On the day that Scottish health worker from Blantyre is praised for her selflessness (she contracted Ebola) pettiness still abounds in the SNBTS.


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I’m absolutely raging at the SNBTS.

I was phoned yesterday and asked to attend a blood donation session in South Queensferry today as I am O negative and it’s in short supply. I said sorry but I was playing golf.

However, upon being informed the session was open till 330 I said I’d try to get back for it. Consequently I literally ran off the course missing lunch (Lundin Links near Leven in Fife) but got caught in a massive diversion after the A915 was shut due to an accident.

I piled my way across Fife (at high speed when possible) and arrived at 3.36.

“Can you squeeze a last one in?”
“Computer says no.”
“There was an accident in Fife and it took me an hour to get here.”
“We have to draw the line somewhere.”
“I was phoned yesterday and asked to attend.”
“We have to draw the line somewhere.”
“I’m O negative.”

“We have to draw the line somewhere.”

Well bugger off and get back to your line drawing pedantry.

I tried folks.

And so, 2014 closes with quiet grace and dignity.


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There have been several books I’ve read in 2014 that led to me aborting part way through.  Not so the last two, the remarkable Goldfinch and now this, The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber.  To read two such magnificent novels, back to back, is a rare thing indeed.

I am, I confess, a diehard fan of Faber’s (I have a signed copy) and will fight his corner in any greatest living writer debates.  He may not be so but he has an ability to subvert genres like no other (well Margaret Atwood perhaps.)

In The Book of Strange New Things (The King James Bible; in Oasan).  Faber takes us on a spiritual journey that is profoundly moving and discombobulating.  Whilst technically it is a sci-fi novel it laughs in the face of sic-fi convention, glossing over at every turn the science that underpins it.

Instead, it seeks to place a love story in a place where the usual distractions of life are removed. (By love I mean both love of one’s life partner and love of God expressed in that great word Agape  “love: esp. brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.” For this book is about Agape and its battle with mortal love.  Which will win and why?)

Essentially the story is about a Christian missionary sent on a mission to a planet called Oasis.  The minister, Peter, has come from the church of hard knocks having met his beloved wife in a Damascan moment in a hospital where he was recovering from a drug-fuelled accident.

Their love is unconditional, until, that is, he leaves her to perform his missionary task for some unexplained organisation called USIC. His job is to take up where his predecessor left off in tending to the alien Oasan flock.  Not a bunch of “heathens” but a part-converted group of Jesus lovers (and named so in order of their conversion i.e. Jesus Lover One, Two and so on).

What has happened to his ‘gone native’ predecessor and why?

Why is it such a painstaking selection process to find Peter (the name so appropriate)?

These are just two of the questions that the plot gradually reveals.  But this book is much less about plot than about understanding the meaning of, well, everything really.

As his mission develops and the love of the Oasans grows for Peter so his love for his wife, Bea on earth, becomes increasingly challenged (agape over mortality) and this somewhat unorthodox paradise becomes more and more contrasted to a world in which civil unrest and Force Majeurs are unfolding like the biblical plagues upon Israel.

Faber has a rare ability to suspend belief (he did so unbelievably well in his debut novel; Under the Skin also) and effortlessly takes you into the highly befuddled mind of the main protagonist – despite the fact the book is written in the third person.

But what seals the deal for me is the back story.

Faber claims this will be his last novel, partly because he feels he has no more writing in him, but possibly more so because he is suffering such terrible grief at the death of his own, unconditionally loved, wife.  He nursed her through her terminal cancer throughout the writing of this novel, restricting himself to only a few sentences of writing a day (but at the express orders of his wife).

The novel was conceived before her diagnosis but the parallels are mind boggling. The great joy in this, however, is that she saw the book’s completion and went to her rest in the knowledge that she was a part of a true literary masterpiece.

No one who has read this book can fail to be moved by this parallel and so our thanks must go as much to Michel Faber as to Eva, to whom, unsurprisingly, it is dedicated.

Seriously folks, this is a must read novel.

PS.  Read about how the cover was conceived (yet another great thing about the book) here.

Why Apple is still one of the world’s greatest companies.


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No one likes technical problems with their kit and in my case when I installed Yosemite onto my iMac it had a pretty devastating effect on my iPhoto libraries, resulting in much duplication and completely trashing my libraries.  My go-to man for tech help was stumped, so I called Apple’s support team.

I got through in under a minute and after stumping Apple’s regular guy I was put through to his superior – an incredible lady called Jennifer Convery who, it turns out, is based in the Newcastle Upon Tyne office.  She’d never come across this problem either, but by a process of elimination we (well, I say we, it was she) were able to crack the problem, completely rebuild my iPhoto library from scratch (nearly 400GB of pictures) and get everything up and running smoothly.

It took the best part of 24 hours and involved four calls (she called me back, not the other way around) but she held my hand throughout the process and the result is that we are back to an iPhoto library that is even better than the one I had before the problem occurred.

Once we’d agreed all was good she said.  “You know what Mark, Apple has caused you a lot of grief over this.  Do you ever use the Apple Store?” to which the answer was, “Occasionally.”

“OK, well as a token of goodwill why don’t you go and choose £70 (or thereabout) of Apple products from the store, email me what you want, and I’ll sort it out for you.”

This was not asked for.

I wasn’t ranting and raving.

It was just a genuine customer service offer that will go a long way to underpin my already excellent opinion of Apple.

Truly outstanding and I hope Jennifer Convery’s boss sees this.

O2.  Are you reading this?

The SNP. Britain’s most succesful political party.


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I’m not a member of the Scottish National Party, and I never have been.

But I was a vociferous supporter of Scottish Independence.  As a result of the campaign I joined Scottish CND to help fund the lobbying of the removal of Trident from Scotland and I completely support removal from the UK resolving the whole austerity issue at a single stroke.  This was a backbone of the SNP manifesto and one I was totally in support of.

