Step Out for Stroke

archie ct2It is that time of year again.

Once more, Master and I will be taking part in a  Step Out for Stroke event – this time at Broughty Ferry near Dundee on 15 May. This involves a 2.5 mile walk along the esplanade, and my personal challenge will be not just to complete the course with Master, but to behave impeccably throughout. As anyone will agree, this is a major challenge for any handsome, energetic young whippet – let alone a ne’er do well like me.

As a follower of this blog, you may feel some mild guilt, but you are under no obligation to sponsor us, though if you wish to do so, you may care to know that everything we raise – every last penny, biscuit and bone – will go to the  Deeside Stroke Group which meets weekly and provides a professionally run exercise class for people affected by stroke and other neurological conditions. Funds we raise are used to purchase equipment and to make the class affordable for all. We get great support from the Stroke Association, and we plug a major gap in health and social care services locally. A great benefit for me is that, by going to this class, Master retains sufficient fitness to accompany me on a daily walk in the woods near our home – good for him, and good for me.

If you would like to sponsor us, click here for details. I’ll let you know how we get on.

The sun will definitely shine beside the silvery Tay on 15 May, so if you live near Dundee (and even if you don’t) and would like to take part in the Step Out for Stroke event yourself, or know of someone – or some dog – who would, click here for full details.

Many barks

Archie (Windwalker Follow Me Home)

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The West Sands Revisited

ES picture“Youth is wasted on the young” – so wrote George Bernard Shaw.

This line floated through my head recently when we two humans – plus dog – were spending a few days in St Andrews at the beginning of March. At the time, we were walking along the broad expanse of the West Sands. (If you’ve never been there, think Eric Liddell and Chariots of Fire).  It was a clear blue morning; a light, bracing wind blew in our faces; there was the cry of seabirds, a shimmer of light over the sea and a distant susurration of the tide. As a student at St Andrews University I must have walked on that huge beach dozens of times, but now in 2016 I was enjoying its luminous breezy sunshine with an intensity and pleasure that I do not remember experiencing more than forty years ago when I was attending that fine institution.

Perhaps when I was younger, I was preoccupied with study (doubtful), or maybe even with girls or some of the other delights on offer. I vaguely recall, after a university ball, skinny dipping at the West Sands, and I suppose that must have been a fairly intense experience – intensely cold, certainly. I also remember being able to run the full length of the Sands. As a youngster I probably just took for granted the fact that the wide West Sands existed as a pleasant backdrop to all the other much more important activities in which I was involved. Perhaps we all do this, when young. What I had certainly forgotten was the extent to which wind-blown sand and salt permeate your clothes, socks, hair and car long after you have left the beach.

Anyway, on this occasion – March 2016 – I found walking along the West Sands to be thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly memorable. Having survived a stroke, I am, of course, extremely grateful to be able to walk at all, let alone walk miles along a sandy beach. It has to be said, too, that I was with my wonderful wife – it has to be said, in case she reads this and believes I haven’t fully acknowledged the joy I should feel in her presence. Then again, this was our whippet Archie’s first experience of a beach. His lunatic racing about on the enormous expanse of sand was wonderful to behold – sheer, physical joie de vivre. Perhaps we all enjoyed the beach so much because we live in landlocked Deeside, which, however beautiful, cannot offer the huge skies and wide horizons of St Andrews. Perhaps we enjoyed it so much simply because for a few days we were out of routine – away from reality.

Did I fail to fully appreciate St Andrews when I studied there? Almost certainly. Is youth “wasted on the young”, as GBS says? Perhaps – actually, I think that line says more about the wistfulness of an ageing George Bernard than it does about the young. Re-visiting a place one has enjoyed as a youngster stirs up old memories, which we view through the prism of age and experience. Perhaps wistfulness is an inevitable part of that. But I’ll be savouring the memory of our 2016 walks on the West Sands long after the sand and salt have gone from my socks and my car.


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Pebbles in the Pond

ES pictureFollowers of this blog will remember that last November I took part in an evening at the Scottish Story Telling Centre organised by the Health and Social Care Alliance: ‘Reading Writing and Your Health – Journeys in Self Management‘. At the end of the evening I had a number of interesting conversations with individuals in the audience. One of these people has now been in touch with me – I reproduce her message below:

Books and Well-being

Guest blog post by an anonymous dyslexic adult.

Books and well-being is a blog series inspired by the Book Week Scotland 2015 event “Reading, Writing and Your Health – Journeys in Self Management.” In it, I share my experience of using books in my self-management journey. Here’s a summary of what each post looks at.

