Monday, 30 June 2008
"Labour insiders believe he could be the ideal candidate ..."!
For a second I thought they were referring to Sheridan. They weren't. But I bet you anything they're cock-a-hoop at the prospect.
There is no doubt in my mind that this by-election will be on 24 July. Labour are terrified of losing to the SNP so the sooner they have it, the harder it is for us to make the inroads required. That means it'll be a very close run thing and the more candidates there are, the more the votes are spread.
It will be a remarkable feat if the SNP runs Labour close - remarkable but forgettable. Victory is what we're aiming for and that's what people will remember when it comes to the Independence Referendum that Tommy's so keen to see - allegedly!
Saturday, 28 June 2008
On that note, I'm off to bed! Please, no more news ... !
Friday, 27 June 2008
"I think Scotland could take a stand in a wonderful way, ecologically and morally and ethically. Scotland could stand for something in the way that Norway has done historically."
is someone who genuinely understands the essence of our desire for Independence. So good on ye Annie and don't worry, sweet dreams are made of this, when tomorrow comes. Would I lie to you?!
Thursday, 26 June 2008
Not quite. My first night was not how I expected it to be. Had I not been so exhausted, I’d have cried myself to sleep. I had never been to a developing country before, I had never travelled so far, I had never travelled alone.
It was a four hour drive from Colombo to Galle on the South coast where I would be living and working for the next three months. That drive convinced me I’d made a huge mistake – anyone who’s experienced driving Sri Lankan style will know what I mean. But it wasn’t just that.
The sight of goats eating the rubbish in the street unnerved me.
That was day one and things could only get better. You will be pleased to hear that they did.
I want to tell you a bit about my background, something about the Challenges Worldwide Approach and what I think I've gained from the experience.
It had never occurred to me to work in a developing country, it just wasn’t me – I liked worthy causes but not THAT much. One night last October however, Aileen and I went to a party in Edinburgh at the home of Eric Swanopoel who works for Bill Wilson MSP. And there I met Mary Cuttle. I had one or two glasses of wine and I vaguely remember Mary telling me she was going to Sri Lanka as a volunteer. “oh that’s a good idea” I said and I may have added “I’d love to do that”. Well, that’s just what you say isn’t it?
Next thing I knew however, the details of the Challenges Worldwide Information evening in Glasgow were in my inbox along with an email from Mary saying “so glad you’ve decided to go”! Feeling guilty I decided I’d better lest anyone think I’d just had one too many that night.
So, as I walked through the door of the information evening on 6 November last year, I clearly remember thinking “this is as exciting as it gets” because I knew deep down that I didn’t do stuff like that. Ninety minutes later I left through the same door and I knew I would shortly be living in Sri Lanka. There were interviews to get through, money to be found, details to work out but none of that mattered – I knew I was going.
I felt exhilarated.
I felt sick to my stomach.
I felt like I was off my head.
But I was going.
So, what changed my mind?
Secondly, it was the approach that Challenges Worldwide took – I wouldn’t be going out to be a spare pair of hands, I would be placed in a job with an organisation who really needed my particular skills, I’d have a job description, feedback meetings and an exit interview on my return. Hudson Recruitment had people at the information evening too who reassured me that this would not be seen in the job market as anything other than a positive move. There were other Challenges volunteers out there and there was a country manager who would be available to give advice and support.
We had a language lesson – learning to speak some Sinhala, whilst not essential, would prove to be important to all of us.
We had culture lessons – they turned out to be crucial. It’s one thing offending someone in your own country (I do it all the time) but it’s probably good advice not to do it when you’re a guest in a foreign land.
The next day we all started work. I was placed as a Communications Consultant with CBTD – Communities Business & Technology Developers. Tells you nothing about them, you’ll understand why my communications strategy strongly encouraged them to change the name. They are a livelihood development organisation and their biggest programme at the moment is one for people with disabilities.
