Tag Archives: #2014

My Twelve Songs of Christmas

What are the songs that make up your personal sound of Christmas? I got to thinking about this question, when I spotted a challenge to choose five different tracks for the season within certain categories. I found I had an “A” List which were my instinctive choices and a “B” List that came later after a bit of thought. By adding an extra two tracks I’ve created my Twelve Songs of Christmas. This is what I came up with:

  1. A classic Christmas song (by this I mean anything from before you were born).

A: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen-a quaint endearing song I have always loved although you hardly ever hear it these days. It makes me think of cards depicting Victorian dressed carol singers, standing in a pristine snow covered winter scene carrying lanterns.

B: Silver Bells-the Bing Crosby rendition of this “feel-good” song is a favourite.

2.  A more modern Christmas song (anything from after you were born)

A: Walking In The Air by Aled Jones-ever since I was little I have associated music with pictures. So when Raymond Briggs animated film The Snowman was released for Christmas 1982, with a special song all of its own, it was the perfect blend for me. Although Peter Auty sang in the film, it was Aled Jones who had a big hit with the song in 1985.

B: Mistletoe and Wine by Cliff Richard-this just has everything.

 3. A Carol (something to do with the birth of Christ-no need to be religious to do that!)

A: Holy Child (lyrics by Timothy Dudley-Smith)-I learned a few verses of this in 1978 for my primary school Christmas play. I was enchanted (and still am) by the tune and lyrics and yet I have never heard it anywhere else since! It begins Holy Child, how still you lie! safe the manger, soft the hay; faint upon the eastern sky breaks the dawn of Christmas Day. I finally tracked it down this year under the auspices of “unusual and rare carols”. I discovered it was printed in a hymn book called Carols for Today, and I think I’ve unearthed a recording of it available on iTunes.

B: Three Kings by Peter Cornelius-I heard this for the first time in my twenties at Keele University. I thought it was incredible and it sent shivers down my spine. My friend David Pye’s amazing rendition is STILL the best one I have heard.

  1. An instrumental/classical piece that makes you feel Christmassy

A: Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson-for me THE instrumental tune for the season. Mind you until my husband Rob played it in a concert in 2008 I had no idea what it was called or who composed it.

B: O Little Town by New World Orchestra-heard on The Christmas Chillout Album (2003). A more modern interpretation of the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem that is simply wonderful. Unusually for me I prefer this version to the traditional one and Cliff Richard put his vocals to an updated arrangement in 1998.

  1. A free choice-for if you couldn’t decide for one of the others, or if you have something else totally left-field to get in there!)

A: Abigail’s Song by Katherine Jenkins from the 2010 Dr Who Christmas special based on A Christmas Carol. I have always adored this Dickens tale and Dr Who did an interesting take on the story. Once again the scene from the TV accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful song just blended together so well, to create an incredible memory.

B: God Bless The USA (Proud To Be An American) from American Idol Season 2-My husband and I flew to New York on Christmas Day 2001. Our honeymoon in 1994 had been New York to San Francisco by Amtrak, and we had always said we would go back to both cities one day. “They will always essentially be the same” we said and then September 11th happened. As the festive season of 2001 approached, we knew we had to return to New York and support the city and the people, in the only way we knew how. So flying on NorthWest Airlines, I listened to the music from the “in-flight” entertainment menu and came across this song, which was produced as a result of the 9/11 atrocity. In a way it said everything about WHY we were going to New York and during our stay I found the song on CD. It has remained in my heart ever since that flight and has such a special resonance for me.

 Extras: We Three Kings Of Orient Are-a lovely jaunty carol learned in childhood that makes me smile. Stay Another Day by East 17-the sound of the season in 1994 my first married Christmas.

So many memories, thoughts and feelings are wrapped up in these my Twelve Songs of Christmas, a veritable smorgasbord of sound that sings “Merry Christmas”.




SYDNEY DEVINE 40 Years Performing at the Pavilion Theatre Glasgow

Earlier this month (November 7th & 8th), Sydney Devine graced the stage at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow for the fortieth consecutive year, creating an entertainment record all of his own. Dressed in an immaculately tailored ruby red suit with white braiding, red shirt, white boots and a red rhinestone belt, Sydney sang to a packed auditorium of devoted fans. As has been my custom for many a year, I was sitting in the front section of the stalls for the first show, unusually a Friday night, rather than the Thursday evening I was expecting. Possibly this is a little nod toward the fact that the star of the show turns 75 on January the 11th next year! Anyway, as always everyone had a thoroughly good evening being entertained by a singer sometimes affectionately known as Steak ‘n’ Kidney.

Looking great ifor his Silver anniversary 26/11/99. Image credit abmj
Looking great for his Silver anniversary 26/11/99. Image credit abmj

