Sunday, 30 November 2008

Weekend

Friday was a holiday at the Scottish Parliament, and Girlfriend was off too, so we have had an enjoyable albeit busy weekend.

A chance conversation on Friday morning with a council colleague led us to the Christmas Market at Hopetoun House, near South Queensferry. Have to say it was pretty good, and there was a fair few people there, though interestingly, not many people buying.

There was quite a selection of stalls, though some of it was prohibitively expensive, and quite a lot of it just wasn't the kind of thing I'd buy anyway.

I did buy a few things though, such as a selection of Italian leather bound notebooks or 'journals' as stocking fillers, and (not for Christmas presents) some honey and jam, and this reindeer skin:


It's currently on my livig room floor, but will later be added to a 12th century costume before the re-enactment event in Arbroath in July.

Following the excellent advice of fellow blogger 1st Lady, we went to Castle Campbell on Saturday and we were pleasantly surprised that it was free for the St Andrews Day weekend.

I wish I'd taken the camera, as the scenery was breathtaking. There were also repairs being carried out to the castle, and the irony of Castle Campbell repaired by a firm of MacDonalds wasn't lost on us.

We followed some of the trails for a couple of hours and then went into a great wee cafe in Dollar for lunch.

As this is my first Christmas in the new place, we went to B&Q and got a bargain on Christmas decorations, as well as looking at greenhouses for Girlfriend's present.

Busy weekend, but a good one. I'll away and do the housework now before the cleaner comes tomorrow........

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Scottish Government Housing Con

Among other things, I take an extremely keen interest in social and affordable housing. So much so in fact that girlfriend thinks I'm a secret Trot, but I suspect she is simply assuaging her guilt for going out with a Tory.

Anyhoo, I digress. Today, the Scottish Government announced the second tranche of their £100m investment into affordable housing.

Good news I hear you cry, and even someone as cynical as me would get excited at this, despite the fact that so far, Angus isn't getting any of it.

The £100m has been announced by John Swinney et al, more often than Micheal Jackson has been in court, so lets look a little closer at it.

The £100m is not new money as many seem to think, and to be fair the SNP have sometimes, though not always, stated that this is accelerated spending from the year three budget.

But, (and there has to be at least one doesn't there?) a closer look at the detail reveals that only £60m is coming from the Scottish Government, the other £40m is coming from Local Authorities. What this means, is that all the councils in Scotland are expected to chip in £40m into John Swinney's central pot so that the SNP can continue to be seen to be acting with open handed benevolence to the masses.

Worse still, if, for example we found £1m to help out the SNP, we actually have absolutely no say in where the money will be spent. Despite an assurance that we will get the money back in some way. The big cop out from the SNP would be to simply to allow us to borrow more cash in 'prudential borrowing'. I'm not suggesting they will do that, but it's certainly possible. And if we are spending year three's money this year, where will the cash come from in year three for housing? The 'jam today' scenario is fine just now, but what about later?

Apart from the fact our finances were already tight, the council of which I'm part is facing an energy price rise of £2m, on top of what we might have expected to pay a while ago. Fuel costs are hitting us hard too (a bin lorry only does seven miles to the gallon, so you can see where I'm coming frome here). We are having free school meals foisted on us, which may have been agreed in the much talked about 'historic concordat' but this was not to be done for some time yet, and financing this could well be a major problem.

Worse still, the Scottish Government is drip feeding the announcements of who is getting the cash, and today was only the second tranche which brings the total up to £18m. Great from a PR perspective, not good for those involved in providing homes.

The organisation 'Homes for Scotland' is rightly calling for the SNP to announce where the rest of the money is to be spent before Christmas, so that developers know where they stand as they approach the end of the financial year.

The Scottish Government are also allowing local authorities to purchase 'off the shelf developments'. In reality, what this means is that we will no doubt be offered blocks of flats that were built for people seeking to enter the 'buy to let' market, and are now lying empty and unsold.

