Sunday, 26 June 2016


I don't suppose for one moment that I am the only person who, when reading something written by someone I know, hears that person's voice.  I had never really thought about that until a friend who had bought a copy of my book told me how much she had enjoyed it, and went on to say that she could hear me telling the story as she read it.

(A shameless bit of self-advertising - but all profits go to Brighton Lions Club Charity Trust Fund.)

Now I come to re-read that paragraph, I can't remember just why I decided to start this post like that. Although I suppose 'recognition' is a vague connection with what I had set out to think about.

Anyway, I have just finished reading what is, I think, the latest offering from Alexander McCall Smith.  Mr Smith - or Mr McCall Smith as he might prefer to be called although his name is not double-barreled - must be one of the most prolific writers working these days.  I think the latest count is 51 novels for adults, 27 children's novels and 13 academic tests. Plus a number of anthologies and short stories. He is, perhaps, best known for the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series about Mma Ramwotse.  These books are set in Botswana although others of his are set in Edinburgh.

The book I have just finished is My Italian Bulldozer, set - as the title suggests - in Italy. Obviously, I knew who the author was before I even opened the book but, had it be covered in plain brown paper and had I opened it at random and started to read, I would very quickly have known who had written it.  Mr McCall Smith's distinctive, some might say idiosyncratic, style of writing is instantly recognisable.  It is a style that is well-suited to the (supposedly) slower and more leisurely lifestyle of Tuscan villages and Botswana - although I don't think it fits so well in dreary, rain-swept Edinburgh. Reading one of the Ladies' Detective Agency titles is like taking a leisurely stroll with no reason to hurry. The same applies to the Italian Bulldozer.

Over the years I must have read books by hundreds of different authors.  In some cases there might have been 20 or even 30 books written by the same author.  But I don't think I have come across another writer with such a distinctive literary style as Alexander McCall Smith.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The aftermath

Stolen from John Delaney

All over bar the shouting

When I heard the news yesterday morning, my reaction was a mix of euphoria and relief.  I am, however, concerned that some people are - quite literally - scared.  Scared that this country is now on the slippery slope towards fascism, racism and isolationism.  I think the leaders of both the Remain camp and the Leave camp must share the blame for this, the Remain leaders for inciting fear and accusing the Leave camp of those things, and the Leave camp for not doing (or saying) enough to counter the accusations.

I don't consider it racist to say that this country is unable to absorb each year the equivalent of the population of Newcastle.  We have insufficient housing for the people in the country now, and the health service and schools are close to breaking point.  We need to establish some system to control the numbers of immigrants, be they from Germany or Ghana, Australia or Austria, France or the Philippines.  And we have always welcomed genuine refugees, the Flemish in the 16th century, Huguenots in the 17th, Jews in the 1930s and 40s, Asians thrown out of Kenya by Idi Amin in the 1970s - and we are taking in Syrians now.

Leaving the European Union does not make us isolationist either.  In fact, it will enable us to look outwards even more, to negotiate trade deals with other countries like Brazil, India, Australia and - yes - the USA, unhampered by the conflicting demands of the 27 other member states of the EU, each of which wants something different.  And it is our own voice that will be heard in the councils of the world rather than a compromise voiced by a collection of 28 (and increasing) countries with wildly different histories, traditions and cultures.

Above all, freedom from the strictures of the EU means that our laws will be made by our elected Parliament, a parliament that we can change, rather than the 60% as now that are decided by unelected European Commissioners.

But nothing will change overnight.  David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has - wisely - announced his intention to step aside so that a new Prime Minister can begin the negotiations for our departure.  This will be a time when the people of the UK need to put behind us the petty bickering and squabbling, the hyperbole and insults of the referendum campaign.  We need a government that is mindful of the needs and worries of all the population.  But this is Britain, so I am supremely confident that all will come good in the end.

We might even get back our blue passports!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Independence Day?

Well, will this be the day that the people of the United Kingdom reclaim their independence by throwing off the ever-tightening shackles of the European Union?  By telling everyone concerned that we no longer wish to have laws imposed upon us by unelected European Commissioners but want  to be governed by our British Parliament - the mother of all Parliaments - which we can change from time to time at elections?  That we want to be free to agree trading terms with other nations such as the USA, Australia, Japan, China and so on, without being hamstrung by what 27 other countries want?