Sydney Devine (his own name although it does have an exotic showbiz ring to it) has been treading the boards since he was in short trousers. Long before his voice broke and before he left school, Sydney had been “discovered” so to speak. Born in Mayfield Cottage in Bellside Cleland to a large family, his mother “Old Nellie” taught him to whistle. Around the age of ten or eleven Sydney’s ability to mimic bird calls was written about in a local newspaper, and the story was picked up by a national. From that he was invited to the BBC Radio Scotland studio in Glasgow, to perform alongside Ronnie Ronald on the song If I Were a Blackbird (Sydney was the blackbird). Another invite to sing at the BBC studio came about a year later when Syd was around twelve, who by then was already on the touring talent show circuit Go As You Please. The head of BBC Radio Scotland Kathleen Garscadden “Auntie Kathleen”, having given Sydney his first break then invited him to represent Scotland, in a four home nations TV show called All Your Own. As a result, a 13 year old Cleland boy headed to London (with his Mum as chaperone) to perform “live” on the fledgling medium of TV. This broadcast was seen by the legendary Scottish performer Robert Wilson, who then paid the Devine household a personal visit and offered to be a voice coach to Sydney and to find him a song to record onto vinyl. Shortly after this visit Sydney Devine had cut his first record with Betty Fitchett’s Wedding /Lunan Bay. He appeared on vinyl again (as a blackbird) accompanying Robert Wilson in Cottage by the Lea. Although Sydney cannot remember receiving any money for his recordings, he did well on the touring talent circuit although much of his earnings went on stage costumes and travel. The novelty payment of two packs of chewing gum (sweet rationing still in place) came from working in Stopher’s Dundee shows and then Sydney joined Annie Muir’s Concert Party in Carluke. So most weekends Sydney was performing the length and breadth of Lanarkshire (a large urban sprawl in Central Scotland) that included doing several Old Folks’ Treats shows. All this was going on whilst Sydney was still a schoolboy, so the seeds had been sown for an entertainment career long before the school gates closed. A job in a tailors shop beckoned, when news came that he had won the role of Micah Dow in Wild Grows the Heather, staged in the West End of London. Fifteen year old Sydney Devine was on his way earning £28 a week in 1955! The show lasted about twenty weeks and the juvenile role music had to be re-written, after Sydney’s voice broke mid-song during a performance about six weeks through the run. When the role ended Sydney and his chaperone Mum returned home to Cleland, where the teenager had to let nature take its course and allow his voice to settle.

Still rockin' in tartan 26/10/99. Image credit abmj
Still rockin’ in tartan 26/10/99. Image credit abmj

This was the era of the embryonic sound of rock n’ roll and Syd was not immune to its lure, so he took up the guitar, let his voice settle and created a skiffle band. He then entered a competition to find “Scotland’s Tommy Steele” and came second to the more raucous sounding Alex Harvey. After the competition tour was completed (like the X-Factor road show I guess but more low key), Sydney joined the very Scottish Robert Wilson’s White Heather Group in 1959 and toured with them for the next decade. His appearance as “The Tartan Rocker” singing Elvis songs must have gone down particularly well on the American Army bases in Germany. Apparently one night the REAL Elvis was in the audience listening. Undoubtedly Elvis Presley has had a bit of an influence on Sydney over the years, as anyone attending his concerts can testify. He is heralded onto the stage to the strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra and has worn the “white-spangled rhinestone jumpsuit” on occasion too.

Ode to Elvis March 1990. Image credit abmj
Ode to Elvis March 1990. Image credit abmj

With the untimely death of Robert Wilson in 1964 Sydney suddenly found himself a solo artist in every sense, even though the White Heather Group continued. He didn’t have the security anymore and during his time with Robert Wilson he hadn’t appeared on any TV or radio shows, having seemingly been blacklisted. A decision to tour the working men’s’ clubs was quickly put on hold, when a serious car accident put Sydney out of action. Oddly as a result of this experience, his indomitable wife Shirley found herself making a great success of running a bed & breakfast establishment. This gave the income security the Devine family needed to allow a healed Sydney to ply his trade south of the border. The working men’s clubs are a tough audience but Sydney managed to survive. I think a lot of fans who travel from England and Wales for the Pavilion concerts, remember his work ethic and talent from those days. A tour with Andy Stewart around the end of 1969/the start of 1970 found Sydney in South Africa. Offered the chance to do an album there he laid down over twenty songs. The resulting album eventually found its way to a Glasgow Woolworths store, where a young Miss Devine (no relation) got the album played. From there on in, it was the slow burn to career success.

Belting out a song 10/11/2001. Image credit abmj
Belting out a song 10/11/2001. Image credit abmj

As a wee girl from Cleland in the early seventies, I was delighted and amazed to discover Sydney Devine came from my home village. And I knew his mammy “Old Nellie” the woman with the fur coat I’d see at the bus stop going to bingo. The big revelation came one day whilst standing at the bus stop outside Bessie Allen’s grocery store. I was about 4 years old and had just learned all the words to all the songs from an album called “Cryin Time”. “Old Nellie” was chuffed when I gave her a wee compilation rendition of Old Shep, Cryin Time, Two Little Orphans and Come Home Rolling Stone. Then my mammy dropped the bombshell of who “Old Nellie” really was, and I felt like I’d met the Queen Mum. From that day on I never passed Syd’s mother without saying hello, asking how she & the bingo was and of course how Sydney/Shirley and the family were. When “Old Nellie” passed away I wrote to Sydney (c/o the Pavilion) for the first time to express my sympathy to him. I mentioned I was going to be sitting in the stalls Row C 1 & 2 at his next show and hoped to get a photo. At that concert it seemed he made a particular effort to come to my side of the stage and I got some lovely snaps, as well as a wee thank-you from the stage for the lovely letter. I was thrilled at this unexpected acknowledgement. Over the years (since earning my own income) I have attended Sydney’s shows faithfully, with the exception of a period of about 4-5 years when illness just would not allow it. One year I decided to write to Syd again saying how sad I was to be missing his show because I was poorly, and I wondered if he had done any videos I could buy from a catalogue. A catalogue duly arrived in the post with a wee note (in his writing) scrawled on it wishing me well, and hoping there was something I could get to cheer me up until my next concert. I still have the videos I bought and treasure them. My greatest joy was when Sydney granted me an interview in 2006 for my hospital radio show. Little did either of us know at that time, Sydney would require life saving emergency surgery the following year whilst in Spain. I think the operation happened in the October and he still appeared on stage at the Pavilion in the November. He was completely wiped out by the performance, yet still seen all the fans who stayed behind after the show. I distinctly remember being with two ladies (whom I’d previously met at shows) at the end of the queue. I had given them a CD copy of my interview and he signed the cover for them. We were all so concerned about Sydney we waited to see him into the car taking him home. In conversation as we waited, he had mentioned that his wife Shirley had refused to attend the show “to watch him die on stage”, and that she would be relieved to see him walk through the door. An absolute trooper who didn’t want to let his fans down!!!