As I said, I worked on a communications strategy for them, I designed a website, and I recruited a communications officer so that my strategy didn’t go into a drawer in May, never to be seen again. That was a very important criteria for all of the placements set up by Challenges Worldwide – that the work of the volunteers was sustainable. There would be little point in the work only being of use in the time that you were there – it had to be something the host organisation could benefit from and develop over the long term.
The experience stretched me professionally because I was working for an organisation with no website, no information leaflets, little in the way of annual reports and only one English speaker – my boss, the Chief Executive. Except he was Chief Executive and Chief Bottle Washer. He did everything, he was all over the country, sometimes OUT of the country, he worked non stop and he had very little time to speak to me. He was great when he did – and extremely informative but often we’d go a week without speaking and sometimes pre-planned meetings would be cancelled because someone else turned up at the office unannounced.
I have to tell you it takes great imagination and perseverance to put together a Communications Strategy when there is nothing there to start with and no-one to communicate with.
In those challenging times, the support and advice offered by Challenges Worldwide back in Edinburgh, was invaluable. For a start I learned that it wasn’t anything I was doing wrong, that Sri Lanka time is very different to our time as is their working culture eg when an unexpected visitor appears at the office, we would think it rude if all other meetings were cancelled to accommodate this person. In Sri Lanka, it’s considered rude not to welcome them and give them your time.
Sri Lankans work hard but it’s different, it’s not so highly pressured and really all I had to do was slow myself down and realise that I didn’t have to go at 90mph. Every Friday we sent a written report to Alex at Challenges and every week without fail, he responded to any concerns with reassurance and sound advice.
He also came out to Sri Lanka and met with every volunteer and their organisation and that gave us an opportunity to make sure we were on the right track.
So, what have I gained from the experience. The list of benefits is endless.
I can handle insects! Admittedly I fought the mosquitoes and the mosquitoes won - but I can cope with them!
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Monday, 23 June 2008
Sunday, 22 June 2008
Friday, 20 June 2008
So now, if they can find the ball, it's penalty shoot out - is it sudden death? Don't know, not sure. Oh no, the poor Croatian guy has just missed!!! This is why I hate watching these things. I'm not tough enough. It's not sudden death, it's the full penalty shoot out. Tis a beautiful game indeed but also a cruel one. I'm away to hide behind a cushion!
"Madam, - I honestly can't see what all the fuss is about. It has long been customary and deemed polite for us Irish to automatically say no to anything offered by a host, and to keep saying no every time the offer is repeated, until eventually a stage is reached when, because of the host's insistent pleas, a refusal is regarded impolite. This custom has been comically displayed in every FATHER TED episode.
We've been in the EU long enough now for the central powers there to realise this important national trait, so they should now know what to do about our Lisbon No vote.
Does anyone know the German, French or Italian for: "Ah, go on, go on"? - Yours, etc,
Cloghroe, Co Cork.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
... several years ago I worked for a large cancer research organisation and every year we had an annual conference. One year it was in Birmingham and as the Scottish contingent were waiting for our return flight at the aforementioned airport, two of us decided to pay a visit to the ladies'!
A burly polisman (police officer for non Scots) stood outside the loos with his arms folded across his chest and when I tried to enter, simply said "no". "What do you mean 'no'?" I enquired to which he simply replied "no". "Do you mean that I can't go to the loo?" I asked (thinking you better not bloody well mean that because I'm going whether you like it or not - I'm always braver in thought than in action!). "Correct" was the informative response. His communication skills were not great it has to be said. Indeed, I was very tempted to start a new line of questioning to ascertain whether or not it was actually ME he was talking to seeing as his eyes were fixed straight ahead of him. I decided against. I also couldn't be bothered asking him why because drawing teeth is not my idea of fun. Instead ... and here's the bit that's actually relevant to the story ...
Instead I moaned to my friend about how there had better be other loos we could use and, as we started to look for them, she spotted something. "There's your reason Anne" she called over and indicated toward someone who looked very like the Queen heading toward us followed by a posse of terribly genteeel elderly ladies tiptoeing eagerly behind.
"WHAT?" said I, in what turned out to be just a touch too loud a voice "I can't go to the loo so that THAT unelected billionairre who can well afford to have someone carry her own posh portaloo behind her, doesn't have to bump into one of her peasants?".