Given the fact that most local authorities already have lots of flats, then these kind of developments are a very low priority for us. Add to this, the fact that these developments invariably mean that the number of properties on them is disproportionally high to the size of the plots they are built on.

Thus, we may well be making exactly the same mistakes as we did decades ago when the solution to housing shortages were........lots of flats. That experiment failed in a grand style, so should we really revisit it?

Housing after all, is not just about the number of units that can be provided, it is also about building a mix of the kind of houses we need, in the places they are needed, it's just as important that we seek to build safe, sustainable communities that people can take pride living in. I'm really not convinced that under the SNP's plan that this will actually happen.

Perhaps a more sensible, albeit longer term solution, would be for the Scottish Govt to take advantage of low land prices and start investing in a land bank which would help social landlords and hard pressed local authorities to provide local solutions to local pressures.

Perhaps one reason that may explain what, on the surface appears to be a fairly joined up approach, but with some analysis, and indeed some knowledge of housing, is actually a disjointed and short term solution, could be lie in a source of mine within the Scottish Government who tells me that "Ministers are under intense pressure to do something, anything, that makes it look as though they are taking action". Actually that sounds about right, and it's something I will revisit when I come back from a weekends walking.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, 24 November 2008

E-Mail

Sometimes Spellcheck isn't all it's cracked up to be.

This morning, Hugh Henry MSP's member of staff circulated the e-mail below asking people to support a motion on oil prices.

He also also apologises for the 'incontinence'. Old age doesn't come alone right enough.


Can those who have signed up please do so again.
Sorry for the incontinence.
Paul

S3M - 02711 - That the Parliament calls on the oil companies to pass on to consumers immediately decreases in the price of oil; notes how quickly increases in prices are passed on to consumers as the world price of oil goes up, and believes that consumers should benefit as soon as possible as a result of the drop in price of oil.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Unusual Gifts

A friend came round with a couple of unusual gifts today. He brought me this Roman helmet:



And a replica Confederate American Civil War sabre.



The sabre looks quite plain, but the blade is beautifully engraved for almost two thirds of its length. It's bloody sharp too as I discovered.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Caravaggio's Works in Edinburgh



Two works by Caravaggio, one of them thought for decades to be a copy have gone on display at the Queens Gallery at Holyrood Palace.

They are part of an exhibition of 31 paintings and 43 drawings entitled the Art of Italy.

The Baroque is my favourite era of Art History, and Caravaggio is by far my favourite artist. When I started (though didn't finish because I couldn't afford it at the time) a PHD in Art History, it was on the work of Caravaggio and His Followers. Caravaggio really revolutionised the art world and broke all the artistic conventions of the time.

It's not just his work that fascinates me, his turbulent and fairly short life is well worth looking at too.

His works have an uncanny sense of movement in them, but possibly the best aspect is the almost three dimensional effect he manages to achieve.

My favourite example of this is the Head of Medusa painted on a parade shield.



It's in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. As you turn a corner in the gallery, it sits almost by itself and you first see it from a distance. As you get closer, it seems as though though the head is projected out from the shield itself. It truly is a masterpiece given that it is painted on a convex surface, which is perhaps why photo's never do it justice.

The talent of these old Masters perhaps throws into sharp focus the utter s**te that gets punted into galleries today and sold for ludicrous sums of money. Japanese investors got their fingers really burned a few years ago when they paid vast sums for European 'modern art' that they were assured would rise in value, only to find that the pieces they bought plummeted shortly afterwards.

Of course you could argue that modern artists are, in their turn, breaking conventions and challenging our perceptions, just as Caravaggio and other Baroque artists did. On the other hand, you could equally argue that they are turning out meaningless crap made from household rubbish, or worse still, simply moving the contents of their bedroom into a gallery and passing it off as some kind of artistic statement or comment on modern life as Emin did.



Anyway, I digress. I'll no doubt go and see this exhibition half a dozen times before it ends in March, and if you're in the area, I'd recommend it as well worth a visit.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Forth Road Bridge



In February, I was badly delayed heading up to Arbroath by an overturned lorry on the Forth Road Bridge. I blogged about it here.

