Monday, 20 December 2010

T'was Christmas Eve in the Workhouse

It was Christmas Eve in the workhouse and the orphans climbed over each other to seek festive warmth from the extra lump - I should really say shard – on the mouldering fire. Around the walls was such spirit raising mottoes as: ‘Work will set you free’ or ‘We are the settled will of the orphans’ and ‘You can ask as much as you want but you’ll never be free’.

The walls were grey; blank with no windows to ensure those inside could not see what was going on in the real world. At the far end there was a large cauldron emitting a disgusting stench of corruption that the orphans knew was their Christmas Dinner – ‘Glasgow Labour Gruel’ was the orphans name for it. Even humble pie was too good for such as these.

Amongst the orphans there was a growing resentment as down the rough wood stairs the smell of Christmas dinner, with all the trimmings, drifted from the kitchen which supplied the workhouse’s rulers. The orphans knew much of this food would be wasted and thrown out to give the local dogs and Bank Street urchins’ better fare than they would ever be allowed.

Day by day they saw the fruits of their labour disappear up the stairs to be sold to others for massive profit but little benefit to them. The slogans around the walls were as shallow as the patronising head patting from the board of directors when they made their four yearly inspections telling the orphans how lucky they were to have a roof over their heads or spouting how they always have the orphans’ best interests at heart.

This Christmas there was a growing anger amongst the orphans. Word had come down that the roof was not safe over their heads as it appeared the Board of Directors had mortgaged the workhouse three or four times over to fund some Ponzi money making scam which had back fired and now the creditors were seeking repayment of the debts. The creditors were only interested in their money and protecting their own behinds. So if a whole shed full of orphans ended up on the street they were not to blame, it was the board of directors fault and they were duty bound to bail the mortgage lenders out. These money men suspended any concept of causality, responsibility or honesty when it was their own butts on the line. The old board had been replaced by concerned citizens but nothing had actually changed.

A small group of orphans discussed these matters and could not understand why, yet again, they would be forced into further poverty because of the stupidity of the directors. They knew that there was a good profit margin on the picked hemp and caulking that was sold on to the outside world so why not take over and use the profit to improve conditions in the workhouse rather than the pockets of the board of directors?

At first the majority of orphans were set against this idea and came up with excuses such as the orphans were too poor, too wee and too stupid to run the workhouse and they were certain the board of directors did act in their best interests. Yet as the dribble of information came down the stairs to them, more and more orphans became aware of the rank hypocrisy, indolence and criminality of the board. It was clear from snippets relayed by orphans who worked up stairs that the board members stuck most of the profit and donations meant for the orphans in their back pocket to fund their superannuated lifestyles and pay off the local media to keep silent about their misdemeanours.

The time was coming that any further inaction would lead to the orphans’ homelessness at the hands of the corrupt and bankrupt banks and mortgage holders; time to take action.

The leaders of this nascent attempt to seek control over the Workhouse’s finances drew straws to see who would trigger the attempted coupe. Wee Shuggie drew the short straw and the final tinkering with the agreed statement was undertaken.

The new Workhouse Board Secretary, Mr Moore, sensed something was not right as he descended into the workshop to give his first annual pep talk to the orphans. He could not put his finger on it; the orphans, for want of a better expression, seemed to have got a spine from some where. He carried out what he saw as his duty on behalf of the board serving the disgusting gruel to the orphans – it was, after all, Christmas.

He was about to launch into his post festive meal homily on how much better it was for the orphans to stay within the workhouse when, from the corner of his eye, he saw some movement. The scraping of one of the crudely made benches reached his ear and a small, skinny orphan with filthy face and hands, bogies dripping from his nose got up and came towards him. Mr Calman, the beadle, made to stop the orphan and beat him back into place but Secretary Moore signalled to let this orphan approach.

‘Well young man’ said Secretary Moore with false bonhomie, ‘What do you wish to ask me on this fine, festive day of our Lord.’

Shuggie wiped the snotters from his nose with a paper thin canvas sleeve and said;

‘See you pal, your headin’ fur a doin.’ So ye’s are. We’re aw fed up wi’ this jouket gruel and yer pauchlin aw the profits o’ oor herd work fir nae return. We ken yer bankrupt so we wid like tae mak a’ offer to take ooer the workhoose an’ run it oorsel’s. After aw, I doubt we can mak any wurse o’ a pig’s ear o’ it than you and at least it will be oor pig’s ear.’