And so to today and the Sydney Devine 40th Anniversary Show which had the usual format in the first half, band, comedian & singer. Starting the show was Sydney’s band Legend followed by comedian Eddie Devine (no relation) and singer June McCreadie. Extra fizz was added by singer/violinist Simone Welsh, who gave a scintillating rendition of the Scottish folk tune “Crabbit Shona” something I’d never heard before. Then in the second half came Sydney who can make every eye-brow raise, hip wiggle and pose speak volumes. The must-haves were there Maggie, Tiny Bubbles and The Answer to Everything along with many more as he didn’t stop singing until ten to eleven, having come on stage at ten past nine. As a sweat soaked de-jacketed Sydney Devine draped with the Scottish flag ended the show with Scotland Forever, I was overwhelmed by a powerful sense of belonging and that these were “my people”. There is a distinctive look about Syd’s audience who are the salt of the earth, the sort of folk whose faces tell the story of the realities of a working-class life that hasn’t always been kind. During shows the fans are quite literally one body and one voice accompanying Sydney. I make no apology if that sounds religious or spiritual because I guess for “Devineites” it is that kind of experience.

Two Cleland natives together. November 2013. Image credit abmj
Two Cleland natives together. November 2013. Image credit abmj

Sydney Devine is a curious phenomenon in Scotland who seems to conjure up feelings of either love or loathing in equal measure, there never seems to be a half way opinion on the Scots entertainer with the three octave range (a bit like Celine Dion). I am proud to call myself a lifelong fan of Sydney Devine, for without him I would not possess the sheer breadth of musical knowledge that I have. His music has given me much joy and I’ve looked forward to every one of his 24 concerts I’ve attended. So in closing I’d just like to say “thank you for the music Sydney, you are absolutely Devine, from Angela with love xxx”.

Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/angies_allsorts/sydney-devine-interview-101106

SEABISCUIT & ARKLE: Parallels Between Two “Once In A Generation” Horses

Although there are some glaring differences between Seabiscuit and Arkle, the similarities in my opinion, far outweigh them. Each lived to be a similar age; Seabiscuit foaled 1933 died May 17th 1947, Arkle foaled 1957 died May 31st 1970; and raced in era-defining periods of time. Seabiscuit FLAT RACED during the depression years of 1930s America, whilst Arkle ran in STEEPLE-CHASE (jump) events throughout the UK and Ireland during the Swinging Sixties. Both horses’ exploits on the field held audiences captive, with millions in the US listening on radio to hear Seabiscuit news, and the medium of TV allowing the British public a chance to witness Arkle in full flight. Such was their popularity each horse could be described as the “Peoples Champion” of their day, making front page news and receiving get well messages from adoring fans from far and wide, after suffering serious injury. Seabiscuit managed a comeback to finally win the only accolade to elude him, but although Arkle recovered from injury a comeback never happened. Their career statistics are part of horse-racing folklore and both have been immortalised with a statue. Seabiscuit stands proudly at the Santa Anita Racetrack in California and Arkle at Cheltenham, the scenes of their greatest achievements. In fact more statues have been erected in their honour over the last decade, showing the reverence held for them both to this day. Earlier this year (2014) Arkle had a full-sized statue unveiled in his native Ireland, whilst Seabiscuit is honoured at Ridgewood Ranch where he lived and also in Alberta the home state of George Woolf.

Seabiscuit. Image Credit findagrave.com
Seabiscuit. Image Credit findagrave.com

Three Essential Ingredients: Owner, Trainer & Jockey

Both horses calibre of racing pedigree was never in question with Seabiscuit coming from mare Swing On and sired by Hard Tack, whilst Arkle was born from mare Bright Cherry sired by Archive. However that potential of latent talent endowed from good DNA stock needs to be nurtured. A combination of benevolent owner, an intuitive trainer and an instinctive jockey are also required to get the best from a horse.

Crooked legged and undersized Seabiscuit was initially trained by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons who deemed the horse lazy. As a consequence of being unfairly labelled, the horse was raced heavily and whipped without mercy in his early years. In 1935 a juvenile Seabiscuit ran 35 low budget races and in 1936 his tally was only marginally smaller with 23 races run. With only fleeting success “The Biscuit” was offloaded in a claiming race to Charles Howard who probably got the bargain of the century at the time. The horse had found his benevolent owner who employed the intuitive Tom Smith as trainer. For the remainder of his career Seabiscuit came under the instinctive careful handling of Red Pollard as jockey. When Pollard was injured George Woolf took the reins in the Race of the Century against War Admiral. More lightly raced in his later years Seabiscuit bloomed to win 33 of his 89 career starts over six years and in the process broke several track records with his pace.

Watch the Seabiscuit v. War Admiral Duel known as the Race of the Century (held 1st November 1938) here.

