New Year 2021

This, below, was the scene outside my window on Christmas Day 2020 at about 10.30 a.m.

and this was the scene on 1 January 2021 at approximately the same time

Spot the difference. Slightly different angle? Slightly more colour on 1.1.21 than there was on 25.12.20? Less snow in 2021? Generally brighter in 2021? Well let’s hope so. As we say goodbye to the dark year that was 2020, we must hope that 2021 will be brighter in many ways. The days are getting longer – an important plus, particularly if you live in the north of Scotland. There is the hope of vaccines, so perhaps 2021 will see an end to the worst of this pandemic. That’s a plus. But just as we know that there will be more snow in 2021, we also know that there will be challenges ahead.

In Scotland, there will be an election to the Scottish Parliament in May 2021 and amongst the final pieces of mail for us in 2020 were leaflets from two of the political parties encouraging us to vote for them in May. Both were of a predominantly yellow hue, and that is the only clue you are going to get. This is not a political blog – you may seek that elsewhere.

Between the taking of the two photos above, I ventured on to Twitter where a lot of election campaigning will be done, quite often in the form of ill-informed sound bites. I am the archetypal floating voter, so I will study all the information the various parties put out. I am reasonably confident that I know their key policies, so what I will be looking at is the tone of the information they provide. Idealistic maybe, but I’ll be looking for the parties that are likely to build unity rather than division; the parties that have a clear vision for the future of our country and the planet; parties that look as though they will continue to improve our health and social care, but above all I’ll be looking for decent politics focussed on ideas, not on personalities, and certainly not on attacking individuals who hold opposing views. As I said, idealistic, but you may as well aim high.

Anyway, back to that brief visit to Twitter. Amongst the various tweets on my feed was this from Hardeep Singh Kohli, who on Twitter describes himself as a ‘broadcaster/speaker/author/creative director/chef/journalist’. So, you would imagine, a reasonably intelligent man:


He is writing from Scotland. He is alluding to what may (or may not) become a key question in the election – should Scotland leave the UK or remain within it. I have no problem with discussing that question on economic, social, political or cultural grounds, but tweets like this are not the way to do it, not at least in the kind of Scotland I want to live in.

Let’s examine what he is saying. “Look South” – note his capital letter – presumably he wants us to cast our eyes towards England. “Do they represent us in any way?” Who is “they”? The English? The UK Government? I leave you to work that one out. Then his most chilling statement of all – repeated twice for emphasis: “They are not us and we are not them.” You think, this is racism, surely hatred at the very least. You think, where is the common humanity we share? You think, 1930s Germany. You think, any part of the world where groups of people are fighting one another. You despair. On the grounds of taste, I will not display the hate-filled Anglophobic responses he received on-line from those who agreed with his sentiments.

So, to new year and hope for the future. Selfishly, I want to see improved investment in stroke care in Scotland in 2021. Health is a key responsibility of the Scottish Government. But I also want to see an end to the politics which “others” people who don’t see the world in the same way as you. I am not alone in this and we have had enough of it in the UK since the Brexit vote. So, an end to that, please, in 2021 and a resumption of the “normal” civilised politics of debate, centred on ideas, and of a kind which should be possible in a mature democracy. After all, in the real world there are plenty of things that need to be improved, inequalities that need to be tackled.

Too much to hope for? We’ll see.

Happy new year.

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A student writes

‘Am I mad?’

This from a very occasional Facebook user (me). My post was referring to my decision in August of this benighted year to register for a postgraduate MA in Creative Writing with the Open University. I do not ‘need’ an MA, having already acquired one at St Andrews University many years ago.  If I am honest, I am not even sure that creative writing is a skill that can readily be taught, at least beyond a very basic level.  Did Shakespeare or Robert Burns attend formal creative writing courses? No, but they had talent and they wrote regularly. Repeat, they wrote regularly, developing a creative muscle that is there to be developed like any other. And I speak with the experience of someone who has had to develop and maintain lots of muscles in recent years.

I enjoy writing – hence one reason for this blog, and, if you follow it, you will have your own view as to whether the effort put into it is worthwhile. But a two-year on-line course with a mix of formal teaching materials, occasional tutorials and interaction with other like-minded students had an appeal, particularly as a structure like this might encourage the naturally lazy and undisciplined scribbler within me to make more of a regular effort to put words on the page. Also, we are more or less in lockdown here, so there is at least potential human contact there, albeit of a digital on-screen kind.

