Riddle of the week Immediately after the murder of the Nairn banker Alistair Wilson 13 years ago this week, the press reported an 'overwhelming curiosity' in the town about the contents of an envelope that the killer handed Mr Wilson. The basic facts have never been in dispute: Mr Wilson had a conversation with the mysterious visitor on the doorstep, took the envelope upstairs to the room where his wife was putting the children to bed, and then returned to the front door, where the caller – a stocky man wearing a baseball cap – promptly shot him. But although the existence of the envelope was known at the time, the police were inexplicably reticent about it. They hinted only that it was 'blue or green' and A4 in size. This led to intense speculation in Nairn that the envelope may have contained a blackmail note, or correspondence about a bank loan, perhaps involving some disaffected customer of Mr Wilson's. We now learn that it was blue, not green; that it was not A4 but the size of a greeting card; that it was addressed to someone called Paul; and, most astonishingly, that there was nothing in it. The envelope has never been recovered, but the police have produced a likeness. Why has it taken so long to reveal the details of a potentially vital piece of evidence? Would it not have assisted the police's inquiries if they had published the likeness not in November 2017 but in November 2004, when the trail was still relatively hot? It might have jogged the memory of a stationer or, for that matter, a Paul. It's a bit late now.
Crass caption of the week (under a family photograph) 'Veronica Wilson said her husband's death had gotten more difficult for their sons the older they got' (BBC Scotland). There were three main problems with this: (1) Mrs Wilson didn't use these words; (2) The word 'gotten' in North American Engllsh implies the acquisition of something ('He'd gotten tickets for the show'); (3) the horrible word 'gotten' should not be used in any circumstances.
Legacy of the week There has been no difference in the number of Scots taking part in sport or exercise despite the Scottish government's annual spend of £500m on physical jerks and the predicted 'legacy' of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, reports our political correspondent Kitty Brewster. What is 'sports minister' Aileen Campbell to do? Why, squander another £500m on physical jerks, of course. But her missionary work is never done: it is the same Aileen Campbell, moonlighting as health minister, who will soon be controlling what we eat in restaurants. 'You can forget a double helping of couch potatoes,' remarked Ms Brewster acidly.
Citizen of the week The St Andrews Citizen, a jewel of the Johnston Press, having featured an inspirational story about an altar boy, has just alluded to a performance of 'Messiah' by the famous composer Handal. Media correspondent Mary Culter, always keen to defend what is left of the free press, reflected that it could have been worse: George Frideric might have been immortalised in St Andrews as the famous composer Handle.
Humble person of the week We have noted in the past that when celebrities are honoured, they are rarely content with being dead chuffed. They must be 'humbled' too. Following in this tradition, the singer-songwriter Annie Lennox declared that she was 'humbled' to be named chancellor of 'that great institution' Glasgow Caledonian University. More humble folk will follow as the season of gongs reaches a tear-stained climax worthy of Uriah himself.
Concerned mother of the week Sarah Hall of North Tyneside, who has called for Sleeping Beauty to be removed from the primary school curriculum because the story implies that it is acceptable to kiss a woman while she is asleep. Kitty Brewster argued that Snow White, who fell into a death-like slumber and could only be woken by a kiss from a prince, was equally suspect on the grounds of the prince's inappropriate behaviour.
Worrying ministerial statement of the week Justice secretary Michael Matheson assured the Scottish parliament that Police Scotland was 'operating normally.'
Bumf of the week Mary Culter has received her customary invitation from Holyrood Policy to a forthcoming event, 'Literacy in Scotland: Improving Results and Closing the Attainment Gap.' It begins: Improved literacy is one of the foundational pillars of the Scottish Government's Attainment Challenge, aimed at reducing the socio-economic attainment gap. It continues: The event will examine the diverse points at which literacy can be nurtured and embedded within a pupil's world. It concludes: The ability to read and write is a right that no child or young person in Scotland should be denied; let's keep it from impacting their life chances. Who (asks Ms Culter) could resist a conference on literacy organised by people with such an impressive grasp of English usage?
