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Lesley Riddoch

Weel happit up <em>Picture: joanna8555</em>

Weel happit up Picture: joanna8555

By Betty Kirkpatrick

Much of November has been extraordinarily mild, but doubtless this will change and the real winter will be upon us before you can say Jack Frost. Then it will be time to make sure that we are weel happit up. Should you be unfamiliar with this phrase, it is the Scots equivalent of English “well wrapped up”, but more so.

Whenever I think of cold, snowy winter days, this expression comes back to me because I spent my early childhood winter days in a weel happit up state. It was basically the layered look, but long before this fashionable expression was coined and it certainly lacked the elegance that it suggests.

The basis of the weel happit up look was a vest or semmit or even, for girls, a liberty bodice. You will have to be pretty old to have worn one of these, because they ceased to be popular around the 1950s. A liberty bodice was a close-fitting sleeveless undergarment for the upper body made of thick soft cotton. It took its name from the fact that it was considerably less restrictive than its predecessor, the corset. That was before my time.

Over the vest, semmit or liberty bodice went several sweaters, usually wool and often scratchy, followed by jacket and coat. Then the accessories were piled on, scarf, hat and gloves, the gloves often being replaced on female hands by mittens, called pawkies in Scots.

And there you have it – the weel happit up look. It was intended to keep you warm and cosy on freezing days, but it went further. It often made the wearer too hot and consequently sweaty, especially if he or she was hurrying to catch the school bus.

The word happit comes from the verb to hap, meaning to cover, often with the purpose of sheltering or concealing something. This has been in use in Scots since the 14th century and is derived from Middle English.

The verb hap can be used with reference to a person, as when you hap an invalid up in a blanket or hap a child up in bed. It can also be used with reference to covering something such as potatoes or plants with earth or straw to protect them from the cold and wet.

Other uses include covering a corpse with earth in the grave and making up a fire so that it will continue to burn slowly for a while. Figuratively, it can be used of mist covering the tops of mountains or people happing something away that they might have need of later.

Hap can also be a noun meaning a covering of some kind which provides protection against the weather. More specifically, it is used to refer to a shawl, plaid or outer garment, or to a blanket or quilt

The weel happit up look is not nearly as common among children as it once was. Well, many of them don’t really need to be wrapped in several layers nowadays, do they? After all, they only have to take a few steps from their front door to the vehicle that will whisk them away on the school run and fetch them back again. They see little of the great outdoors.

The real reason, however, that the weel happit look is not popular among the young is that it is just not cool. Well, by very definition, you wouldn’t expect it to be cool in terms of temperature – but it is not cool in terms of image, and image is everything these days. Many young people would not be seen dead in the weel happit up look, preferring to wear skimpy T-shirts and show off bare midriffs even in the coldest of winter days. It is a wonder that more of them do not suffer from hypothermia. At least the weel happit up look prevents that.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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<em>Picture: Closeupon</em>

Picture: Closeupon

It was when the junkie son, coming up from his kitchen-sink fix, planted a wet, smeary kiss on the camera lens filming him that I began to relent a little in my rage and disdain for BBC Scotland’s controversial series The Scheme.

Purely as a piece of dramaturgy – with his mother shuddering and sobbing in the raggedy garden, his brother scowling on the couch, suddenly realising the nihilism and destructiveness of his brother’s addiction – this was as effective a sequence as you’d find in Zola, Orwell or Kelman, sensitively measuring the emotional cost of poverty.

But the lens kiss was the perfect closing moment. In one blissful act of boundary-less excess, breaking every “documentary” or fly-on-the-wall convention, he reminded us that this is only one narrative construction of poverty in Scotland, among many possible others.

When I launched myself at The Scheme‘s first outing last year, calling it “poverty porn” (on the basis of two episodes, before a court case stopped us seeing the rest), I found myself at the middle of an interesting storm of communication. Residents and ex-residents of the area mailed me with tales of how many of the more positive stories from the Kilmarnock scheme had been solicited and recorded, but clearly hadn’t made it to the final cut.

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I found myself on that bare escarpment of serious Scottish public-interest telly, Newsnight Scotland, arguing toe-to-toe with Stuart Cosgrove of Channel 4. Stuart accused me of denying the poor of Onthank the right to knowingly “perform their lives” for reality television, under financial and legal conditions entered into with full awareness and consent. Wasn’t I once a similar working-class boy, making a name for myself (and money) out of acting it up on stage?

My answer was that I was trying to perform and display my competence, my skills, my aspirations – and I got nothing but positive reinforcement and self-esteem from that kind of stardom. But to surrender yourself to an editing process that seemed patronising and prurient – at least from the first two episodes, with Marvin (another junkie) tottering around his house with a mop, to the soundtrack of The Sorcerers’ Apprentice – so that your incompetence and brokenness was what the world would always remember about you, in the eternal return of YouTube? Surely not comparable, Stuart.

