Being married to a Young Lady.

My dear wife is about to have another birthday…at which time we are the same chronological age. She enjoys the fact that for six weeks she appears to the rest of the world to be a year younger than me. It is her little  ‘thing’ which she brings up when age comes into a conversation with friends. For some reason, women do like to keep ‘their age’ a secret, whereas men in general are proud of their advancing years, and increasing wisdom. I am also able to say that I am married to a much younger woman (I know I am stretching credibility a little here!).

I have to say, that looking at her now, I still see the cheeky grin I fell in love with some 53 years ago, and whilst comparison photos from all those years ago show both of us as having changed physically, she has weathered the years very well, and they have been kind to her, so I will just let her have her little secret…..Oh just forgot, sorry Dear, it’s not a secret any more!

Division or an (imperfect) unity?

Just over 200 years ago, (in 1798) my namesake Henry Monro was hanged in front of his house in Lisburn, Northern Ireland for his support of a united Ireland. Son of a Presbyterian father and Anglican mother, he was a regular attender at Lisburn Cathedral. He was also on very good terms with local catholics, and they all often attended services in the Cathedral and the local Chapel, for Communion or Mass. He was highly respected for this, and his stance that Ireland should be united with ALL religions playing their part in governing it. This was to be his un-doing as he was a temporary Commander in the United Irishmen and was entrapped and summarily tried and executed.

Fortunately they have moved-on and, whilst still divided by a nominal line on a map, much co-operation has been achieved amongst the various factions. They have learned to forgive (if not forget) their history, and have seen that a political and social life is possible even when differing political viewpoints are seen. I think there are very few people there who would want to return to the divisions of the past, and one has to commend them highly for this.

Scotland has had a simmering element of Nationalism since the 1930s and almost a decade ago, power was achieved by them at Holyrood. There was an immediate and worrying sense of division in the populace; for and against independence from the rest of the UK. This was seen to be an ill-founded desire as in 2014 the populace voted quite strongly, and rightly in my opinion, to remain within the UK, and be politically attached. The SNP Government has steadfastly and stubbornly refused to accept this message, and appear to want to have another ‘once in a lifetime’ referendum. Nothing positive or constructive has come from all the discussions held at the time, but this idea of ‘Independence or Bust’.  Increasingly, time is taken up in the press, and Holyrood about trivial, or highly-controversial proposals, which have increased the deep-seated divisions in our society. I have seen nothing which could be seen as unifying this nation, of which I am proud to have been a part for over 50 years. It seems to be that there is even a fear growing about declaring one’s affinity for UK unity. The fact that it has worked pretty-well for over 300 years seems to hold no importance in the minds of those who want to divide. Even with increasing powers given to them recently, it has still to be proved whether or not they can handle the responsibility of ruling for ALL the people of a country.

Lady of the House, and I have just returned from visiting our Dutch friends from Limburg, in the Netherlands. Whilst they are definitely Dutch, they are only minutes from the German border, and are very close to Belgium and Luxembourg. They very kindly took us round to see as much of these countries as possible. We were treated by all we met with extreme courtesy, interest, and enquiries about why Scotland would want to separate from England, and why the UK would want to cease its involvement in the political life of the European Union. It was only for a short stay, but I sensed a group of people who had become used to each other. It is indeed a Union of many diverse countries, cultures, languages, religions, beliefs, histories, and political agendas, and yet they have each handed-over some of their powers to a central administration, in the interest of ‘togetherness’.  Like the USA, it is a family, with all the expected frictions, disagreements, and name-calling which appear within almost all situations where people come together. You never get everything you want, but it is a great lesson in realising that others have a right to be heard, and their opinion might well be more useful than yours. I voted for Ted Heath’s Common Market in the ’70s, and I don’t think we all knew that it would develop so far. It has, however, and we are where we are. Life and time are one and the same thing, a bit like the flow of a river. Reversal is not possible in either concept, and I believe that we must continue to move on or end up in a back-water (to continue the analogy). Even with the various problems with which it is beset, it is vital to be there, using our experience at the political table to continue to modify it for the better, instead of being ineffectively on the side-lines.

As if to indicate a confirmation of my views, Lady and I attended a Concert by the RSNO a few days ago, and the final piece was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, called ‘Ode to Joy’, and the music was sung to words written in 1785 by Schiller.