The Sunday papers (1) Scotland on Sunday devoted the whole of its front page to (a) the result of an opinion poll?; (b) the result of an award-winning investigation into the chaos at Police Scotland?; (c) the result of a rugby match? Answer at the foot of the page.
The foot of the page The correct answer is (c). Scotland on Sunday really did devote the whole of its front page to the result of a rugby match.
The Sunday papers (2) Meanwhile, over at the Sunday Herald, the big news was dramatically headed ROTTEN BOROUGHS and concerned alleged sexual impropriety in Scottish local authorities. Our constitutional expert, Sheriff Muir, pointed out that rotten boroughs were an English phenomenon. Prior to the Reform Act of 1832, as a result of corrupt patronage, very small populations were represented in parliament. Sheriff Muir reminded us that the 32 voters of Dunwich, Suffolk, had two members in the House of Commons even after that coastal village had more or less collapsed into the sea. In Scotland, however, boroughs were known as burghs, until they were formally abolished in 1972 – facts that had somehow slipped the notice of the ever-vigilant Sunday Sturgeon.
Special relationships of the week
1. The engagement was announced of the fifth in line to the throne and Rachel Markle, whose Wikipedia entry describes her as an 'American actress, model and humanitarian.' Sheriff Muir wondered if humanitarian was something you were, rather than something you did.
2. The new best friend of Britain's far right, President Donald Trump, intended to send a message to Britain's prime minister telling her that their relationship was over, but sent it to Theresa Scrivener instead.
Sheep of the week The exciting news that cloned Dolly didn't have arthritis after all has been widely – and uncritically – reported. It is a significant finding, for the discovery from X-rays in the autumn of 2001 that Dolly had developed premature arthritis (after the poor thing had started to walk stiffly at the age of only five) discouraged the idea – inspirational or nightmarish depending on your point of view – that it might be possible to clone humans without the risk of intrinsic health problems. Last year, scientists from Nottingham University looked at four sheep cloned from the mammary-gland cell line that produced Dolly; they then examined Dolly's skeleton and found – well, what exactly? Not that Dolly was entirely free of arthritis. Only that the extent of it was similar to the condition they had detected in the four sheep examined earlier. The true story, in all its media-unfriendly greyness, is that Dolly did have arthritis, but a mild form of it. Not quite the same thing as 'Dolly didn't have arthritis' – but enough to revive the flagging case for human cloning.
Travel news (1) Our bureau chief at the Queen Nicola Crossing, Kirk Oswald, reported late last night that 'the greatest bridge in the world' (as Queen Nicola herself aptly described it) had now closed to prevent it falling down – no doubt young Kirk was exaggerating slightly – and that, since it was virtual gridlock on the old bridge, he might be away some time. The continuing ordeal of our correspondent was noted with the usual concern.
An apology We wish to apologise unreservedly for our suggestion, at a time of national jubilation over the opening of the greatest bridge in the world, that it was 'only a bridge, get over it.' We could not have anticipated that, so soon after its blessing by the moderator and the Scots makar, it would not be possible to get over it.
Travel news (2) Sheriff Muir, a veteran of the No 4 over the Fenwick Moor, announced cheerfully that Singapore was preparing to introduce driverless buses, adding that he trusted Stagecoach would follow this admirable precedent as soon as practicable. When Kitty Brewster put it to him that driverless buses were a dangerous idea and would inevitably lead to passenger deaths, Sheriff Muir replied that he would happily tolerate the occasional collateral damage if it meant he would never again have to tender his 'saltire card' (so-called) to the grumpiest workforce in Scotland: the one employed behind the wheel by 'Sir' Brian Souter.