‘Mr Calman, beat this scum to within an inch of his life!’

Monday, 13 December 2010

We've Sold our Cow ...

The new curling rink at Dumfries Ice Bowl is just the bee’s knees, thank you for asking; we won 8-2 on Thursday night- but the opposition from Lanark did not make the trip to Lockerbie on Friday (boo!). I see we are all still all alive, have not given up the ghost of hope, not had a national ‘George Town moment’.  So I guess there is still hope and we are not doomed to Fudd-dom for another 300 years.

Fudd-dom: now there’s a word (well it is now I made it up).  Close in sound to freedom... but, oh, so different.  It is the antithesis of the wishes of the Scottish people for full fiscal autonomy.  Akin to ‘Calman’, a word that describes an unpleasant form of servitude and colonialism that the English Empire excels in; of which Scotland, according to Carol Craig in ‘Scotland - a Crisis of Confidence’, clearly, is still a colony.

English Empire?

Well, yes. If you look carefully at the original Union Treaty you will read, in one of the clauses, that the parliamentary union gave Scots commercial access to the English Empire but not any form of ‘co-ownership’ or ‘sovereignty’ over the Empire or its colonies. Since the word Britain is derived from the name of the Roman province of England, calling it the British Empire was accurate. In the 1820’s, when Walter Scott created his ‘Jockanese’ parade for George IV, it was realised that there had to be the idea of co-ownership of the English Empire, so us Scots suddenly became ‘North Britons’ - but legally Scotland still did not have, and never has had any sovereign rights over the English Empire...all smoke and mirrors. The Industrial Revolution, English Empire expansion, growing use of coal, iron ore, educated manpower and Scottish innovation meant Scotland was needed to make ‘Empire’ happen. Fast forward 300 years, and nothing much has really changed; our biggest export remains our brightest & best - and the taxes, profit , and most of the benefit from our resources still heads south.

However  ....“You take all that is best from Scotland and you only give us Fudd-dom!”... does not quite have that inspiring ‘Braveheart’ ring to it.

Rab, over at the CallyMerc, brought us the brilliant, descriptive synonym for Iain Gray (the pseudo First Minister in waiting) - ‘Elmer Fudd’ - the cartoon character who’s only thought is to shoot, ‘Dat pesky wabbit!’,  Who clearly - in every Warner Brother Cartoon – fails miserably - as week by week, ‘Dat pesky wabbit’ runs rings around him. Remember - you Baby Boomers – December Saturday mornings?  No school footy because the ground was too hard... so Granny gave you sixpence to go to the Kiddies matinee at the ‘Dommie’ – included in the price was a bag of peanuts, a wee bottle of Leitch’s skoosh (ginger beer for preference but cream soda would do) - and two and a half hours of Pathe News, Bugs Bunny and, on good days, a John Wayne movie. Grannies “stupid” ???  For sixpence you were out of her hair for at least four hours – longer if she had given you a shilling (5p - for the younger readers)!  The antithesis of ‘Fudd-dom’ I think you will concur - or is it? Grannies  are positively Machiavellian.....

So Scotland has its ‘Fudd-dom’; and we understand exactly what that means. Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to go it alone outside of the ‘English Empire’ (aka Westminster rule) and yet the polls commissioned by the ‘Unionist media’ are indicating that Scots increasingly want more than ‘Fudd-dom’. The majority want Scotland to pay its own way and if it takes independence to make this happen, more folk seem to be thinking, ‘That is what it will have to be’.

The ‘Scottish Viceroy in Whitehall’ tells us that Fudd-dom is ‘the settled will of the Scottish people’ accusation spouted as truth... is repeated loudly and often  (by his camp followers in Holyrood and the Scottish media)  in hopes that repetition will get us Scots to agree to continue on in this form of colonial servitude. The cracks in this Unionist edifice are clear and growing, Scots want freedom and not ‘Fudd-dom’ which brings me, nicely, back to the title of this piece;  and the ditty we could -nay should - sing to the Viceroy, Elmer and their ‘hingers oan’(imagine a barbershop quartet):

‘We’ve sold our cow,

We’ve sold our cow,

We have no need

For your bull now,

For yoooor bull now!’

