Bercow Bitchin’


John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons. “We degrade this parliament at our peril”

I liked John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons. You need only compare him to Sir Lindsay Hoyle his anodyne, lugubrious, gloomy successor to see Bercow is a star. He is a guy at the opposite end of my political spectrum but with whom I would happily exchange anecdotes in the pub. I liked him all the more when he wore his heart on his sleeve. He is what English refer to as ‘a good egg’.

Only now and again would his unselfconscious right-wing outlook on life irk the hell out of a Scotsman. He did not attend Eton or Harrow. He was educated at Essex University, but soon acquired the mental and verbal ticks and accoutrements for acceptance to the Conservative Party.

Presiding over the pigswill that is the House of Horrors, I thought him smart, courageous, more amusing than Grande Dame Betty Boothroyd, and not in the least corrupt or wayward as some of his predecessors who sat on the seat facing the baying mob.

His autobiography tells you he enjoyed the attention. The physical position of the Speaker’s chair suited his vanity. He was the umpire at the rowdy cricket match.

He genuinely cared about protecting the democratic procedures of his parliament much to the annoyance of a great many of his party. For being as even-handed as he could possibly be, some of his Tory colleagues wanted his head of a salver. He survived.

I bought his autobiography – Unspeakable, the madness of the act I attribute to lock-down cabin fever. My real excuse is, I knew the book contained acerbic descriptions of parliamentary colleagues. I was curious. It does a Scotsman’s heart good to read of a Tory politician’s rise and fall by their own frailty. The tales Bercow has to tell do exactly that, give us the skinny from his perspective, and in fine detail etched by a sharp kitchen knife, served in the good mannered way only Englishmen can muster.

Unspeakable is what the sports commentator calls a work of ‘two halves’. The first half is all about his youth until he became a parliamentarian, and then his early days as an MP, the ups and downs, plus a spell of resignation over a principle, and passages on the debates on the Iraq War. It is dull, pedestrian, the tale of a fast forming Colonel Blimp. With the exception of wooing and marrying a woman much taller than himself – understandable, a lot of women are taller than Bercow – there is little of political intrigue to fill ten minutes small talk.

Though decently written, clear and concise, Unspeakable is a tad too egocentric for its own good. The first person singular proliferates every paragraph of every page like hundreds and thousands sprinkled on a sponge cake.

There is compensation for the first half of Unspeakable being something to read for the duration on the toilet. The reward of reading it lies not in discovering great revelatory political moments, he does not have that insight, but in enjoying an autobiography devoted to revenge on colleagues who got the better of the author. The narrative contains a few arrows fired to right a perceived injury. Yes, as I hoped, the second-half is delicious gossip and character assassination of a very high order.

As Speaker, Bercow was a reformer. It did not take him long to get rid of the frilly ruff and wig of his office. He fought for and got, facilities for MP’s children, and for regular school visits. Against abuse from party colleagues, he also got use of the House for debates by the Youth Parliament. He was fair to backbenches who stood to speak.

He was ordered and honest in his dealings with MPs and staff, any accusations of bullying most likely issuing from a pugnacious character rather than ill will. He respected the procedures of his parliament and enforced them, notably when Boris Johnson tried in vain to prorogue parliament into oblivion. He is also as human as one can be being a Tory, he bleeds when wounded.

Bercow’s “order, order!” the last word stretched out until it snapped “oooooorderrr!” became a household favourite, repeated by publicans at closing time, and shouted by harassed parents at their noisy children. Above all, he has a keen eye for the ridiculous in parliamentary behaviour, with the descriptive ammunition to wound an adversary if he felt like it. There are any number of examples to highlight, but with essay length limited, I choose the best for readers to enjoy. If nothing else, it saves buying the book.

Bercow has little to say about Scotland, a huge omission when you think about the times in which he found himself. He’s a tennis player, after all, local club, Wimbledon, not a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ chap. In fact, he seems oblivious of Scotland, a disease that afflicts a lot of Englishmen until faced with a man wearing a kilt and talking in a strange language, whereupon in order to understand the ‘foreigner’ better, he belittles his attire and accent to lower his level to one over whom he can feel superior.

In general, Bercow is non-judgemental when mentioning the SNP. He certainly has a lot to say about Scottish MPs and cabinet ministers of which there were many in his day before a Scots accent in Westminster was considered a separatist sect, ultimately despised by the rise of the petty English nationalist whose patriotism in unable to countenance other nations as equals.

For obvious reasons I have picked out prominent Scottish politicians but I’ll begin with Vince Cable because of the time frame of people’s memories. Cable was a man who enjoyed a degree of celebrity for predicting the bank crash of 2008 but dissipated his stock rapidly when in coalition with the Tory Party. Overnight he appeared a clod-hopper and doddery. Cable, together with Nick Clegg and the over-enthusiastic Saint Bernard at a children’s party, Jo Swinson, probably helped condemned the Liberal-Democratic party to the Negev Desert sands for a decade or more.

Please note, the quotations are abridged where necessary.

The Gospel According to Bercow

Vince Cable, Liberal-Democrat

“Cable is intelligent, measured and responsible. Yet for all his experience, weight, sincerity, and modest brand of politics, he had very little impact as leader of his party. He was far more effective as his party’s Shadow Chancellor before the 2010 election, and more influential as Business Secretary in the coalition government. As leader, he was unable to rise to the challenge.”

Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative

“Iain Duncan Smith had a calamitous first ten months as Conservative leader, with poll ratings in the toilet and my party looking to be light years away to return to government. Iain made the bizarre decision, never debated in the Shadow Cabinet, to oppose the government’s move to allow same sex parents to adopt children. He was immovable. I announced my resignation. I received a lovely gracious letter from the Leader of the House, Robin Cook. Iain was supremely unwise to make it a party policy and a whipped vote. Ian’s leadership of the party continued to be weak. His performances in the chamber were poor and, increasingly, colleagues felt he had shrunk rather than grown into the office as leader. With his bald head and poor speaking ability he was a dull, grey man. At PMQs, Iain looked terrified and sounded it. He was forever clearing his throat to speak. In a party vote, he lost and accepted his defeat with good grace and the way was clear for the profoundly unattractive Michael Howard.”

Gordon Brown, Labour 

“In the Chamber, at prime minister’s question time (PMQs), Brown was nowhere near as formidable as some, my self included, had expected. The contrast between specialist and generalist was stark. As Chancellor Gordon Brown reigned supreme. He knew his briefs backwards. He mastered, even monstered, successive shadow chancellors, Lilley, Maude, Portillo, Howard, Letwin and Osborne. None were able to lay a glove on him. Yet at PMQs he was less assured and was far from convincing. He could not anticipate the range of subjects that would be raised, and, inevitably, could not produce the conclusive responses. Unlike Tony Blair, Brown did not carry a bag of different tools. He had one weapon – the sledgehammer – and used it indiscriminately. With a slip of the tongue in the aftermath of the bank crash he said his government had “saved the world” and was mercilessly ridiculed for saying it. He wanted to be prime minister for well over a decade but didn’t seem to enjoy the role at all.”

Menzies (Ming) Campbell, Liberal-Democrat

“As foreign affairs spokesman from 2001 to 2006 Menzies Campbell was knowledgeable, urbane, fluent, widely seen as a statesmanlike figure, even by those who disagreed with him. But as a leader, he bombed. He lost confidence, suffering stage fright and was ill at ease with the welter of domestic issues he had to address. At PMGs, he raised the plight of old people, prompting the Tory MP, Eric Forth to heckle “Declare an interest!”, causing MPs to burst out laughing. A cruel jibe that highlighted the truth, Campbell was lacking in vim and vigour.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative

“It is no secret some of my allies, people who subscribed to my agenda, were from the Labour Party. Yet for much of my Speakership some were from the Conservative Party. One such was Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for Est Somerset, less affectionately referred to as the member for the eighteenth century, a reference to his traditional views, manner and speaking style. Jacob is a one-off, a singular specimen of humanity. Jacob sits sideways onto the chamber, usually one leg over the other. In order to speak he does not so much stand up as uncoil. Overwhelmingly he speaks without a text or notes, and he addresses the House in perfect English. He does not hesitate, um or ah, but develops a logical argument with admirable fluency. He plays the ball not the man or the woman, exhibiting unfailing courtesy. He has a good sense of humour and is content not only to be teased but to take the mickey out of himself.”

Charles Kennedy, Liberal-Democrat

“In 1999 Paddy Ashdown was replaced as Liberal leader by Charles Kennedy, who hailed from that bastion of Liberal Democratic strength, the highlands of Scotland. He was known as a skilful debater who enjoyed a joke and a drink but was often thought of as lazy. Doing programmes such as BBC’s Have I Got News For You has played to his talent for humour, but in the formal world of Westminster, had done nothing for his reputation as a serious politician. Although I disagreed with his policy on Iraq, he was the only leader to speak explicitly and unhesitatingly against the conflict, what he called an illegal war. Kennedy grew in self-confidence and stature as a leader. He led his party to the left-of-centre voter alienated by the Labour government’s decision to go to war in Iraq, notching up to 62 seats in the 2005 election. Eight months later, after struggling with alcoholism, Kennedy was forced out of the leadership, but there’s no denying that he made a mark.”