In complete contrast to the American horse, Irish born Arkle (reasonable-sized and sleek limbed) enjoyed the care and attention of breeder Mary Baker at the Bally McColl Stud until the age of three. He was sold at sales for 1150 guineas, and the yet un-named horse came under the ownership of Anne the Duchess of Westminster. Whereas Seabiscuit ran 35 races in his FIRST SEASON Arkle ran a CAREER TOTAL of 35 races winning 27 of them, some with unbelievable winning margins (Sandown 1965 Gallagher Gold Cup by 20 lengths) and several involving track records. Pat Taaffe was the jockey who coaxed the best out of Arkle and trainer Tom Dreaper who nurtured the talent.

Arkle in full flight. Image credit www.horseandhound.co.uk
Arkle in full flight. Image credit http://www.horseandhound.co.uk

Great Weights, Great Wins and Terrible Injury

It was clear to the racing authorities that both horses were in a class of their own and as a result each was handicapped harshly. Both Seabiscuit and Arkle had to carry significantly heavier weights than their opponents and yet both still managed to win races with relative ease. Arkle’s supremacy even caused the rules of handicapping to be changed in the UK, and he set a Timeform Record with a rating of 212.

You can watch Arkle’s race of the century-his 1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup win here.

The Irish steeple-chaser won several top ranking events, but probably the three Cheltenham Gold Cup wins of 1964. 65 and 1966 are considered the most prestigious. Seabiscuit ran in the Santa Anita Handicap three times and really should have won them all. His big race was constantly dogged by unfortunate incidents. In 1937 the American bay colt had all but secured victory but was beaten by a nose at the photo finish. Jockey Red Pollard had eased off on the reins and literally didn’t see Rosemont gain toward the finish, because Pollard was blind in one eye! The following year Pollard was injured and George Woolf took the reins, with Seabiscuit giving as much as 30 pounds to his rivals. Victory at the wire (a bobbing head duel) went to Stagehand in 1938, and then in 1939 little more than two weeks before the big race, Seabiscuit suffered a ruptured left front suspensory ligament. Tom Smith tenderly nursed Seabiscuit back to health, and Red Pollard dragged his battered body back to a semblance of fitness. The scene was set for “The Biscuit” to make a comeback and he finally won that elusive Santa Anita Handicap title in 1940 aged seven with Pollard on board.

You can watch Seabiscuit & Red Pollard win the Santa Anita Handicap of 1940 here.

Seabiscuit had suffered his tendon injury mid race and yet still managed to come second in it. In a similar fashion Arkle suffered a broken pedal bone in his hoof in the King George VI Chase of 1966 at Kempton and ran on bravely to finish second, but Arkle never managed a career comeback.

Geographical & Equine Rivals

Seabiscuit represented the West Coast of the USA and his greatest rival was War Admiral from the East Coast. The only time they met was in the two horse Race of the Century in 1938 where it was said Seabiscuit broke War Admiral’s heart.

“I saw something in the Admiral’s eyes that was pitiful. He looked all broken up. Horses, mister, can have crushed hearts just like humans”. George Woolf quote in Laura Hillenbrand book Seabiscuit Three Men And A Racehorse.

Arkle represented Ireland and his big rival was English horse Mill House. They would race each other several times with Arkle being victorious in all but one of their meetings. Again it was generally felt that Arkle broke Mill House’s heart as well.

Interestingly both horses had stable rivals that could have been their equal. Arkle’s stable mate was Flyingbolt and it is said they only met once on the training ground, and never on the competitive race track. In Seabiscuit’s case his stable rival was Kayak II and they were regular sparring partners in morning workouts. When Seabiscuit was injured just before the 1939 Santa Anita Handicap, Kayak II took his place and won it. The following year Kayak II was close behind in second place to the victorious Seabiscuit.

Once In a Generation

Both horses were certainly individuals imbued with great courage, stamina, grit, talent, and possessed an amazing accelerator. Each displayed a quirky personality; I mean who could forget Arkle ploughing through a fence for example in his third Gold Cup win of 1966. Seabiscuit was decidedly temperamental at times but considering his early career and how he was treated it is not surprising. The racing style of both Seabiscuit and Arkle meant that they almost seemed to “toy with their opponents, teasing them to catch up” and yet NEITHER would be pushed around. Both established race records that stand to this day and considering the prize money they won, BOTH would literally have been worth their weight in gold. With their equine charisma and superstardom in their own day, Seabiscuit and Arkle can most certainly be attributed with that rare accolade of being a “once in a generation horse”.


How do you travel for ten days (with a week holiday in Greece involved) and use only hand luggage? With some thought it is possible, and here is how I managed to avoid the check-in nightmare.

Begin travel wearing newly laundered clothing that you know is loose fitting, comfortable, robust and STILL looks good after wearing for two/three days. By using the same outfit for travel I avoided upsetting my tightly packed bag until arrival at my destination, having packed my daily essential items in my hand bag. If necessary larger travel clothing items can be cleaned at your destination and smaller items hand washed.


CRITICAL ITEM: Vacu-pack Storage Bags. These MUST be the type that DOES NOT require vacuum cleaners to suck the air out, and has to be small enough to fit inside your petite sized luggage. I used two bigger/one smaller sized vacupack and either lay on top of them, or sat on them to draw the air out before sealing. I found these are brilliant at reducing your clothing footprint, and offer excellent protection from moisture etc.

unpackedA small rugged multi-pocket FLEXIBLE sided bag that conforms to the “hand-luggage” airline regulations. My bag easily fitted the height/length restrictions but was a little portly in width and sat on top of the sizer unit at the airport. I didn’t want to push my bag inside for fear of not getting it back out again, but airport staff said it was fine.

ready to unpackMy handbag was wide enough to take my husband’s size 11 sandals stored in a drawstring bag and this proved useful as a beach bag later. I kept my passport/house keys and mobile phone in a small crossover “city holder” that is marketed as having a “slash-proof” strap.