The music was chosen in January 1972, by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to be the European Anthem of the EU. The words, being German, have no international status, but it is true that they do hold part of the answer to mankind and his dealings with others.

Let’s not be known as the generation which threw out the EU with the bathwater of our complacency about what it has achieved. For two generations, in Europe we have had relative peace.

Let’s be happy about that, because there are a lot of possible friends out there!

 

 

The Shame of Hillsborough

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I have never lost a loved one in a tragedy such as occurred to 96 Liverpool fans in the Hillsborough football ground in 1989,  during what should have been a happy event.

So I cannot even begin to contemplate the personal loss suffered by relatives, never mind the fact that it was part of a multiple tragedy. Add to this the failure of the ambulance and police services to handle the immediate situation satisfactorily with a lack of professional competence, and the anger was justifiably going to grow. Unjustified accusations of fan mis-behaviour did nothing to help the campaign in its quest for truth to be discovered.

But what must surely be considered a major factor to be carried into the future, was the continuing failure of professionals in the legal, political, and policing fields to allow the truth to come out. The eventual release of all the legal papers, just a few years ago, showed not just the failure of proper leadership, but even more worrying, some of the statements by police officers had been changed by superiors, to protect those who had made the wrong decisions. Despite the damning evidence, it has taken some years for the legal procedures to be completed. The decision reached today by the jury placed responsibility where it should be, and completely vindicated the efforts made by the relatives. It is good that they feel some closure, and that duty has been done to the memory of those who died.

Our relief that justice has been eventually achieved (after 27 long years) must be muted with the realisation that those responsible as up-holders of the legal area of our society have been shown to be capable of wrong decisions, and are not always whiter-than-white when it comes to admitting to their professional mistakes.

Professionals such as these take on an awesome responsibility when they assume the mantle of decision-making and leading men…….and when things go well they deserve the plaudits. But they must also know what will happen when their decisions are wrong, with subsequent dreadful results.

We have yet to see where the next turns of the wheels of justice will take us, and whilst we are all relieved with the result, we know that there will be problems of what, if anything can and will be done about those individuals and institutions now held reponsible. There is no doubt that any retribution or apologies will not bring back loved ones, or make up for the years during which the truth was distorted.

Were I one of those campaigning, I think would be at a loss how to feel. Can I therefore hope that there may yet be an element of forgiveness from the relatives for those professionals who, in retrospect, made the wrong decisions, and have to live with that knowledge all of their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wee Grey Fergie

Not a title which means much to many people of this generation, but to those of us baby-boomers, and those with a connection to the land, it engenders an era gone past.

But to go back to the beginning…….

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My father was born in 1918 (so a baby-boomer of the First World War) into a family which might have been called gentlemen farmers. They obviously had a lot of farm machinery, and accounts which I have, show that they did lots of contract work for the local farming community who could not, or did not want to, purchase equipment which they would only use for a short time.

I have no records of when they bought their first tractor, but the above updated photo shows my father driving what I believe to be a Wee Grey Fergie. Now, I may be wrong because his model had many variants. The formal model name was TE 20, (from Tractor, England, 20 horsepower) not a very inspiring name.

In 1916, Harry Ferguson started development on ‘The Ferguson System’ to make a plough and linkage become part of the tractor as a whole. He got a patent granted in 1926, and then worked further on the linkage in the early ’30s. Production of the pre-TE20 models began in Huddersfield in the David Brown Factory in 1936, and in 1939, Henry Ford in Detroit, in the States, took on production of some 300,000 Ford Ferguson units to 1947.

There were some problems between Ferguson and Ford about the production location, and by 1945 the Wee Grey Fergie TE20 was built by the Standard Motor Company, Coventry (who built the Standard car). In all, from May 1936 to July 1956, approx one million units were sold worldwide.

So why am I such a nerd about this tractor? Well, I never knew my paternal grandparents and their farming business, but I did know my maternal grandparents, also farmers, with a relatively-small-holding near Lisburn, Northern Ireland. An undated photo of my grandparents, shows the compicated kind of mechanical reaper which was used with horses.

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This 1966 photo shows their Fergie with direct linkage from the tractor engine to the reaper blades…

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…..and this one of the same year shows a different mechanism attached to ‘turn-over’ hay to dry it off. Nice to see the evident equality with my aunt driving the tractor…..