William Hague, Conservative

“William Hague was a deft debater, who, with a turn of phrase or a joke, could get the better of the prime minister of the day. He had us rolling in the aisles with his jokes. At one stage, when Labour was torn as to who should be chosen as candidate for mayor of London, Hague cheekily suggested that Tony Blair could divide the job into two, Frank Dobson as day Mayor and Ken Livingston as nightmare. However, although his debating skills and wit shaped him as leader, the public did not take to him, and the Conservatives polls trailed way behind Labour, and specifically not for Hague.”

Theresa May, Conservative

“Three features of her resignation speech struck me. Theresa May talked about the need for compromise, as though that was what she had offered, [the EU] though she had done nothing of the kind. She had cobbled together a policy that neither satisfied the Brexiteers nor the Remainers. She offered no concessions at all. A second feature of her resignation speech was her attempt to describe her policy legacy. It was laughable, for there was none. Theresa May had not only failed on her Brexit agenda, she had on almost everything else she promised to tackle, poverty, knife crime, the crisis in social care, and racial attacks. Finally, a prime minister who had become notorious for her absence of empathy and her robotic reiteration of vacuous mantras, suddenly displayed raw emotion about giving up the leadership of the country she loved. [England.] There was tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat.. I could understand how upsetting it must have been for her, but, candidly, I could not feel much sympathy. There was no such emotion over the victims of Grenfell Tower, those affected by the Windrush scandal, or the daily misery endured by the homeless and those dependent on foodbanks that have mushroomed alarmingly across the UK over the last decade. She was tearful only when adversity affected her.”

Robin Cook, Labour

“The best debater – quickest-witted, sharpest and most formidable in argument – was the late Robin Cook. He was simply brilliant.”

‘Unspeakable’ – Volume 2?

Could there be a second book to follow? There are enough curious omissions from Unspeakable to conclude that there might be another book in the throes of creation, no conspiracy groups, intrigue, drunken behaviour, or porn on computers?

Unspeakable offers the impression Bercow is that dying breed, an old-fashioned one-nation Tory, but with far too much of the unreconstructed Thatcherite in his genes. For one thing, he thinks well of the repellent dissembler Michael Gove, one of Scotland’s worst exports, the phoney Englishman. For another, he rebuked the SNP when they applauded one of their members speeches, a habit borne out of Holyrood practice. “We do not applaud here”, he said. Later he allowed a standing ovation from the House when Tony Blair left parliament, for good, one hopes.

As I finished Unspeakable a wave of melancholy washed over me. Cameron had offered Scotland its freedom on a plate, no strings attached, its wealth given back and, one supposes, full sovereignty to do with as we please. Yet here I was reading a book about a far-right Tory administration ensconced in Number 10 Downing Street, ruling the UK in blunderbuss fashion, hell laying before Scotland unless we rise up and seize the day.

I thought Bercow the last Speaker of whom Scotland had to take note. I thought wrongly.

Unspeakable – John Bercow: the Autobiography, Widenfield and Nicolson, £20.



Posted in General, Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 4 Comments

Car Culture: Pop Up Charge

A weekly look at all that sucks in the world of cars, plus some good bits


The pop-up charger sits on the edge of the pavement (sidewalk) 

The car industry being the bellwether of corporate society, and the industry realising the instruction ‘don’t go to work unless you have to go to work’, actually allows them a free hand, a number of Britain’s car makers are tooling up to start producing cars again.

Land Rover-Jaguar is one company, Vauxhall another. Someone has tipped them off that worker distance is more profitable and sensible to cold storage lock-down, at least for big business. Car makers are leaking money faced by the shut-down, non-production of vehicles and engines, the expensive shift to electric vehicles, and massive fines for cheating customers over unsafe diesel cars. No surprise, then, that they are lobbing the EU hard as they can to shift the deadline for emission controls.

Cars are one of the planet’s biggest polluters and users of natural materials and yet manufacturers want us to return to that situation for as long as possible soon as lock-down is eased. Meanwhile, on the High Street, some are preparing for electric vehicles (EVs) being the norm – by law!

A new type of pop-up charge point has been designed to give owners of electric cars who have to park their EVs on the street the ability to recharge at home.

Although there have been leaps forward in home and public EV charging in recent years, one major obstacle to EV ownership remains the fact that a third of UK households – equivalent to eight million cars and vans – do not have access to a driveway. With trailing leads across pavements hazardous, and residents with no off-street parking ineligible for Government charge point grants, urban EV charging has long been a significant issue to overcome as the UK makes the switch to electric.

A British startup firm named Urban Electric has created a pop-up charge point that can be installed at the kerbside. The chargers deliver a 7kW charging rate, and are said to be suitable for 90 per cent of residential streets.

A trial of what is claimed to be the world’s first pop-up charger EVs is underway in Oxford. Six prototypes of the charging point have been installed in the city as part of a pilot project, developed by product design company Duku and sister firm Albright IP in collaboration with Urban Electric.


All very phallic, but it’s one answer to getting juiced up

The charging points retract underground when not in use, which means they sit on the level of the pavement and are only visible by a ring of light which highlights their position and lets users know of their availability. (See photograph at top of article.)

The trial will take place over the next six months and drivers who signed up to the trial are able to book an electric car which has been made available for the period of the pilot. The £600,000 project won funding worth £474,000 from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles and administered by Innovate UK. The trial will allow the companies to verify the reliability of the prototypes and investigate how it fared against daily use, the weather and being installed on a UK street.

Improvements will be made following which a larger scale roll-out is expected.


‘Urbricity’ – installing charging points in lampposts, a Norwegian solution

I much prefer electric chargers in lampposts. Lampposts exist already and no digging is needed. The down side of a pop up version is a. the sod who parks two wheels up on the pavement his car over the charger; b. the masses of pavement lifted to take new cables, and c. more clutter on our footpaths to add to street signage, shop placards, bicycle racks, bins, railings, and so on, and so forth.

Merely excavating pavements to install the chargers outer casing and ducting, while the electrical team pulled in the cables ready, adds another layer of street clutter and no go stretches to daily urban life.

However, there will be places where a pop-up is the best solution. The first installations of the new pop-up or pop out chargers are aimed at residents on the street who have limited access to parking and struggle to boost the batteries of their electric vehicles.



Bored out of my skull, I took a drive around old Queensferry village on a sunny afternoon crushed to discover it’s new urban sprawl. What was once a pleasant village is now a mini-Livingston. What caught my attention was not just the lack of sensitivity new architecture with the old, but lines of cars nose or tail to houses. New flats built on green sites have car parks not underground parking bays, an astonishing blunder in the modern age by Planning departments. And most disappointing of all, where was the community? No shops or cafes for people to meet at street level of the flats. What I saw was one ugly multi-development that’ll soon reach Dalmeny and outer Edinburgh. Where is the careful planning for people, rather than kitsch houses for newcomers?

Insurance premiums

With a distinct increase in road traffic, I can see folk are getting frustrated staying indoors. You have to be careful not to stop anywhere, if not a shop or a petrol station, police are apt to ask for a chat. I wonder how much money car owners have lost staring at their car sitting idly on the driveway or road these last lock-down weeks. Has your insurance company sent a letter to tell you they will reduce next year’s premium for your car’s lack of use? And what about this month’s waste of Vehicle Excise Duty, usually known as road tax? How about an extension on next year’s ?


A Guardian investigation last year found that Exxon has spent €37.2m (£32.4 million) lobbying the EU since 2010, more than any other major oil company, according to the EU’s transparency register. It also revealed Shell spent €36.5m and BP €18.1m lobbying Brussels officials to shape EU climate policy. They were desperately trying to influence European commission officials to water down the European Green Deal in the weeks before it was agreed. They spend a fortune telling us how environmentally friendly they are while simultaneously doing the opposite. Great use of shareholder money.

Happy motoring … maybe! 


Posted in Transportation | 1 Comment

The Neutral Newspaper


The question I put is this, can a newspaper be truly impartial in colonial Scotland? How does it put neutrality into practice, even when its neutrality refers solely to partisan politics? How can it function as a truly Scottish newspaper and not just a facsimile of Westminster values and interests?

Be honest with readers

“Unfortunately, the public doesn’t trust us. We need to think about how to get people to see journalists as their allies instead of as duplicitous, faux-neutral propagandists. We should be honest about our prejudices.” Nathan Robinson, editor Current Affairs

A strange thing happened. Nicola Sturgeon, in her daily coronavirus briefings, took a question from a ‘reporter’ who was not a member of the usual press corps. Paris Gourtsoyannis, Westminster correspondent for the Scotsman newspaper, a man who came to Scotland from Greece to study and stayed, took exception to the question, and ipso facto, the broadcaster represented at the briefing. 

The question came from Broadcasting Scotland, an honest partisan, industrious, shoestring run, pro-independence news gatherer that also produces music and interviews. (Shoestring, partisan, chat, music and entertainment also describes BBC Radio Scotland!) Gourtsoyannis felt for the first minister to allow the group access undermined the Scottish Government’s authority “to comment on press standards or regulation, as a minimum”.

Whoa! It was as if he had spotted the Queen shopping at Aldi.

Gourtsoyannis got clobbered for his snobbery by social media and Mark McLaughlin, the politics and education correspondent at The Times was one. “I have no problem with partisan blogs getting questions at the briefing. They’re asking the kind of questions partisan tweeters ask all the time”, he said, in a rejoinder.

Gourtsoyannis misjudged badly the collective confidence in renaissance Scotland, that sense of unity when our values are attacked, especially when embodied in the little man. 