As is the way of these things, we thrashed it out via online forums, and then got back to our busy media agendas. When I saw that the show was back in the schedules – and hey, with its own special week in the Daily Record – I wanted to ignore it.

But the episode I managed to catch this time round was a signal improvement on the opening. Apart from the tragic scene already mentioned, the Bree family – already on the road to reopening a local community centre, and having raised £5,000 to do so – were impressively barrelling their way through bureaucrats, while also coping with a family bereavement.

And amidst the coming and going of hingy girls, superego-less boys and despairing parents, choosing between greater or lesser intoxications as pregnancies and relationships were continued or terminated, one house-proud couple were at least allowed to show their feature garden – and the pride and craft embodied in it.

Here, the art of the effective documentary maker – hanging around to get that one telling moment, and being sensitive enough to let it make the final cut – was deployed extremely well: capturing the determination and grief of the Brees, the attractive, quiet integrity of Onthank’s best gardener.

But still, we’re in the land of broadcast TV – where considerable budgets go towards careful selection of real-life “dramatic characters”; where we expect the high audio-visual fidelity that only expensive cameras and sound can deliver; where only the choicest, most illustrative quote or incident from the thousands of hours recorded makes the final cut of a “watchable” television episode.

I’m so tired of, and resistant to, this kind of televisual authority. There was a brilliant series in the very early days of Channel 4 in the 1980s, called Open The Box, which applied the critical techniques of media studies to the process of television-making. I’ll never forget a sequence in which a RP-accented TV producer was filmed recording a documentary piece in the front room of an evidently working-class, and not very articulate, couple.

Open The Box carefully watched the production crew prod them this way and that, urging them to “blend in the question with the answer”, moving them like dress mannequins around their own home. The piece ended with the director’s aside to those he evidently thought were fellow media professionals – but who had at least the ethical integrity to keep this “illustrative quote” in: “You know what they say… never work with children. Or animals.”

Am I accusing The Scheme‘s makers of a similar kind of media cynicism? Not directly, no. But in the age of what Manuel Castells calls “mass self-communication“, I am suggesting that we take an iron railing and tap a few gaping cracks into the enchanted glass of broadcast television in Scotland. A “Scottish Digital Network” (SDN) is actually quite an interesting general concept, if expanded from the “BBC2/BBC4 with McArchive” proposal that’s come out of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission.

Instead of presuming that such a channel, wrested from the Union’s maw, will be mostly about givng more documentary commissions to doubtless well-meaning but inescapably objectifying media-types, might we also try something a bit different? How about encouraging and training those in communities like Onthank to do their own mediating of their life-conditions – giving them the power of recording, editing and dissemination, letting them evolve their own norms of quality, topic and relevance?

We’re happy to benchmark ourselves against small European nations – and we could do worse than to copy Finland’s extensive and historic commitment to media-production literacy throughout their population. There is a latent community of artists and activists in Scotland – New Media Scotland and the CCA in Glasgow are the main hubs – who would be only too willing to fan out into Scotland’s hard-bitten areas and set up media labs, bringing what the Scottish conceptual artist Simon Yuill calls “distributive practice” to the people. (A great benchmark for this is the Knowle West Media Centre in Bristol, well worth the investigation. And our own Lesley Riddoch has been something of a pioneer of community media.)

Some of the broadcast hours of an SDN – and not just the dead hours of the early morning, either – should be devoted to nurturing, curating and re-presenting the experiences of struggling communities in Scotland, building up their powers of mass self-communication. Will this media be raw, unfinished, static, gauche, partisan, pawky, hedonistic, sentimental, nostalgic, angry, obsessive, trainspottery, specialist? All of the preceding, and better, and worse.

But is this rough emergence worth clearing some space for, at the heart of Scotland’s evolving media representation of itself – and at precisely this moment where “self-determination” and “independence” (at all levels, and in all ways) are the buzzwords of the Scottish Spring? I would argue, yes. Let there be a “democratic interact” – or as Alex Salmond once put it in a speech in 2007, an “architecture of participation” that reaches to every corner of the country.

So, fewer desperate kisses on the lens of a Corporation camera – and more eager hands fingering the “record” (and “upload”) button of a democratic media in Scotland.

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Iona Abbey cloisters <em>Picture: David P Howard</em>

Iona Abbey cloisters Picture: David P Howard


The Caledonian Mercury has invited some of those in the election firing-line to send regular bulletins about the personal side of campaigning. Alison Hay is the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll and Bute.

