Sunday, 30 August 2009

Nelson Mandela backs MacAskill

Front page of the Sunday Post today carries the story that Nelson Mandela is backing Kenny MacAskill's decision to release the Lockerbie bomber. If it's good enough for Nelson Mandela, it's more than good enough for me!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A mother's point of view on Megrahi

So the debate over the Megrahi release goes on. For all the furore I think I've had 2 emails complaining about it and 3 commending it. It is true of course that "anti" folk will always be louder than "pro" folk and the impression is that everyone's up in arms about it. But I'm finding that is not the case. A number of people I would have expected to be against the early release have surprised me. None moreseo and none more important to me than my mum.


I was varnishing her window frames for her today and didn't dare mention it because I was 100% certain she'd be outraged. I slipped up when she asked why I wasn't in Manchester as I'd planned to be (visiting my sister) and I said because I had to go to parliament on Monday. That reminded her and I got ready for an earbashing.

But no, she said she understood both sides of the divided opinion but believed, on balance, that this was the right decision. I nearly fell out the window in shock.

She'd 3 reasons for reaching that conclusion and I'll quote where possible.

1) "The man's dying Anne, he's got the worst possible sentence, what purpose would it serve keeping him in jail?"

2) "I don't know if he's guilty or not, I think he probably is but his poor wife and children are not. Imagine your dad had done that - think how horrified you'd be but you'd still love him and it would be terrible to know he was dying and you couldn't look after him. No, I think for the sake of his innocent children, Kenny MacAskill did the right thing. They keep talking about compassion but those children have had a terrible life and they deserve compassion too."

(NB My dad had no criminal convictions! She was using it as an example.)

3) "I'm glad the SNP Government didn't let the Americans bully them. I'm fed up with them thinking they run the world. It's fair enough for the families to express an opinion but the American government has got no right to try and tell this country what to do."


I am amazed and pleased and very proud of my mum. And she said something that I think she has in common with all those who agree with the decision but with none of those who are against it. She said she could understand opposing opinions and she could respect them. That's the thing - everyone who agrees it was the right thing to do is being incredibly respectful and sensitive to everyone else. Those who are against it are being, on the whole, blinkered, even hysterical and in many cases, downright rude. I exclude from this those families of victims who don't agree - they have a different perspective and no-one can blame them for being emotional about it.

It's those who have no personal link who are vitriolic and even abusive to others simply for disagreeing with them.

I would end by asking you to spare a thought for someone who is very much involved in all of this. Before I do, let me tell you I have been thinking a lot about the families of the victims over the last few days and I will continue to do so.


But the person I'm asking you to spare a moment to think about is Megrahi's mother. There was a photo of him with his family in some of the Sundays today. And there she was, his 80 plus mother, hugging him, so happy to have her boy home. She doesn't know he's about to die.

Just like the families of those who died in the Lockerbie bombing who could not have dreamt that they would never see their loved ones again, she is completely ignorant to the fact that in the next month or so, he'll be gone again - this time forever.

And just like the families who were completely innocent, so too is she.

She is simply a mother who loves her child and who, very soon, will watch him die ahead of her. Thank God she got to spend some last days with him. That, to me, is what true compassion is all about.

England regain the Ashes

Congratulations to England on regaining the Ashes. They look pretty happy in this pic and rightly so. I'm not a major fan of cricket but I do like to watch it the odd time. I find it quite relaxing. And of course when I was working in Sri Lanka, I passed Galle Cricket Ground every day. Not that I actually managed to see a game but I did meet Sanath Jayasuriya - there's a test of my spelling! Anyway congratulations to England once again and it's even better news for me because when I arrive in Manchester at the home of my sister tomorrow evening, I'm thinking my brother in law will be in such a good mood he'll be wanting to buy us a few drinks to celebrate. Not that this influenced my thinking in any way, shape or form :-)

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Happy Days - X Factor is back

I know it's wrong but I can't help it, I LOVE the X Factor. I love the drama, the comedy, the cringing. I used to be unable to watch it because I couldn't bear to see people who had set their heart on something having their dreams crushed. I don't know what happened to me but I got over it and, like I said, I love it! Who needs a social life when Simon Cowell and the crew are around?

Friday, 21 August 2009

I never got a part in Taggart but ....