Travel washing line/Universal Sink Plug/Travel wash detergent as it was necessary to wash out underwear, socks etc for a few days, because packing enough of them for ten days was impossible.

Mosiguard bands/Mosi-Plug/Solid Insect Repellent Inserts in an attempt to prevent mosquito bites. The solid inserts were the size of a memory card that slotted into a special plug that emitted bug repellent vapours through heating. We replaced these each night and the only time I was bitten was when our two hotel plugs were being used to charge our electrical gadgets. I also found the wrist/ankle bands very effective during the day and night, although I wore them slightly longer than the four days recommended before changing. This coincided with the same evening we didn’t use the mosi-plug, so little wonder I got bitten. With the restrictions on liquids carried on airlines the mosi-plug inserts were invaluable as liquid insecticide would probably have been confiscated.

Tilley Sunhat: Excellent sun protection that keeps off the rain off as well.

Prescription Reactor Light Glasses: I can’t see without spectacles and having lenses that reacted to the light conditions was a big help, although I still had room for my regular glasses too. I try and have both pairs with me when I travel in case of an unexpected disaster.


Loofah Hand Mitts: I got these in a Christmas toiletry gift set and they were brilliant because a thorough scrub that removed all trace of suntan lotion was guaranteed. With a restorative buff each day my skin glowed.

Elizabeth Grant Biocollasis Complex Cleansing Mousse: This year I upgraded my face cleansing routine to a “posher” brand but I usually travel using my old skin care products. But I didn’t want to leave this mousse behind because it can remove everything in one go including makeup, although I’m not a makeup wearer. However I knew that I’d be covered in moisturiser and suntan lotion so I decided to decant some cleanser into a small pot (3.3cm diameter, 2.9cm deep including lid). I only used half of the contents using it twice a day because a pea-sized amount is all you need each time.

Sanctuary Spa Night Concentrate: A travel sized tube of night cream that ensured my face had a treat each night. A Christmas stocking filler that proved very useful, although I may take some of my new posh brand stuff next time in another tiny pot.

Vaseline (Cocoa Butter) Tin: Another stocking filler item that proved invaluable and my feet were especially grateful. After a long day trekking around my feet could feel very tired and look a bit hot and angry, but after an infusion of cocoa butter Vaseline each night they felt great in the morning!

Solid Stick Sun Lotion: A brilliant concept and an easy item to carry around to reapply your sun protection without the mess. I know you can buy your sun care products at your destination but I have such a sensitive skin I won’t risk using an unknown brand. I decanted my trusted sun tan lotion into 100ml bottles for travel and used this as my daily sun care foundation. Then whilst on the move I topped up using the solid-stick option, but I reckon these could be enough to use by themselves.

Samsung MV800 Digital Camera: As the camera viewing screen can be folded up to face me I can actually see how any “selfie” photo will look.

Long Scarf: Excellent in providing an extra light layer for cooler weather but also good at keeping the harsh glare of the sun at bay as well. I remember being caught unprepared for hot sunny weather in central Europe during April one year. A scarf wrapped around my arms prevented them being scorched as I enjoyed a city tour bus ride.

Long-Sleeved Light Weight Cardigan: A very smart Quacker Factory purchase from QVC UK that kept its shape and packed into a very small space. It gave an extra layer/acted as an evening jacket.


My handbag contained size 11 sandals for my husband and of course my toiletry bag for easy access at airport security. All contents of the toiletry bag was scrutinised for “regulation conformity” before leaving home. Not much room was left for “entertainment items” but miniaturisation is the key, and I realised my older gadgets would be ideal travel companions.

My first social media friendly mobile phone (top-up/4.5 years old): My old INQ Chat 3G mobile is a fraction of the size of my younger smart phone, and with the top-up facility it was easy to monitor spending. It also has an excellent 3.2 megapixel day/night mode camera facility that and would be a useful backup to my higher spec digital camera. Some of my apps went a little funny after a few years and I was told to send the INQ back for an internal upgrade. I didn’t do this, so my Twitter app no longer works, but I was able to keep an eye on my email, monitor Facebook and do the odd status update/photo post. My husband had his “all-singing” smart phone with him, so I had access to Twitter and could do more complex social media interactions through him. But I don’t use social media that much anyway so didn’t miss much, and my Greek mobile expenditure was £2.40 in total.

My first MP3 player: The important thing here was that my Creative Zen Nano Plus model (around 8 years old) is battery operated (AAA) and the size of a cigarette lighter. I listened to music everyday for at least an hour and I never changed the battery. With so many power hungry gadgets (2 mobiles, digital camera, and backup power charger) it was great to have something with an independent power source. Our hotel had two plugs (husband brought necessary plug adaptors) but the electricity went off when you removed your key from the special holder by the door. So it was impossible to leave your gadgets charging while you were away from the room. If you were out all day you suddenly had four items all needing charged and only two plugs to do the job. I never found any handy plug sockets in the bar/pool areas of the complex we stayed in which would have eased the problem considerably. The MP3 player, headphones and spare batteries were housed in a small metal container.

My first and only Games Console: I have a Nintendo DS Lite console so it is much smaller in size compared to more recent versions. The screen was difficult to see outdoors with reflections obscuring the screen view, but I used it most days indoors and the full charge (before leaving home) lasted the whole trip.

