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Picture: raebrune

Picture: raebrune

Every bacon roll has a story to tell. Where was it bought? Why was the purchaser there? Did it taste good, or could it have been better? What sort of premises produced it? What were the serving staff like? Would you go back?

All these questions, and more, are addressed by Stuart Crawford as he follows his tastebuds on a sporadic tour of Scotland’s cured-pigmeat-and-bread outlets. What is out there to be found, what can be recommended – and what should be avoided?

I don’t venture up to Edinburgh from East Lothian as much as I used to, and increasingly find our capital city irritating. It’s so noisy, what with interminable roadworks and building renovations, and of course the execrable standard of bagpipe playing from the buskers on Princes Street. I spent 20 years as an officer in a Scottish regiment, and that teaches you what good bagpipe playing sounds like. You don’t hear it on Princes Street as a rule.

However, occasionally I venture up, and last week was one of those occasions. I had a board meeting to attend in the west end of the city. Like most sane people, I avoid bringing a car to Edinburgh. Not that private cars in the city centre are the problem – it’s actually the buses. There are far too many of them, and a quick scan after 9am shows most are nearly empty as they crawl nose-to-tail along the main thoroughfares. I’m beginning to think the bus companies exist more to provide employment for their staff than to offer a transport service to the public.

So I usually come by train, park and ride from Newcraighall. On this occasion I got off at Haymarket (yes, yes, smirk if you must) and found myself stravaigin’ up William Street on the way to my meeting. It being early in the morning, I had missed breakfast, and on noticing Herbie’s establishment – which boasted of “…a taste of quality in the West End” – I popped in to ask if they could do me a bacon roll.

I got the sort of reception you would expect if you’d arrived at JFK from Mogadishu without a passport. A surly besom, not best pleased that her morning preparations for the day ahead had been interrupted by someone with the temerity to actually want to buy something, treated me with all the charm that a prison camp guard would afford an inmate. My timorous inquiry as to the availability of sustenance was met with a series of orders, barked at me in a manner that would not shame the academy sergeant major at Sandhurst – and I should know, because I’ve done the course there.

“Butter?” “Brown or white?” “Sauce?” “Is that it?” A staccato machine-gun burst of aggressive questions followed, with me desperately trying to defuse the situation by being cloyingly polite. To no avail. Brunhilda was having none of it. My bacon roll was deposited on the counter gracelessly and money taken. I left hurriedly without a backwards glance.

Paradoxically, the food itself was rather good, served in a sort of glazed, white finger roll, with an ample sufficiency of well cooked meat. No complaints there, but the service killed it. Everything that is wrong with Scotland’s service industry in a microcosm.

A charmless experience overall, best avoided unless you’re desperate.

Marks out of ten
Accessibility (parking, shop entrance): 6

Premises (layout, busyness, time to be served, etc): 5

Staff (friendliness, efficiency): 0

The roll (freshness, taste): 7

The all-important bacon: (quantity, taste): 6

Price (£1.50, good value for money): 5

Overall average score: 5

In summary, a nice product spoiled by staff aggression and surliness. Avoid. There are better places nearby.

Scoring guide: 10–8, worth making a detour; 7–5, good enough, but no great shakes; 4–2, only if you’re desperate; 1 phone the doctor.

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Brigitte Bardot, by Gerald Laing

Brigitte Bardot, by Gerald Laing

By Bill Heaney

The artist Gerald Laing has died at his home, Kinkell Castle on the Black Isle, aged 75.

Laing was best known for his iconic images, which included as the remarkable 1962 portrait of French film star Brigitte Bardot and, more recently, his paintings of Amy Winehouse, who herself died earlier this year.

Always operating on the pulse of modernity, Laing’s early talent was recognised by both his contemporaries and the art establishment whilst he was a student at St Martin’s College of Art in London. He painted many of his memorable images there, including the one of Bardot, which went on to become a bestselling Habitat poster and highly collectable screenprint.

Laing was invited along with other British Pop artists, notably Richard Smith, Peter Blake and Joe Tilson, to attend weekly discussions about the “New Idea”, and at about the same time in New York he was accepted on the art scene in America.

He spent some time living with Robert Indiana and worked in the same circles as the still to become famous Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Rosenquist, among others.

Laing was at the centre of the American Pop Art movement. Before graduating, he had been taken on by a leading American gallery, after which he then moved his young family to New York, where he made a successful name for himself as an “American” artist.