I went out with the community police in the Southside of Glasgow last night. Will blog more fully later but thought I'd post this pic because I reckon I make quite a convincing plain clothes polis here!
It was an interesting night and I'm thinking that it's something I need to do on a semi regular basis because I picked up a lot of information about problems in the area. The guys pictured here were brilliant and I'm not just saying that because they told me to (although they did)! More later.

Lockerbie bomber goes home to Libya

It must have been incredibly hard for relatives of those who died in the Lockerbie bombing to watch as that plane took off from Glasgow Airport yesterday. Even for those who agreed with Kenny MacAskill's decision, that had to be tough. But for those relatives who felt Al Megrahi should have died in Greenock Jail, it must have been like a stake through the heart. I can never feel how they do and I recognise how fortunate I am not to have suffered in the way that they have. But as I watched that flight take off with Mr Megrahi on board, it did occur to me that for some relatives, the sight of the plane taking off to deliver him safely to Libya when their families never got to complete their plane journey, it will have been a heartbreaking sight.

That said, I fully support the decision to release him on compassionate grounds. As Kenny said:

"In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity. It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people. The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of ...who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live."

The argument I've heard today that potential terrorists will think it's okay to bomb us because we'll let them go (when they're about to die don't forget) is just stupid. It's interesting how opinion is split between the relatives and just goes to show that you cannot please everybody.

My own view is that regardless of Megrahi's guilt or otherwise, and let's assume for argument's sake that he IS guilty, his family have committed no crime. And that is what compassion is all about. It's about understanding that his wife and children are innocent victims in all of this. Yes it's obviously harder to lose your father in a terrorist attrocity than for him to be jailed.

But that shouldn't detract from the devastation that was visited upon the lives of his children when he was arrested and subsequently imprisoned in a foreign country. And some may argue that HE was the one responsible for that but THEY, his children, had no say in this. And now, their father who they no doubt love (no justification is necessary here but I bet they believe he is completely innocent) is dying. Unless you believe that the sins of the father should, indeed, be borne by the sons, how can you argue against showing compassion to them?

I don't underestimate the pain this has caused to many of the relatives but their pain has been there since 1988 and it will be there till they too pass away. Kenny MacAskill couldn't undo what was already done. What satisfaction would they have got from Al Megrahi dying in Greenock anyway? He would have died and they'd have had no closure. They have none now. But perhaps Megrahi's children will get some. There is no answer to what happened on that horrific night that none of us will ever forget.

For those who are unhappy with Kenny's decision I just want them to know that he will not have taken it lightly and that those of us who support him 100% (as I do) do not feel any less sympathy for the relatives of those who were murdered. I feel for them and the pain they are going through. But I believe the decision today was correct.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Walking the streets

Last night was the ambulance shift, tonight was a shift with Govanhill Youth Project. They've an interesting approach in that they don't wait for young people to come to them but go out on the streets and talk to them as they hang around on street corners.
Govanhill is fairly unique in that it's always been a multi cultural area but moreso now that there are a number of residents from Eastern Europe.
We met a few young folk from Slovakia tonight. There was perhaps a dozen of them hangin around chatting, laughing and I asked if they had any Scottish friends. They said no, they only want to fight them. GYP has targetted the Roma community and has a number of other projects with them eg a music project on a Monday night (tried to get an audition as backing singer but they didn't seem too keen - must be the language barrier!) but they're aware that the next step is to get the various groups together.
To do that they need somewhere for people to meet and so far, they've been unsuccessful. But it won't just benefit young people to get rooms, it will benefit the entire community. As we chatted to the various groups of young people I was very very aware of the noise we were creating. They stand in groups of maybe a dozen, outside people's flats talking loudly, leaning on cars - doing absolutely no real harm to be honest but would you want it outside your window?
I know that after a long day at work, there's nothing I like more than to come home, put my feet up and relax in the peace of my own home. For the residents of Govanhill tonight, that would have been impossible. I could see why some people might feel intimidated but I can assure you I have no doubt these young folk were no threat to anyone, they're just loud. And I can understand how it would drive you mad having that noise outside your home but again, they were behaving normally and they've nowhere else to go.
As one of the youth workers pointed out to me when I questioned why they would want to stand in the pouring rain, many of them are living three families to one flat so being outside in whatever the weather, is often the better option.
Finding premises so that young folk have somewhere to go that isn't bothering other residents, and where they can mix with other "groups" within their community, is a priority to Govanhill Youth Project and I'll certainly be looking at how I can assist them with that. In the meantime I would just congratulate the guys who work on the project. In the photo you can see Jamie, Damien and Rowan - not sure why they're all laughing at me in the photo, probably cos I'm the only one with a brolly, wimp that I am!!. They all believe young people get a bit of a raw deal from the general public, the press and politicians and work tirelessly to turn around people's attitudes. I'll be seeing them again soon and looking forward to finding out a bit more.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A nationalist wedding

My friends Aileen and Fraser got married at the weekend - here's all the SNP folk who attended. It was a brilliant weekend and they both looked fantastic!