The last time I was asked for proof of my formal qualifications was before taking up a teaching post with the British Council in Istanbul. My degree and teaching certificates still bear the scars and stamps of their postal visit to the Turkish embassy in London. The Open University asked for the degree certificate to be displayed once again. In the 21st century, a scan of the relevant document is all that is required, but the challenge for me was finding the parchment in the first place after many years and several house moves.

Having overcome this obstacle and been accepted on the course, I am now three months in. I have bought the OU hoodie. I have under my belt one on-line tutorial, a host of written exercises, much on-line interaction and exchange of work with fellow students and my first major assignment, with detailed and encouraging feedback from my tutor. I discovered early on that all the reservations you might have about disclosing your creative work to others are not only real but are also shared by your fellow students. However, you soon get into a rhythm of regularly sharing your work, and critiquing others’. It’s a bit like swimming in the North Sea: the thought of it and the initial few steps are worse than the lived reality once you are in.

Before you embark formally on the course you have to choose a principal and secondary genre from: fiction, poetry, script-writing and creative non-fiction. I am certainly no poet, so I opted for fiction as my main genre and creative non-fiction as the secondary genre. I have completed the first 8-week block on fiction and am currently into the first part of the non-fiction block, with my assignment on this due in February. After that there is one other major assignment before the final end of module assignment in May. The pace is gently gathering, I feel.

Perhaps I have been lucky in the members of the tutor group to which I have been assigned, but we seem to be mutually supportive and keen to improve as writers. A number of my classmates are also clearly talented writers, which is both sobering and challenging. There is a wide variety of backgrounds and ages, a fact that is comforting to me as a student of mature years. Having been on the other side of the desk, so to speak, for a long time, it is refreshing for me to be a learner in formal education once again.

What we are missing, of course, is the occasional or even regular face-to-face contact with one another – who isn’t these days? However, what is a strong counter to this potentially difficult isolation is the way in which the high quality course materials are presented and organised. For example, there are forums and workshops on which it is obligatory to exchange work and to post comments on work in progress and there is plenty of freedom to develop your own interests, with good support from your tutor. 

Several years ago, I prefaced the final paragraph of a post on this blog with the words ‘words matter’. In these testing times perhaps words, spoken or written, whether in kindness or passion or anger, matter even more than usual. I suppose that is another excuse to myself for taking time to follow this course – that and the fact it is something I can still do while my mind is relatively intact, even if the body struggles.

All of this means that my blog posts may be relatively sparse over the next few weeks – that’s my excuse, at any rate.

Merry Christmas and better times to follow.

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Deeside Stroke Group

Throughout the pandemic, the Deeside Stroke Group has managed to keep its exercise sessions going. Supported by the charity the Stroke Association, we are the only organisation on Deeside providing specialist exercise sessions for stroke survivors once they are discharged from hospital.

Led by our excellent physiotherapist, Anna, exercise classes have continued on Zoom over the last few months. We plan to continue classes in this way until it is possible to return to face-to-face activities – early in 2021 we hope. Although we get great moral and administrative support from the Stroke Association, we are largely responsible for our own fund-raising. In the past we have had generous grants from the MacRobert Trust, from NHS Grampian Endowment Funds, from the Stroke Association itself and from many local individuals and organisations.

I know personally how sudden and devastating a stroke is. You need as much support as possible on discharge from hospital, so the stroke group has always tried to keep charges to participants as low as possible, so that the kind of rehabilitation we provide is accessible to all who need it – there is no equivalent service locally available through the NHS or social care.

Like many charities, we find ourselves with our funds severely depleted as a result of the lockdown, but  we are trying to keep this important service open to all stroke survivors on Deeside despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Special Offer only for readers of this blog: For the last few years, we have offered a cryptic quiz on sale through the kind co-operation of local shops and other businesses.  This is a part of our fund-raising effort during the winter. This year the theme of the cryptic quiz is ‘Sea Creatures’ and to encourage you to take part, here is a tempter of the first five questions, after reading which you will probably say to yourself – ‘Yes, I definitely need more of this to keep my brain active and to keep me cheery over Christmas. Bring it on’:


We will make print copies of the quiz available locally after the new year, but readers of this blog can purchase an early copy of the complete quiz securely for only £1 (or more if you are so inclined). Here are our bank details:

Payment to:         Deeside Group SA
Sort Code:           23-75-24
Account Number:  05969615

Important. Once you have paid please send a confirmatory email to the email address in the contact details for this blog – see link to page above – you should receive a copy of the complete quiz by email within 48 hours. The closing date for entries is February 28th 2021. Your donation will go directly to the work of the group.