"Oh hello" interjected a soft male voice "do you come here often?" - bit of an odd thing to say outside the ladies' loo at the airport but yes, you've guessed it. Good old Prince Philip had bounded on ahead of the wife and had been standing behind me throughout the conversation.
He proceeded to tell us that a new wing had been added to the airport and they were doing the official opening but I wasn't listening that closely - partly because I was still desperate for the loo but mainly because I was blushing with embarrassment (yes, it does happen)! As I said yesterday in my piece about the monarchy, I believe we should all be treated equally and that includes them so I was pretty discomfited that I'd been so disrespectful to the man's wife. Anyway that was that really except to say that she never even looked in the direction of the ladies' loo!
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Reading this story about a so-called "bungling armed robber". I hate when journalists use words like "bungling" to describe someone like that. The reason behind the description is because this guy parked his car (where he prepared for his robbery) between two CCTV cameras. Ho ho, let's all laugh at how silly that was. Let's not. This is not some cuddly big bear you know, some "nice but dim" harmless character. This is someone who is using terror to take someone else's money.
I once met someone who'd been jailed for attempted armed robbery. This guy didn't think it was any big deal that he'd held a gun to a bank worker because "it wasn't a real gun obviously"! Well, no, it wasn't obvious to the bank worker - otherwise the thief wouldn't have bothered would he? Can you imagine how scared you'd be if it happened to you? When you later (often months later) discovered it was a fake gun, do you think that would erase the bad dreams, the sleepless nights and the terror that he might come back? It wouldn't. By then the damage has been done. You've stood there, as this poor woman in the Post Office in Inverkip no doubt did, thinking you are about to die a violent death. To then see a report describing the person who put you through all this as merely "bungling" is just adding insult to injury.
Sunday, 15 June 2008
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Friday, 13 June 2008
Anyway it may leave the treaty in dissarray but there are two important points to make here:
First, it clearly demonstrates the power of even the smallest of nations when you're a full member state in Europe - something that until we are Independent, Scotland is not. Ireland has a population of 3 million and, as my Irish friend pointed out to me today, with a turnout of 53% or little over 1.5 million people from 500 million in Europe as a whole, that's 0.3% of the entire population having the power to say yes or no to the Treaty. Right now we'd be dependent on the UK govt "granting" a referendum (you know, that thing that was in their manifesto but now seems to have disappeared) and then we'd be waiting for England to make the decision. With Independence we will have the same rights and the same power of veto as Ireland.
Secondly, it may not be the ideal outcome after years of negotiation but it gives Scotland an opportunity to again argue for the removal of exclusive competence for fisheries. Basically, the way the Lisbon Treaty stands (or stood) no country could opt out of the common fisheries policy - a policy which is damaging to Scotland's fishing community - and despite Ian Hudghton MEP and Richard Lochhead MSP (Fisheries Minister) pushing hard on this, Gordon Brown gave in on it and let it go.
Of course an SNP government in an Independent Scotland would have full negotiating rights and would NEVER give in on the CFP. We're not yet Independent but as OUR referendum comes ever closer, I believe two things could happen: Gordon Brown may think it wise to fight a bit harder for Scotland's corner for fear of losing us; and the EU may, in its negotiations, take Scotland a little more seriously knowing that it's likely we'll be a full member state in the next couple of years.
So it's disappointing for the high heid yins in Europe and something satisfactory will need to be worked out but it's been an interesting day and I'll look forward to hearing the response of the European Council next Thursday and Friday!
In my campaign to get elected to Europe, I have been advised to maintain a serious personna and I do - because I'm very serious about Europe and deadly serious about Scotland's Independence. I don't think, however, it does us any harm to view the world through the eyes of a child from time to time.
"Will the person who left the top-secret papers on the train be locked up for 42 days pending further investigation?"
That was it - short but sweet.