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…..and still manual labour was necessary until the farmer could afford another module  for their Fergie to do the job…

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So I was regularly at the farm with my brother and eventually at about the age of 11 or 12, was allowed to briefly drive the Fergie. I can clearly remember the cold winter’s day in a field of kale, which was being cut by my uncle, and thrown into a trailer, and I was empowered to move the tractor and trailer forward. I don’t think my Grandmother or Mother were informed! It was not an easy vehicle to drive but eventually I believe I made some small contribution to local agriculture!

Hence my strange ‘attachment’ to this farming machine……

Move forward to a week ago when I received a birthday present which delighted me immensely. A little scale-model of the TE20, along with a lovely drawing of a rural scene by Trevor Mitchell showing a Fergie, ploughing, a postie on a bike,  a church clock-tower, and a flock of birds…..

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!

The reason for holidays

We’re having a few days away, trying, unsuccessfully, to get a little pre-Summer sun. The concept of  Holidays obviously derived from the phrase Holy Days, when labourers, apprentices, servants, etc would be released from their work, to travel home to the bosoms of their families, for a few days.

I wouldn’t imagine that they could contemplate being away from work for perhaps two weeks as we often have now, or what we do with our free time.

Looking back as a child,  I remember the summer hols especially,  being free from school clothes, and playing in the countryside where we lived, or walking out to our grandparents, who had a small Irish farm-holding near Lisburn.

I never remember being bored, as we had cows to chase, trees to climb, streams to cross, knees to graze, tents to sleep in, tomatoes to water, lettuces to gather, a black labrador to entertain, water to drink from a well, frogs to catch and return to a damp area, cricket and football to play with neighbouring school pals, as well as the children’s television programmes on the black and white TV.

No, life was busy, but we always looked-forward to the  trip on the train to the beaches of Bangor and Newcastle, for a day. It might have been on the organised Sunday School picnic, or just with the family. Mum always had a long flowing skirt, white sandals, and a cardigan (which she had probably knitted herself) ‘….in case it gets windy’. She carried a leather, or wicker, bag, containing the waterproofs,  towels, sandwiches,  and all the other essentials for a 1950’s day at the sea. Dad was photographed in a suit, and tie.

Staying at a boarding house, for a week (we always went to the same one in Newcastle, County Down) meant suitcases and games to keep us amused if the weather was bad, and the fact that it was at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne meant that there was always an element of risk of rain or cloud. Whatever happened we generally had a good time.

Into teenhood, and brother and I did Youth Hostelling around the Mournes. Carrying everything in our ruck-sacks, we endured rain and wind, unheated primitive premises, self-cooked food, basic sleeping conditions, but again we had good times.

Proper holidays were out of the questions during my late teens, due to father’s on-going health problems, but brief trips to Ireland, from Scotland (where I now lived) allowed me to keep in contact with friends and relations. But they were exactly that….not really ‘me-time’.

Marriage and then later, holidays with our children, meant that we started doing what had happened to us as children. Buckets and spades, hotels near a beach, in the South of England and the far North of Scotland, ice cream, wet swim suits, sand in the shoes and in the car, in-laws, etc were all part of very-happy times. Pleased to say that we were always proud of how our son and daughter behaved in public, and with other children. In comparison, scenes of screaming, ill-disciplined children would grate on the ear and must have caused embarrassment to many a parent.

As they grew to teenage-hood, and we took them abroad, they would meet with other children, and entertain themselves, with only the occasional return for some money. Again there were no problems, and cans of coke, and chattering with their new friends, allowed Lady and me to blether with other similar parents, with similar children. We began to feel independent adults again!

The time came when they organised their own holidays, and we did our own thing. We still had our own business, so breaks were fitted-in with the requirements of our staff and their school children. They were therefore limited, so we chose carefully, going on cruises, and to places we had dreamed-off, as we fortunately had more disposable income.

Then came retirement, in 2011, and the extra available time allowed longer and more distant times away from home. Also the knowledge that we did not have to go back to work, makes a big difference. We have spoken-to, and become friends with, people from other countries, stayed in the house of a Nethetlands family and they have stayed with us. This has given us a much-wider breadth of vision about life and politics from a European perspective.