Today's Evening News reports that lorry drivers who cross the Forth Road Bridge in high winds that could cause an accident are to receive a dreadful punishment.

What could it be you ask? A substantial fine that reflects the chaos that is caused when they overturn because they ignored the warning signs not to? Imprisonment maybe? Community service perhaps?

Nope. The punishment for driving a high sided vehicle across the Forth Road Bridge when the warning signs state not to do so is...........to be named and shamed!

Thats right, break the rules and they will send CCTV footage of you to the local media. Well, I don't know about you, but that's certainly put me off!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Tube

Some people really are stupid. Below is an excerpt from a Crown Office press release about a chap who put video footage of himself waving a sword in a public place, on his Bebo page.

Strangely, this footage provided ample proof of the crime:

An Ayrshire man who was seen posing with a sword on BEBO, the social networking internet site, pled guilty today at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court to possession of a sword in a public place.

19 year old Charles Bowman was convicted of a contravention of Section 49(1) of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 between 1 January 2006 and 14 July 2008. The offence came to light after the accused was seen posing on BEBO.

Bowman's case was reported to the Procurator Fiscal in Kilmarnock as part of Operation Access, the unique and ongoing campaign against violence launched in July 2008. This involves Strathclyde Police trawling the internet in a move to uncover criminal activity, supporting the drive to reduce crime and disorder across the region. Intelligence gathered in this way is then passed to the Violence Reduction Taskforce who work closely with local community police officers to identify those pictured online.

"This case demonstrates the benefits of using creative investigative techniques to gather evidence of crimes of violence and anti social behaviour. It sends a clear message that those responsible for such crimes cannot escape justice.

Anthony Bowman was fined £200.

Arbroath Abbey Photo

Boss' Wife took this great photo of Arbroath Abbey with a rainbow in the background.

I really like it.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Remembrance Sunday


In Flanders Fields
John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

Driving through Edinburgh this week I was waiting for the lights to change and a considerable gaggle of children on their way to school crossed the road. I was surprised that only one of them was wearing a poppy.

When I was at school, even primary school, someone came round with a collection box and poppies. We all wore them and had been made aware of their importance.

Walking down the High Street today, I was again surprised at how few adults were wearing them. Mostly older folk.

In many ways, as the First and Second World Wars slip a little further into history each year, and bearing in mind society changes, the relevance of Remembrance Sunday might not seem as great to each new generation.

And yet the money raised from poppy day helps those more recent casualties of the conflicts that we have been involved in post 1945 too.

Whatever anyone thinks about the rights or wrongs of any of these conflicts, the men and women that make up the Squadrons, Regiments, Battalions etc are people from our own communities.

Would it really hurt to sacrifice a few coins or notes to help and honour those who have sacrificed so much more?

Please buy a poppy and wear it with pride.

Glenrothes/Cybernats

I couldn't give a better analysis of the election result than Brian Taylor has done.

The subsequent rants of the Cybernats however has taken even me by surprise. Scottish Unionist has some choice examples here. Though you can find many more easily enough.

I appreciate that many recent converts to the Nationalist cause have considerably more balanced views and abhorr the kind of language used by these clowns on newspaper sites, but personally, I think there are more of these visceral type nats on the go than many would feel comfortable admitting. And they are not just the ones whose sole knowledge of Scottish history comes from repeated viewings of Braveheart either. Take the First Minister's former employee Osama Saeed, whose organisation recently benefitted from a substantial cash injection for an 'Islamfest'. In a comment on his blog, Mr Saeed tells us that "Holyrood is full of traitors".

A statement that is honestly quite alarming from someone who has, or had, a close connection to the First Minister of Scotland.

In my own home area, a rather sinister poster campaign has surfaced which has been described as "racist" and "xenophobic" by locals.

Little wonder there is concern among many about the kind of 'free' Scotland we would be living in if Salmond and the SNP get their way.