Monday, August 31, 2009


I enjoy watching gentle programmes on the TV that have happy endings and are, as the French would have it, "Amusant" as opposed to comedies.
So I was quite taken with the BBC1 show this evening "Framed", with Trevor Eve.
The line that had me roaring with laughter was when Eve, the Londoner, asks the local butcher in a tiny shop in Wales for "Something Organic".
" No problem there, boy," says the butcher," I've got brains, liver, kidneys, lights and all sorts of organs."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Out of the shadows..

Bleriot crossed the channel in his 'plane 100 years ago. There are exhibits and shows connected with this feat all around France, along with social and cultural addenda.
Although I didn't have time to see very much, I popped into one show for 10 minutes, and was delighted to see that the French had taken the 100 years ago to mean what life was like then, rather than a dull mechanical or photographic record of the flight.
There were wonderful pictures of what I would classify as fast ladies, and some histories of a few of them.
The Grandes Horizontales ( who I suppose were strictly rather before Bleriot) had a code of honour and conduct that we have completely lost. At a time when marriages were not made in heaven so much but rather for dynastic and entrepreneurial reasons, these ladies had a flourishing time.
Of course, a marriage made in heaven may last forever, but its much more likely to remain a fixture for financial and dynastic reasons. We only have to look at the present state of divorce here and in the States to see how things are going on the made in heaven front.
Back then, a lady who took on a man ( remember Colette and Cheri?) was not jealous or possessive. Indeed, she might very well arrange for the man to be passed on to a younger or at least another version of herself, and they would remain good friends.
I've always thought it rather sad that the equivalent ladies in the UK tended to be hidden away in St. John's Wood in discreet little houses, whilst those in Paris were the Belles of the Ball - quite literally.
Bertie did his best to bring them into the limelight, but even he was finally beaten back by the massed ranks of enraged matrons.
And David, of course, lost his throne over it...

French Leave

I've had a fascinating few days since I last wrote, including visiting Carlisle for a Sunday afternoon and evening, and getting to rural France via Beauvais and the French railway and metro system.
The most interesting bit was Paris for the time it takes to have lunch and change trains. In the old days, the 3:15 train from Montparnasse heading south was hard to catch if flying from Glasgow, as one only had about 1hr and 50 minutes for lunch. Not enough to savour it properly. This time, I had a whole 3 hours, but sadly refrained from sampling the wines as I needed my wits about me to get the right train.
At Montparnasse, of course there is the famous black obelisk, which is the tallest building in France. It was built over 30 years ago, and the story goes that the developers just wanted to fill a big hole with a square block. At the time, the market was a bit soggy for offices, so the architects came up with the idea of a landmark building. The only problem was that it broke every rule as to height and density in Paris, and looked dead in the water - until ( I believe) a junior in the architect's office came up with a cunning plan.
" Why not" he said " Buy the two blocks next door which are going cheap." I'm sure he was looked at as if he had two heads ( happens a lot to me), but he continued.." Then average the height over the whole site..."
Brilliant! So that is why there is the massive tower, and alongside it a one and a half storey Galleries Lafayette stretching as far along the road as the tower goes up.
I noticed lots of police in vans, cars, motorbikes and even push-bikes, who finally picked up a chap who was clearly the object of their search. Everyone was very well behaved whilst the boys in white ( mostly) rushed about.
I like the enlightened entertainment policy that pertains on the Metro. Not only do you have to have a licence, you have to have a quality test before they let you on. On Metro line 4,on Tuesday they had clearly got all the saxophonists together, as there was one at every stop, and at one point a whole combo even got on the train, playing not only jazz, but swing, blues and at one point even classical.
On my way back on Sunday, I was delighted to see and talk to two proper pilgrims, complete with staffs and shells who were going to walk to Santiago de Compostella They had just come from the UK to the Gare du Nord, and were considering where to go to start walking. There are two main ways from France, the one via Tours and the other from Vezelay. I suggested the Vezelay one - its prettier in my view. From the Spanish border its pretty indivisible. They were planning to spend about 4 months on the walk, and be at the Christmas service in the Church. They had the light of the Lord in their eyes - and love for each other too.
And so to Beauvais once more. There is an excellent Bistro opposite the station where I now take my evening meal, as the bus for the airport leaves there at 8pm. On the way, there was a lady standing beside a set of traffic lights. The driver pulled in, the lady hopped aboard, kissed the driver and handed him his supper - and none of your sandwich rubbish either. He had a hot meal which I saw him openeing as he had a 30 minute wait for his return journey.
In France, C'est la Vie.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why "Castleton" Dancing Ladies of Braemar?