Or will we decide that Britain is stronger, safer and richer joined in political union with 27 - maybe soon to be nearer 30 - other countries?

I'm not a racist, xenophobic, isolationist Little Englander and I have voted to leave the EU, to reclaim our democracy.  We are big enough and strong enough to make our own way in the world and to play a part in the councils of the world for our own part, not as just one of many European countries, with many of whom we disagree anyway!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Cherry ripe, cherry ripe

Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones,
Come and buy.

Cherry Ripe is an English song with words by poet Robert Herrick (1591–1674) and music by Charles Edward Horn (1786–1849) which contains the refrain above.

I was born and brought up in Kent, the county known as the Garden of England.  Well, it used to be. Nowadays it is more a Gateway to England (or Exit from England) with the world's busiest ferry port and the Channel tunnel terminal together with their associated motorways and high speed rail tracks.

Anyway, in my youth the county had many acres of hop fields and orchards, especially cherry orchards.  Cherries featured quite heavily in our family's diet during the season, partly because we had a large cherry tree in our garden.  This tree provided us with pounds of fruit every year and we didn't suffer and deprivation by the local birds.  The cherries on this tree were cooking cherries, not dessert fruit.  So cherry pies and stewed cherries were fairly frequent desserts at our dinner table and my brother and I learned the words, 'tinker, tailor, soldier, spy.  Rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief' at a very early age.  We did eat dessert cherries as well and my memory (which may not be completely accurate) is that whenever we went out to play (in the street, as often as not, in those days) my brother and I each had a handful of the fruit.

But I seem to have developed an allergy to cherries!  Too early for English fruit to be in the shops, I bought some Spanish ones the other day . . . and every time I eat one I start coughing and can't stop for about ten minutes!

I ask you!  A Man of Kent allergic to cherries!!

But maybe it's just the Spanish ones.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Tiger, tiger, burning bright . . .

. . . in the forests of the night.

Well, I don't know about tigers, but there is one very relieved Lion to have escaped the forest of paper that has been threatening to submerge me during the past few days - all to do with Lions.

It's been partly my own silly fault.  I am currently the treasurer of our club and the financial year ends on 30th June.  me being me, I consider that I should have the trustees' annual report and the financial statements completed on 1st July - all 14 pages of them!  That means me having to start a couple of weeks ahead of the year end, producing not just the Statement of Financial Activity, which used to be the income and expenditure account, and the balance sheet, but several spreadsheets to show the independent examiner just how I arrived at some of the figures.

There really is no good reason why these things have to be completed so promptly but I suspect it is simply a throwback to my banking career.  Then we would be required to work on balance day until we had completed everything and knew to the penny how much profit our branch had made that year. I carried this into my subsequent job where I insisted that our auditors came in on the first business day after the year end.  I had to have the accounts finished and audited ready to send copies to the board of directors no more than five weeks into the new financial year for them to be approved at the board meeting which was always scheduled to be held within two months of the year end.

Any way, it's good practice as it means that I have to keep on top of the accounts during the year. None of this frantic sorting of a shoe-box full of receipts after the year end!

And it's not been just the accounts.  All of a rush - after six years of cajoling, nagging and negotiating - the Housing Society solicitor advised that she is ready to exchange contracts and complete simultaneously the purchase of a plot of land owned by the Council and leased to us and on which we have built 30 flats.  She kindly sent me a bundle of documents, all of which had to be read and signed, usually by two people, and returned in good time for the transaction to take place next Wednesday!  Which in turn involved frantic telephone calls to the bank to make sure we could draw down the loan they have agreed to make - and we couldn't because there were still more forms they needed to have completed and questions to be answered by our solicitor. . .

It's a wonder I have any hair left!

Monday, 13 June 2016


Travelling to a Lions event yesterday somewhere in the depths of the countryside I found myself a little lost (if you see what I mean.  And no, I am not Irish, Belgian or Swedish.)  I pulled up outside a village store that appeared to be open.  It was, so I entered and asked the man behind the counter if he could tell me the quickest way to my destination.

"Are you walking or driving?" he asked.

"Driving," I replied.

"Yes," he confirmed.  "That's the quickest way."