    This week sees me continuing my “overseas” travel, interspersed with some council business but with ramifications on the campaign.

    Monday 18 April
    What a beautiful Monday morning – where better to be than on a CalMac ferry heading to the Island of Bute, the shortest crossing in Scotland from Colintraive to Rhubodach, time roughly ten minutes.

    I have a date with Bute FM at 10am. They‘re asking all candidates the same question: why should the people of Bute vote for them? Easy question, how long have your listeners got?

    In the evening it was the Bute hustings, and with Argyll and Bute council proposing to put North Bute primary school out to formal consultation the evening looked set to be a bit of a bumpy ride for yours truly – as it turned out to be. The SNP education minister denying he had interfered with the process and me saying he had, entertainment for all.

    Tuesday 19 April
    Education meeting at the council, where the council decides to put 11 schools out to formal consultation – a 12-hour meeting which ended at 10:55pm. Not a good day and all councillors very unhappy to be in this situation, but the education department needs to take its share of the pain of the cuts.

    Wednesday 20 April
    Today I’m stuck at my computer writing answers to questions from the Oban Times, the Argyllshire Advertiser and the Campbeltown Courier. Don’t these journalists realise I’ve got an election to win?

    I just make the deadline with two minutes to spare, raised blood pressure all round. In the evening off to Oban for a visit to Atlantis Leisure, Oban’s swimming and sports facility. I’m there for the opening of the new children’s soft-play area, a great success.

    Thursday 21 April
    Back on the high seas again, this time to Mull and Iona. This evening in Craignure, where Lesley Riddoch will host the Mull hustings, and before that Alan Reid MP, Tony my campaign manager and I have a great day. I meet an old friend on Iona who takes me round and I spend time speaking to the Mull and Iona Community Trust and seeing round their new community and charity shop and centre.

    The hustings evening went better than I feared: the issues discussed were sustaining rural communities and infrastructure, eg roads, health care, fairer ferry fares and inevitably schools.

    Friday 22 April
    Weather continues to be bright and sunny, Argyll and Bute at its best, no midges yet! I caught the 8:45am boat back to Oban and drove home. I have to be at Auchindrain museum today for the opening of the refurbished tearoom and visitor centre.

    The museum is taking down a tattered old saltire flag and replacing it with a new one. The old one is being respectfully folded and cremated. The new tearoom looks fantastic and the museum is now set for a good summer.

    Saturday 23 April
    Went with my husband to Bridge of Orchy to knock on some doors. Bridge of Orchy is tiny and is at the extreme edge of the constituency, and is often forgotten about. I think it important to try and visit every town and village at least once, and the towns more than once, during the election. It’s amazing the number of times people have said to me “You’re the first candidate we’ve seen”. As it’s Easter weekend, I’m having this evening off to visit relatives in Taynuilt.

    Only ten days to go and the pace is hotting up. Next week Oban, Mid-Argyll, hustings in Dunoon on Tuesday evening, across the seas to Islay and Jura with a hustings on Islay on Thursday evening, back to Tarbert, finishing the week back in Dunoon on the Saturday. I’ll write again on Sunday next.

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    Ken O'Neill

    Ken O'Neill

    The Caledonian Mercury has invited some of those in the election firing-line to send regular bulletins about the personal side of campaigning. Ken O’Neill is standing as an independent candidate in the Lothian electoral region.

    Whoosh! That was a busy, exciting and interesting week. They do say a week is a long time in politics and this felt a long week.

    Tuesday 5 April
    D-Day – the campaign launch. A few last-minute jitters, but they pass quickly and then I press the send button. I’ve sent the press release announcing my candidacy to newspapers and various websites. Hopefully that will lead to positive mentions.

    As an independent, I know that the big four parties and the Greens will receive at least 90 per cent of the coverage. Hopefully someone will appreciate that Lothian needs another independent voice fighting its corner and will cover my campaign.

    Thursday 7 April
    My first hustings event was tonight, organised by Edinburgh’s Active Citizenship Group and chaired by Lesley Riddoch. There were nine other speakers on the panel and I spoke last. I kept my nerves under control and the audience clapped when I finished.

    Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

    After the event in Deacon Brodie’s, the organisers said I came across well. That was reassuring, always good to know I’m getting my message across. I hope they tell their friends about me and what I had to say.

    Saturday 9 April
    A break from the campaign trail as I take the bairns to see Shaun’s Big Shoes at the Playhouse. Wonderful fun and I now believe a sheep can dance.

    I was disappointed to see that the ice cream on sale wasn’t from Scotland. I’d like to see more local businesses source goods and services locally. That will help us improve the economy and reduce our carbon footprint.