Part 1

  • The benefits that books can have on an individual’s well-being
  • The detrimental effect that an absence of books can have on an individual’s well-being, illustrated by my own experience

Part 2

  • How books can benefit dyslexic people
  • Whether an absence of books could exacerbate mental ill health and make recovery from it more difficult
  • Some book lists and how dyslexic people might use them

Part 3

  • How dyslexic people might adapt the book lists discussed in part 2 to self-manage dyslexia and common mental health conditions

Although these blog posts focus on the dyslexic context, they are applicable to any group or individual interested in using books as a self-management tool.

You can find the first post in the series at  The other 2 posts will be published over the next few weeks.

I encourage you to follow the links above and to read what she has written about dyslexia and mental health and will write over the next few weeks.

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Scottish Stroke Assembly

stroke logoA first. On 15 March this year, the Stroke Association will be holding its first Stroke Assembly in Scotland. This is an opportunity for stroke survivors, their carers and others with an interest in stroke to meet together, exchange news and information and to hear about the latest developments in stroke research. You can find out more information here, or by clicking on the logo above.

The event takes place in Stirling and is already proving popular, although there are still a few places remaining. There is a very modest charge for the day.

I look forward to meeting many followers of this blog there.

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Woodside station

Storm Gertrude! Remember you read it here first.

To SHMU FM to do a radio interview about stroke. As I drive in from Deeside, I listen to a radio debate on the BBC about whether or not to ban Donald Trump from the UK. Half of my mind is on the upcoming interview in Aberdeen, the other half is wondering when it was that we started trying to ban everyone and everything we don’t approve of. Shouldn’t a mature democracy like ours be able to tolerate a bit of rough edged debate? Apparently our former First Minister, Alex Salmond, wants Trump banned from the UK. But hang on a moment, weren’t they best buddies a short while ago? Isn’t it Trump’s personal jet that we see regularly parked at Prestwick airport, courtesy of the Scottish Government?

As I drive along, I think. In their different ways, Trump and Salmond are rabble rousers – each seeks with every public utterance to garner the unthinking populist vote. I wonder if Salmond is so vociferous about Trump because he sees something of himself in the man – the creature he could be if he really let go with those nationalist rants. Sees this and fears. Many of Trump’s views are repellent; Salmond, on the other hand, may just be misguided. Both have, in public, a bombastic style that brooks no measured discussion. Are they the same in private? Do friends and family have to listen to their rants over breakfast? An image floats in my mind of each of them on bar stools in one of Trump’s golf course club houses arguing the toss, pints in hand, faces reddening by the minute. Clash of the Pringle jerseys.

These treasonous thoughts have possibly been brought on by a touch of indigestion, but more likely by the fact that, yet again, we are embarking on an election year. And for the benefit of readers outside Scotland, elections to the Holyrood parliament in Edinburgh take place in May this year. Still, these images of two supposedly premier league politicians have helped to pass the time as I struggle through the early morning Aberdeen traffic.

I reach my destination. SHMU Radio is a community radio station housed in a quiet side street in what was once upon a time Woodside railway station. Trains rattle past now, fenced off safely from the former station buildings. In Victorian times, I would have been able to take a train from many points along Deeside to Woodside station. Sometimes I would have had to change trains on the way, but there would have been no battling through rush hour traffic . How we have progressed!

Maybe some of our politicians should ease off on the rants and regain a sense of their own transience on the public stage by slowing down, looking around and reflecting on the fate of places like Woodside station, once a noisy focal point, now a hazy, silent blur to passengers speeding into town.


Since it is an election year, I leave you with a manifesto – not a political one, at least not with a capital P. It is from the Alliance and is a manifesto for people in Scotland living with long term conditions. I’ll be promoting it in any way I can. Here it is:



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Community spirit alive and well on Deeside

archie ct2When tragedy strikes, it is often the small, quiet actions that are the most appreciated by those affected. The warm handshake, the understanding smile, the bowl of soup handed in at the door, the offer of help with suddenly overwhelming routine tasks. We knew all about being on the receiving end of such kindnesses after my stroke in 2004 and a couple of years later when we were flooded out of our home for over four months. Such kind actions remain in the memory always and have undoubtedly been both given and received in recent days by those on Deeside affected by the floods.

Today we learn that our sole bridge over the Dee at Aboyne is to be closed for safety reasons due to storm damage. Perhaps this is not surprising when you look at this picture again.

Dee1The lack of a bridge is an inconvenience rather than a tragedy but it still makes the other side of the river seem like an ocean away.