Low and double basement low

A day later, Paul Hutcheon of the Daily Record, Scotland’s ‘best’ investigative journalist, won “Political Journalist of the Year” and got universally lampooned by the public for it. His apogee of investigatory achievement was to make an example of a lady Lord Provost for her shoe collection. Andy Dufresne crawling through a mile of effluent and urine to escape from Shawshank prison had nothing on the life of a wee Scottish investigative journo counting shoes.

Anyhow, and still on standards and practice in Scotland’s Fourth Estate, a Times reporter contradicted Gourtsoyannis. His rebuke took the line society has changed irrevocably and he better get used to it. However, Gourtsoyannis has a point. There are standards to uphold, which ones, which principles he did not say, nor how he thought an innocuous question from Broadcasting Scotland lowered the tone of the press briefing.

However, Gourtsoyannis described Broadcast Scotland as a “partisan hobby blog”, which is the equivalent of calling Scotland’s parliament a town council talking shop, not that any self-respecting journalist would do that, of course. 

Soon after the insistent Gourtsoyannis compounded his intervention with this: “Then she [Sturgeon] can give up the pretence of a press conference and answer questions on twitter. [sic] Hope she gave a rocket to her communications team after.” He was implying her press team had inadvertently let in a non-accredited journalist.

An honest reaction

I dismissed Gourtsoyannis’ ill temper as a fit of pique. He surely did not mean power lies with the press and the press with the powerful. Like an apple rotting in a fruit bowl, his snub must have worked on my subconscious because later I posted this: 

“With one minor exception, all Scottish newspapers believe in the removal of the SNP government and reinstatement of parties supporting the Union. They’re hostile to a populace enjoying full civil and constitutional rights. This, I’m asked to believe, is a sign of a free press.” Grouse Beater

The tweet tossed into the ether attracted almost 45,000 hits in two days, with over 800 people making an active response, those, plus one very angry Martin Williams, a senior journalist working for the Herald who did not win “Political Journalist of the Year”.

Williams fired off a salvo attached to a photostat copy of the Herald’s Letters column which carries in proud capital letters their mission statement:

‘The Herald is committed to fair and impartial coverage of Scotland’s affairs and does not endorse any political party.” The Herald, ‘Scotland’s other national newspaper’

Comedy gold

The ironic laughter Williams caused could have toppled the scaffolding on Big Ben. The Herald is the newspaper that published a two-page spread of rapists and serial murders with the byline Alex Salmond is not one of them, and did it prior to Salmond’s court case.

Though I kept my comment general, Williams could not tolerate a member of the public suggesting his newspaper, in particular, is not impartial in all things. Williams was telling me what to think, that the Herald strives for a diversity of opinion. Fair enough, unless that opinion halts progress toward civil and constitutional rights.

I question how a newspaper manages to remain impartial in Scotland when it repeats guff from phony experts, UK government departments and jackass pundits warning Scotland is a potential economic basket case. Black propaganda is rarely spiked. Newspapers have been promoting unionist fabrications since they were founded.

“The elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents occurs so naturally that media news people, frequently operating with complete integrity and goodwill, are able to convince themselves that they choose and interpret the news “objectively” and on the basis of professional news values.” Professor Noam Chomsky, linguist and social philosopher

Monopolistic control

The argument with Williams developed into the neutrality of a free press. The last time I saw a genuinely free press at work was in a Hollywood western, where the editor was also the owner, pen behind his ear, anti-glare visor permanently fixed to his forehead, determined to print the low-down on the town’s corrupt sheriff, risking life and livelihood in the process, an editor of integrity without an advertiser to worry about.

Contemporary newspapers do not function as if a corner shop. Newspaper are, in the main, part of international conglomerates, the same that own broadcasters and book publishers. This is referred to as top-down monopoly of news and communication, the perfect structure to control and form opinion.

The Tories have been releasing the reins on newspaper owners for decades, knowing they back the Tories. Our own Alex Salmond tried a bit of that; ingratiating himself with the Dirty Digger, Rupert Murdoch, asking that the Scottish Sun be kind to Scotland’s political ambitions – it became ‘neutral’ for a while – that word again, in return for Salmond encouraging News Corporation’s new headquarters to locate in Scotland.

Rupert Murdoch is everyone’s bête noire, their best example of a ruthless press baron. His company bought one of Scotland’s top book publishers, Collins, and immediately cancelled a biography critical of Murdoch and his methods. Harold Evans, the former distinguished editor at the Sunday Times, made clear to the Leveson Inquiry how Rupert Murdoch interfered with the content of the paper. Harold Evans was often rebuked for “not doing what he [Murdoch] wants in political terms.”

“All Murdoch editors, what they do is this: they go on a journey where they end up agreeing with everything Rupert says but you don’t admit to yourself that you’re being influenced.” Harold Evans, former Sunday Times editor

I used to think the Guardian was one of the few free and open-minded newspapers until it took an editorial line hard set against Scotland reinstating its independence. That was it. No half measures, no federalism. The paper’s retired political editor, Michael White, the man with the military moustache, was given the task of disparaging and belittling independence, which he did with gusto but without a moment’s self-awareness.

The Guardian styles itself as the world’s “leading liberal voice” yet has had an unhappy relationship with whistle-blowers such as Julian Assange, and hardly represents the working class, an entire strata of society without newspaper representation, unless you count The Big Issue.

The Scottish press functions in the same subliminal way. It presents us with power. What the yesterday’s man Gordon Brown has to say is of far greater importance than any informed blogger whether a specialist in his or her field or not. In fact, ‘experts’ of unnamed think tanks with no vote in a Scottish election are more important to quote than many a Scot living in Scotland. BBC Scotland follows suit.

Filtered or reported

The internet is extremely valuable if you know what you’re looking for. Most of what I publish or republish on my Twitter timeline is filtered, same as others who reproduce news items. I publish from a multitude of sources having fact checked – a lot of it sent to me – if it has some bearing on the life of Scotland. I give my news bites a satirical heading to attract attention. If the story is complicated I attach a link to the source.

“Those who do not read newspapers are uninformed. Those who do read newspapers are ill-informed.” Mark Twain

My essay site is altogether different, philosophical in outlook with a dash of mordant wit. I am a member of the Writer’s Guild whose trade is obsessed with understanding men’s minds and women’s yearnings. My articles and essays – I’m never sure when one becomes the other – are historical in nature, some from on-location reporting, where I have physically travelled to places to research and report as a vanilla journalist would.

I report what people say and my impressions of what they say. This last year it was Orkney, Dublin and Iceland. Before that, Gibraltar to see how Gibraltarians felt about British betrayal over leaving the EU. And in recent months I reported on two court cases in Edinburgh. Even so, by Gourtsoyannis’ criteria, and perhaps the SNP too, I would not be eligible to ask Nicola Sturgeon a question.

The halls of power

Though a few notable freelancers have shown they understand Scotland’s future rests on self-governance, they would welcome any compromise tomorrow that meant a broken union was sustainable. Scottish journalists are unreliable. They always revert to type.

How can a newspaper working in a colonial reality remain impartial? Merely by being neutral it takes a side, and it is not the side of equality or of justice. It is the photographer taking a snapshot but not intervening in the death he witnesses; it is Mercutio shouting ‘a plague on both your houses!’ It is a hack working to pay his mortgage, buy a round in the pub, doing it without ethics or scruples. It is an editor sidelining a story in case it upsets a big paying advertiser.

Scotland’s journalists live off press handouts from political parties, no source identified. They wait for a politician to say something outrageous and they publish that as if news. They leave flaky statistics unchallenged. If stuck for a good story they trawl Internet social sites, the same ones they condemn for being full of cybernats. They divert attention from the real issues that afflict Scotland and Scottish society.

They like bad, negative news because it works to deaden dissent. They use tabloid terms to inflate conflict: so-and-so slams so-and-so, rather than rebukes an opponent. They are interviewed by their fellow journalists on television, a cosy club. Broadcasters live off the press. Today’s newspaper headline is tomorrow’s television news. Press and broadcaster feed off each other, self-perpetuating, incestuous.

“The press is owned by wealthy men who have every interest in not wanting certain ideas to be expressed, the other is just essentially a good education.” George Orwell

Scotland the afterthought

As a writer you learn quickly there are certain things it wouldn’t do to say – mentioning Hitler in an essay is one of them – and you don’t even think about it any more. It just becomes what Gramsci called “hegemonic common sense”. Do not talk about it. These things simply become internalized.

Courageous people such as Wings, Jeggit, Craig Murray and Peter Bell who discuss the unmentionable sound like crazies. The censorious phrase ‘no right thinking person would say that’ crops up repeatedly spoken by once radical SNP politicians as well as right-wing ideological conformity shapers.

None of what I have written is a reason to see a newspaper close, unless engaged in criminal activity, such as industrial level phone hacking. I offer cogent reasons why no owner should possess more than one newspaper in any country, and I argue good and bad  journalism cannot by definition be impartial.

The press is there to bring down the corrupt and illuminate malpractice in high places. With Parliament shutting down for a month to curb the spread of coronavirus, it is left to journalists to be the opposition to Government policy, a task most bloggers are incapable of doing by dint of isolation. Newspaper are indispensable to a democracy. And now journalists have the benefit of reading social sites to gauge public feeling.