Thank you for your support and a Merry Christmas to all readers and followers of this blog.

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World Stroke Day

When I was at at school we were regularly encouraged by our excellent English teacher to write creative fiction. “However,” he warned us, “do not write a far-fetched tale that ends with the words ‘and then I woke up’. That is a cop out. Try to come up with a decent ending.”

Today is World Stroke Day 2020, no sorry that needs to be shouted above the coronavirus noise – TODAY IS WORLD STROKE DAY 2020 . You can read the thoughts of the Stroke Association’s director in Scotland about stroke care in Scotland here , so don’t just take my word for what follows.

Anyway, here is my piece of creative fiction dedicated to all English teachers everywhere. As you will see, I have not yet mastered the art of coming up with a decent ending – but then neither has the present Scottish Government.

29 October 2035

The First Minister of Scotland is standing up to address the chamber. There is a hushed silence as all members of the Parliament concentrate on listening to his* words.

*sorry, Nicola Sturgeon, in 2035 it may not be you

“Fellow MSPs, today we mark International Stroke Day 2035. I am delighted to tell you that members of Scotland’s stroke community – clinicians, other health and social care professionals, charity reps, stroke survivors and carers –  are joining us today in the Chamber to help us celebrate this important day.

“We have a lot to celebrate, and I want to remind you briefly of some of the successes of the last few years.

“If you are unfortunate enough to have a stroke today, you can be assured that the technology of mobile scanning means that whichever major hospital you are sent to will already know the details of your condition by the time you arrive.

“Our door to needle times – by which I mean the time from arrival in hospital to the moment you receive thrombolysis or other appropriate treatment – those times are the best in the UK and amongst the best in the world.

“Our hospital clinicians have benefited throughout the 2020s from a huge investment  in training and resources which has not only raised their morale but has also resulted in fewer fatalities and a fantastic service for patients. The greatly increased levels of staffing and staff training for our stroke units have significantly improved the service. Importantly, the investment in a comprehensive thrombectomy service has meant that there has been a very significant reduction in the number of patients whose lives are blighted by disability. This has also resulted in huge savings to the health and social care service. These savings have been re-invested in long-term evidence-based rehabilitation services for stroke patients who require it – especially younger patients. Once again, our rigorous measurement of rehabilitation has shown our service to be among the best in Europe.

“So, I can honestly say we have a comprehensive stroke service – responsive and quick acting at the acute stage, thoroughly supportive at the rehabilitation stage and spearheaded by dynamic forward-looking leadership here in Edinburgh (sporadic applause) – no, not me, colleagues. I mean the dynamic professionals who have led enthusiastically from the front, learned from experience and research across the world, and worked energetically in genuine partnership with stroke charities and a fully committed Scottish Government.

“I know that many of you will remember the coronavirus health crisis of 2020. We realised then that we needed an effective rehabilitation service for Long-Covid sufferers and moved quickly to put it in place. I am pleased to say that we learned from that and have transformed rehabilitation from its Cinderella status to being on an equal footing with other health service provision for people suffering from a range of neurological conditions, including stroke, as well as those recovering from traumatic injuries. Indeed, I was delighted to welcome a delegation from Scandinavia here last week who were visiting our recently opened rehabilitation centre in Inverness, the latest to join centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen housed in now redundant city centre offices. They were particularly impressed by the provision of psychological support, by the way in which stroke survivors and their carers were fully involved in the process of rehabilitation and by the excellence of communication with local hospitals.

“Finally, a word to our stroke researchers. Without you there would be no progress and I know that many of you have benefited from the Scottish Government’s promise to quadruple action research funding, enabling researchers to work alongside patients and stroke professionals in stroke units and rehabilitation centres and not just in our universities.

“I want to say a heartfelt thank you to all who have helped us to achieve these successes.”    (cue thunderous applause)  

Then I woke up.