(But that’s for another post.)

The effect of the campaign and its impact on party membership interests me.  Far from suffering a backlash the SNP (like Scottish CND) has seen a surge in membership as we gear up for round two.

Published figures show party membership in the UK thus;

Labour                190,000

Conservative     134,000

SNP                     86,000

Lib Dems           44,000

UKIP                  39,000

Green                 20,000

This is remarkable.  Every single major party apart from the SNP(not Greens as Thom points out) is national and yet the SNP sits third in membership and closing in on second.

Now, to put this into perspective, let’s look at this extrapolated to a UK level.

With Scotland having only 8.3% of the UK population this would mean the SNP, were it a UK party, would have 713,800 members – 4 x that of the labour party, 5 x the Tories, 16 x the Lib Dems and a bit more for UKIP.

But get this… if you extrapolate back to Scotland.  i.e. take Labour, Tory etc vote back to the Scottish population this is what you find.

SNP                    86,000

Labour               15,770        SNP 5.4 x bigger

Conservative     11,122        SNP 7.7 x bigger

Lib Dems           3,652         SNP 23.5 x bigger

UKIP                  3,237         SNP 26.6 x bigger

Greens               1,660         SNP 51.8 x bigger

And what’s even more interesting is that these are the published figures.  Unpublished reports suggest SNP has broken 100,000 members in recent weeks.

That makes (again by extrapolation) the SNP 6 x the size of Labour in Scotland.

Now, Labour is probably over-represented in Scotland and the Tories under-represented (but not necessarily in Party membership).

What we are looking at here is therefore a political phenomenon.

I, for one, although not a member, am looking forward, with great enthusiasm, to the SNP massacre of Scottish Labour in May next year. (The Tories and Liberals no longer count here – fringe parties for toffs, bastards, dreamers and the disengaged).

I  fully expect to see the pummelling of the UK establishment in Scotland.  The SNP may even emerge as holding some sort of balance of power in Westminster (a coalition perhaps).

Alex Salmond will finally lay claim to being arguably the greatest UK party leader since Churchill.

But I’m still not joining.

 

 

Songs I liked in 2014


This is my eighth year of publishing my best of the year CD.  I think it’s one of the best yet despite reducing my music purchasing in 2014.  Seems what I did buy were high quality (but you can be the judges of that).

It’s an 18 song set (actually the last track is the best Joke ever told) Of the remaining 17 three were published in 2013 and either escaped my attention or I just forgot to put them on last year’s disc.  Best represented country of origin is probably Scotland with 5 contributions.

There are 8 (indie or Alt) rock songs, 5 Pop, 2 dance and 2 electronic/folk.

It’s a misnomer that I favour female singers.  There are only 3 on this year’s release .  and there were only 4 last year.

If you wanna copy you only have to ask. (And I’d be interested in your comments.)

Happy Christmas.

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How O2 rips off its customers through corrupt practices.


I may or may not have officially cancelled a contract with O2 for one of my kids phones in December 2012.  But I definitely have been paying £32 a month ever since for the privelege of, well, nothing.

Here’s how they dealt with it.

In any other situation this would be regarded as theft.

I hope the team at O2 have nightmares when they read the stonewalling, barriers and sheer appalling nature of their stance is.  Here it is in all its glory.

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This next bit REALLY takes the biscuit….

 

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This was placed with Fraud over a week ago,  It’s like a Kafka novel…

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Interstellar. A review.


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Well, Interstellar has met with a mixed reception from the critics, but not the paying viewers who are currently rating it #13 of all time on IMDB.

I’m with the people.

And I find it hard to understand why the critics have been so lukewarm.

Yes, it’s a movie about the entire human condition and saving the human race (which inevitably brings it into some potentially pretentious territory – it doesn’t escape Scot free in that respect) but Christopher Nolan doesn’t let that get in the way of a good story, carefully handled special effects, some tremendous casting (the young Jessica Chastain as Murphy is just SPECTACULAR and inspired),  great acting (Hathaway and McConaughey really do pull it off – again).

Christopher Nolan seems to be maturing rather well.

I’ve seen most of his films and some tend to overelaborate in the FX department.

Not this.

When he needs a big canvas, like the icy landscape of a potential planet for the human race to inhabit (in a far off galaxy reachable via a galaxian wormhole)  he delivers it in spades.

But it feels beleivable.

I like Sci-fi that has a heart, like The Handmaids Tale, and this sure does, partly because of its big themes – the Earth is about to die because of global warming for a start –  this grounds the movie and it effortlessly cuts between dystopian Earth and not much better alternatives far, far away.

The crop burning and the dust storms that ravage the (earth) screen are biblical in their fury.  The end of the world truly is nigh.  But the alternative seems either worse or sort of non-existent for most of the movie.

What binds it though is the remarkable relationship between McConaughey’s character as the father of  Murphy (Jessica Chastain) and her aforementioned younger self,  played by Mackenzie Foy – the likeness is remarkable.

When Nolan finally goes all Matrix/Inception (as he must) he does it amazingly, in a way that makes the whole movie; theory of relativity, gravity and time continuums, and all come together like a slo-mo implosion.  It’s awesome (sorry for using that word, but it’s appropriate).

Now: a postscript.

This is a peaen to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

We have many nods in deference to the almighty Kubrick in this movie.  Not one of them any more than a doffing of the cap to one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived and I, for one, respect Nolan for that.

This is surely Nolan’s greatest movie and at 2hrs 47 mins it felt like a short.

Bravo.

(A final word.  Hans Zimmer rocks in this movie.  An outstanding soundtrack that will surely pick up yet another Oscar.)