“Newspapers are an important part of our lives, not to read, of course, but, when you’re moving you can’t wrap your dishes in a blog.” Stephen Colbert, satirist

Perhaps the question should be, can a newspaper afford to be impartial in a Scotland determined to secure full human rights? They are losing readers hand-over-fist, unable to make any profit while they treat readers as passive. I look to Scotland’s newspapers to inform us we are chronically short changed by Westminster, show us the evidence daily, rebel against the tyranny that is corporate and state control. If only they felt reinstating self-governance a good thing. They want us to buy their newspapers but not to protect the sovereignty of Scotland.

Self-determination is not politically partisan – it is a democratic right.

The need for a robust, independent press has never been greater. Scotland needs newspapers devoted to Scotland not constantly reaffirming and reinforcing Westminster control is benign. Those we have are convinced there is no conspiracy or strategy on the part of the British establishment to keep Scotland servile. Hell mend them!

Banner illustration: Caxton demonstrating his printing press.




The Shame of the Press:                                                                      The Scottish Press:                                                                                Defoe the Union Spy:                                                                    Professor John Robertson on media bias:                            Mark Poles: MA Philosophy and Politics, Magdalen College, Oxford…..

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 20 Comments

Car Culture: Emergency Deaths

A weekly look at what sucks in our world of cars, plus some god bits


The coronavirus lock-down has an odd affect on cars and drivers

Witnessing a pedestrian crossing a wide road deep in thought, almost get hit by an oncoming car presumably assuming the road empty of vehicles under lock-down, the incident reminded me of something I had read just days before.

In an Oxford historian’s account of how the plucky Brits could have avoided the First World War, pretty sickening to read the evidence – and could have stopped Hitler in his ambitions before he murdered anybody in sight, I read the phrase, “The Luftwaffe killed more people in Britain without flying a plane than ever they did by dropping bombs.”

I had to think about the phrase some minutes before realising the author was referring to the blackout, the war years equivalent of lock-down. All vehicles, motorbikes and cycles too, had to avoid night driving, or if an essential journey, reduce their headlights to a slit. Eventually, metal headlight or Bakelite hoods were sold to fit vehicles, domestic or trade. Show too much light and a Dad’s Army warden fined you.

Could the claim be true, that the Nazis killed more folk by doing nothing? Well, as they say on the improvisational television panel game, “Would I Lie To You?” it was indeed the truth, or at least some truth attached to it. 

In the ‘phony war’, that is the early months of 1939, when Germany was sabre rattling and Neville Chamberlain still wearing unfashionable wing collars and carrying his trusted umbrella flew back and forth to parley with a duplicitous Hitler, road deaths were around 600 a month. In the first year the claim was almost 7,300 people died by car accident. When German bombing raids began they caused enormous destruction and heavy civilian casualties—some 43,000 English, Welsh and Scots killed and another 139,000 wounded. Since then, cars have slaughtered many hundreds of thousands in peacetime, a sobering statistic that normally would have any other human activity halted indefinitely until a safe method could be found.

The highest number of deaths was in 1941: 9,169. The highest in peace times was 7,895 in 1966, the days before safety belts and toughened windscreens. As a comparison, between 1951 and 2006 a total of 309,144 people were killed and 17.6 million were injured in accidents on British roads. Amen. Driving has become safer since then, a lot owing to safety features in cars, but Sweden is still the safest country to drive in.

In the war years reckless drivers slaughtered pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers in an attempt to go faster than the length of their headlight illumination allowed. It was, by all accounts, a nightmare. I have an image of cars creeping around with hooded and slatted headlights, no tail lights, the driver wearing a gas mask looking through a dirty split screen windscreen on a foggy night.

Back in the day the slogan was ‘Look Out for the Black Out’, a homemade truism similar to, ‘Don’t Breathe Face Down in the Water’. Driving around in the pitch dark with the equivalent of a candle’s illumination killed anything that crossed its path.

The hardest part of driving was gauging the width of a vehicle. A lot of vehicles had their headlights within their body girth not sitting on the fender or outer body edges as now, two feet or more of mudguard and running board projecting either side, a guarantee to crunch another vehicle coming in the opposite direction or parked. To indicate width some drivers took to painting a bold white stripe on their bumpers, and along the lip of the mudguard and bottom edge of the car,.

Parking alongside a pavement kerb was another hazard. In cities, women were drafted to add white stripes along pavement edges. Lampposts were few and far apart, lighting standards a lot lower than today – you could still see the starry heaven on a clear night!

Drivers unable to take the full measures prescribed under the Lighting Restriction Order were allowed to employ the following improvised methods for one night only: Sidelamps – covered by two thicknesses of newspaper, with side, rear or top panels completely obscured; Headlamps – thick cardboard disc behind the glass, with a semi-circular hole not more than two inches wide, the straight side uppermost and not above the centre line of the lamp; Rear Lamps – all glass panels other the obligatory red lamp completely obscured and the red light covered with two thicknesses of newspaper. From sunset to sunrise all buildings had to conform to the strict rules, with windows blacked out or blinds pulled down. Coronavirus is a doddle wearing face masks and gloves.

Among adventures in total blackout Britain, some hilarious, some matter-of-fact, I found this sad anecdote from Sydney Hetherington:

“I can well recall walking home using my bicycle to feel the kerb, hoping that I would not take a wrong turning. If that happened one was completely dis-oriented and one could only hope to meet someone who could put you back on track. In one instance, near where I lived, a man mistook a left turn and, instead of turning down the road he wanted, he turned down a track leading to the canal. He fell in and although his cries could be heard, he drowned before anyone could locate him.”

In coronavirus lock-down we have over-zealous police officers telling walkers and joggers and folk isolated on rural paths not to take a breather on the grass verge or a park bench or be fined. In war years it was a Bill Pertwee shouting “Put that bloomin’ light arf!”

With a far-right Tory government in power analysing and calculating how docile we are, citizens arrested for stopping while getting and hour’s fresh air, is more than worrying.



The coronavirus is a bugger as well as a nasty bug. Folk with cars purchased on the never-never, that is loans and hire contracts, owners now unable to earn a living while under lock-down, are struggling to make ends meet and pay their monthly car fee. The financial regulator has said car finance companies must offer a three-month payment freeze and should not repossess vehicles if customers are facing financial difficulties because of the coronavirus. Know your rights:  the emergency measures include payday loan firms giving customers a one-month interest payment holiday. In addition, consumers with other credit products – such as buy-now-pay-later, rent-to-own and pawnbroking agreements – must also be allowed three-month payment freezes if they face temporary financial difficulties.

Car computers

There’s a debate going on in the studios of car designers over whether cars with all controls on a computer screen dash mounted (Tesla, the best known), is the safest way to drive a car in the modern age. Somewhere a few weeks back I offered the opinion a single device placed facia-central is sure to take your attention off the road. Interesting to see Honda’s new electric car has kept the heater controls as turn-knobs. Honda thinks heater controls set in a computer readout counter-intuitive.

The rolling stop

One quirk of lock-down reducing traffic to a few cars an hour are careless drivers using the rolling stop to move out of T-junctions or onto roundabouts. A ‘rolling stop’ is the American term for crossing double white lines slowly but not stopping. Broken double white lines mean STOP! – check left and right to see if all is safe to proceed. Double white line road markings must not be straddled or crossed as if they did not exist. On three occasions I’ve almost been T-boned by lazy drivers disregarding road markings and assuming the road they want to move into is free of traffic. They just hate stopping for anything. It is only a matter of time before….. as the old joke goes, if you don’t like my driving stay off the pavement!

Happy motoring!

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The Mermaid Bride


The Kelpie monument at Falkirk – in folklore water-horses are seen as dangerous beings

If a nation protects and nurtures its culture and heritage it has to include timeless folk tales and myths. Scotland has hosted the whirling Dervish of JK Rowling’s derivative doorstop books of magic, mixed with science fiction, for so long we tend to forget our own tales issuing from the wellspring of a rich tradition that has real history attached and is not a hotchpotch of contemporary literature.

Folk tales deal with our fears but are altogether gentler stories with a lesson to learn or a moral attached. They talk of real places, real characters. Our ancestors told the tales because they actually believed water kelpies, goblins and fairies existed. The tales have been overlooked as source material in preference to the industry of fear and violence. 

Tom and the Mermaid Bride

On my bookshelves squashed between heavyweight tombs on Scotland’s inability to admit it has the political courage of a grouse hiding in heather, sits an unassuming compendium of Orkney folk tales, entitled “The Mermaid Bride, and other Orkney Folk Tales“. It takes its place shoulder to shoulder with works of historian Tom Devine and Scots language expert Billy Kay.

The stories are derived from Viking times, put together by the notable folklorist and historian Tom Muir. There are tales of giants, trows, (trolls), hogboons (a Norse mound dweller), Fin folk, (sorcerers of the sea), nucklavee, (monsters), sea trows, (malignant fairies) mermaids, selkies (seal-like creatures) and shape shifters known as kelpies. There’s a lot of sea and sailing there. Folk who live on islands tend to have tales concentrate on things unseen that lie in deep water.

The stories must seem antiquarian to the modern mind but we have our own to match, such as SNP mandates, (false bringers of hope), hacks, (creatures who drink a lot and warp news), and captains of industry, ugly fat people who steal and hide money. 

The man is the message

Tom Muir is a man blessed with the perfect accent to tell stories of myth and magic. Some story tellers are entertainers looking for an easy fee and applause, some are genuine repositories of our history. Tom is such a man.