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Scottish Stroke Improvement Plan 2020

The name of this blog is Man, Dog, Stroke. Recently there has been quite a bit about the man, and quite a bit about the dog. Perhaps it’s time for a bit about stroke.

Last month, later in the year than usual, the Scottish Government published its annual review of stroke care in Scotland. You can read the details here. I am aware that this blog is read well beyond Scotland, but who knows? There may be something in this post that resonates with you wherever you live. In any case, I would like to give you a stroke survivor’s perspective on this report, which is optimistically entitled the Scottish Stroke Improvement Plan 2020. Despite its title, it relates to stroke care statistics for 2019 – i.e. prior to the Covid pandemic.

First the good news. In common with the rest of the UK, Scotland’s stroke care is provided by a host of professionals who strive to do the best they can with the resources, training and guidance at their disposal

However, after almost a decade of these reports we now have a depressing situation where:

  1. there is a continuing post code lottery across Scotland in terms of acute and community stroke care and we are generally lagging behind the rest of the UK.
  2. in terms of stroke bundle performance (i.e. the procedures to be followed for stroke patients immediately upon admission to hospital) no NHS Board in Scotland reaches the stroke standard expected.
  3. thrombolysis door to needle times are variable across Scotland and below rates in the rest of the UK, despite this being an urgent treatment at the onset of stroke.  (Thrombolysis is a procedure to dissolve blood clots in patients with an ischaemic stroke – a clot blocking a vein or artery in the brain).
  4. while the Scottish Government has managed to produce in a matter of weeks a rehabilitation plan for covid-19 survivors, no such national rehabilitation strategy exists for stroke survivors, despite repeated requests for this from charities and professionals over several years. Rehabilitation merits only a passing mention in the audit report, despite being the key to maximum recovery for patients.
  5. there has been no opportunity this year for Health Boards to respond to their statistics within the published audit. This had in the past been an opportunity for readers of the report to get some of the human and resource facts behind the dry data
  6. there is still no measure of what a good stroke unit should look like – unlike the measurement of stroke services in many western countries.
  7. finally, despite its potential to reduce disability for hundreds of Scots each year, progress on developing a national thrombectomy service is proceeding painfully slowly at the planning stage, although thrombectomy has been available for suitable stroke patients elsewhere in the UK for some time. Thrombectomy is a mechanical procedure to remove a blood clot. While it is only suitable for some patients it can significantly reduce the chances of patients having their lives blighted by chronic disability, speech or vision problems and many of the other results of stroke – to say nothing of the savings that it potentially brings to health and social care services.

All of these points are significant, but for me there are important ethical and equality (inequality) questions posed by points 4. and 7. above.

None of these shortcomings is the fault of our stroke professionals who, as I said at the beginning of this post, can only work within the strategies and resources they have.

This blog rarely strays into the zone of politics, which in its on-line form in Scotland can be an extremely unpleasant place. However, it is important to say that stroke professionals, stroke charities and stroke survivors were heartened to see in last year’s Scottish Programme for Government a mention of stroke as a priority. It is a small fraction of the health budget, but £1m was allocated to stroke in that programme, mainly to undertake the first tentative steps towards introducing a national thrombectomy service. One year on and…, well, you have seen my comments above.

Understandably, the pandemic has caused upheaval in our health and social care services, leading to the hasty redeployment of staff and resources, including staff who might have been available to treat stroke patients. There is anecdotal evidence at least of patients being discharged earlier than they might have been from stroke units, and discovering that it is difficult or impossible to continue their rehabilitation in  the community. Some of this is understandable, perhaps, but it it does not bode well for how the annual review of stroke services will read next year.

If you wish to read more about how coronavirus has affected stroke services you can read an excellent report by the Stroke Association here.

The Scottish Government’s programme for next year is heavy on plans for Scottish independence (or breaking up the UK, depending on your viewpoint), but light on stroke care. Of course, we have a nationalist government, independence “transcends” (© N Sturgeon) everything else and next year is an election year.

Anyway, man will now cease his rant, dog will rest quietly at his feet, and stroke? Well, stroke will continue its devastating onward march.

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Julia, dogs and human nature

This is Julia Klöckner. You may never have heard of her, but read on and you will find out.