Mini Books: I enjoy reading but had no space for an epic sized blockbuster. Then I remembered having five mini-sized Classic books, 3 from Greek literature so I took them.

entertainmentMy 25 year old leather sandals: The sole is far more basic than the high tech rubberised ones of today, and so packing my wide-fit size fours was a lot easier to do. At the time I got these they were the best I could get, and they still look as good today. In many ways they are more comfortable than my newer more high tech sandals where the heel strap can slip, or the stitching can cause chaffing. My feet can find ANY odd stitch or seam and blister accordingly, so my old trusted minimalistic looking footwear was a dream to wear. I’ve also realised (in the last two years) that my sensitive feet like to have two sets of footwear on them and tire less quickly as a result. So I’m afraid I was the “archetypal Brit abroad” and wore two sets of footsie socks with my sandals. Honestly it wasn’t such a bad look.

By the end of the week I still had two unworn T-shirts in my wardrobe and had managed to wear a different combination of clothing each day. I used one of the fresh tops to travel back in and this gave me enough space to store my souvenir postcards and book memento.

Ready to Travel
                   Ready to Travel


The referendum ballot boxes have been counted from an unprecedented electorate turnout of 84.51% and Scotland has decided to remain within the United Kingdom. The No campaign (against independence) gained 55.3% some 2,001,926 votes cast, whilst the Yes campaign (for independence) gathered 1,617,989 votes or 44.7% in the polls. From the 32 council voting regions only 4 had a majority Yes result (Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire & Dundee).  Personally I’m surprised the winning margin of votes was more than 10%, all along I thought there would be a narrow Yes decision for independence. My husband on the other hand felt a narrow No majority would prevail, so we are both glad the outcome was more decisive. I write this within a few short hours of the final result being declared, and I am personally relieved at the outcome. Having taken a brief look at the TV news reactions and social media forums (Twitter & Facebook), I’ve come to a few interesting conclusions I’d like to share with you.

Yes 4 No 28 Why?

In my last post I mentioned that Lady Scotland does not forget her Them (England) and Us (Scotland) arguments easily, and that old rivalries can simmer for decades or even centuries. It would seem the polls have endorsed that feeling emphatically. From social media referendum chatter I’ve seen the mention of Ravenscraig Steelworks, coal mining, ship building & poll tax (first practiced on Scotland by a Tory government in the 1980s). Many of these issues are decades old arguments but they still influenced the voters of Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, where the people were directly affected by the demise of these local industries. I’m not exactly sure how Dundee comes into this sphere, although I have a vague feeling a car plant debacle may be involved somewhere. Anyway, what is clear is that the ills of a fractured society from yesteryear still reverberate to this day, and remain influential in voting trends regardless of the ”nature” of the vote. I’ve also seen the notion that the outcome is a victory for the English Tories, and that “wealthier” Scots who voted No to remain within the UK, have effectively “spat in the face of the little man”. Throughout the world there has always been an element of “those who have” and “those who have not” and although most definitely not fair, is a sad reality. This Scottish referendum has heightened the feelings of injustice within her society, not only between the English power masters and a poor little nation, but also between the Scots themselves. The idea that “rich” Aberdeen voters are any less patriotic in voting No than the hard-pressed “poor” Lanarkshire guy who said Yes is absurd. But I have a feeling that many in the four Yes vote regions will think along these lines. I’ve said that the referendum created a schism in Scotland that will not go away easily, and initial views suggest I am not wrong in that viewpoint.

There Are More Questions Than Answers

The No vote success north of the border hasn’t given David Cameron and his “English Tories” any victory, in fact the whole process has opened up a “can of worms” that will be hard to contain. In the days leading up to the referendum vote, an increasingly worried Prime Minister frantically tried to ensure a No success, by promising a greater level of autonomy for the Scottish Assembly. He will have to be seen to honour those “last minute” guarantees or he will look a fool. However, what about England, Wales and Northern Ireland? Giving Scotland a larger share of the money distributed by Westminster will not go down well with Wales and Northern Ireland, who will be concerned their share will go down! At present Westminster votes involve all four nations’ MPs but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland vote alone on many issues regarding their own nation. So England has a more dilute influence on her own decision making powers than the other three. That can’t be right either, and so the “West Lothian” question arises, whereby English MP’s vote on issues involving England to the exclusion of the others. This spectre would undoubtedly terrify the Labour party in opposition at present who rely heavily on their Scottish Labour majority. It would raise the possibility of a future Labour government being able to make largely general decisions but being incapable of influencing more specific issues of government. At present they have 41 MPs from Scotland, and to lose that leverage in decision making with more devolvement for England is unthinkable. So the referendum question may have kept Scotland within the UK, BUT it will undoubtedly be a catalyst for a major upheaval, in how political decision making is achieved in the country as a whole.

A Parliament of Contradictions

Ever since the three smaller sized “home nations” gained their own voting Assemblies the winds of change began to blow. With the Scottish Referendum that reasonably amicable gentle breeze has become a full force gale that will not be appeased. With this vote Scotland has demanded to be heard, and her voice has sent shock waves that now reverberate throughout Westminster. Wales and Northern Ireland have been woken and will now demand the same courtesy that Scotland is getting. England may well decry the feelings of being “second class citizens in their own land”, something the Scots have felt for centuries. Considering the issues surrounding prescription charges and university tuition fees (to name a few) England can easily feel aggrieved. This could raise the prospect of an English Assembly residing in Westminster, with a clear majority Tory influence and a hint of UKIP thrown in for good measure, deciding on English issues. In my mind this is possibly an even worse outcome than Scotland going independent after all.