    My manifesto includes the creation of the Lothian Lolly, which would act as a local currency for use at local shops. Brixton has a similar idea and it has helped to increase local trade and revive the area. I think it’s a simple way to improve the local economy and the country at the same time.

    Sunday 10 April
    I watched the party leaders on the BBC’s Politics Show. I wouldn’t call it a debate, though – they didn’t even get through their introductions before talking over each other. You have to wonder why such an important opportunity to show Scotland what the parties stand for is on at lunchtime on a Sunday. The media says that the public are not engaged or interested in politics. Does putting the debate on at this time give people the opportunity to engage? I doubt many people would choose to watch it over enjoying the sunshine.

    After the hot air, I enjoy the warm weather at Ecofusion in Inverleith Park – a great atmosphere with glorious sunshine. I really enjoyed looking round all the stalls and soaking up the atmosphere. I watched the Mugen Taiko Dojo drummers’ stunning coordination in awe and enjoyed listening to Sambasene and Diwan. The only downside was the Mosque Kitchen had run out of vegetable curry by the time I reached the top of the queue.

    Towards the end, I passed out my campaign leaflet and talked to people. I had some interesting chats with folk, discussing everything from education to transport, park playgrounds to housing rights. One thing that did come up was confusion over who was eligible to vote and for what. The deadline for registering to vote is Friday 14 April at 1700 and I tell everyone to make sure they don’t miss the opportunity to have their say.

    In the evening I post my manifesto on the website, making sure my supporters, Twitter followers and Facebook friends see it first. I think it makes sense for them to read it before journalists. After all, they’re the ones who will make the decision on whether I’m elected or not.

    Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

    A Trident submarine. <em>Picture: Bodger Brooks</em>

    A Trident submarine. Picture: Bodger Brooks

    It’s a song that, once sung, changes the way you think. Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding – particularly in the mournful version by Robert Wyatt that became a hit at the height of the Falklands War in 1982 – is about as perfect a lament against the military-industrial complex as you can get.

    The end-rhymes are brilliant and merciless: “Somebody said that someone got filled in / For saying that people get killed in / The result of this shipbuilding”. And the closing words always, always, catch the throat: “Diving for dear life / When we should be diving for pearls.”

    I’ve been watching the all-party political spectacle in Scotland, lining up to make the case that two aircraft carriers planned for Clydeside shipyards should survive Westminster’s Military Spending Review. And of course, as I sift through the arguments, I can’t get the tune out of my head.

    The integrity of the Green MSP Patrick Harvie has to be noted, the only leading politician willing to state what must represent a significant chunk of Scottish opinion: “We believe that the future for the engineering jobs involved depends on moving away from a reliance on vast amounts of military spending.” That’s one of my preference votes secured for next May, Mr. Harvie.

    And Lesley Riddoch wrote a very well informed column in the Scotsman a few days ago, pointing out that Norway’s long history of energy engineering – undistorted by an involvement in supporting British military prowess – has given it a huge industrial head-start in the renewables sector … even though Scotland owns most of the natural resources.

    I can’t look at Alex Salmond – both an explicit champion of green-tech progress in Scotland and a consistent voter against Westminster war-adventurism – and not imagine his internal writhing at the moment. Find some way to retain the marine-engineering skill-set on the Clyde for the coming revolution: why lose the chance to beat these swords into ploughshares, reaping nature’s new harvest? But as Riddoch points out, if our advanced engineering sector stays on a military drip-feed from the British state’s middling-power ambitions, we won’t have the flexibility to respond to the coming eco-opportunities.

    I passed through Bishopton the other day, observing the BAE Systems logo blare from the tops of dockside buildings. Watching this bunch – in whom Norway’s futures fund refuses to invest, for moral reasons – having their tummies tickled by left Scottish politicians… Well, the Costello song goes up to full volume in my head.

    There are many of us for whom Scottish independence will be, among other things, the solid basis of a benign, creative nation – and a final discarding of the blood-soaked apron of Imperial Britishness. (After, of course, much soiled participation in it. What else is the Black Watch theatre-cult other than a therapeutic soothing of this collective wound, literal and actual, in the Scottish psyche?).

    So it is peculiarly painful to watch an SNP leader pirouette (as he did recently about Faslane’s right to provide maintenance to Trident) between the eternal nudge-fudge of devolution, and the clarity of nation-statehood – where we will at least get the chance to debate what kind and level of violence this state has a monopoly over.

    But even in that debate about the military posture of an independent Scotland, I find myself dishearteningly at odds with old comrades, even heroes. Jim Sillars’s recent pamphlet on independence asks the nationalist movement to grow up and start “thinking like a state”, rather than being happy toddling around in George Robertson’s “playpen” of devolution.