Julia is the German Minister of Food and Agriculture, a fact you probably already know if you live in Germany. This week – to much derision – she proposed an animal welfare ordinance that pet owners should walk their dogs twice a day. The ordinance would require that dogs be “permitted to exercise outside of a kennel at least twice a day for a total of at least one hour.”  This is allegedly to “ensure that dogs are given sufficient exercise and contact with environmental stimuli.”

I am not sure that Julia has thought this through as carefully as she might. I am sure the principles behind the ordinance are benign – it might, for example, help to reduce the deplorable and cruel industry of puppy farms and it might discourage people from treating dogs as toys. However, the problem with this blanket rule – indeed with many blanket rules imposed centrally – is that there are always important exceptions and there is always human nature to contend with.

Johanna and I met when we were both living and working in Germany, so we occasionally find it useful, entertaining and potentially dementia-postponing to exchange comments in German. This morning, for example, Johanna felt she should introduce our whippet, Archie, to some German and to the new German ordinance by calling loudly to him: “Komm, Archie, wir gehen spazieren!  Dreissig Minuten genau. Neun und zwanzig Minuten geht nicht.” (Come, Archie, we’re going for a walk. Thirty minutes exactly. Twenty-nine minutes is not acceptable.) To this Archie responded with his usual mournful look, comprehended nothing and did not move a muscle. Whereas many dogs at the sound of the word “Walkies!” or the sight of a lead will dash to their owner wagging an enthusiastic tail, Archie never does this. Despite their reputation for speed and agility, whippets are very happy to lie about all day, if allowed to do so. Usually a small biscuit will entice him from his bed, but if it is raining, Archie needs to be forcibly dragged out and will spend most of any rainy walks attempting to pull his owner back to the dry warmth of home. I challenge Julia to cope for thirty minutes with a stubborn rain-soaked whippet in a gale. I am sure there must be a few whippets in Germany; there are certainly rain and gales from time to time.

There are at least three other problems that I can see with this potential “walkies law”.

First, all dogs are different. A half-hour walk twice a day may be fine for some dogs, but for a collie it will barely take the edge off the creature’s desire to be up and doing, chasing about or herding something, while for a chihuahua or a dachshund it may be too much.

Second, how on earth do you police this law? There are far more dogs than police in this country, and I am sure the same is true in Germany. If such a law were introduced here, I have a vision of hundreds of dogs (many of them whippets) digging themselves into their beds in a show of communal resistance, while dozens of large policeman stand helplessly about waving batons, handcuffs and tasers to no effect. As for the dogs’ owners…..

Third, there is an unfortunate side to human nature which some can find hard to resist. Let me illustrate it like this, as it might play out in a fictitious German household if this law were ever to be enacted:

Heinrich: I see Frau Schmidt’s curtains are still drawn.

Lisel: Again. She is so lazy. Why is she not out and about with Rudi, her schnauzer?

Heinrich: It is so long since I saw Rudi that I cannot exactly remember what he looks like.

Lisel: I am sure I can hear him barking in his kennel.

Heinrich: Time to call the police. Rudi has not had his two thirty minute walks a day for at least a week.

…And so on across the country. The unpleasant human habit of dobbing on your neighbour would spread like a virus. We have already seen mild forms of it during lockdown.

I am prepared to bet a bag of dog biscuits that Julia’s law will never see the light of day, or if it does, it will be abandoned quickly. The controversy and laughter surrounding the threat of it should serve as a warning to all politicians everywhere that if you want to regulate human behaviour, it has to be done in a way that carries people with you; and the best way to achieve that is to convince people that what is proposed is sensible, workable and in their best interests. If politicians learn nothing else from this pandemic experience it is just that.

Meanwhile, if you want to regulate dog behaviour, first try to understand your dog.



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A whippet emotes

Today is my 7th birthday. That is 7 long years during which Master and Mistress have benefited from my presence in their lives and during which I have been endlessly patient with their many idiosyncrasies and foibles. Apparently 7 years of a dog’s life is equivalent to 49 human years, so I did not at all appreciate Master’s comment earlier today that my time with him felt like every bit of 49 years because I was showing little sign of graduating from skittish adolescence into some semblance of sensible mature adulthood. I think the fact that we have recently all been around each other too much is making him grumpy.