My second thought: Am I the only one finding the Tories' position on the extension to 42 days hypocritical? Since when were they the guardians of civil liberties? And since when was David Davies the custodian of human rights?! I look forward to his campaign for the repeal of the Act of Settlement once he's won this particular battle for us ...
And the DUP? What's in it for them and isn't it shameful how easily some folk can be bought off. You DO NOT accept smarties in return for going back on your principles - at least no self respecting person does. I shook my head in disgust on Wednesday night when one of the DUP MPs was vox popped as he left the Commons. "Gordon Brown would have had a humiliating defeat had it not been for us" he declared, adding gleefully "but now, thanks to us he's had a humiliating victory"! Oh well, that's okay then - we can each of us be locked up for 42 days for no good reason now but at least GB looked a bit daft! Eejit.
On that note I'll leave you with a comment left on the Ealing Times website. You could interpret it a number of ways but I'll leave that up to you. It's from Stuart in W7, Lan-dahn!
"Don't blame the DUP, they're easily led; blame the SNP, Gordon knows his seat has gone if he calls an election!"
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
So, today Aileen announced their engagement by text to all her mates and I immediately phoned her up to congratulate her / ask if she was joking / get the gen on how it all came about. I was very surprised to hear that Fraser had actually properly proposed - he's a brilliant guy, very funny, very good company but I'd have thought FAR too COOL to propose!
But no, he did the whole thing - even asking Aileen's father's permission (which is more than Aileen's ever done) before asking Aileen. I am happy to report however that his method of proposing was a pretty cool one. He sent Aileen a text with a photo of him down on bended knee! Unfortunately the text didn't reach her and he phoned her five times to ask if she'd received it yet before finally explaining why he was so anxious to know. THEN ... the text arrived. (I have incidentally checked that Aileen is happy for me to talk about this.)
Anyway I am very excited for both of them and can't wait for the wedding (which I've just invited myself to!!) particularly as one of Fraser's best mates is Bob from Franz Ferdinand - bet FF never thought they'd be wedding entertainers!
Monday, 9 June 2008
We took his bike and he cycled while I marched but he blotted his copybook when he persuaded me to go to the local cafe and buy ice cream. TABLET flavoured ice cream - for any non Scots, tablet is a sweet Scottish delicacy that most of us LOVE but try to AVOID. Tablet flavoured ice cream is lethal and not to be touched by anyone with any sense. I'd just had a conversation with Daniel about how crack cocaine is highly addictive and many people become addicted after trying it once - the irony! It's also very very fattening (thus rendering the walk pointless) but I think I found a way of overcoming that ...
Daniel also wanted a drink and searched at length for the right one. "Why is this such a difficult task?" I enquired in my usual patient manner. "Because most of them have sodium benzoate in the ingredients" he replied. "Benzo what?" I stuttered, suddenly feeling slightly inadequate. "Sodium benzoate" he carried on "if I ate a banana and then drank something with SB in it, the SB would stop me absorbing the goodness of the banana"! Smart kid is Daniel.
Anyway, as I was jokingly saying that it didn't matter because there was no goodness to be absorbed whatsoever in the tablet ice cream ( I am SUCH a good influence on these children), it suddenly occurred to me that it may well work in reverse. The SB prevents absorption of the good bits of good food so maybe it does the same with the bad bits, ie the fat, the sugar and the calories. Tablet ice cream is basically just fat, sugar and calories by the bucketload! I got quite excited, almost like I'd had my very own "eureka" moment.
Daniel gave me one of those looks he often gives me that says: "is she serious / sane / really my aunt?". I soon answered the first one for him when I sent him back in the shop to find a big bottle of anything with a high sodium benzoate content! I guess it's really just as well that he's still of an age where, as I said, they accept you for who you are!
Sunday, 8 June 2008
Friday, 6 June 2008
That war between the Government and the Tamil Tigers, has torn the country apart, costing billions of pounds that could and should have been spent on relieving Sri Lanka of its "developing country" status. More importantly it has cost them tens of thousands of human lives and left a nation in despair with no hope of an end in sight.