    And part of that realpolitik for Jim now consists in retaining Trident in Faslane for an unspecified period of time after independence, in order to pragmatically assist the Westminster government in its exploration of alternatives. (Like Guantanamo Bay?) All the alarm bells go off on that one, ringing similarly with calls for “fiscal autonomy” or “devolution max” that leave defence matters in the hands of the UK goverment. If we can’t exert sovereignty in order to demilitarise and denuclearise this country, really, what’s the point of it?

    Some of the cobwebs and skeletons in our national imagination really have to be cleared out, or repurposed, if we are to embrace the future properly. A clear “post-military engineering dividend” for an independent Scotland, where full macro-political powers are exerted to redirect ingenuity, sciences and industries in a green- and bio-tech direction, has to be part of the argument leading up to next May. And imagination, the energy and ability to think in new frameworks, is key.

    I was listening to a podcast this week by the economist Carlota Perez, who in contrast to many perceives that our financial crash might herald a new global Golden Age of productive prosperity. She’s a follower and developer of Schumpeter’s theories of creative destruction: for her, recent economic history is all about finance driving the spread of new productive techniques, with the crash a financial inevitability.

    But it’s the state’s strong regulations of the crash’s aftermath – for example, the establishment of a welfare state after the booms, busts and wars of the first half of the twentieth century, for example – that helps to consolidate and spread the benefits of these new powers.

    Green-tech provides the basis for this next Golden Age, says Perez. A highly-regulated mandate towards low-carbon outputs in itself will be a huge spur to innovation, techniques and services. But the lifestyle revolution will also move in the direction of new kinds of economic activity, rather than less.

    Design heading towards durable, repairable objects; sociable, convivial experiences being more economically valuable than an isolated investment in status goods. An idea of plenitude that redefines “wealth” and “prosperity” as chosen activities, and time-for-community.

    In many corners and scenes around this country, we can begin to taste such a future for Scotland. And to be fair, the aim of defining Scottish identity as a pursuit of sustainable wellbeing has been continuous through all the political administrations in the Scottish Parliament since 1999. To make sustainable wellbeing a justification for state power has to be worth the candle – Perez is adamant about the necessary role for state intervention and direction here.

    But there’s a terrible, metallic flavour on our collective tongue, a dark leaky filling: and that is our continuing entanglement in a British (and international) military-industrial complex which is a waste – both economic and moral – of our precious human capital. Scotland needs to step down from its black watch, and march vigorously towards the green-fringed daylight.

    - For more on Scottish affairs from Pat Kane, please visit Thoughtland.

    <em>Picture: Dan Random</em>

    Picture: Dan Random


    Sheena and the Queen
    The Scottish attitude to the Queen is an odd one. Many Scots, in the 20th and 21st centuries, might have taken against an English monarch who dared to lord (or lady) it over them. But everyone finds the Queen hard to dislike. She rules as a Taoist would rule: quiet, unjudgmental, adapting to change like water negotiates rocks. But, of course, that’s the trouble with the whole principle of hereditary monarchy: the next one along could be a right git (though Prince Charles, who loves Scotland, is hardly likely to be that, even if he mangles too much of our wildlife).

    The Queen praised Scotia for “the grit, determination and humour, the forthrightness and above all the strong sense of identity of the Scottish people – qualities,” she added cannily, bearing in mind the Union and all, “which contribute so much to the life of the United Kingdom.” Aye, right. That’ll be the oil and net contribution to the Treasury, presumably.

    Presenting a new mace, she added: “Here’s a mace.You can steam off the Poundstretcher sticker on the bottom. Right, I hereby declare this supermarket, er Parliament, open.”

    About time too. The late actor and theatre director Tom Fleming gave a powerful reading of The Beginning of a New Song, by Iain Crighton Smith: “Let our three-voiced country/sing in a new world/joining the other rivers without dogma/but with friendliness to all around her.”

    Then came the highlight of the event, Sheena Wellington’s singing of A Man’s a Man for a’ That, with words soaked in egalitarian sentiment. When first mooted for the opening, someone rejoicing in the ruritarian title of Hereditary Bearer of the National Flag of Scotland fulminated that the song was a disgrace and that we should have the English-British national anthem, presumably (or presumably not) without its line about “rebellious Scots to crush”. Wha’s like us, eh? Weird, weird people.
    Sheena had already criticised “the class of Scot who would eat deep-fried horse manure if you told him it was the latest craze in Islington”. It’s the real class divide in Scotland: the weird poodles and the doggedly bold.