Hacked Off

Having been stuck in the house for ever by the snow - it seems, unable to golf and forced to do the list of jobs around the house my wife has wanted me to attend to for months (and I have successfully avoided) it was with a sense of relief that I took a phone call this ‘a.m.’ asking me if I wanted to go curling tomorrow night. 

Yes, I said with a gladdening heart and a sudden surge of excitement.  I know curling, a fairly sedentary sport with brushes and big lumps of granite, is not something most folk would get a lift to their heart rate from but it is the sense of freedom that tomorrow night now offers that is exciting. Even better I am now also playing on Friday in a competition at Lockerbie – it never rains but it pours (to keep with the weather metaphor).
Last year us curlers were looking forward to a once in a life time event – the Grand Bonspeil on the Lake of Monteith – working how we could get there from the SW (train to Stirling seemed the best option and hire a local minibus) when those agents of doom and gloom, the Health and Safety spokesmen, persuaded the local police that it would be ‘too dangerous’ to actually allow folk to enjoy themselves for a change, do something truly historic -prove the Health and Safety wonks for the bunch of asinine Grannies many are – and a truly definitive event for this generation of curlers. The risk assessments said that people would slip on the ice, some might get hurt and that would never do in this blame ‘a’body but me’ world. Now here’s something; folk ‘slip’ on the ice every time they send a stone down, it is part of the skill of delivering the stone from the hack, and that is why we need ice to be ‘slippy’. We also need the ice to be ‘slippy’ or the ruddy great lump of granite we have sent on its way will just grind to a halt, in fact we use our brushes to make the ice even ‘slippier’ to control the pace, handle and swing on the stone. ‘Slippiness’, that dangerous Health and Safety risk, is exactly what we curlers want and seek from ice yet that very freedom was denied us on the Lake of Monteith by those who claim to know: ‘What is best for us!’.

The problem with ‘assessing risk’ is most folk do not understand it is just like betting on the horses, dogs, cockroaches or what ever your vice to throw hard earned cash at, is. If the odds are 1000 to 1 against it does not mean that after 999 times it will happen but that statistical evidence says the risk is 0.001% that the adverse event will happen. As an ex-medical person (I got all better) I used to have to deal with patients who had read that the chance of them getting say the ‘runs’ from a public toilet seat was 100,000 to 1 (a risk of 0.00001%) and the ‘Daily Retard’ said this was appalling, the SNP were to blame and could I give them antibiotics because they had used the local car park loo that day. Now the risk of antibiotics giving you the runs, just because they antibiotics, are around 10% - the punters amongst you will realise that this is an odds on bet you will get the runs – so you can understand why I would tell this patient to take a hike, a very expensive private prescription common sense pill and get a life.

You see ‘freedom’ is a very risky business, things will go wrong, folk will get hurt and it will not turn out as you dreamed it should and that is a dead cert, large odds on, bet but the alternative is the bland, boring ‘its everyone else’s fault but me’ world that was highlighted in the stupid ‘stooshy’ about the ‘Snow that was not supposed to fall on the Central Belt but did’ affair.

Bland and boring is where Scotland, as a nation, currently is. We run in fear of the ‘Health and Safety spokesmen’ at Westminster, in our media and the quislings that inhabit the shells of the Scottish Unionist parties (surely an oxymoron) at Holyrood. We run scared of taking our lives back under our own control. We exert a lot of effort touching our fore lock to Westminster in case they stop our pocket money. We know of rank corruption amongst our political ‘elites’ but shrug our shoulders, mutter ‘Whit can we dae, it aw ways been like it. Ye’ll na shift them. It’s who ye ken, na whit ye knaw.’ and turn ourselves more and more into ‘Elmer Fudd’ clones every day. 

If the thought of a nation of 6.8 million ‘Elmer Fudds’ does not scare the pants off you and you still do not want something better for Scotland then there is no hope, the Health and Safety wonks have won and like the people on the planet ‘Miranda’ (in the Sci-Fi movie ‘Serenity’) we may as well just lay down and die - but not until after Friday’s curling match, pretty please?

Ke Garne

Ke Garne ?  