What I wanted to know from the European Commission was what efforts were being made by them to facilitate peace negotiations. Since the official end of the ceasefire and the departure of the Norwegians who were the main peace negotiators, the violence has been relentless and many Sri Lankans feel forgotten by the international community.
This morning's bomb blast sent shivers down my spine. Many of my friends are still working out there and living in Colombo where today's attack happened. When I was living there we were instructed not to use public buses because they are always targets. But sometimes it's hard not to do so and difficult to believe you, personally, are in any danger. And, far more importantly, for most Sri Lankan people living and working there, they have no choice, they simply have to take the risk! So far 22 people have died in today's rush hour bus attack, more than 50 have been injured.
And all of this at a time when Sri Lanka is suffering terrible monsoons that have seen 350,000 people displaced and 19 dead this week. All of this when they are asking the international community to send aid to cope with this natural disaster. Think how well they'd fend for themselves if less was spent on fighting this violent war.
This is a country of incredibly warm welcoming people who do not deserve to live with this terrible stress and grief. The official at the European Commission assured me they are making overtures to set up new peace negotiations but that right now, neither the Sri Lankan government nor the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) are open to any kind of negotiations.
I would say (and did say) that we have to redouble our efforts because people in Sri Lanka are losing hope. We all live in this world, we in the developed world certainly benefit from the developing world so it is our absolute duty to help them when they need it the most and today's bomb, the latest in a long line, tells me they need us now!
Thursday, 5 June 2008
It's true! I can't go anywhere in the world but trouble flares up. My old IT manager used to call me a jinx because I just had to look at a computer and it misbehaved - but things have got far worse over the years and now I appear not only to jinx IT equipment but world peace!
I went on holiday to Dusseldorf with some SNP friends a few years ago. Despite all being political, the deal was NO POLITICS until the second day when we unwittingly ended up in the middle of a very noisy demonstration. As my friends never tired of reminding me, it seemed that the war in Sri Lanka reignited itself almost immediately I got off the plane!
And now, here I am in Brussels and there are riots, not just in the city but right outside the building where I was to have a meeting with a Commission official! Fishermen clashing with police - flares being thrown, cars overturned, water cannons drenching them - over EU regulations which prevent individual governments from giving them financial aid. Like everyone they're suffering from the escalating fuel costs and it's worse for them because of course if they can't afford the fuel they could go out of business.
Although it looks scary on the BBC video, I didn't see or hear any of that. I saw the protesters gathering in the morning. The night before, the barbed wire barricades were all over the place. I shivered as van loads of police arrived early yesterday, the visors went on and they appeared to be limbering up, batons at the ready. But I didn't witness any of the televised riots.
I like to think of myself as a bringer together of people, a catalyst for co-operation if you like - but I'm beginning to think that the evidence against me is mounting ... I'm going to Perth at the weekend so people of Perth, stay indoors!
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Monday, 2 June 2008
I´m also going to be meeting with various people at the European Commission including one very important meeting tomorrow which will be about the situation in Sri Lanka where there is a fear that funding from around the world will dry up now that a few years have passed since the Tsunami. It takes much more than 3 years to recover from something like that and the people of Sri Lanka need our support which is what I´ll be saying to this particular official. The great thing is that tomorrow afternoon, after our meeting, he´ll be flying out to Sri Lanka so he´ll see for himself what I´m talking about! (And I´ll be able to advise him on the mosquito situation!)
I flew this morning from Edinburgh Airport so I left my car at my ex brother-in-law´s house and as I was leaving, my phone rang. When I came off he asked who I´d been speaking to and before I could answer I glanced down and saw a leaflet on the doormat from Edinburgh SNP with a photograph of Alyn Smith MEP - "him" I replied "that´s who was on the phone"! Turns out Alyn was getting the same flight as me which was very handy because he always carries your bags without you having to feign female weakness!
So, I am very grateful to both of our SNP MEPs today and I am looking forward to joining them next June when the SNP increases its quota of elected representatives. I would say "fingers crossed" but it´s hard work that makes the difference, speaking of which .... better go!