"Stumbled on your blog quite by accident when I googled Castleton Dancers - as I do from time to time, just to see if we are getting famous! I thought I should explain where the 'Castleton' comes from. Braemar used to be two villages, Castleton the protestant one,-with a castle- and Auchendryne, the Roman Catholic one on the other side of the river. We happen to use the village hall on the Castleton side to hence we are the Castleton Dancers. Next performance is on Tuesday at Birkhall for Prince Charles. Lovely to meet you all last week and hope your fund raising was successful. Marilyn"
So now you know.
Despite John Knox, the Highlands were long a bastion of Catholicism, and, indeed, it's arguable that those Scots supporting both Young and Old Pretenders were largely Catholic, and those supporting the English were Protestant.
That, however, is far too simplistic a description of the '15 and '45, both of which I've always felt were much more about helping oneself to a bigger slice of cake than about religion, blood lines or, of course, principle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

As She is spoke...

The Herald Diary, always one to keep you amused as one drinks one's first coffee in bed of a morning, referred to somebody as being " East Ham".
Londoners will realise this is one stop short of Barking.
It reminded me of a young man who mentioned that his trousers were Cowdenbeath. When I enquired, I was informed that Cowdenbeath had no ballroom - for the dancing.
And that's true, too

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Start procreating...

Herbert Hoover was quite a wise old bird. One of his sayings was:
" Blessed are the young... for they shall inherit the National Debt".
At the present time, that has a somewhat terrifying ring to it...

It's Curry... again.

I finally got back to Glasgow about 1am this morning to be met by a household that had clearly decided I was a lost cause. Snores emanated from all sleeping bodies ( dog included) but the middle Ms. Lear's cat which is holidaying with us at least said hello before disappearing in what always seems like a puff of smoke.
The end of the walk was great. We had a simply marvellous evening at Finzean House, and the boys were delighted to see some Scottish Country Dancing as performed by the Braemar Lady Dancers of Castleton. I'm not sure what Castleton has to do with it, but they certainly looked very smart in their outfits.
Sunday was definitely a slowish start, but the boys picked up the pace as they neared East Migvie in Glenesk, where exceptional sausage rolls, tea and cake is on offer to the walkers. I get some too. As Angus the Shepherd's son said, " The trouble is, the minute you enter this Glen, time stops, worries cease and nothing is more important than greeting your neighbour." I would recommend it to anyone.
By the time they finished walking on Sunday, the RBL at Banchory had closed its kitchen ( at 8pm) and we had to go to the local Indian Restaurant. As is the case nearly everywhere, it is run by a Bangladeshi. As one of the Gurkhas said, " Sahib, if they put Bangladeshi Restaurant above door, no one will come in!" We had an excellent meal, probably improved by the boys questioning the waiter in his own language about exactly how the food was prepared and cooked.
So it was with a sad heart that I saw them off on Monday morning. They had been excellent company for the week, and were I able to bottle the essence of their leader ( very hunky young British officer) I could make a fortune selling it to young ladies. His take on life was clearly shown when he surveyed the number of dead rabbits on the roads and round about - " Not exactly the master race are they?"
We finished the walk on time in Stonehaven, and were escorted down to the beach by a Police car with lights flashing which impressed the boys no end.They ended up splashing about in the water, the only eventual drawback being the amount of the North Sea which ended on the floor in the Royal British Legion.
We eventually reached Edinburgh about 8pm and the girls had prepared - guess what? Yes, curry and rice.
I'm not sure how well we will do this year. We had quite a number of cheques for £1000 last time, but so far the most we have had is £500. If anyone feels like sending the first £1000 cheque I can arrange a free Gurkha Welfare badge - and a letter of thanks.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's Curry for dinner....