I got to know him on a visit to Orkney. He is a member of staff in Tankerhouse Museum, at night a great maker of delicious trifles. For a man who lives off the past but not in the past he’s done us a great service gathering so many tales together, stories illustrated by his fellow Orcadian, Bryce Wilson. Wilson uses a precise, skilled pointillism in imagery.

The tales are whispers and rumours forgotten in our rush for the latest Jack Reacher or television soap series, less Viking saga, more tasty short bites.

The Mermaid Bride is a great wee book to read to young or old, one story at a time, and still have time left to do you own work. The tales are as well crafted as the Skara Brae earth and stone houses, and just as ancient. Once upon a time these tales were told by our elders, kept in respectful memory, carried by the winds that brush the rocks and boulders we used as shelter. The book is far too modest for its own good, so I have no qualms in giving it a hefty promotion here.

The Cringe in full swing

Folk tales are not immune from the Scottish cringe. Tom Muir did not have an easy ride testing them out on various audiences.

“You would be surprised at the hostility that I met with when gathering the stories and telling them once more. Old people were the most resistant, “Why are you bothering with that old dirt? You know, you shouldn’t be believing in fairies”. Telling them I did not believe in fairies made no difference. One old woman, who was in the front row at a retelling where I had been invited to show some of Bryce’s illustrations and tell the story that went along with it, waited until the applause died down to say, in a very loud voice, “Weel, if yin’s the best they can do a’ll no be comin’ back next week!” I am laughing about it now, but at the time it was quite crushing. I have learned to thicken my skin since then. Old people were taught to despise the old stories as ‘superstition’ and worthless.”

Well then, not a result to match ‘Harry Snotter and the Pot of Endless Royalties‘.

I have  no idea why an adult would reject folk tales and then switch on the television to enjoy a rerun of Jason and the Argonauts, tell our children the tales of Hansel and Gretel, or listen to the tales of Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights, set to music by Rimsky-Korsakov. The tales are “styled like an evening of stories by the side of the fire.”

I had similar stories told to me by my aged Irish grandfather born in the 1870s and recounted them to my daughters when young; for Tom the custom was passed to him by his parents born early last century. You can hear him tell some of the stories in his Orkneyolgy site [see link below], a podcast that Tom consider’s writer’s suicide for he earns not a penny from his effort. Here’s a fine example from the book that I’ve chosen – it fits within the length of the essay. You don’t need an Orkney chair to read it.

The Shetland Fin Wife

The goodman of Faracleat in Rousay was a successful trader who used to make his regular trips to Norway. As he returned from his third voyage, his ship was caught in a gale, and driven onto the rocks of Shetland. The goodman and the ship’s crew managed to struggle ashore alive, but they had lost everything.

Autumn was quickly giving way to winter. Strong winds and heavy seas would make sure that the Orkneymen would not be able to return home for the rest of that year.

The goodman of Faracleat took lodgings with an old woman who was good to him and treated him well. Now the year wore one and the winds still howled with rage around her little house. It was Christmas Eve, and the goodman sat staring into the fire with a heavy heart. He was not interested in the food that the old woman offered him, and he had little to say to her.

The old woman tried to cheer him up and urged him to eat but with no luck.At last he spoke of what was troubling him. “Alack-a-day! How can I be merry this night? Tomorrow is Yuleday, my first Yuleday that I have been away from my own fireside, and from my woman and bairns since I was married. Well may I be sad and dour!”

“Well,” said the old woman, “I warrant you would fain be beside your awn folk at this time. And I am well sure you would give the best cow in your byre if you could be beside your wife by cock-crow on Yule morning”

“Aye. That I would, with all my heart, Lord knows,” he answered.

“Well, well, it’s all that ends well,” said the old woman. “but take yourself a drop of gin, and go to bed, goodman, and if you tell me your dreams in the morning I’ll give you a silver mark for hansel on Yuleday. [A gift for the celebration] So goodman took a drink and went to bed and slept soundly until morning.

Meanwhile, the goodwife of Faracleat lay in her lonely bed and thought about her husband. Was he still alive? And if so, where was h? She thought it would be a sad Yule in the house of Faracleat that year. 

She rolled over and went to sleep but was awoken in the morning by the feeling someone was in the bed beside her. As she came to her senses she could hear the low snoring of a man under the blankets of a man next to her. She fetched the intruder a mighty wallop with her fists, and cried out in anger.

“You ill-bred, ill-descended villain! How dare you come into an honest wife’s bed. Get out you great beast, or, by the Lord who made you, I’ll tear you to rags!”

“Is that your voice, my own Maggie?” said the man, as she grabbed him by the throat.

When she heard his voice she let go her grip and said, “Bless me! Are you my own goodman?” And so it was. He had been transported from Shetland to Rousey by the magic of the old woman, for you see, she was not any old woman, but a Fin wife. Their magic is much stronger by anything mankind can command.

And as the goodwife hugged her goodman a thought occurred to him, and he said, “Goodwife, I’ll doubt you’ll not be so glad when you come to know what it cost to come to take me home.”

And they both dressed, and went into the byre. Sure enough their best cow was gone.”Oh, it’s Brenda! She’s taken the best cow, and the best milker in the byre!”

And it is true as I am sitting here this night, for a man called John Flett from Rousey was in Shetland the following summer and what should he see tethered outside the old woman’s house but Brenda the cow. He knew the cow well, and swore that that was her he saw chewing the cud in Shetland.

Old tales bring us closer to people

Getting you man back and in bed and all he does is snore, must have seemed authentic to the wives of Orkney. We are so taken by the plight of goodman, his longing for home, the severance of a loving couple, it never occurs to us that his crew are lost early in the tale.

The Mermaid Bride is a potpourri from which to pick and choose for a quiet evening’s distraction. There are many books of folk tales from other countries, yet there is a lovely gentleness to be enjoyed here, a wink and a nod and a boatload of charm. Fifty stories, and nothing is being sold to the reader, no expensive toys or games or fandom.

I recommend this book to lovers of our land and harassed parents.




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Car Culture: Carmageddon

A weekly guide to car culture, the good, the bad and the plug ugly


Stephen Norman, UK boss of Vauxhall cars – owned by the French!

When I began this strand of articles published midweek I was asked why automobiles. I answered that they rule the planet, provide millions of jobs, are environmentally poor, often fraudulent in mpg claims, manufacturers lobby governments to adopt deeply retrogressive policies suiting car makers, cause millions of miles of farming land land to be concreted and destroy animal habitat.

Anyhow, readers complained I only write at weekends, so a midweek post was the answer. And here we are, subject matter justified, our UK government dishing out billions to subsidise car makers during the pandemic with massive welfare payments as the same companies ask government to delay the death of polluting engines.

A quick survey of the UK’s automobile magazines notices they are almost as oblivious of the coronavirus crisis as they were of the consequences of bigger vehicles and powerful combustion engines. They manage one or two poky articles on loss of sales. Loss of sales? Over 44% down on last year. The world of cars is is deluded.

Proving car magazines are just advertising mediums for car makers, they are still full of articles on ‘Best Car To Buy in 2020‘, and spurious comparison tests that never take into account how much gas is guzzled by speeding super expensive saloons and sports cars along Welsh mountain roads.

People such as Stephen Norman, CEO of Vauxhall cars, pushing a wonderfully innovative campaign to ‘Buy British’, must be deaf and dumb. His company is owned by the French and has plants in a nation, England, that is happy to have dumped Europe and all it stands for. Vauxhall was one of the slowest to accept the desperate need for something better to propel vehicles than badly serviced diesel and petrol engines. It sells ‘units’ not cars. His latest fad is to encourage online purchase. He says we are all turning to online buying while in lock-down. Very convenient. That means some poor codger has to deliver the car to you.

Unless you are buying new the same vehicle you have already, you know it inside out, only a fool buys online. I’d even hesitate to buy a pre-owned car with a long warranty attached from a reputable franchised dealer. You really have to check the interior of a vehicle to see if it fits all your practical needs; check the quality of materials for durability, haggle the price – few cars selling means dealer will drop price – and you must take a test drive. 

The woes and trials pile up for car manufacturers. VW, and their subsidiary companies, Audi, Skoda and SEAT, got sued successfully in the English High Court for the dieselgate scandal. VW settled with their German clients, over 400,000 months ago but chose to resist the same claim in the UK. The class action lawsuit, which could be the largest consumer action in English legal history, involves almost 90,000 owners of Audi, SEAT, Skoda and VW models. They claimed compensation over the installation of illegal ‘defeat devices’ to cheat European emissions standards.

The judge in the case, Mr Justice Waksman, ruled that “the software function in issue in this case is indeed a defeat device” under the classification defined by the European Union. The judge claimed he was “far from alone in this conclusion”, noting various courts and industry bodies that agree with the verdict. He called VW’s defence “highly flawed” and “absurd”, adding: “A software function which enables a vehicle to pass the test because it operates the vehicle in a way which is bound to past the test and in which it does not operate own the road is a fundamental subversion of the test and the objective behind it.”

After the ruling, the head of group litigation at Slater and Gordon, representing around 70,000 of the claimants, said in a statement: “This damning judgement confirms what our clients have known for a long time, but which Volkswagen has refused to accept: namely that Volkswagen fitted defeat devices into millions of vehicles in the UK in order to cheat emissions tests.”