He showed his work at the American Pavilion at São Paulo Biennale in 1966 and his paintings were acquired by leading American museums and institutions. The subjects of his work during this period were mainly based around four themes: the novelty of space travel; the modern and dangerous pursuit of dragster racing; sport parachuting; and his infamous Starlets, the bikini-clad “ideal” women.

Laing had a dedicated passion and appreciation for machinery and young women that lasted throughout his lifetime.

Friends describe him as “a bold and political thinker”, and Laing was also known for using the Pop idiom as reportage to confront controversial issues throughout his career, often provoking strong reactions.

For example, his commemorative work Lincoln convertible, believed to be the only painted record of President John F Kennedy’s assassination by a living artist of significance, was deemed too controversial to display.

It was hidden away from view by his art dealer in a shed for almost 30 years. Again according to friends, so profound was the impact of this on Laing, and such was his disappointment, that it contributed towards shattering his faith in the American Dream.

Similarly, the body of work he produced in response to the wars in Iraq and the 7/7 London bombings are later examples of Laing using his art as a platform on which to confront contemporary values and the establishment.

In this case, despite making highly uncomfortable viewing, Laing achieved immediate success with them and as they have been widely publicised and exhibited as some of the most significant and incisive commentaries on these matters.

Laing, whom friends say was disillusioned with the American politic, moved to the Highlands to fulfil a childhood dream of rebuilding a castle ruin and he purchased ailing but beautiful Kinkell Castle, near Inverness.

Newly married to his beloved muse and second wife, Galina, they departed New York together and returned to the United Kingdom on the QE2. The happy couple were treated to a send-off party on board the ship with a cake Lichtenstein had decorated with the saltire to celebrate the occasion.

Laing was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1936, the son of a soldier from the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and Enid Foster, originally from Newcastle. Laing’s relationship with his father was absent and his childhood even with his mother was unhappy, but his response to this was to embark on life from scratch with tremendous energy and zeal.

Gerald Laing

Gerald Laing

As head of an extensive family, what he achieved in his lifetime is both inspiring and admirable. After training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Laing joined his father’s regiment in 1955 as a young officer.

He soon discovered, however, that the life of a soldier was not for him – and, after a brief flirtation with the idea of becoming a ballet dancer, Laing left the Fusiliers in 1960. After taking art lessons in secret, he enrolled to become an art student at St Martin’s.

After gradual success and finally eminence in America, and a grand retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art on his return to the UK, he treated the ruin of Kinkell Castle like a giant work of sculpture, lovingly hand-crafting and repairing it with great expertise and newly acquired skills.

Laing also found time during this period to set up a tapestry workshop, where he taught himself the traditional skills of tapestry weaving. Once content that he had acquired sufficient skills himself, he trained and employed a team of weavers who ran a successful enterprise, and Henry Moore was among a number of famous people who had tapestries made there.

Laing also set up a bronze foundry at Kinkell Castle after experiencing an epiphany at the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner.

He sought out and worked under the expert guidance of George Mancini, a retired Italian master in bronze whose family used traditional methods passed down from Roman times.

It was from this particular venture that Laing built an incredible body of sculptural work comprising of both personal and public commissions over a period of 30 years.

His earliest surviving examples of working in bronze can be seen in the Galina Series, a group of portrait bronzes depicting the love of his life. Further significant sculptures include: Four Rugby Players and The Line-out at Twickenham, the home of English rugby.

His frieze of The Wise and Foolish Virgins adorns the Standard Life building in George Street, Edinburgh. Axis Mundi, again for Standard Life, and a memorial to Sir Arthur Conan are also in Edinburgh and there are two editions of The Highlanders at Helmsdale in Sutherland.

Notable portrait commissions carried out by Laing include Sir Paul Getty, Sam Wanamaker, Luciano Pavarotti, Johnny Johnson and Siaka Stevens.

Laing’s work is collected all over the world. Examples can be found in the collections of the National Gallery, the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; in the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York; and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; and in the Indianapolis Museum.

Other examples of Laing’s work are known to be in the private collections of some of the world’s most famous women, including the supermodels Jerry Hall and Kate Moss, the designer Sadie Frost and the late singer Amy Winehouse.

Laing’s decision to divide his time between London and Kinkell Castle in the last decade of his life created a huge stir in the art world and affected a renaissance period for him that lasted right up to his death.