You would imagine that, this being my birthday, some sort of special ceremony or better still some rather special celebratory biscuit might have been in order. But no. This was a day of routine, routine and more routine. Early morning walk; small slice of carrot grudgingly given; short sleep; small treat from the postman who gives treats (some don’t); short sleep: afternoon walk; small sprinkling of dry food; bonio; chew; and now, I am waiting for Master to throw balls for me. He is good at getting the balls to bounce in the air so that I can grab them mid-flight. I really enjoy that but the throw balls sessions never go on long enough for me. I suppose that’s because Master is getting on a bit now – he is certainly more than 49 human years old. After we’ve done that I will rest a bit until dark. Perhaps it is living with me that is making him look old.

Today has been warm and pleasant – just the weather for a whippet to enjoy his birthday lying on his garden bed. Even Master was seen to smile briefly as he was sitting having his tea and biscuit in the garden, with me at his feet. There is always a slight chance that he might “accidentally” drop a corner of biscuit on the ground, so it is important that I am there  to sweep it up. Unfortunately, Mistress is usually ready to pounce if it looks as though I’m about to do this. She caught me successfully chewing my way through a human biscuit a few evenings back and even now I can still hear her anger ringing in my ears.

So there it is. Another birthday gone. Another day of predictable routine which, despite my protestations, is probably just how I like it.

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Bob Ross, Art and Me

Over the weeks of lockdown, BBC4 has been running a series of programmes called The Joy of Painting featuring the late American artist, Bob Ross. Bob and his art were new to me, though not apparently to many others. If you know the programmes, which were first broadcast in the 1980s and 1990s, you will know that Bob sports an Afro hairstyle and speaks with a gentle American accent, which welcomes you politely to the programme. He has certain soothing catch phrases which are sprinkled throughout each half hour session while he is spreading his oils on the canvas: “so glad you could join me”, “it’s your world- you can paint anything you want”, “happy little clouds”, “happy little trees”, “all sorts of little things can happen here. You decide”. And as each show nears its end he will say something like “the old clock on the wall tells me time’s up – till next time, enjoy your painting, God bless.”

Joy of Painting is a quiet restful programme which, if I had had a hard day at work, I would find to be a great way of winding down, glass in hand, before a meal or other evening activity. His technique of wet on wet oil painting leads the viewer to believe he or she can easily paint along with him. It’s a restful style which allows Bob to turn unpromising blobs of paint effortlessly into successful landscapes (they are nearly always landscapes or seascapes), with a backdrop of “happy little clouds” in a bright summer, autumnal or winter sky according to the seasonal atmosphere he wishes to evoke.

Each programme has a moment of sudden energy when Bob cleans his two inch brush by dipping it into a tub of spirit then thrashing it vigorously against one of the metal legs of his easel to dry it. “Beating the devil out of it”. Just occasionally he slips in a slightly commercial tone: “these are the things you need to do if you want to sell your paintings”, but overall the mood is one of calm reassurance: “I want your painting to make you happy”.

I am not sure of the artistic merits of his paintings (too “chocolate box” for some), but he has a cult following and people have been known to use his programmes as mindfulness sessions, where the calming mood imbued is more important than the artistic techniques demonstrated. Inevitably in the 21st century, there is a Bob Ross website where  various books, dvds and t-shirts featuring the artist can be purchased. There is even a link on the site to Bob Ross parodies on YouTube

I have the greatest admiration for amateur artists who are brave enough to display their efforts in public, whether or not they have followed a Bob Ross instruction manual. There are plenty of these talented people on Deeside and for anyone interested, the annual Art Aboyne exhibition starts in the next few days. This year, for obvious reasons, it is an on-line exhibition only, which you can find by going to @aboyne on Facebook. One of the few advantages of the pandemic is that exhibitions like this can be viewed anywhere in the world without the effort of having to travel to a physical site – though the social side is completely lost.

In the late 1980s I went through a brief phase of tinkering with paints and sketchbooks, but it was not associated with a great deal of joy (or talent). This is what my wife and 6-year old son looked like then, according to my 2B pencil:


I doubt if they were flattered by these sketches – they are certainly not smiling – but then I am no artist. If, on the other hand, you are an amateur artist, then as Bob might have said “I hope painting makes you happy.”