And some canine silliness – Archie, dashing about and undaunted by the rubbish and barbed wire that, since the flood, litters one of his favourite walks, has acquired a nasty crescent shaped cut on his forehead from something new and sharp in the landscape. The resulting red weal has given him an uncanny resemblance to a former Soviet leader. We may change his name to Gorbachev.

There have been many offers of help to those affected by flooding, but if there are followers of this blog who wish to contribute help and are unsure about how to assuage their conscience, here is a possible answer.

The Rotary Club of Aboyne and Upper Deeside has established a Flood Relief Fund, the purpose of which is to relieve hardship and provide assistance to the people and communities directly affected by the recent floods in the Deeside area.

If you would like to donate you can find out more by clicking on the image below – and please feel free to forward a link to this blog to anyone who you feel may be interested:

ballater flooding

As many people are now discovering, the task of recovering from flood damage is one that goes on long after the events themselves have faded from the headlines – and we are not always talking about purely physical recovery here. There are few dramatic pictures during this time of rebuilding, but this fund aims – quietly – to support those individuals and communities who need it most during that lengthy process.




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New Year’s Day 2016

Two days on from Storm Frank and New Year’s Day 2016 dawns (almost)  bright. We have not suffered as much as our neighbouring community of Ballater further up Deeside. Even so, there is plenty of damage and destruction. Below is a photograph of the track down to the River Dee taken from almost the same spot as on 30 December. dee11It has now dried out, but is muddy and strewn with twisted barbed wire, broken trees and fence posts. The fishermen’s hut that stood some metres back from the river has been completely destroyed – though someone has placed a chair on the site where it stood. The hut, as you can see below has been removed in pieces by the force of the water to nearby trees. Archie and I have to tread carefully over the broken ground – walking poles, uncertain balance, a thin-skinned whippet and barbed wire do not make for good chemistry.





Once again, happy new year!


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Inappropriately named storms?

ES pictureStorm Eva? Storm Frank? Doesn’t quite instil fear, does it? Storm Slasher – now there’s a good rough, aggressive, manly sort of name. Perhaps it is because most of the Franks and Evas I know wouldn’t hurt the proverbial fly. Or am I just peeved that when it came to the letter E a girl’s name had to be chosen, and there was no Storm Eric?

Anyway, despite his mellow name, Storm Frank has caused plenty of problems here on Deeside – this is the bridge over the Dee at Aboyne yesterday, with the river roaring along just beneath the arches and several times its normal width.Dee1.jpg

And this is our usually dry track through the woods and down to the river, the normal course of which can be seen as the shiny line in the distance, with the water still rising towards our feet.Dee6.jpg

Having experienced a flood ourselves a few years back with hundreds of gallons of clean chilly water pouring into our unoccupied home for three days from a burst pipe in the attic, I can imagine only too well the horror of chilly dirty sludgy water roaring in through doors and windows. My heart goes out to people coping with this as a parting gift from 2015.

As is the way with nature, today is calm and dry with a hint of watery sunshine. Let us hope that Storm “G” – Gertrude, Gladys, Georgina or whatever – is kinder to us when she inevitably arrives some time in 2016.

Happy New Year.

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Ceud mile failte

ES pictureAs a final word about Aberdeenshire Council’s plan to erect Gaelic signs everywhere (see earlier post), I can do no better than reprint below, Norman Harper’s reply to my comment on his article. I could not predict that my falling down some steps could result in such heartfelt prose appearing on this blog:

Eric, I could rattle on about this all day, but it doesn’t do my temper any good. You might have noticed that the council is considering shutting Woodhill House to save money because the cupboard is so bare. Yet there is still money for this Gaelic nonsense.
When the latest proposals to inflict Gaelic on the people of Aberdeenshire became public in September, I emailed every member of the Policy and Resources Committee and a few others for good measure, not as a journalist (which would be very bad professional form), but as an Aberdeenshire taxpayer, asking them to see sense.
The replies I got were interesting. Not one of them intended to accede to Bord na Gaidhlig’s demands in full. Even the councillors who support Gaelic most enthusiastically (SNP), on the whole wanted to back Option Two, probably including Gaelic on council letterheads and signage on vehicles, indeed anything where Gaelic could be inveigled into Aberdeenshire and council life at minimal cost.
The others — LibDems, Tories and Independents — were as appalled as you and I are and wanted nothing to do with giving Gaelic a foothold anywhere in the North-east. As one said: “Aberdeenshire is not remotely part of Gaeldom in the 21st Century. We have far more pressing priorities here than this.”
I am making no political point in this, but the impetus behind this promotion of Gaelic in Aberdeenshire seems to come from the SNP. That’s not any bias from me; just bare fact.
Some of the SNP replies were interesting. Their implication was that as long as Doric is supported, the council should be supporting Gaelic, too. Indeed, one SNP councillor said that he “strongly” supported the promotion of Gaelic in Aberdeenshire, just not at huge cost.
Another went off on a diatribe about this whole thing being cooked up by the media as an anti-Gaelic campaign. A third pointed out that Gaelic is historically important to Aberdeenshire. The key word in that sentence was not “important”, as he believed, but “historically”: it is now functionally irrelevant here, with just 1,395 people who can understand it; none of them monolingual.
It was also interesting that in the week Aberdeenshire came to its impasse vote, Highland Council was cutting the funding to its flagship Gaelic-medium primary school at Sleat, in Skye, because of falling numbers. If Gaelic can’t muster the numbers and interest in its own backyard, why should it seek to impose itself on me? I’m not in the least interested. The same goes for probably everyone else in the North-east, I would venture. Indeed, if my straw polling is a guide, virtually everyone outside Gaelic and the SNP is hopping mad about it.
One councillor copied me into the council officials’ papers on the proposals. One official had warned that there could be a “reputational impact” on the council if councillors turned away all of Gaelic’s demands.
As I replied to the councillor: “He was dead right, but all the reputational impact would be positive, and right across the shire.”
Dig into the minutes of the Gaelic committee at Holyrood if you want a good scare. One proposal from an SNP MSP was that any contractor working with Scottish public bodies — for instance, supplying stationery, tradesmen services, cleaning windows, or even wheeling round the coffee cart, to the police, local authorities, NHS or anything else in the Scottish public sector — should be required to have Gaelic on their letterheads and vehicles if they want to keep the contract. I can just see Wullie, our local plumber, repainting his van in Gaelic before he is permitted to unblock a toilet at the council offices.
The whole thing is a farce. The number of Gaelic speakers throughout Scotland is about to go below 50,000 and is dropping by around 200 a year, despite £40million being spent annually on life-support.
I understand fully that it is sad for those who are devoted to their culture, but the time has come to be sensible, surely. Cut the cloth appropriately. Any objective linguist knows that Gaelic dropped below long-term viability at the end of the 20th century.
As I have said elsewhere, at what point do we all accept that this is nonsense? When there are 30,000 speakers? When there are 20,000? Ten thousand? Two thousand? Or when the money being spent on it rises to £60million? £100million? £300million?
You can prop a corpse in a chair, weep over it, tell it how important it has been and how much you loved it, put £40million of other people’s electricity through it and paint lipstick on it.
But it’s still a corpse.

Enough said.

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An evening at the Scottish Story Telling Centre

ES pictureOn Tuesday of this week it was my privilege to be a member of a panel at an event at the Scottish Story Telling Centre – with silent, symbolic representation from the late George Mackay Brown in the form of an Orkney chair in one corner of the room. The evening was organised by the  Self Management Network Scotland , part of the Health and Social Care Alliance,and expertly chaired by Blythe Robertson, who is the policy lead for self management and health literacy at the Scottish Government.

It proved to be a most stimulating evening with three very different presentations from those of us on the panel and plenty of questions from an intelligent and thoughtful audience. Following my own reflections on stroke and some ruminations from Hamish (well rehearsed on the pages of this blog), there was a moving description from Sheila Peaston and Maria Martin of Pink Ladies 1st, of how they use story-telling and the written word to help support some of the vulnerable clients with whom they work. Their quotation from a powerful piece of writing by one of their clients ably demonstrated the ability of the written word to heal and empower.

Finally, we had a multi-media presentation from Alan Ainsley about the ways in which he and his late wife used writing and blogging to help deal with Louise’s diagnosis and death from terminal cancer and his own depression

Included in Alasmns eventn’s very personal and wide-ranging presentation was a video of the Power of OK (some explicit language),which is part of the See Me campaign to change attitudes towards mental health, especially in the work place. Compulsive viewing for everyone.

The question posed by the Alliance at the beginning of the evening was “Can reading and writing help with the self-management of long-term conditions?” Each of us answered this question from very different perspectives, but explicitly and implicitly all four of us answered in the affirmative. During the question and answer session which followed we tried to give honest answers to probing questions from a clearly interested and engaged audience.

Include vulnerability, stroke, cancer, depression, and bereavement in the same event and you would not expect to find space for a lot of humour there – but amongst the group of us we somehow managed to allow that in that as well.

George Mackay Brown would have approved of that.

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