    Come the day and come the hour, Sheena smiled calmly and looked directly – boldly – at the Queen before she closed her eyes and sang: “Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord/Wha struts and stares an a’ that?/Tho hundreds worship at his word/He’s but a cuif for a ‘that/His ribband, star and a’ that/The man o independent mind/He looks and laughs at a’ that.”

    One might have expected Donald Dewar, right-wing Labourite, safe pair of hands, the man who despaired at the sovereignty-of-the-people gestures during the swearing in, to tone down the leftie stuff but, to everyone’s surprise, he added to it. In an excellent speech – the best he ever gave – he said: “At the very heart of that song is a very Scottish conviction: that honesty and simple dignity are priceless virtues, not imparted by rank or birth or privilege, but part of the soul.”

    In a magnificent passage, he conjured up aural echoes of Scotland’s past: “The shout of the welder in the din of the great Clyde shipyards; the speak of the Mearns with its soul in the land; the discourse of the Enlightenment, when Edinburgh and Glasgow were a light held to the intellectual life of Europe; the wild cry of the great pipes; and back to the distant noises of the battles of Bruce and Wallace.”

    It was moving stuff, and made one think of how, given time and the right event, someone of Donald’s erudition could really say something meaningful and aesthetically impressive, whereas most of his hurried life in and out of committee rooms saw him read dull, formulaic verbiage, doubtless written for him by some party hack.

    Given the occasion and the company, the whole event was magnificently, honestly and uninsultingly left-field. We just stated who we were and what we believed, beyond party and present-day concerns. When it was over, I’d to make my way to a BBC Radio Scotland caravan parked just off the Mound to throw in my tuppence-worth with a few other guests.

    But I could hardly move in the crush outside. Crowds lined the streets and, while I could see the caravan, I couldn’t get across the road for a parade of children, soldiers, politicians and pipers. I wasn’t much bothered. It was a joyous day. The sun shone. Concorde flew overhead. Everyone, visitor and native alike, looked delighted. The earlier apathy appeared to have disappeared. It wasn’t the political prospect of anything much happening for Scotland under devolution. I’ve already put you right on that one. It was just that it was a lovely day and, for once, on an occasion outwith sport, saltires proudly flew. We were Scotland, come what may. And we’ll take any excuse for a pairty.

    I was supposed to be at the radio caravan for 12.30. I made it for 12.55. Lesley Riddoch and her guests had been bemoaning the fact that the day had not been declared a public holiday and, being unaware of this consensus, I blundered in, saying it didn’t matter any more. Result: dirty looks from all present, who obviously felt passionately about the issue. I backed a holiday, but just felt it was yesterday’s debate. After that, as I recall, most of the discussion was taken up with my ponytail.

    Later, I went home to let my hair down in a private celebration of the official opening of a parliament that was to take me away from news reporting – which I loved – and into a closed, school-like world whose rules I could never follow and where every utterance was examined by a newly formed political press corps, many of whom affected to detest the place that was to keep them in work for years to come.

    by Lesley Riddoch

    <em>Lesley Riddoch cycling in Barra</em>

    Lesley Riddoch cycling in Barra

    Marathons here, MoonWalks there. 10Ks, hill runs, and the man who is going to push a car to the top of Ben Nevis for charity. One thing all these participants have in common – knees.

    So this is a plea on behalf of the small army of slightly crocked people out there (c’mon, make some noise) – why can’t charities organise more communal, celebratory, glad-to-be alive, inclusive, right-on, Lorraine Kelly-attending CYCLING events?

    Why are worthy, fun, outdoor gigs always conducted as if everyone had two good knees?

    When I had two fully functioning kneecaps and a back that didn’t have to be levered sideways out of bed, I jogged, walked, climbed – though not all at the same time and usually with long contemplative gaps in between.

    I sensibly drew the line at marathons, but definitely believed the Great Outdoors was for Shanks’s Pony – not for wheels, bikes or crash helmets. The only time I travelled faster than walking pace was wheeching down a heathery slope on my backside trying not to lose my mobile phone or car keys (again). And paths were for softies (or hangovers).

    Ah, those were the days.

    Like very many 50-plus folk who have been quite active, I’m now not. Or at least not in the same way. I’m not sure if it’s growing older, or early injuries coming back to haunt me, or simply not obeying the physio after bursting both kneecap sacs and then having an arthroscopy to fix a torn cartilage. But walking ain’t quite what it used to be.

    Cycling, on the other hand, is sublime. Non-weight-bearing exercise such as swimming and cycling is great for the slightly crocked – but somehow the great communal experiences of life, from the London Marathon to the MoonWalk, are still confined to walking or running – not cycling. And new long-distance walking paths are built for walkers, not cyclists. Why not? Because at some point we will be both.