On the frontline

I was out with Springburn Ambulance Crew tonight. I joined Frank and Peter on an evening shift for a couple of reasons. First I wanted to find out what kind of pressures they face in the job. And secondly I was interested in knowing how alcohol adds to the pressure. I will be able to post in a more informed way in a few weeks because I got so much out of it that I've asked to do a Saturday night shift. Tonight was only 3 hours but it was an interesting taster.

Callout number 1 to a 56 year old man who had drank rather a lot of whisky and then overdosed on 12 of his wife's anti depressants. We got there and he was refusing to move because he wanted to watch the Celtic game. The crew couldn't leave him - they have a legal "duty of care" and managed to persuade him. Part of me was thinking "don't be so ungrateful" but of course part of me really felt for the guy who lost his job last year and was turned down for one last week. We dropped him and his family off at Stobhill and headed out to ...

Callout number 2 and a 58 year old woman who was having chest pains and numbness in her left arm. She'd had a stroke a couple of years ago and was very nervous in case she was having another one. She got a bit upset in the back of the ambulance because her sister had died at 58 and she was scared it was her turn. The crew were great with her, put her at her ease and were very reassuring. We took her to Stobhill too. Hope she's okay.

Callout number 3 was a 44 year old man who was, what can only be described as "morroculous" - is that how you spell that great Glasgow word meaning drunk out of one's mind? He'd wet himself, was lying on the ground unable to get up and his hands were covered in needle marks. He was so out of it he could barely hold his head up. What a waste of money that is taking someone like him to spend the night in hospital when he really doesn't need it. But what can you do with him? The guys in the crew have given me some ideas on that and I'll post once I've looked into it a bit more.

The last guy had me shaking my head in despair - what a mess he was. I felt angry and frustrated with him for having so little self respect that he could do that to himself. I wanted to shout at him to sort himself out. And that is a natural reaction I think. How many times have you passed someone in that state in the street? How often do you feel any sympathy for him? Not often I bet. But the trouble is that behind every man or woman like that is someone with a terrible story to tell. A story that you'd have to be incredibly cold hearted not to sympathise with.

So whilst I wanted to shake him, part of me wanted to just give him a big hug. I didn't obviously - no matter how compassionate I was feeling, there was a whole load of urine there and I didn't fancy getting it all over me. But as I looked at him struggling to tell us where he lived, his mouth dripping in blue tinged saliva, I wondered what had happened to him and I wondered how differently his life could have turned out with a little more luck.

So it's been interesting for me but I want to see more and I want to get a feel for how bad things can get on a Saturday night. Therefore I'll be doing a full night shift as soon as I can fix up a date.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

UK Border Agency's welcoming attitude!

Obviously I'm not being serious because my experience of the UKBA is anything BUT positive and this week they've just caused huge embarrassment for this country. They have taken the incredible decision to refuse entry to Scotland to the Pakistan Pipe Band for the World Pipe Band Championships. They were here last year, no problems that I'm aware of so why, now, are they suddenly being told they can't come? I will be writing to the UKBA for answers - it's getting to be ridiculous when it gets to the stage that we can't welcome something as brilliant as a pipe band from Lahore. Of course it's going to be too late for this year but we need to know why they are being treated like this.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The best bit of the holiday so far ...

I have to say I've had a fantastic holiday so far. It's been tiring but exciting and interesting and scary all rolled into less than a fortnight. Every single day has been brilliant but today, the best thing ever happened. No it wasn't hoisting the Saltire above the St Andrew's Hotel but I will definitely blog on that with photos and youtube link later because it was a pretty moving event and very special.

It wasn't anything to do with Sri Lanka, it was getting the news from my amazing niece Christie that she got her Higher results and she got A for French, A for Spanish, B for English and B for psychology. It's all the more amazing if I tell you that just over a year ago, she was only planning to sit 2 Highers because she didn't know you needed more than that to get into Uni. She had a vague plan of what she wanted to do (languages degree) but her school had no idea at all and were quite happily letting her just do 2 Highers.