Although there are three major political parties in the UK, only two of them are real game changers, Conservative (Tory) and Labour. Sorry Liberals but it’s true, whatever clout you think you may have in the coalition. Labour was mainly created to represent the working class demographic from the factories, local industries (steel, coal, ship building etc), and the British majority who did not have land, titles or wealth. Sadly the industrial heartland that fed the Labour fire has all but vanished from the landscape. The majority remain without the “perks” of the upper classes, although with home ownership land issues may be slightly less relevant these days. Many however in the 21st century still suffer from the economic hardships brought about by successive governments both Labour and Tory. I know several “Yes” referendum voters who brought up the lamentable “bedroom tax” as a factor in their decision making. But people the length and breadth of the UK are suffering because of this legislation, not just the Scots.

All For One And One For All

The Scottish referendum has decided that Scotland will remain as part of the United Kingdom, and I strongly feel we are far stronger together than apart. The land of my birth has more say in her affairs today than in my youth, and with more devolved power will continue strengthen. To my mind this is an undisputed fact: each home nation needs the other three to act as a moderator in decision making. Only then can the voices of everyone have ANY chance of being heard, for any nation with an unchallenged party majority cannot be a healthy one, in today’s uncertain and dangerous times!

THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM 2014: Thoughts of a Disenfranchised Scot

On September 18th 2014 the people of Scotland will vote in an election to decide whether to declare independence from the United Kingdom and the Westminster Parliament. Those eligible to vote are aged sixteen and above with a residential address within Scotland, who have lived there long enough to get on the electoral roll. There are two options on the ballot paper: Yes for independence, and No to remain within the UK. In the dim and distant past there was a third option suggested, to offer the choice of more governmental powers to the Scottish Assembly. However, this idea was idiotically dismissed by politicians in Westminster, and they may live to regret that decision.

Scotland Decides Or Does She?

People living in Scotland, British and other nationalities have the vote in the Scots independent debate. Last month Alex Salmond described the process as “an impeccable democracy” which is so wrong, and I was incensed by these words. My DNA is 100% Scots to the core and my psyche has been shaped by living under the shadow of Ravenscraig Steelworks and the pall of the Rangers/Celtic football rivalry. I have been influenced by the foibles of my home nation and have a feel for her underlying psychology. This is something that no one who has lived there for less than a year can begin to understand. Yet they have a vote, whereas I, a born and bred Scot living in England have NO vote. US citizens worldwide can vote in their own elections, so WHY can’t I? I strongly feel that at the very least, Scots born British citizens living within the UK should have a say in the matter. After all whatever the result next week, indirectly all in the UK will be affected by the outcome. I would have happily gone to any nominated major city with my passport to be able to cast my vote. Sadly I will not have that opportunity, and for someone who has voted in every election I was eligible for to exercise my democratic right, this rankles. I have been kicked in the teeth by the land of my birth, so much for an impeccable democracy Mr Salmond!

Make Voting Compulsory

My beloved Granny Bowes was born in 1898 and passed away in 1976 when I was six years old. I remember her emphasising to me that in her younger days women didn’t have the vote, and that people died to have that right. She hit home with the message “you may only be one person but you have the right to a say so use it. You might think all the candidates are a bunch of charlatans, but always use your voice, that one voice could make a difference”. When you think about the George Bush election and the miniscule percentage Florida vote that elected him, Granny’s words have a somewhat prophetic resonance to them.

Many an election here has had a low turnout of the voting population, and many a person has had a good whinge about the government in power. My philosophy on this has always been “if you put a cross on the ballot paper then fair enough have a moan, but if you can’t be bothered to use that vote then shut up”. To my dismay, my 29 year old brother has proudly told me in the past he has never voted, yet he has reaped the benefits (if a little meagre) from successive governments in power. The independence referendum seems to have galvanised him into taking a political interest, and although I’m glad he may use that political voice at long last, I admit that this sticks in my throat. In Brazil voting is compulsory to get any benefits from the state, and I think that policy would be a good idea here. At least then you could say the whole eligible voting electorate had a say in every election. I have no doubt that a large turn out to vote will occur next week and 90 % + would not surprise me. However the style of voting here would not necessarily ensure the majority were happy with the result.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

The referendum looks to be a closely fought debate, and whatever the outcome, no one will be a winner. After all, if the vote went to a 51/49 split that winning 2% majority would be declared the “will of the people”. Where on earth is the unity from such a decision? I think there should have been a mandate that a minimum percentage of the vote had to be one way or the other, in an attempt to guarantee a majority decision. In the 1979 devolution referendum, the Yes campaign won a majority of 77437 votes but had 32.9% of the registered electorate vote, falling short of the minimum 40% requirement. I recall my Dad commenting on the awful weather on March 1st 1979 and lamenting at the woeful turnout to vote. I still feel that a decisive decision should have a good winning percentage margin, to be convincing of a majority consensus. Say 2 to 1 in favour so 66.667% of the votes cast, perhaps too simplistic and idealistic I know.