    In my worst moments, I think the whippet-like demigods wearing Tour de France lycra to pop round the corner for a packet of fags have done us all a great disservice. They make cycling look difficult, confined to very thin, very young and very male people, and banned for the over-30 female and all those unable or unwilling to wear cycle jerseys or club colours.

    As a result, cycling is seen as a slightly earnest, sweaty and elitist thing to do. Some of that also explains why letting kids out to cycle “unguarded” is more likely to result in a parental asbo than a round of applause from other exercise-loving adults who would rather drive their kids to the (safer) gym.

    The more that slightly shapely post-21-year women take to cycling on our streets en masse, the safer, the less stereotyped and the more fun life on two wheels will become for everyone. On the continent there is less emphasis on speed when cycling. Old ladies, stylish skirted women, Muslim men wearing traditional long tunics, a man with a broken leg in a stookie, and two lovers cycling separate bikes with arms entwined around one another’s waists – all these fabulous non-racing cycling sights were glimpsed in just one afternoon in central Amsterdam, and not a helmet or grumpy pedestrian to be seen.

    Could it happen here? It will. The freshnlo pedal for Scotland 2010 is on 12 September, and you can cycle three, 51 or 100 miles. I’m thinking of leading a breakaway inbetweeny cycle of about 31 miles for normal people.

    Any joiners? Lorraine…?

    By Lesley Riddoch

    Lesley Riddoch and her knee

    Lesley Riddoch and her knee

    Knees. You don’t know you’ve got them till they’re gone. So thank goodness they come in pairs.

    This all started at an energetic gig by The Chair during the Orkney Folk Festival in May 2009.

    Nothing radical seemed to have happened until we were leaving and the bottom part of my leg was facing in the opposite direction. Painful, maddening, embarrassing – and a sorry indictment of my lifestyle.

    Whizzing round on bikes and heaving up the odd hill is no compensation for a decade-long dancing layoff. After ten years without so much as a shimmy on holiday (see not drinking? see a wee bit boring?), the old knees had no idea what was happening when the chance finally came for an unexpected jig.

    Since every cell in the body is replaced every seven years, my current knees had never actually performed a dance. A shameful reflection on the grim tedium we put ourselves through under the guise of “grown-up life.”

    Anyway, I acquired the first of many elastic bandages and hopped/hobbled and slightly astounded myself at the truly painful and limiting nature of the Thing.

    Time passed. Self-diagnosis was combined with a stoic disregard for doctorly advice. I thought the injury had mostly sorted itself out. Six months later, I went to Brussels and walked around a bit. That set off a hobble which I took to London and turned into a raging knee malfunction after a mile of walking and two hours standing to present some housing awards.

    On the way back to Scotland, halfway up one of those endless airport corridors, my knee locked and I was just stuck. Any attempt to move prompted shooting pain, and I stood gazing along a length of a grey corridor towards the exit door – now a massive distance away. An insight into the way my 80-something mum probably feels about travel, and an early warning about life without joints that work.

    With doctors suggesting it would get better with RICE – rest, ice, compression and something starting with E that isn’t exercise – I began to feel faintly despairing. I realised I hadn’t got a gamey knee – I was learning to become a person with a gamey knee. There is a world of difference.

    People with gamey knees look at mountains instead of climbing them, think they’re doing well walking to the bus stop, and start ogling other peoples kneecaps. Old fogeydom was beckoning. Horses are put down when their knees go, humans struggle on – partly crocked and totally demoralised.

    I marvelled at the old me. The person who once hopped off a train at Newtonmore, hired a taxi to the foot of Creag Meagaidh, stashed posh gear somewhere unwaterproof and slogged up the hill at 2pm in September. All it had taken was one glimpse of the (false) summit in clearing weather, and the decision had been made. Now I’d be thinking seriously about the height of the step down from the train.

    Some things are hard to reconcile in life. Others are impossible. So the crocked former walker waves goodbye to the old self. It’s just easier. Less painful, in every sense. And once you have become a person with a gamey knee, there is no going back.

    Thankfully, someone snapped me out of this before it was too late.

    Benjamin Gilbert is a Belgian physio based in a Perth practice which treats the football players of St Johnstone. As I limped in after another bout of frozen knee, he asked me to squat – at which point I fell over – and diagnosed a medial ligament strain. He handed me a pair of crutches and told me not to come back until I’d persuaded my way into an MRI scan and an arthroscopy.

    That shook me. The crutches were fun (see using a disabled space at Tesco!), but I realised this self-employed man was refusing to take my cash. This was serious – but fixable. He was the first person to even suggest it.

    But how was I supposed to work my way to the top of the MRI waiting list – recrock the knee? Occupy Perth Royal Infirmary radiology department?