Anyway fast forward, she left school, went to the James Watt college in Greenock, TAUGHT HERSELF the basics of Spanish (because her school refused to let her do Standard Grade), focussed herself completely on the task in hand, and now it's paid off. She has impressed me so much with her determination and I am so happy for her. Her aim is to live and work in Spain or France for the next year in order to become fluent in one of those languages and then study Mandarin at Edinburgh University the following year. It's a tough course to get into but I have a funny feeling she'll get there.

So that's it. In an amazing fortnight where I've experienced so many things I never ever expected to, the highlight has been hearing her news today. I think it's probably just as well I don't have kids of my own - I'd be dancing through the streets of Colombo telling anyone who'd listen! I'll stick to being an ecstatically happy Auntie I think!

I wonder if I could put out a press release about this ...

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Saltire in Sri Lanka

Got 3 mins left in bloody expensive internet cafe so just time to tell you I'm about to head to Nuwara Eliya in the Hill Country. It's a 6 hr drive and I'm staying over and making same journey back in the morning. However it's for a very special reason. Last year I visited the St Andrew's Hotel and they had no Saltire flying, only a Union flag. I promised I would supply them with a proper St Andrew's flag and today I'm taking it to them. We're having a small ceremony and I cannot wait! Very excited. Long journey but well worth it. Updates and photos later - maybe even a copy of my very long speech lol.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

My dad's birthday

Today would have been my dad (Bobby's) 70th birthday. And I would not have been in Sri Lanka, I'd have been at home with my family making a big fuss of him. He'd have been loving every minute but telling everyone it was actually his 60th. He had a real thing about ageing. Remind you of anyone? Yes I have inherited my dad's fear of growing old I think. Not that I am. And not that he was. He and my mum bumped into someone many years ago and as my mum chatted away to her he did the same, pretending to remember who it was! When my mum told him later that it was someone who had been a very close friend he was horrified at how much the woman had aged. My mum gently pointed out to him that he too had a few lines and creases on his face and he was genuinely surprised to hear that. He also wasn't prepared to accept it. Like I said, remind you of anyone?

I didn't help because I used to tell him that I'd tried to visualise him as an old man and I just couldn't do it. I couldn't see it. Perhaps it was a prophecy because he was only 58 when he died. Wrinkles or not I think he'd have preferred to have had a bit longer. Anyway like I said he'd have been 70 today and I really hope if there is some afterlife that he's having a brilliant party - sadly for us but luckily enough for him, I think he's got enough folk up there now to make it go with a swing.

My first speech in a temple

Saturday was a fantastic day and I'll update fully on it when I'm home. But the highlight of the day had to be speaking at the Inauguration of The Venerable Rewatha Thero as "Chief Sanga Nayake of Great Britain". I will blog when I have the pics to put up but it was a great day in a beautiful temple and it was very special to be in Sri Lanka honouring the man who has become known as The Maryhill Monk after he opened a Buddhist Vihara in Maryhill Road. I also managed to wear (and keep on) a sari! More later but it was a very special event.

My unique haggling skills

I have developed a unique haggling method out here and Anne (my friend who I'm in Sri Lanka with) seems to have adopted it too. Earlier, I was getting a tuk tuk to meet Anne in the centre of Colombo and the guy asked me for 400 rupees. I said no, too expensive, it's not far, how about a better price to which he said 300. Still I said no and he eventually said "okay, 200". Great, I'm thinking and then I start to feel guilty as I realise that going from 300 to 200 saves me 50p which he needs a lot more than me. So I say to him "I know, what about 300". He looks at me like I'm mad but accepts my new offer and off we go.

En route we get talking and I ask him about his family. He has 2 daughters and one is 22 and at university. I say that I know it must cost a lot of money to put his daughter through uni and he tells me he will work every hour to do that for her because "you get a husband and what if he is bad news or he gets into trouble in his work. It is far better that my daughter can take care of herself even if there is no husband or the husband is no good". I'm liking what I'm hearing and again feeling guilty as anything.

So we get to the meeting place and I give him the 400 rupees. It's two pounds and it's the right thing to do. But this guy must have thought I was a "crazy woman" doing all that hard negotiating and then giving him what he asked for in the first place.

Anne of course was laughing at me when I told her this but tonight, we beat a guy down on price and somehow by the time we got back, she was handing more than the price he asked for in the first place! Like I said, it's the right thing to do but you do wonder what they must make of you!