I visited a friend yesterday afternoon whom I hadn't seen for several weeks since a socially-distanced encounter in the grounds of Lauriston Castle during lockdown. She lives in a modern townhouse in suburban Edinburgh. It's situated on a private estate accessed through a weathered stone gateway surmounted by eagles and overlooks a golf course whose woodland perimeter is frequented by deer. The deer often enter the estate and we caught sight of one peacefully cropping the grass on the other side of the road. It's an enviably quiet location with manicured lawns and hedges and she, as befits a retired civil servant, keeps her house immaculate and uncluttered. She, self-deprecatingly, claims there is
clutter. It's just up in the loft.
We discussed many things over scones and coffee. Both of us had voted against Scottish independence during the 2014 referendum. We were unconvinced by the economic argument, as well as the unresolved coinage issue. Then there was George Osborne's determination to ensure Scotland would suffer fiscally if it left, a preference to remain in Europe and, with Catalonia wishing to go on the run from Spain at the time, there was no guarantee we could rejoin as an independent country.
Now so much has changed, we're reconsidering our respective positions. Heart versus head? The EU contains many nations with smaller populations who seem to thrive. Why not ours? Do we take the risk and possibly rue the day, or remain where we are, shackled to an increasingly loathsome Westminster Government, with its instinctive scorn of 'the Jocks', but which wants to keep us close nonetheless? And what about our leadership? Nicola Sturgeon has done well, but what is Alex Salmond up to, suing to right of him, suing to left of him, at taxpayers' expense? Time was I would have thought our opinions would not have mattered. Now I think they do.
We were bemused by the big stooshie over Kirsty Wark's documentary about Alex Salmond's trial. I was not initially a fan of Ms Wark. Her abrasiveness jarred. I did, however, admire her skill in another context mediating between the sparring egos of Mary Beard and Simon Schama. Not being journalistic insiders, my friend and I were unaware of her alleged cryogenic relationship with the former First Minister. For us, the BBC programme seemed fair, forensic and even-handed. Even in his support of Mr Salmond, Jim Sillars considered his behaviour 'deplorable', and while Kenny MacAskill was sure there had been 'a conspiracy', he had no hard evidence for it, only rumour and hearsay. I am therefore at a loss to understand Gerry Hassan's
assessment of the programme as 'poor', or the subsequent mockery of it in The National
by Lesley Riddoch, and Alan Taylor, and last week in the SR by David Black
. Love her or loathe her, she didn't deserve that.
I was more reassured by Gerry Hassan's measured reflections on Scottish misogyny, something I've been baffled by pretty much all my life. Being patronised, sidelined, ignored, the cumulative denting of self-esteem. Don't let me bore you. Young women may appear more self-confident now, but the 1970's feminist achievements seem in the age of Johnson and Trump alarmingly fragile. There's something about the way men are constantly in competition with each other for dominance and when we women try to assert ourselves we complicate this and become easy targets for attack. I can understand why the women who brought the accusations against Mr Salmond might have got together as they wondered about how to proceed. It's about gathering confidence, reinforcing a legitimate case. It's a pity the evidence fell apart in court.
Remember at the end of Gregory's Girl
when Gregory is handed from one girl to another till he can't understand what's going on? The girl who really fancies him eventually explains that's how girls are. We help each other, she says. Unfortunately, we don't always. Men tend to stand by each other, but when women do, it's called a coven or a conspiracy. There's a bit of a culture gap that needs closing here, guys.
The problem with bike pods
My single-handed battle with Edinburgh City Council over their shock dumping of two large bike storage pods in front of our house continues. It's not a battle I can win. A retired lawyer friend had no luck years ago helping a client complain about a hearse parked outside her house as the vehicle was taxed and couldn't be removed. After three angry emails and a few temporising replies I finally received an explanatory response from the Sustrans senior project officer leading the Secure On-Street Cycle Parking Project on behalf of the council. My mistake was not to have taken that initial leaflet seriously. Since then, all consultation has taken place through street notices (usually unreadable), in the newspaper (The Scotsman
, to which I don't subscribe), or on various online sites I, and several of my neighbours, knew nothing about. No wonder we were taken by surprise.
Six residents on our street were for the project, only two against. Alternative locations are not an option. 'I will be monitoring the success of the units going forward,' he writes, 'but it would go against the aims of this project to relocate the units to create more permit parking here'. So there we are. Don't be old or disabled and in need of a car parking space. Democracy has gone digital and no-one told us.