Talking of happiness, my wife and I have just celebrated our sapphire wedding anniversary – that is 45 years of happiness for me, and 45 years of patience and suffering for her. Celebrations were a raucously virtual affair punctuated, not by thrashing a brush, but by a moment of soporific calm, viewing one of the Bob Ross shows we had recorded.

After 45 years, you need calm more than brush thrashing.



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View from the Air

This picture from Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) appeared on Twitter today, inviting people to recognise this Scottish village

I can tell you that among the trees in a house on the left of this picture, I am writing this blog post. In the foreground is the River Dee and in the distance is Aboyne Loch. Yes, it is the village of Aboyne on Deeside. Just the place to spend a holiday if you don’t fancy the hassle of travelling overseas in these difficult times.

While you are admiring the view, you might care to donate to the Scottish Charity Air Ambulance Service. One day your life may depend on it.


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Long Tall Sally was my beacon of hope

cropped-es-pictureToday another part of my history has been chipped away never to return. This bit of history is not a statue of some infamous blackguard, toppled and hurled into a harbour. No, this is a part of my personal story, not formed out of stone, but out of something much less tangible and which some might at first sight find strange, perhaps even slightly weird.

This was the website of clothing retailer Long Tall Sally today:

2020-06-22 (2)

Long Tall Sally is closing; shutting up shop for ever. It is a sad day when any business closes, but why should the closing of this one bother me? After all I am a man and this was a business which sold women’s clothing, specialising in the requirements of the taller woman. Do I have a secret cross-dressing fetish? Is there a dark recess of my mind that quietly harbours the desire to don women’s clothing? Off with the trousers! On with the panties and summer dresses! Am I secretly a sort of stroke survivor’s answer to Grayson Perry?

Before some moral crusader stumbles on this blog and has it banned for affronting public decency, I should clarify all of the foregoing statements.

To do so, I have to take you back to the years when we lived in Orkney (the 1990s). On our infrequent trips south together, my wife and I would indulge ourselves selectively and sparingly in city shopping. In Edinburgh or in Glasgow, Johanna’s must-have choice of shop was Long Tall Sally where she would luxuriate in the racks of decent length trousers, dresses and jackets any of which could easily accommodate her legs, arms and tall elegant body. Certain shoe shops where size 10 ladies’ shoes were available were also an important port of call. The children and I would accompany her on some of these visits, and watch as she joyfully selected items unavailable in Orkney. Along with the other tall ladies striding around the shop, she generally left the premises with a smile on her face, gratitude for thoughtful staff, a collection of carrier bags and, of course, a lighter wallet. Those bags were colourfully printed in large letters with the words LONG TALL SALLY. For many tall women the shops must have been a godsend.

That collection of Long Tall Sally carrier bags followed us around for years as useful repositories for all kinds of goods, from supermarket shopping to sweaty trainers. It was one of those bags that brightened up the many monotonous months I spent in the Woodend stroke unit in Aberdeen. If you have ever endured a long spell in hospital, you will know that visits from friends and family are just as important for your welfare as the professionalism of the staff who are looking after you. In the Woodend stroke unit, such visits were  a life saver for me, breaking up the long empty gaps between therapy sessions.

Every day Johanna would visit, accompanied by Hamish, our whippet, and she would usually be carrying a Long Tall Sally bag containing messages, cards and gifts from friends and family. In fact, those bags became so well-known to some of the nursing staff that I would hear them referring to Johanna herself as “Long Tall Sally”.

2020-06-22 (3)I would be alerted to her approach down the long hospital corridor by the scraping of Hamish’s paws on the flooring as he dragged her towards the ward, and frequently by a nurse calling “Here comes long tall Sally.” There would follow the soft pad of Johanna’s feet and Hamish’s panting and I would know that the day was going to turn interesting, at least for a time. Your horizons get narrowed in hospital, so there was also the anticipation of what that Long Tall Sally bag might contain today – it represented a beacon of hope, a connection with that other world I had not seen for so long. While Hamish lay at full length, panting on the warm floor, Johanna would reveal one by one the contents of the bag.

This, then, is a sad day. It is sad, I am sure for all those who worked for Long Tall Sally There will be challenges for them in finding new employment and there will no doubt be challenges in winding up the business. It is probably of little comfort to them to know that the name of their business still resonates with some of us and made at least one hospital patient happy for a while.



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