    Benjy’s top tip: “Think like an Italian man, not a Scottish woman. Don’t take no. Agitate your doctor. Call every day. Then call back. Don’t visualise pushing some little old lady out of the way. All you are doing is making your own case. And you deserve treatment.”

    Far easier said than done. But I knew he was right. I needed NHS assertiveness training, to get an injury dealt with this decade, not next one.

    Agitating began in earnest and three months later I’ve had the op and recovered. Ish. I didn’t do the exercises Benjy gave me. Why? Well, cycling around furiously on a brand-new bike, I assumed the exercise must be hyper-delivering the piffling physio movements. Wrong.

    So now starts the long haul, the wee regular repetitions. The little-but-often attitude to life I have never managed to embrace. Yet.

    There’s one comfort. There are a lot of gamey knee-holders around. And that’s what these occasional reports are going to be about.

    Balmora

    Balmoral: Unlikely battlefield. Picture: Stuart Yeates

    It’s hard to pick a clear way through the undergrowth of political obfuscation and pro- and anti-monarchist posturing in the “Balmoral paths” controversy, but the general lie of the land seems to be as follows.

    The Cairngorms National Park access plan for the Balmoral area, arising out of the radical 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act, recommended that a couple of paths on the estate be given “core path” status – poshed-up and publicised, in other words. Balmoral objected, which led to an autumn inquiry and various toings-and-froings.

    Roseanna Cunningham, environment minister at Holyrood, wrote to the UK government in mid-December, asking for “additional information” and saying she was “minded” to grant core-path status. Home office minister David Hanson wrote back in mid-January to say that security issues were paramount, whereupon Cunningham indicated that core-path status would not be awarded.

    The subsequent stooshie has revolved around whether two forms of behind-the-scenes pressure were applied: on Cunningham, by her party’s hierarchy, to perform an apparent volte-face; and – potentially more serious – by someone on the other side of the debate in speaking to the press and ramping up the theory that Cunningham was putting her anti-monarchist views ahead of her ministerial position.

    There had certainly been brouhaha in various Scottish papers, notably the Daily Record and the Press and Journal making it seem like a mini constitutional crisis. The issue duly reached First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, where Alex Salmond and Labour leader Iain Gray clashed or whatever it is they do every Thursday lunchtime.

    Salmond claimed that Cunningham had not at all been intending to trample on Westminster’s curtilage – and whatever the ins and outs of the issue, and whatever one’s political allegiance, it would be hard to dispute that Salmond, in full rhetorical flow, won the exchange comprehensively.

    So much for the politics. What about the land-access side of things?

    While similar paths would surely have had core status nodded through in a non-Windsoresque area, what is largely being overlooked here is that the Balmoral paths are not threatened with closure and neither is the Land Reform (Scotland) Act under threat. A failure to award core status does not equate to installing barbed wire and guard-dogs. There is literally a huge middle-ground that is neither bigged-up nor barricaded off, and even without core classification the Balmoral paths remain in that middle-ground.

    Dennis Canavan – former Labour MP and current convener of Ramblers Scotland – makes precisely this point in a letter to the Scotsman,
    as does Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland political editor, in his blog.

    Ironically, there is walking-community distrust of the whole core-path concept, with many seeing it as undermining and “corridorising”
    broader access rights. Core paths, so the argument goes, risk moving Scotland closer to the more restrictive English rights-of-way
    situation.

    Two final thoughts. Where exactly are these paths? The general locations being mentioned are Ballochbuie and Glen Muick, neither of
    which are within five kilometres of Balmoral Castle. Any chance of a grid reference or two? The Ballochbuie path system, leading through beautiful pine woods, is one of the traditional approaches to mighty Lochnagar: nowhere near as popular as the routes via Loch Muick and Glen Callater, but still walked on a regular basis.

    Also, it should also be noted that Deeside-based walkers and climbers have maintained a good – if mutually wary – relationship with the royals over the decades, as shown by Gelder Shiel bothy on the estate remaining available outwith the stalking season. One grizzled hill man is known to have met Prince Charles out for a walk with his dogs in a glen further from Balmoral than the two paths in question, and reported the encounter as almost normal (apart, that is, from there being a dark-windowed Range Rover parked at the glen-end, containing a protection officer with a Heckler and Koch somewhere about his person).

    Even more striking, at least one weary walker has been given a lift along an estate track by the Queen herself. Lesley Riddoch,
    writing in the Scotsman
    (although you need to subscribe to read the whole piece), quotes similar examples of royals and riff-raff mixing amicably on Balmoral
    estate.

    Given this level of mutual tolerance and near-normality, the current fuss is unlikely to be well received by many in the Deeside area. Most of the noise is coming from urbanites based many miles away.