VW continues to assert “British clients did not suffer any loss”. Cheated, yes, pouring noxious gasses into the air, yes, value of our vehicles falling, yes, but no harm is done. VW refuses to pay compensation to UK owners.

[No news if under English law a win darn sarf automatically applies to oop north, even though Tory policies always apply to Scotland as does whipping Scotland out of the EU against its will.]

And so, back to the Norman conquest at Vauxhall. Stephen Norman says of his buy online policy, “Before the epidemic this trend had already arrived in the food and clothing industries. I think it’s coming to the car industry.” For this reason Norman forecasts increasing relevance of his xenophobic ‘Great Brit Plan‘, the recently launched Vauxhall advertising and marketing campaign featuring the insulting post-Brexit slogan “New Rules Britannia”.

Good luck with that, Norry. I like your Buy British lark as much as I do BMW’s Mini sold with standard Union Jack rear lights.


Dodging wildlife

On short journey this morning had a female deer dodging traffic around my car on a semi-rural road. It must have entered from a house garden and was trying to reach a field opposite defeated by walls and fence. I stopped to give it space but it panicked in a desperate search for a safe exit. I see lots of mentions on Twitter and in the press, some with photographs, of wildlife taking over our empty spaces, a herd of goats munching their way through a Welsh village a much retweeted, amusing example. The next benefit I look forward to is a rise in the number of birds caused by people keeping their cat at home in lock-down for company.

Jogging on the highway

People wandering along pavements in pairs or family groups are pushing Lycra joggers onto the road in their hundreds to avoid the possibility of catching the Grim Reaper’s scout off some laggardly elderly citizen walking around the block. On many Edinburgh streets that means joggers on the crest of the road pushed there by parked cars. To their right or left is invariably a large municipal park where they can jog on nice soft grass surfaces instead of knocking hell out of their joints bashing concrete and tarmac, and worse, leaping in front of my car.

Closing parks

While on the subject of parks; I got a terse note from Health Secretary, the forceful Jeane Freeman – an MSP I much admire – for allegedly saying she was about to close parks. In fact neither she nor the trolls that followed in her wake noticed my comment was not in quotation marks. It was a satirical dig translated from what she had not said when questioned on the radio. I regard my aptitude for reading between the lines pretty mature. I am certain that Scotland will close parks and rural walkways if England does. We seem not to be living as if in a new nation at all but rather doing what London decrees assuming one solution fits all nations And indeed, no sooner had I questioned her ‘options open’ diplomacy than in came verifiable examples of parks and walkways quietly locked up to cyclists and pedestrians. The move can’t be healthy.

Happy motoring. (Kinda)


Posted in Transportation | 1 Comment

What is Coronavirus?


Professor Dr Kate Broderick, the Scot close to a coronavirus vaccine

We – the world’s nations in the west and Asia – were warned in 2019 a new incurable ‘flu’ was on its way and we should prepare for it. We did not. What is the virus and is it Armageddon, an Act of God, or a bug that targets the elderly and the infirm causing pneumonia, an ailment a great many of us succumb to in old age? 

Here’s is what I’ve managed to glean from various medical sources and periodicals.

Basic facts

What became known as Covid-19, or the coronavirus, started in late 2019 as a cluster of pneumonia cases with an unknown cause. The cause of the pneumonia was found to be a new virus – severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or Sars-CoV-2.

The illness caused by the virus is Covid-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says about 80% of people with Covid-19 recover without needing any specialist or intensive treatment. Only about one person in six becomes seriously ill “and develops difficulty breathing”.

Accusations of secretive Chinese being the villains are baloney. From their first cases the Chinese authorities published the DNA sequence online which, among other scientists, caught the attention of Professor Kate Broderick who immediately galvanised her team into action to find a vaccine. (More about her shortly.)

How does it affect us?

Reading of the number of celebrity deaths, pneumonia as a result of contracting the virus is by far the biggest killer. Medics aver all serious consequences of Covid-19 feature pneumonia. The least serious are those people who are “sub-clinical” and who have the virus but have no symptoms.

Next are those who get an infection in the upper respiratory tract. A “person has a fever and a cough and maybe milder symptoms like headache or conjunctivitis”. In those cases you can transmit the virus without knowing you have it.

The last group develop severe illness that features pneumonia. In Wuhan, it worked out that from those who had tested positive and had sought medical help, “roughly 6% had a severe illness.” The WHO says the elderly and people with underlying problems like high blood pressure, heart and lung problems, cancer or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

How does the virus develop into pneumonia?

When people with Covid-19 develop a cough and fever because it has reached the air passages that conduct air between the lungs and the outside. [Lancet Journal] “The lining of the respiratory tree becomes injured, causing inflammation. This in turn irritates the nerves in the lining of the airway.” Just a speck of dust can stimulate a cough.

If it gets worse the lungs fill with fluid. Lungs that become filled with inflammatory material are unable to get enough oxygen to the bloodstream, reducing the body’s ability to take on oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide, the main cause of death from severe pneumonia.

How can the virus be treated?

In its worse state there is no antidote – yet. Various laboratories are working flat out to find a cure, not the least a Scot in the USA, Professor Kate Broderick, who says they are close to a breakthrough, but it takes time to conduct clinical tests. A vaccine will be found but not before we see many more unnecessary deaths.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing available guaranteed to stop us getting the virus. A face mask, or scarf helps, as does washing our hands regularly each day. People are trialling all sorts of medications. According to Professor Broderick, scientists are hopeful that we might discover that there are various combinations of viral and anti-viral medications that could be effective.

At the moment there isn’t any established treatment apart from supportive treatment. “We ventilate them and maintain high oxygen levels until their lungs are able to function in a normal way again as they recover.”

How different is Covid19 pneumonia?

Most types of pneumonia are bacterial. They respond to an antibiotic. However, medical specialists suggest there is evidence that Covid-19 pneumonia is particularly severe. Coronavirus pneumonia tends to affect all of the lungs, instead of just small parts.

Australian specialist Christine Jenkins, chair of the Lung Foundation, says: “Once we have an infection in the lung and, if it involves the air sacs, then the body’s response is first to try and destroy the virus and limit its replication. However, if the first responder mechanism is impaired in the sick or young children it will replicate swiftly”.

Who is likely to be worst affected?

Age is the major predictor of risk of death from pneumonia.

Covid-19 suggests, with some exceptions, a healthy immune system is usually able to control infection. Importantly, the virus cannot gain entry to our homes or bodies by itself – we have to let it in. This is why official advice centres around cleaning our hands and avoiding touching our faces.

Pneumonia is always serious for an older person and in fact it used to be one of the main causes of death in the elderly. There exist good treatments for pneumonia, but Corvid-19 is a son-of-a-bitch to stop in its tracks. The general consensus of opinion is, no matter how healthy and active you are, your risk for getting pneumonia increases with age. Our immune system naturally weakens with age, making it harder for our bodies to fight off infections and diseases. Obviously, told don’t get old, is pertinently useless advice.

Until a sure cure is on its way, created by some wonderful Nobel winning scientist, perhaps from a Petri dish left on a window sill by the likes of an Alexander Fleming, or a slide under a microscope viewed by Kate Broderick, we can only avoid the Grim Reaper’s scout by avoiding close contact with strangers and neighbours to help arrest the spread of the virus.

Professor Broderick.

Professor Broderick, is working round the clock with her team of researchers at the pharmaceutical company Inovio in San Diego to develop a jab in just six months. The 42-year-old, who is originally from Dunfermline, says the aim is to make a vaccine faster than they’ve made “any other in our history”.

We wish her all speed. She has helped create successful vaccines for ebola, zika, lassa fever and Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) moving from Glasgow to develop her work in molecular genetics.

I’ll keep this outline updated if and when new developments are  published.


In 2016, the Department of Health in London conducted a full-scale pandemic drill, known as Exercise Cygnus. The National Health Service was overwhelmed. There weren’t enough ventilators, emergency beds, ICU beds, protective kits and much else. In other words, it predicated accurately the crisis we face today. The Chief Medical Officer at the time appealed to the Conservative government to heed the warning and begin to restore and prepare the NHS. This was ignored; the documents describing the conclusions of the drill were suppressed.

This is what happens when a government is allowed to privatise a nation’s care system.



Posted in General, Great Scots | 4 Comments

A Diversion


Here’s an odd occurrence; out of genuine curiosity I posted a question on Twitter: “Does anybody know if there is any truth in the claim coronavirus is killed by high temperatures?” I had in mind a comment I saw stating the virus’ nemesis is heat – if we get a hot summer, we have the cure. My initial reaction – an urban myth.

Got to thinking: people are dying in hot countries such as Spain, so I thought it cannot be that. However, I wondered if the claim had veracity, perhaps very hot water kills it, or like an art print on a wall, it fades quickly if subjected to strong sunlight. Then I thought, that cannot be right; too much sun causes skin cancers.

Within seconds of tweeting my question the first answers began to appear on my timeline. While the majority stated it was fake news, just plain wrong, I began to notice grades of answers. People wanted to help by offering an opinion, some perhaps didn’t know the answer but wanted to put me out of my misery. A few threw the question back in the form of another question. Others seemed more confident, better informed  A few posted a link to some expert or other who had the answer.

What would sociologists make of the replies? Readers will make of them what they will. I see them as an example of how you have to assess a person’s character to know if they are talking nonsense, being thoughtful, or an expert in the subject. The spread of answers is entertaining.