Now let me say here that I enjoyed it on a superficial level. They’ve done a good job. It was clichéd in parts, predictable of course but also funny, energetic and very entertaining. And the tale is one of friendship and love and support – who can argue with that?
However, that’s not what I want to talk about here. As most of the readers of this blog know I worked in Sri Lanka from January to April of this year and, without wishing to sound pious I’ve come back cleansed of the need to throw myself into the consumer society I had previously been so much a part of.
Well, after watching SATC I want to take a big bar of carbolic soap to the lot of them. It’s funny how I’ve only been away three months but very quickly the symptoms of materialism started ebbing away and on Friday night, in that cinema watching the gluttony of the world we live in, I felt like standing up and saying “why are we all laughing at this?”.
One of the characters is, of course, obsessed with designer labels which means she at one point spends $525 on a pair of shoes and later reveals that a cushion cost her $300! A cushion?! Quite honestly I felt sick because these people may simply be characters in a movie but they reflect real life for many in the rich parts of the world. And yet in huge swathes of our planet people are dying because they cannot afford even the basics like food, shelter and medicines.
I had a conversation with Eilidh Whiteford on Saturday night. Eilidh is going to be the next MP for Banff and Buchan and she is also a campaigns manager for Oxfam. She has spent considerable amounts of time in the developing world and has a great deal more experience than my “introductory” three months. Anyway we chatted about the vast difference in living standards across the world and she made a very good point about the recent petrol shortages in Scotland.
Whilst we (and I am including myself and Eilidh here) were busy complaining about having to queue for petrol for up to half an hour, right across the world increasing fuel costs means people are not getting access to medicines when they need them and as a result their lives are being cut short. The petrol situation was a serious one here and when I’m sitting in a queue having to wait forever to pay hugely inflated prices, I am feeling sorry for no-one but myself. But I doubt anyone will disagree that our problems pale in comparison with those of many of our fellow human beings in the developing world.
Now, petrol is essential to all of us. Designer shoes are not. But to Carrie in Sex and the City, she has got to have them. And I don’t even know if it’s because she likes them. It seems to be simply because of the labels attached to them. I can enjoy works of fiction as much as anyone else. And I have friends who are fairly obsessed with fashion and labels – it doesn’t stop them being good people and many of them will agree with what I’m saying here. And whilst I may not have had the cash or the stupidity to spend that kind of money on shoes, I have wasted incredible sums of money on things I had decided were “necessary” in the past.
I think what happened to me out in Sri Lanka was that I had to manage for three months with very few clothes, not a lot of money, no make up (it just slid off in the heat) and very little of anything that I didn’t really need. And I managed just fine – in fact, I was very happy out there. It didn’t do my conversion any harm to be working with a (now) good friend whose day lasted from 5am to 11pm, who had to handwash absolutely everything, who had no microwave, no freezer, no oven, no car, no nights out, no chance of ever holidaying abroad, an outdoor toilet (my worst nightmare) and who, along with her husband, financially supported her parents, her sister and her child all living in a 2 bedroomed house with no windows – BUT was one of the happiest and most satisfied people I’ve ever met.
I guess passing the time of day with my neighbours who washed every morning and night at the well outside their house because they’d no running water and hearing them complain not once, could also have contributed to my conversion.
And having no television, magazines or Western newspapers for three whole months? Well, I believe that’s been the biggest contributor. Taking a complete break from all of that meant I came back and actually NOTICED the things that previously had passed me by but clearly had seeped into my subconscious – like the media constantly drumming home the message about the need for expensive shoes, hugely overpriced home furnishings, the latest gadgets that are so essential for happy living.
And that – the break from it all – will probably explain why although I enjoyed watching SATC on Friday night, I couldn’t just relax and pretend none of it mattered. I felt uncomfortable watching this woman and her friends so obsessed with material gain because it DOES matter, it matters a lot. What the answer is I don’t know but what I do know is if we turn our backs on the problems of world poverty, the answers will never be found. If we work together, if we all agree that it’s wrong wrong wrong to have so much disparity in the world, then one day, we WILL find the answers.