I apologise for being so dilatory with posts but since Saturday night when I hitched up with the Gurkhas I've hardly had a minute.
We set off early Sunday and were in good time at Spean Bridge to have a practice of the laying of the wreath at the Commando Memorial. It went off well and the Press were, if not out in force, at least well represented.
Monday we were on the boat from Mallaig to Inverie on Knoydart and the boys started walking about 11:05.
By the time I got back to Spean Bridge, did the emails, and fielded some phone calls, its was time to collected them at the extreme end of Loch Arkaig, which has to be one of the worst roads in Britain.
On Tuesday morning I had a call from STV saying they wanted to come to film the wreath laying. When I explained we had done it, they suggested we should do it again.
Never loathe to turn down a chance to lay down in front of the Press, I agreed we would redo it at 9am the next morning.
It went very well and STV used it on their 6pm news. Its also available at STV North. I am slightly miffed they cut my third spear carrier part....
Wednesday night was spent at Corour, the highest station in the UK. The boys of course walked in , but I had to take the train from Tulloch.We had a great reception, and I caught the train back to Tulloch just as the boys disappeared over the horizon in their midge nets.As an aside, I was wearing a purple sweater, and rather than land on my skin, they clearly found the colour reminiscent of the heather ( just coming out) and formed a complete covering on the sweater without bothering me at all.
The train back in the morning is a request stop, and the only information I could get was that you just put your hand out and it stopped, like a bus. It wasn't quite like that but it did stop - eventually.
The train was actually the Caledonian Sleeper to Fort William, from London, and a youngish man got off the train at Tulloch with me.
Walking along the platform to greet him was one of the most dazzling young women I have seen in a long time, not only for her looks, but her attire. She wrapped her arms around the youngish man and kissed him passionately ( On Tulloch platform at 9am - I ask you!) and as I walked past them I heard her whisper.. " I'm not wearing any...." I hurried away. I could have been socks of course.
One of the boys doing the walk was involved with EOD ( bomb disposal) and one of the areas they have been involved in is the East End of London around Stratford. You might know that the 2012 Olympics are supposed to be there. There are so many bombs left over from the Blitz that the Army can't cope ( it has many more important commitments in this regard as you might realise) and the work has now been put to a private contractor. My informant tells me.." I have this wonderful dream that when they light the Olympic Flame, the whole lot - sportspeople, media, politicians - will all go up in one almighty bang."
We stayed last night in Kingussie in a proper hotel, so we were able to have baths instead of showers. One of the local GWT committee had laid on a reception for us, and we collected over £1500. Nairn RBL came all the way down and handed over more than £800, and a local arranged a raffle for a bottle of whisky which raised over £150. There were a party of Germans staying who had to be persuaded that they needed a ticket - and as luck would have it, they won the bottle. Give them their due, they put £10 in the collection tin.
So today I came over the Cockbridge to Tomintoul road that the BBC always says is closed in the winter. It's easy to see why as its high, steep and exposed - except you can get to Tomintoul quite easily from the other end. People always imagine the poor souls shivering in the village waiting for the spring thaw.
I'm now in Ballater which benefits from Balmoral just down the road - though I have to say the weather this year is identical to last - pouring. The boys set off at 6:20 this morning and I don't expect to see them again until nearly 8pm. Last year, the best moments of the whole week was them appearing out of the rain at Linn o' Dee.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed - they will have done 42 miles of heavy duty by the time they get there.
And we'll be having curry again for dinner...
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Friday, August 07, 2009

Joanna and GWT on TV!

Please note there will be a programme going out regarding Joanna Lumley's recent trip to Nepal this weekend. Alastair Leithead of the BBC has made a 30 minute film based on Joanna Lumley's visit to Nepal . There should be quite a lot on the work of the GWS and GWT. The programme will be on the BBC News Channel (formerly News 24.) On Saturday 8th August at 5.30am and 2.30pm; and on Sunday 9th August at 3.30am, 1030am, 2.30pm and 11.30pm.

Joanna Lumley in Nepal


After a hectic couple of days meeting VIPs and thousands of grateful ex-Gurkha servicemen and their families in Kathmandu, Dharan and Birtamod in East Nepal, Joanna Lumley and her entourage arrived in Pokhara early on 29th July in two chartered aircraft. Pokhara’s small airport was swamped by enthusiastic, and some rowdy well-wishers from GAESO, NESA and ordinary ex-Gurkha servicemen and their families. Airport security couldn’t cope with the crowd and, after some negotiation, it was agreed that GAESO would lead Ms Lumley through the hundreds of supporters and well-wishers present. Twenty minutes or so later, submerged in phul-mallas and khadas, Ms Lumley was rescued by Col Jeremy Ellis, Director Gurkha Welfare Scheme (GWS) and
Deputy Field Director GWS to start her long planned visit to the GWS. Before leaving England, Joanna Lumley had said how much she wanted to see the work of the GWS and a whole day had been set aside in her programme to do just that. She was joined by her husband and son, her ‘Chief of Staff’ and his wife and a large group of national and international radio and TV media. After the banner waving and raucous crowds at
the airport the welcoming party that greeted her at AWC Kaski were rather more organised but no less enthusiastic and pleased to see her! The path leading into AWC Kaski was lined with eager and excited welfare pensioners, service pensioners as well as AWC Kaski and HQ GWS staff, everyone craning their necks to catch a first glimpse of Nepal’s newest Goddess’ arrival. Ms Lumley was greeted first by HE Dr Andrew Hall (the British Ambassador), Lt Col Adrian Griffith (Deputy Field Director GWS), Mrs Hall, Fiona Ellis and Anne Griffith, followed by AWC Kaski staff and the pensioners.