I have graded them from unsure to certain. Names are omitted to protect the guilty.

  1. It’s bollocks.
  2. Trump!
  3. Tripe!
  4. Read some time ago it wasn’t true
  5. Well Trump said it so it must be true!!!!!!!!
  6. Vietnam is in lock-down – hot as the fires of hell there!
  7. Has it been less effective in warmer countries?
  8. They huvnae found that in Singapore.
  9. I have been outside today, 4 degrees glorious sun hail and a gale force wind, and still every chance of contracting it.
  10. They said the same about the plague and look how many died due to that.
  11. Fake news …various news channels have quoted it as such.
  12. Australia is pretty warm at the moment. Doesn’t seem to make a difference!
  13. It’s infecting people in Africa & Australia so i think it’s pish btw!
  14. If the hot weather kills the virus, how come Australia has it?
  15. No. There’s no clear evidence for this. Which is good news for Scottish folk.
  16. Why is it rampant in hot countries then?
  17. Doubt it, Spain’s mortality rate is going through the roof.
  18. It doesn’t seem to be the case in Spain or Italy.
  19. Tell you what, if that’s true Eskimos must be shitting themselves.
  20. How can there be truth in it, it’s in Australia and other hot countries.
  21. Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures. Wash your hands.
  22. I read something showing that tropical conditions are the worst for coronavirus.
  23. Well it’s running rampant in Australia so that kinda shoots holes in that theory.
  24. Ask the Australians if the virus hates heat, it’s their summer and are in lockdown.
  25. Yup that’s why they don’t have the virus in places like India and Spain – oh wait.
  26. If the world is getting cooler how does the temperature of the world keep going up?
  27. It’s based on how similar viruses react.
  28. Huge upsurge in Florida over 109 dead.
  29. According to The Economist’s Science Editor, this is not true.
  30. It still seems prominent in some hotter countries though, like Iran.
  31. Here is a paper on this: [Quotes expert source.]
  32. It’s false! Same as steaming your lungs is and drinking water every 20 mins is.
  33. That’s wishful thinking, but as with all respiratory infections lower humidity helps?
  34. There is not enough data. The virus is mutating so be wary of thinking temperature may be the cure. Some UV light can kill viruses, but it’s also damaging to humans.
  35. It’s in Singapore I lived there and if it didn’t like heat it wouldn’t have been there.
  36. Australia, Spain, Italy, Louisiana, Florida, etc etc have warmer climates now than we will have in our summer. The sun doesn’t seem to be protecting them.
  37. If true Louisiana wouldn’t be severely impacted. Unfounded bollocks, in my view.
  38. Then the southern hemisphere would be okay. Think that was an early assumption it was like other flu viruses, but doesn’t seem to be the case.
  39. Hotter countries have giant ice cold air conditioned malls and offices which are the breeding grounds right now.
  40. No truth whatsoever. The virus has run rampant in the southern hemisphere where it is summer temperatures.
  41. Not according to Aljazzeer, South America reaching 30 degrees – virus going strong.
  42. I know they have cold regions this time of year, but I’d be more than a wee bit cautious with the rates in Italy, Spain, Iran, India.
  43. Australia has the virus. I wouldn’t believe summer weather would kill it.
  44. According to research by Singapore, the virus lasts varying amounts of time on surfaces depending on the temperature. Lower temps are bad news for us, but as the temperature rises it lives less. i.e. at 30C it still lasts for a 3/4 hours or so, but at 50C less than 30 minutes.
  45. Ebola a virus found in Africa seems to survive pretty well in a hot humid environment. Sunshine theory is nonsense.
  46. Folk have been saying that for ages, mostly because it’s one of Trump’s previous excuses not to do anything about it. Haven’t seen anything to back it up,
  47. Research is being updated all the time. I’m not sure we’ll know everything for weeks or months yet. Obviously it’s best to assume the worst and plan accordingly.
  48. Not certain where I am its 34c so far it has not stopped the virus only way is to stay well away from others and break the transmission.
  49. The virus is very resistant; hugely contagious and mutates readily.
  50. Vitamin-D (mainly derived from sun exposure) boosts your immune system, and having a good immune system is quite key going forward regardless of whether the virus likes heat or not. If we all sit indoors we will be deprived of vitamin D.
  51. I heard that too… then wondered how Spain and Italy are suffering so much – and Antarctica is the only place with no virus – still trying to work this out!!
  52. No. Countries hotter than ours clearly have problems. It probably stems from the observation that we tend to suffer more viral infections such as colds in winter.
  53. I don’t think heat makes a difference the UV rays might, I wonder if there’s any expert advice about this as it’s a good point.
  54. It may well be killed by boiling water. Doubt the “extreme” heat of a Scottish summer will cause it to pause in it’s tracks.
  55. Two facts being conflated to form a 3rd non-fact. 1. Coronaviruses don’t survive direct contact with heat or detergent. Hence hand-washing 2. Health services are always under more strain in winter months so hotter climes make it easier for NHS to cope. 3. Sunbathing won’t kill it.
  56. UV light kills microbes. Not sure the temperate heat would affect it much though as viruses aren’t really alive until they attach to a host cell.
  57. Apparently not a lot of truth in it. Even in hot weather our bodies maintain a fairly constant internal temperature, and that is where it lives.
  58. There are some marginal pointers heat and humidity might be a good deterrent but it’s not proven. I’m in Thailand and death rates low but cases around 100+ per day.
  59. I have heard it said but I don’t know how reliable it is. If it’s true I’m going to get a sun tan bed so I don’t have to wait for the sun nearly all summer.
  60. I’m sure Kenya and the Equitorial countries that have Covid19 would disagree. However the Vitamin D with sunshine does wonders for immunity and respiratory issues so Sunbathe if and when you can!
  61. Dr. John Campbell does a very straightforward report on YouTube each day. Breaks down figures etc. Worth watching!
  62. Prof Jason Leitch said it doesn’t like heat; it CAN survive, but is less able to in 20-22 degree heat, hence fewer flu viruses in summer.
  63. I’ve read that viruses generally hate relative humidity – virus particles pick up moisture, become heavy and fall to earth faster. [Quotes source.]
  64. Check out the hot countries at the bottom of the list .. it’s struggling to get a grip. We need another heatwave, like the one we got in 2018.
  65. Read somewhere the virus doesn’t like temperatures above 26\27c.
  66. Read temperature needs to be 80 degrees!
  67. Heat degrades outer layer of proteins, tis said.
  68. I heard the way to fight it off was alkaline foods.
  69. Nobody knows really.
  70. And finally, the expert: Well, mibbes naw:

Thank you one and all. There were over 100 replies but I think the above selection is a good representation. In a way it’s good to see so much healthy scepticism. Wish you were as well informed of Scotland’s democratic deficit as some are of the life of Covid19.

Balmy days are coming, with temperatures forecast to reach 20C in some regions. The warm weather will bring welcome respite to lock-down Britain – and put pressure on authorities trying to control crowds and gatherings. However, scientists also believe warm weather could bring new insights into the virus by showing whether it reacts to the onset of spring. Flu epidemics tend to die out as winter ends; could sunshine, similarly, affect the behaviour of the coronavirus and its spread? It is a key question, and epidemiologists will be watching for changes very closely.


Posted in General | 3 Comments



Boris Johnson, prime minister of mirth, with a slogan fit for the side of a bus

I cannot think of a worse time in this planet’s history, a pandemic, for so many countries to be landed with a right-wing demagogue as prime minister or president. We have Boris, a man the worth of a pitcher of warm piss. The vision of the fate of Britain, of the world in the hands of so many sociopathic buffoons, narcissistic, self-serving thieves and liars, is deeply depressing. The worst think we will come out of the coronavirus pandemic in weeks, the charlatans clamp down on human rights.

Tories, useless in a crisis

Here we are, weighed down by a Tory party in a world crisis handing taxpayer largesse to major corporations without any conditions attached. If ever there was an opportunity to alter society this is it. We could have demanded worker participation, an end to low wages, all bank accounts to be held in the country of activity even if a foreign owned company, and so on and so forth.

Instead, BoJo, the bad Churchill impersonator, hands millions to two companies who back his party, Dyson and JCB, to supply ventilators to the NHS they have yet to test and manufacture, ignoring offers from companies that already make and sell them. What a coincidence both wanted out of the European Union, and JCB’s boss thought Scotland should remain a subservient region of the UK.

The same sociopaths are exploiting the pandemic to pull back the small advances in environmental protection, even to the point of keeping the worst polluting companies working, coal burners and all. Orange Man Trump and his minions are among the worst criminal offenders but others closer to home might surpass even his lick-spittle cabal.

Worse than a virus

Coronavirus is bad enough, but we are bound to fear there is worse to come. We are racing to an abyss that easily outdoes the forays of the Grim Reaper’s scout.

Taking into account the stupidity of Orange Man tearing up of the Arms Control Treaty, a regime that helped halt or reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons, we have the threat of world war rekindled by idiotic despots and Little Hitlers. Just as great a threat is the continuing destruction of the planet from mankind’s indiscriminate exploitation, poisons and plastics. We can recover from coronavirus, but hardly from the other two catastrophes.