We are quite happy, now, to sit in the bar in the evening, and chatter with complete strangers in a foreign language. So our holidays have changed from going to see things and places, to giving us the chance to meet new people……..

Our holidays, and what we expect to get from them,  have changed dramatically, but it is still nice to go away, and return home, in equal measure….however, the connection with different people and different cultures still holds the greatest attraction for me.

What about you?

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The reason for holidays

We’re having a few days away, trying, unsuccessfully, to get a lttle pre-Summer sun. The concept of  Holidays obviously derived from the phrase Holy Days, when labourers, apprentices, servants, etc would be released from their work, to travel home to the bosoms of their families, for a few days.

I wouldn’t imagine that they could contemplate being away from work for perhaps two weeks as we often have now, or what we do with our free time.

Looking back as a child,  I remember the summer hols especially,  being free from school clothes, and playing in the countryside where we lived, or walking out to our grandparents, who had a small Irish farm-holding near Lisburn.

I never remember being bored, as we had cows to chase, trees to climb, streams to cross, knees to graze, tents to sleep in, tomatoes to water, lettuces to gather, a black labrador to entertain, water to drink from a well, frogs to catch and return to a damp area, cricket and football to play with neighbouring school pals, as well as the children’s television programmes on the black and white TV.

No, life was busy, but we always looked-forward to the  trip on the train to the beaches of Bangor and Newcastle, for a day. It might have been on the organised Sunday School picnic, or just with the family. Mum always had a long flowing skirt, white sandals, and a cardigan (which she had probably knitted herself) ‘….in case it gets windy’. She carried a leather, or wicker, bag, containing the waterproofs,  towels, sandwiches,  and all the other essentials for a 1950’s day at the sea. Dad was photographed in a suit, and tie.

Staying at a boarding house, for a week (we always went to the same one in Newcastle, County Down) meant suitcases and games to keep us amused if the weather was bad, and the fact that it was at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne meant that there was always an element of risk of rain or cloud. Whatever happened we generally had a good time.

Into teenhood, and brother and I did Youth Hostelling around the Mournes. Carrying everything in our ruck-sacks, we endured rain and wind, unheated primitive premises, self-cooked food, basic sleeping conditions, but again we had good times.

Proper holidays were out of the questions during my late teens, due to father’s on-going health problems, but brief trips to Ireland, from Scotland (where I now lived) allowed me to keep in contact with friends and relations. But they were exactly that….not really ‘me-time’.

Marriage and then later, holidays with our children, meant that we started doing what had happened to us as children. Buckets and spades, hotels near a beach, in the South of England and the far North of Scotland, ice cream, wet swim suits, sand in the shoes and in the car, in-laws, etc were all part of very-happy times. Pleased to say that we were always proud of how our son and daughter behaved in public, and with other children. In comparison, scenes of screaming, ill-disciplined children would grate on the ear and must have caused embarrassment to many a parent.

As they grew to teenage-hood, and we took them abroad, they would meet with other children, and entertain themselves, with only the occasional return for some money. Again there were no problems, and cans of coke, and chattering with their new friends, allowed Lady and me to blether with other similar parents, with similar children. We began to feel independent adults again!

The time came when they organised their own holidays, and we did our own thing. We still had our own business, so breaks were fitted-in with the requirements of our staff and their school children. They were therefore limited, so we chose carefully, going on cruises, and to places we had dreamed-off, as we fortunately had more disposable income.

Then came retirement, in 2011, and the extra available time allowed longer and more distant times away from home. Also the knowledge that we did not have to go back to work, makes a big difference. We have spoken-to, and become friends with, people from other countries, stayed in the house of a Nethetlands family and they have stayed with us. This has given us a much-wider breadth of vision about life and politics from a European perspective.

We are quite happy, now, to sit in the bar in the evening, and chatter with complete strangers in a foreign language. So our holidays have changed from going to see things and places, to giving us the chance to meet new people……..

Our holidays, and what we expect to get from them,  have changed dramatically, but it is still nice to go away, and return home, in equal measure….however, the connection with different people and different cultures still holds the greatest attraction for me.

What about you?

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Two country towns….and a brewery

Coming north to the West of Scotland involves, after crossing the Border, simply changing from the M6 onto the M74. You would not even know you had crossed a Rubicon if it were not for the road signs. As you travel about 80 miles, from the Border, you start to drive through the County of Lanarkshire. It is a county of two halves…..the northern, industrial part (now mostly decimated by the changes in the steel economy), and the rural Southern farming community.