World news North Korea's esteemed leader, inspired by Shona Robison's determination to stamp out the consumption of alcohol by the lower classes, imposed a ban on gatherings 'related to drinking, singing and other entertainment.' The Jackie Bird of North Korea, the indomitably cheery Ri Chun Hee, announced that the country had developed a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the whole of America. 'Not so much Hee Hee as Ho Hum,' joked Sheriff Muir with characteristic gallows humour.
Another name for Jezza Jeremy Corbyn says he was never meant to be called Jeremy. What should he have been called? When we put this challenging question to the editorial conference, Kitty Brewster thought ''Arry' (no H) would have given him a certain street cred, while Mary Culter favoured ‘Kev’ for its alliterative appeal. For some
reason that he did not care to vouchsafe, Sheriff Muir recommended Archie.
Double Take is edited by The Midgie with the assistance of staff writers Kitty Brewster (politics), Sheriff Muir (legal and constitutional affairs), Mary Culter (arts, media and gender issues), Kirk Oswald (sexual indiscretions, weather events and fishing news) and Maggie Knockater (Banffshire correspondent), who has not been in touch for some weeks – gratifying proof that, while the rest of the world goes to pot, nothing ever happens in Banffshire.
What was it? We thought we were being a little elusive with last week’s photie. No
Robert Allan ('the correct answer is La Pasionaria'); Tom Allan ('Doroles Ibarruri, the most famous woman of the Spanish civil war; the statue was commissioned by the International Brigade Association in Scotland and stands on Custom House Quay, facing the River Clyde; it was installed there after considerable opposition from the Conservative group on Glasgow City Council'); Alister Armstrong ('erected as a tribute to the 2,100 volunteers who went from Britain to fight fascism in Spain, of whom 534 were killed, including 65 from Glasgow; the funds raised were insufficient for its planned bronze construction and a fibre glass finish over steel became the order of the day – and very fine it looks too!'; Jean Blair; Robert R Calder (‘with a customs house behind, and an outlook ruined by the morons who made it impossible to moor the Duchess of Hamilton by the quay’); Alison Campbell; good old Dennis Canavan; Gordon Craig; Andy Crichton; Tommy Crocket; Neil Curtis. At this point we take an interval; feel free to go to the bar.
Welcome back. We turn now to Jack Davidson; Andrew Douglas; Michael Duignan (‘sculpted by Arthur Dooley and paid for by the labour movement’); John Foote; Bill Fraser ('in an area to be "improved" by building over the riverside walkway; let’s hope the lady survives’); Simon Fuller ('Orwell merely lived in Scotland, so may not count as one of those commemorated'); Norman Gray ('what a very handsome building behind it, too'); Douglas Harrison ('I was privileged to attend its unveiling, in the company of two old friends who fought in Spain and survived the conflict; it’s one of the places I always take visitors to Glasgow, and is one of the few statues of a woman in the city'); David Innes; Willie Lesslie; Alan Ling.
And still they come: Alan MacGlas ('as a friend of mine refers to her, "that grand wee wummin", on her plinth beside Glasgow Bridge, now a haunt of politely bored tourists by day and impolitely bored teenage drinkers by night'); Colin McLean-Campbell; Gery McLaughlin; Dermot McQuarrie ('during the Spanish civil war, many young illiterate men were taught to write; their first letters were one to their family and one to La Pasionaria'); Carol Main; Robert Mellish ('the only communist left in Glasgow?'); Barbara Millar; Alastair Moodie ('Arthur Dooley was too poor to afford the fare to Glasgow to see his finished work’); H A Nicol; Karen Ray ('my favourite statue'); Kenny Reid ('I'm embarrassed to admit I had no idea the photo was of La Pasionaria. However, googling "flying nun statue scotland" did the trick'); Shona Reid ('the inscription reads: "Better to die on your feet than live for ever on your knees", a sentiment with which I concur entirely'; Ronnie Stevenson; Allan Wright.
First out of the hat was Alan MacGlas, to whom a copy of Kenneth Roy’s 'The Broken Journey’ will soon be winging its way.