Around the world, authoritarian administrations are in charge of events. In Russia, authorities have turned up the pressure on media outlets and social media users to control the narrative amid the country’s growing coronavirus outbreak. Under the guise of weeding out coronavirus-related “fake news,” law enforcement has cracked down on people sharing opinions on social media, and on media that criticize the government’s response to the outbreak. In Poland, people are worried about a new government smartphone application introduced for people in home quarantine.

In Scotland, cocky SNP politicians demand lock-down on internet cybernats, backed in that censorship by the Scottish press. Scotland has no way of holding checks and balances on Westminster power. Scotland’s elected leaders can only shout how it is terribly unfair, and stamp their feet.

We are completely unprepared for a pandemic. They had us suffer austerity so they could hand our precious medical services to the tyranny of private companies, where even in Scotland our own government is forced to pay £1 million to a private consortium to allow free parking at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary.

Be scared, be very scared

There are too few ventilators to go around. The UK government wants us scared and to stay scared. Media and press echo the warning: our neighbour may be our death.

There isn’t near enough face masks to give everybody peace of mind when shopping. Use your scarf. There are not enough beds to hold the sick and the dying. We do not have enough nurses to help. Stay at home, alone if need be and die alone. A decade of austerity policies has the old and the sick dying alone. 

In Belgrade soldiers patrol the streets with their fingers on machine gun triggers. Serbia’s president warns residents that Belgrade’s graveyards won’t be big enough to bury the dead if people ignore his government’s lock-down orders. There is a 12-hour police-enforced curfew imposed and people over 65 banned from leaving their homes. With a Tory government that has no respect for democracy we stand to follow Belgrade’s example. In the UK Westminster passed an emergency Bill that deprives us of our human rights for a minimum of two years. Why two years? Why not three months, renewable?

BBC propaganda tell us to stay indoors but does not question why billions of our tax money is being shifted to the wealthy, yet again. Overpaid television front men and women say nothing of bank bosses paying themselves huge bonuses a few days before the bank of England issues instructions to stop the practice. They speak no ill of extraordinarily wealthy individuals making millions by selling shares on the stock exchange just before lock down.

The tragedy of 2014

“A state of emergency — wherever it is declared and for whatever reason — must be proportionate to its aim, and only remain in place for as long as absolutely necessary.” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe chief, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir.

Over 300 years of England’s power Scotland has remained resilient to the strictures of the British state. In many ways we are as resilient as Cuba which has survived decades of brutal US sanctions. How much longer can we pretend we are not a colonised country?

The pandemic is a painful illustration of how easily Scotland’s parliament is overruled. Bojo wants to make Britain safer for us. My question is very simple, how much safer can Scotland afford to have him make us?

The perfect dictum of the British state was coined by England’s most patriotic poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson: “ours is not to reason why. Ours but to do or die”.



Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 7 Comments

Car Culture: Man, What a Gas

Your weekly guide to car culture as it affects us, plus some good bits


VED is about to tax you away from the combustion engine

Buying a second-hand car for a friend, sorry, scratch that; a pre-owned car, I was on the point of handing over the money when the dealer asked if I wanted to pay half the year’s ‘road tax’ or a full year. The question caught me by surprise. I’d forgotten the outstanding amount left on a vehicle does not shift to the new owner – another neat trick from the profiteering DVLA. The new owner pays for a full year. I paid up and drove off.

Though we talk of Road Tax it’s called Vehicle Excise Duty – VED, Road Tax abolished decades ago, leaving some to argue it neatly sidesteps complaints that the tax is never used to improve roads. The UK Government spends it on other things, making it as close to theft from a car owner as the DVLA can get away without anybody calling it a scam.

The famous disc on the windscreen was junked soon as everything could be done by computer. How much you’ll pay in the new scheme depends on what kind of car you have, how old it is, and how you want to pay. This article might help make sense of it all.

VED tax

Vehicle Excise Duty, known as VED, is a tax levied by the government on every vehicle on UK public roads, a major source of revenue for the government, totalling billions of pounds each year, which goes into the central coffers of the exchequer. The cost of maintaining the UK’s roads is currently covered by general taxation, not specifically VED.

The VED system based on vehicle emissions was introduced in 2001 as part of a push to reduce pollutants released into the atmosphere. Vehicles emitting pollutants cost more to tax. The incentive is to push us to buy cleaner vehicles. The planet now in dire jeopardy, you’d hardly think we need a reason, but old habits die hard. That’s why governments are necessary – to  protect us and the environment.

After an extended campaign by car owners, in his 2015 budget, then-chancellor George Osborne announced that a new road fund would be set up whereby all funds raised through VED will go into the building and upkeep of the UK’s road system. For some mysterious reason the fund never quite reached Scotland. This new system was implemented by Rishi Sunak in his recent 2020 budget, but scheduled road works are likely to be pushed back as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Changes to system this month, April, mean significant differences for new car buyers.

How VED has changed

The government has up-rated VED in line with the retail prices index (RPI) for cars, vans, motorcycles and motorcycle trade licences, but the biggest change, and the one that will be felt most by motorists and traders, is the switch from using NEDC emissions testing as the basis for the various tax band tiers to the new WLTP system.

The WLTP procedure (world harmonized light-duty vehicles test procedure) is a global, harmonized standard for determining the levels of pollutants, CO2 emissions and fuel consumption of traditional and hybrid cars, as well as the range of fully electric vehicles. This new method is meant to deliver realistic readings for a vehicle’s fuel consumption, emissions output and driving range, and will result in vehicles moving up a band and becoming, on average, £5 more expensive to tax annually. There’s that word again – ‘tax’.

I am still trying to discover what I will pay on my Smart Car and 25 year old RAV4; it’s all rather confusing. I can see the £320 ‘expensive car tax’ for electric cars costing more than £40,000 is to be removed, which means anyone buying a new electric car will save £320 per year for years two to six of ownership – a total saving of £1600.

Diesel cars – once upon a time heavily promoted by transport ministers as the gateway to heaven – that don’t meet the latest emissions standards will be taxed at higher rates than their petrol equivalents, but a new flat rate of £150 for purely combustion-engine cars registered from now on will come into effect. A flat rate of £140 will be applied to hybrids registered after today.

The old system will still apply to vehicles registered before 1 April 2017.


If your vehicle was registered before 1 March 2001, then the engine size in cubic centimetres (cc) is what’s important. Cars with engines equal to, or smaller in capacity than 1549cc (roughly equivalent to 1.5 litres) will pay £145 a year, assuming you pay up front for 12 months. Cars with engines larger than 1549cc will  pay £235 a year. The exact amount due can vary slightly, depending on whether you pay for six months or 12 months, and whether you pay all at once or in instalments. I’m still smarting at the hike I cough up for paying only six months VED at a time – a full £30.


If your car is newer, and was registered between 1 March 2001 and 1 April 2017, then it’s the emissions that you need to think about. (I know, it’s all very confusing.) Petrol and diesel-powered cars are the most commonly taxed vehicles and they’re categorised by bands that are determined by their CO2 emissions. Prices vary slightly depending on how you pay – in one go, or in instalments.

At this point I am going to give up trying to make sense of the new values, other than to say, your VED will increase. If like me you keep a strict document history of your car you will see what the difference is, in the same way you check your insurance premiums. Instead I’ll leave you with the link to discover the increase that applies to your car.

You can see a full breakdown of the charges by going to the DVLA website here.


My Corona

Automobile hacks must be shivering into the mugs of tea. Coronavirus has them without cars to test. A cursory survey of British car magazines sees articles on everything from best buys, to Honda bringing back rotary controls for the heating system in their electric cars. I’m waiting to read an article on ‘your favourite car colour’. By the way, press hacks keep telling us this and that is due to coronavirus. No. It is because of the crisis, or owing to, if you prefer. Perhaps only annoying to me, but if you want to read tortured grammar the best place to find it is in automobile periodicals. One of the best writers in the late Eighties was a rather mannered character called LJK Setright who turned clunky car criticism into fine prose. Then again, he spotted a gap in the market and filled it easily. As for Honda and things for the driver to twiddle, the company thinks heater controls on a computer screen are counter-intuitive, and take your eye off the road, which is true in both cases. Bravo.

MOT Delayed Six Months

Anticipating lock-down for at least three months, and outbreaks here and there for months afterwards, the DVLA has delayed  MOT’s. From the 1st of April – no joke! – drivers who have an MOT due will be granted a six-month extension because of the coronavirus pandemic. An MOT is a test of a vehicle’s safety and road worthiness. You must have if you don’t want your insurance cancelled, or get a police fine. We are given a six-month extension – so, for example, if your vehicle’s MOT was due to expire on Friday 3 April, it will now run out on 3 October 2020. When you do renew it, it will run a full year from that date. However, keep your car in a roadworthy condition. Garages will remain open for those needing repairs.

Personal Bubble

Media pundits are forever telling us we indulge our prejudices communicating in ‘social bubbles’ (their bubble is never a negative space), but, as I said last week in Car Culture, a car is a safe social bubble. My wee Smart car is the safest of all, safe from the Grim Reaper’s scout. The only journeys that encounter others at close quarter is the one trip a week to the supermarket, every two weeks to the nearest petrol station. After using the petrol pump and hitting the bank card keys to pay, I wash my hands King Herod-like in antiseptic gel which I carry in a small squishy bottle on the dash. There is talk of  some petrol stations closing down since so few cars are using them. I hope not. That will cause a run on the pumps still in use, and queues to fill up with the liquid gold.

Happy motoring – if you can get it!

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