(What to do? – as my Nepali friends would say)

Sitting here in SW Scotland, dogs around my feet, Aga keeping me warm it crossed my mind that we Scots are in the same position as my Nepali friends. We both have a form of elected government, we both expect our Government to act in the best interests of the people but actually find that the will of the people is the last thing our Governments want to listen to.

Currently there have been 15 elections in the Nepali Parliament to decide who will be ‘acting’ Prime Minister since the previous one stood down in May 2009 and still the four main parties can not get a resolution. The people are asking for a new general election but the elected members claim this can not be done until the new constitution is agreed (so far there has been 4 years of haggling and still nothing has been agreed – except getting rid of their King).  The country’s already tenuous infrastructure is nearing collapse with power outages for up to six hours most nights, fresh water provision in the major towns is failing, water tanker deliveries are only provided for those who have US Dollars or Euros, raw sewage is being pumped into the Bagmati River and the dead are piling up in the corridors of State run hospitals as their families often can not afford the cost of a ‘ghat’ to cremate them on while corruption and expense scams are standard practice amongst the Nepali politicians and their civil servants.

Want to build a new house in a supposed ‘area restricted for paddies and agriculture’ 1 Lak rupee (10,000 Nepali rupee - approximately £7,500 at current exchange rates) will see not only a Nelsonian blind eye to your build but all the certificates needed for water abstraction, sewage disposal and electric provision. The civil servant, his family and the local politicians will expect to be royally entertained at both the puja to bless the build and on its completion.

What has this to do with Scotland and how can I argue that we are in the same boat as my Nepali friends?
Well: we have a parliament in which at least two parties are more interested in point scoring and doing their London masters bidding than supporting policies that are in Scotland’s best interests. In Nepal’s case at least two of the sides are under Indian influence which requires frequent trips to Delhi for ‘hospital’ appointments. If they do not turn up when India calls Nepal’s fuel supplies get held at the Indian border until such times as India deems to let them clear customs. The fact that around 40% of the fuel then goes straight back over the border into India for black market sale is a matter of some conjecture. As to who is profiting? Given it is Nepal, every one from the Nepali politicians - in the arms length Nepali Oil Company - down to the tanker drivers will be: you can be sure of that. What ever India wanted will then be ‘fixed’ and politicians that were totally against it will suddenly vote for ,in exchange for 1000 rupees or so in ‘expenses’.

Kathmandu City Council’s dealings with ‘favoured contractors’ and local gang bosses  compares closely with the Tammany Hall like antics of Glasgow City Council and in some areas, Glasgow still has a bit of catching up to do. It would be unfair to compare Strathclyde’s finest with their Kathmandu equivalents (Illegal car parking, 100 rupees fixed penalty but for you, sir, 50 rupees and we’ll forget the paper work -  as they then walk away, cash in hand, with their portable ‘No Parking’ sign) but both forces do seem to get into deep trouble if they start investigating the ‘wrong’ people and prosecutors who try to force the issue in Kathmandu suddenly appear in Jiri or Chitawan, no longer in Government service.

As for packing civil service posts with pals, political creditors, political skeleton finders and families the Nepalis have this down to such a fine art that I am surprised the previous incarnation of the SPT did not have a fact finding mission to Kathmandu. Well they do/ did have trolley buses in Kathmandu until some enterprising crook nicked a few miles of copper wire, one night, during yet another power outage. You know how it is, once a couple of miles of wire went missing it seemed a shame to leave the rest – ‘Nice copper cooking pot, sahib? Hand beaten.’

The most important link between the two nations is the people. We have a lot in common with my Nepali friends; we are both innovative in the use of our available resources, put high standing in having a good education, are very hospitable, love social events and are community orientated. We tend to express our frustration with politicians in a cynical and humorous way which rarely descends into self pity and there is a gritty certainty that eventually the people will get their way. Maybe that is why I love Nepal for all its frustrations, open corruption and petty restrictions.

So what else can we learn from my Nepali friends?

How about – ‘Hoi Nah’ - which depending on the arm shrug, head nod and intonation can mean anything from ‘You must be joking? /What a stupid idea!’ to ‘Over my dead body!’ and all stops in between.

I’ll just try it out:  “Cameron, Calman Minus – HOI NAH!”

There, I feel better already; thank you Nepal.