She gracefully accepted khadas from everyone, spending a few moments speaking with each of our welfare pensioners and widows. She was delighted to meet and speak with some Burma veterans from 3/6th Gurkha Rifles, who had served alongside her father during the war.
Reception party at AWC Kaski

After refreshments, Ms Lumley, her team and senior media correspondents were given a comprehensive brief by Field Director GWS on the GWS’s organisation, mission and
objectives as well as its past, present and future programmes. In support of this brief, Director GWS emphasised the benefits for Service Pensioners remaining in Nepal. The tour of AWC Kaski began with the visit to the AWC clinic where in average of 80 patients are seen everyday by the AWC Doctor and his team.
Ms Lumley showed keen interest in the quality of the services provided to ex-Gurkha servicemen and their dependants and was especially pleased to see the well stocked pharmacy and that a gynaecologist was available to support female patients.
Ms Lumley was then shown the site of the GWS’s first Residential Home, under construction for our most vulnerable welfare pensioners. She was briefed on the progress of the project by Capt(Retd) Khembahadur Thapa, Staff Officer Residential Home. She seemed delighted by the new project and looked forward to seeing the first group of residents in the Home.
With the whirlwind tour of AWC Kaski over, Ms Lumley gave an impromptu press conference to the international (BBC, ITN, Sky and others) and Nepalese national media to say how impressed she was with the work of the GWS in its support of ex-Gurkha servicemen and their families. She also said how much she was looking forward to seeing other work being carried out by the GWS in the field.
Her next visit was to Pumdi Bhumdi village where the GWS had completed a major school project for Shree Sukraraj High School in 2002, funded by Trailwalker money. Here again, the students, teachers and members of the local community showered their appreciation with garlands, bouquets and khadas on Ms Lumley. She was surprised to see the ‘Trailwalker’ marble tablet on the wall of the school, so the Deputy Field Director explained the history behind the ‘Trailwalker’ charity event and the work of Queen's Gurkha Signals and Oxfam in Hong Kong to raise money for schools in Nepal. After further filming opportunities for the media Ms Lumley departed for AWC Syangja .Her welcome at AWC Syangja by Maj(Retd) Krishna Gurung BEM, the Area Welfare Officer (AWO) and his team was every bit as warm and enthusiastic as elsewhere. As importantly, many welfare pensioners had walked and bussed for hours in the hope of seeing the "Nepali Cheli" (daughter of Nepal) and Goddess in person.
After the pensioners had made their offerings of flowers and khadas, the AWO gave Ms Lumley a comprehensive brief on the role and work of a busy rural AWC. This was followed by a well deserved and relaxed lunch for the whole travelling party and the accompanying media around the AWC 'chautara'. The BGP Master Chef excelled himself by preparing first class vegetarian ration packs. After lunch, she toured the AWC complex and was thrilled to visit the AWC pig farm and to see newly born piglets – the AWC staff were very surprised that the mother pig did not interfere when Ms lumley handled the piglets!Then it was off to Chaura village to see the RWSP’s newly completed drinking water project there.
Here again, crowds from the local community had gathered for a chance to see and meet the most famous person in the World for Nepal that week. After greetings with garlands and khadas, Ms Lumley and her team were briefed by Capt(Retd) Bhaktabahadur Rai, Project Director of Rural Water and Sanitation Project (RWSP) on the water project.
I think the climb was worth it ! What a lovely reserve tank!After a short uphill walk (with breaks for breath) to the reserve tank and seeing the completed tap stands at individual houses, Ms Lumley spoke of the importance of access to clean, safe drinking water and added that her mind was now filled with ‘water, water and more water’.
Wives of GWS Staff Officers with Joanna LumleyHaving returned Ms Lumley and her party to her hotel at the end of the afternoon to the exact minute in her programme, preparations were well underday at AWC Kaski for an evening function in honour of Ms Lumley and the GWS’s other visitors that day.
The function was attended by HE Dr Andrew Hall, Mrs Hall, Director GWS and Fiona Ellis, Field Director GWS and Anne Griffith, Deputy Field Director GWS and a host of GWS staff and their ladies.
Councillor Peter Caroll with GWS & RWSP staff At the end of a memorable day, Director GWS thanked Ms Lumley and other the other distinguished guests present for giving the GWS the opportunity to explain to them what the field arm of the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) really is about, what it does and the impact it has in Nepal.
He highlighted the importance of the support of the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development, the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation and, above all, the enormous contribution made by the British public in ensuring the success of the GWS on the ground. He then presented Joanna Lumley with a memento photograph taken earlier in the day during her visit.
In response, Ms Lumley said that she had known something of the work of the GWS in Nepal before before leaving home, but having now seen just a small part of it at first hand she admitted it was far more impressive than she had ever imagined. She ended her short speech by thanking everyone involved and promising to return to Nepal as soon as she was able.
In conclusion, the visit was a great success. The GWS was given an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to Ms Lumley, her team and the media the scope, scale and importance of its individual and community aid work in Nepal. As the day wore on, the real story of the day came out, that the interests of ex-Gurkha servicemen, their dependants and their traditional communities in Nepal are deeply cared for, supported by resources raised by the GWT from small and large, government, non-government and private donors in the UK by a dedicated team of professionals, who continue to deliver an outstanding service, despite the turmoil and uncertainty that plagues the rest of the country.