Lady of the House  headed out for the day towards a little town called Strathaven (pronounced Strave-in), which we know quite well. Over 50 years ago, I would get two buses on a Sunday to play the organ at Rankin Parish Church, and my wife-to be, and I, would have ‘tea’ in a local cafe, and had walks. But we didn’t get to know it well, as many of the shops were shut. We have passed through many times and had coffee etc, but this was to be an exploratory day. It was not a brilliantly-sunny day, but reasonable for photos.

As in many of our town/villages, the car takes a lot of space, but the good Burghers have provided ample parking in a large car park adjacent to the shops. So first, to the Strathaven Gift Shop in the Common Green (the town centre) for some items to go with us to the Netherlands (success accomplished), and the items were beautifully wrapped by the lovely lady who served us.P1050784

 

A few yards’ walk took us for lunch at the Tudor Coffee House. This is a lovely little eatery with only six or seven tables, so best to go outwith the busy times. YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY MISS IT!

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They offered a Senior’s lunch, which was excellent. A large glass of fruit juice, followed by steak pie, chips (I do like chips!) and peas, with a massive pot of tea (in china cups) satiated my hunger, whilst Lady of the House had chicken goujons, chips (she also likes chips!) and salad.

I went down into the kitchen, and was able to have a chat with the lady doing the cooking, to give her some compliments on the meal. She noted that we had been there before, with our Dutch friends last May! We must have made some impression! It is well recognised as one of the best local restaurants.

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We were also on the hunt for a local speciality….Strathaven Toffee. The little place where it had been made had disappeared from the main street, but we were told it was available up a side street, in a small sweetie shop, quaintly named Vintage Violet. It was a treasure trove of old sweeties, and was run by an enthusiastic lady, who was happy to pose for me.

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I asked about Jap Desserts, but she confirmed that the company who made it had discontinued them. …..Is there an business opportunity for someone here? It has a lovely view over a park and little burn  (for non-scots, this is a very small stream, sometimes only a trickle of water).

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The water in the burn was low, (although locally-placed sandbags were evident that there had been a spate.) A pleasant row of trees guarded it nicely, with lights for the evenings, and clumps of crocuses.

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An interesting piece of architecture can be seen from the park looking at the back of some of the houses. i would love o know which room is built in the rounded bit….or maybe it is a spiral staircase.

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A 5 minute walk took us past the Rankin Parish Church where I started playing the organ in 1963 when just 18, and then into the local park, for our daily perambulation. There were plenty of snowdrops and other flowers in evidence, and it is an extremely well-cared-for. The only jarring aspect was the ruined house which had been a Museum gifted at the same time as the park was gifted to the town. Seemingly it was being sold off and builders were doing unsafe removal of walls and the work was stopped. It now sits as a mess marring the lovely environment. Very sad!

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But the afternoon was moving on and we set off for Lanark by a spectacular rural B road. Suddenly Lady and I spied a notice announcing  something interesting, and which we did not know existed…..

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We drove into what looked like a farmyard, but had been a mill, with its wheel powered by the local river. As the notice said, we were made very welcome. It is a three-generation family business producing six speciality beers, presentation packs, and beer-flavoured fudge in conjunction with a local farm. You can also see some of their products on Aldi shelves. You will also find them on social media, including Trip Advisor, so they are moving with the times. We took away some of said products, and tasted them with the experience of my next-door neighbour…… lovely!

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We could not stay there for ever, so onward to the Burgh of Lanark, which is a busy county town, including the farmers’ market. It is also the birthplace of Lady of the House, so she feels attached to it. It would be a lovely place to retire to, were it not for the steep Main Street, and the possibility of being cut off in Winter with the approcah roads all being easily iced-up.

The most well-known building in the centre of the town is the  wonderful St Nicholas Parish Church at the lower end of the main street……..P1050788

…….and tucked- in to one side is the kind of marvellous hardware shop, which used to adorn every High Street, and is a dream for many a house-maker. And more interestingly for me, and something  which attaracts us for a day out……a little cafe……..

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So we had come to the end of our day out and this always has to be noted with a little bit of local baking……can life get any better? I will leave this for you to drool over…….

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