Friends say this makes the loss of his battle with his illness even more tragic, as the true extent of his renown was just being realised and re-addressed.

Laing died of cancer, and worked right up until his death. He leaves three ex-wives and six much-loved children.

Gerald Laing, artist, 11 November 1936 – 23 November 2011.

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A British patrol in Helmand1 <em>Picture: US Army</em>

A British patrol in Helmand Picture: US Army

By Stuart Crawford

It sometimes seems that hardly a day goes past without news of another military death in Afghanistan. So much so that we have become, I suspect, almost inured to it. But the families and relatives who are affected directly are not inured, that’s for sure.

Every death must be a blow to the soul, not only for the latest victim’s loved ones, but also for those who have suffered previously and who need no more reminders of their own losses.

The British military death toll in Afghanistan now stands at 357 (although it should be noted that casualty figures do not always add to an agreed total figure owing to differences is reporting procedures and other anomalies). The statistics say that 309 have been killed in action, with 42 dying from “other causes”. That seems to leave six deceased unaccounted for – but, whatever the circumstances, the ever-increasing total makes grim reading.

It wasn’t long ago that we reached 100 dead, and now the 500 milestone looms. I fear it won’t be long in coming unless we see sense and get out of there soon.

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Closer examination of the butcher’s bill reveals some other information. Some 290 of the total were killed by hostile action, five by “friendly fire”. As anyone who has been in the military will tell you, there is no such thing as friendly fire: all fire is unfriendly and can kill you. The Americans call it fratricide, which is more accurate, or “blue on blue” – friendly forces are habitually marked on the map in blue, the enemy in red. But it is heartbreaking however you label it. Killed by your own side is really hard to take.

The ages of the dead make for sobering reading. “Only” 15 were aged 40 or over. The vast majority were in their prime, aged 20–29, while 31 were aged 19 and under, barely out of childhood. This indicates that – surprise, surprise – most of those killed in the line of duty were in the front line, as it were, where the enthusiasm and fitness of youth – and perhaps the innocence, too – is at a premium. Nowhere is really safe for the troops in Afghanistan, with IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and suicide bombers unrestrained by any recognizable conventional combat zone. But it is the boys and girls at the sharp end who bear the brunt.

Worth mentioning in passing is that the death rate for officers is proportionally higher than that for NCOs and soldiers. A total of 30 officers have been killed in theatre, compared to 323 other ranks. This is twice as many as one would expect had deaths been proportionate across the ranks. It is a very British statistic. Not only is the proportion of officers to men (and women) high in the British army compared to European equivalents, at approximately one in every 20, but it also reflects the British tradition of leading from the front.

Nobody can accuse the British “officer class” of shirking its duties – quite the opposite. At Sandhurst, we were taught never to ask one’s men to do anything one wouldn’t do oneself. The lesson obviously still sticks.

Interestingly, the gender of those killed is out of kilter with the makeup of the army at least. Some 10 per cent or thereabouts of the army is now female, yet there has been just one female soldier killed in Afghanistan. One is too many, but it may reflect the fact that, even in these modern times, traditionalists keep women out of the combat areas. Do feminist activists see this is a good or bad thing? Would true equality include a proportionate number of casualties?

Not surprisingly, it is the army which has borne the brunt of those killed in action, some 289 so far. But what is noticeable is that the Royal Marines, part of the Royal Navy, seem to have suffered the highest proportional casualties of all. Forty-nine Marines killed out of a total corps strength of just over 8,000 is a rate roughly three times higher than the army equivalent, based on total numbers in both cases. Possibly this is because the Marines, like the Parachute Regiment, are elite troops and are always to be found where the action is hottest.

Finally, we should look closer to home. Of all military deaths in the current conflict, some 24, or 6.7 per cent, have been Scots. Given that Scotland comprises roughly 8.6 per cent of the UK population, and that traditionally Scots have provided a disproportionately larger part of the British armed services, this seems to indicate that, for once, we have been spared the very worst of the casualty toll to date. Compared with the first world war, when 557,000 Scots served and one in four was killed – a death rate of 26 per cent compared to 11 per cent for Britain as a whole – we have, thankfully, got off lightly.

But not lightly for those who have suffered the grievous loss of a son, brother, husband, partner or friend. I wish I could believe that their deaths have not been in vain.

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