Grouse Beater says:

    Thank you. 🙂

  23. Calgacus says:

    Missed this post when it first came out but I would just like to say thank you Grouse Beater for some beautiful writing.

  24. Grouse Beater says:

    As long as it has meaning for the reader. I write, revise, revise again, prodding words around till they make sense for me. 🙂

  25. Bob Mack says:

    Wonderful and thought provoking article Grouse Beater.

    Every person I know within the 60+ age group where I live voted Yes.

    We realise I suppose that the future belongs to the young and those as yet unborn. I wish to pass to them a noble and worthy ideal,that they can create something better. The first tool to do that job is the gift of making Scotland an independent Nation again. I believe that is the solid foundation to allow our kids to create something entirely different for their future.

  26. Grouse Beater says:

    Thanks, Bob. I’ll be there one day myself!

  27. Howard Cairns says:

    A very interesting post and also the comments make good reading. Re the Independence of Scotland I would love to be able to vote for it whenever. Unfortunately (or luckily) I now live in Australia. If the pommies get to vote on our independence then maybe we should open up voting on this to all Scots around the world. Thoughts?

  28. Grouse Beater says:

    Pensioners got a hard time for voting ‘No’, Howard, some deservedly for being easily hoodwinked into believing their pensions lost in an independent Scotland. I thought an antidote was required as balance.

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