Gearing up for Gurkha Highlander '09

I'm beginning to spend time doing the cheques for the Gurkha Welfare Trust and as ever they tell tales that wring your heart. The Gurkha Highlander Walk starts on Sunday evening at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge at 6pm ( all welcome). There will be a ceremony and the haunting pipe-tune " Flowers of the Forest".
I've also been doing eadio interviews, and all of them have had the slant that the Government is the baddie. To be fair, the rules at the time were not well drawn, which is why we have had the Fragrant Joanna continuing her campaign to be sainted or at least Damed.
The nicest thing has been a contact from a lady who is in charge of the Dancers of Braemar, who dance for the Tourists and take contributions which are passed to charities. For the next two weeks, they are donating their takings to the GWT, which is rather nice. I daresay the boys will want to dance to the pipes when the cheque is handed over!

A load of Merchant Bankers....

I was taken with the statements from the various parties to do with bonuses at the Banks:
George Osborne: Banks should not misuse taxpayer support.
Vince Cable: The FSA needs to show real teeth.
Harriet Harm any man around:WE NEED MORE WOMEN BANKERS!
Not entirely sure what that would achieve, but as you know a Merchant Banker is a pejorative term for someone who is an idiot.
The other one I like is a LOMBARD: lots of money but a right Dick....

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Things really are bad

Quite by chance whilst walking along the road yesterday I was hailed by a passing car.
I didn't recognise it, but I certainly recognised its occupant - one of the denizens of the Glasgow not-totally-legal fraternity.
Anyway, he offered me a lift and we got chatting about this and that. I asked him how things were.
"Terrible - no one's getting a turn at the moment. We're having to rely on the fags to keep us going" This refers to the ( approximate) 300 white transits that come to Glasgow loaded with cigarettes and tobacco every week from Spain. They used to come from France but that got too expensive. From Spain its marginal but still worth it.
"We're having to cut loose some of the youngsters." This means those at the bottom of the pile are being told to make their own way without the umbrella; cf cutting jobs in the private sector.
" And we've had to have some serious discussions about our cover." This refers to pay-offs to various bodies; cf reducing in-costs.
" And I'm not taking a holiday this year." Wow.
So you can see that pretty much the same things happen right across the spectrum. The man who told me things were up in one section of the somewhat-illegitimate world has gone out of business. The older, wiser " companies" with a spread of interests will cling on.
But even the criminals are feeling the pinch

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Charity begins overseas *

I'm back doing what I think I do best - asking people to give money to a charity. Yesterday was spent in the lovely new Telford College in Edinburgh at Claymore '09, the Scottish Wargames convention. The Gurkha Welfare Trust was given a prime pitch right at the entrance and overall we did very well. They also give us a share of the gate takings. Numbers were well down on last year, partly because of the change of venue, partly because of the recession, but probably mostly because it's really difficult to find.
One of the biggest sellers at these events is the "Gurkha Teddy Bear". For no discernible reason, people identify with these cuddly creatures. I always say they are really hard bears, but one lady, when I suggested that the half dozen on show were identical, assured me that one particular one "spoke" particularly to her, and chose that one. She also opined it would have to be called " Lumley". Quite appropriate I thought.
In respect of Miss Lumley, currently being feted in Nepal, she tells a lovely story about a man coming up to her and assuring her that she was following in great footsteps helping the Gurkhas.
" That Jonah Lomu has done a great job for them," he told her.

* JL might help some 3-400 ex-Gurkhas to settle in the UK. The GWT helps 10,600 every month in Nepal