I have deliberately avoided any TV coverage on the referendum because I have no say on the outcome. But from the odd bits I’ve heard and seen (it’s everywhere so hard to avoid completely) I have been extremely dismayed. I’ve heard that friends and family members have been torn apart by the “Yes/No” question, and of the palpable distasteful undercurrents within communities that have emerged since this referendum question arose. Last night I saw campaigners nose to nose shouting and gesticulating at each other on the news. My immediate thought was that of the miners’ strike in the 1980s. To this day the animosity in former mining communities between strikers/scabs remains, but that argument was largely confined to a small industrial community. The referendum issue has effectively divided a nation, and long after the ballot boxes have been counted, the lingering resentments WILL remain. My feeling toward David Cameron in allowing this farce of an election to take place is this: Westminster took a map of Scotland, rolled it into a ball, and lobbed a nation sized bombshell called “civil war” into the heartland of the country. Scotland today is a divided nation thanks to this issue and nothing good will come of it.

Them & Us

Before the 1707 union between Scotland and England, the clans fought amongst themselves for their “wee bit hill and glen”, but generally were unified in their animosity toward England. The Them (England) and Us (Scotland) mentality is entrenched into the DNA and fibres of Scotland’s psyche, and remains to this day. As recently as the 1990s I was accused of being a traitor for marrying an Englishman, by a Scot living and working in England. In another conversation with a Scots guy I heard every complaint about how terrible the English were. Both Scots had arrived south of the border to find work successfully, had homes and kids educated in English schools. Yet neither had a good word to say about “the Auld Enemy”. I left both in no doubt what I thought about this anti-English attitude. Growing up in the 70s and 80s in Lanarkshire I was far more aware of the problems concerning Northern Ireland than I would have liked. Graffiti daubed on bus shelters and walls left me in no doubt of a Them (British/Protestant) and Us (Scotland/Ireland/Catholic) siege mentality. Sport gave no respite from this with the Rangers and Celtic bitter rivalry being endemic where I lived. Add to this melting pot the Orange Walks around the 12th of July and you have a simmering brew of centuries old rivalries between religions/decades old political arguments remaining today. Although the discriminations and social injustices of yesteryear Catholics has gone, the entrenched differences that helped form Rangers and Celtic football clubs in the first place linger to this day. Lady Scotland never forgets her Them and Us arguments, and so the referendum question will not go away after votes have been cast. The ramifications of the No (Them) Yes (Us) campaign will be felt for generations to come, for it has created an artificial schism that will not go away easily. It’s clear to me that Westminster sanctioned this referendum with no thought whatsoever to the social impact on Scotland’s psyche.

All For One & One For All

Scotland today is far more empowered than she was when I was growing up, thanks to the Scottish Assembly. You can say the same thing about the other “minority” home nations of Northern Ireland and Wales too. It would have been far more preferable if a third option had been available on the Scottish referendum ballot paper. This would have allowed more devolved power going to Edinburgh but with Scotland remaining in the UK. I really feel that the four home nations are far stronger together than apart.

Since that 1707 union Scotland has been indelibly tied to the UK in every sense politically, socially, economically and educationally. She enjoys benefits that her English residential neighbours do not, for example free prescriptions and no university fees at her universities (for Scots anyway). I can hear the words “North Sea Oil money going into Westminster coffers pays that”. Perhaps, but I also can’t help but feel the astronomical taxes my English husband pays may make a contribution too. The idea of Scotland’s North Sea Oil money paying for just about everything is a bit naive I think. It does not belong to Scotland exclusively, and is not a source to rely on forever. For better or worse Scotland is part of the EU, and to think that will continue unabated if a vote for independence occurs, again is a bit naive. Around February the head of the EU said he thought it would be difficult for an independent Scotland to remain a member, and that re-application would probably need to be considered. About the same time keeping the pound and the Queen as head of state were issues being discussed by Alex Salmond. I remember Alex reacting to the noises from Westminster and Europe about these issues “Scotland will not be bullied or threatened from London”. Since when was stating cold hard facts an act of bullying! Educationally universities in Scotland have research funding from British Research Councils, so how can an independent Scotland hope to maintain this source of revenue for their higher educational institutions? These issues are just a fraction of the concerns raised from the spectre of an independent Scotland, and I don’t think many of them have been properly addressed. I’m not saying Scotland is unable to go it alone, she can, but undoing her UK ties will be a long, slow and painful process.

I always say that there are two ways of starting an argument, talk about religion or politics. For that reason I keep my views on both close to my chest. I have tried to avoid at all costs the Scottish Referendum debate; my head, my heart and gut wish it was not happening. Alas it is a reality that has to be faced, and I’ve forced myself into tapping into my thoughts on the matter for this blog. I’ve found an incredible sadness, a deep rooted resentment and a lingering palpable anger that bubbles under the surface. Sad my country will not be the same when I return, resentment at Westminster for allowing the situation and rage at being disenfranchised from the decision making process.


The Brazil national football team was born one hundred years ago thanks to an innovative South American tour by Exeter City Football Club in 1914. To celebrate that historical moment in football folklore, Exeter City FC travelled once again to the South American continent this summer, to re-create that momentous occasion. By doing so the Devon side would re-establish their Fluminense links, celebrate the birth of Brazil as a footballing nation and acknowledge the year of the World Cup, held in Brazil for the second time in the tournament’s history.

In 1914 Exeter City FC endured an arduous eighteen day voyage to South America to play in Argentina and Brazil. The football fraternity in Buenos Aires in Argentina had asked the English FA if a team would travel out there and play some local sides. Exeter City FC was chosen by the FA as a “truly representative English side”, and at the time Exeter was positioned around the mid-table spot of the Southern League. The English club played in Argentina and then managed three games in Brazil on the return journey home, becoming the first professional club to play in the country. Exeter beat their first two opponents (3-0 over English ex-pats and 5-3 Brazilian Rio clubs) but then succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of a select team in the final match. The triumphant “Selecao” team comprised of players from both Rio and Sao Paulo and included the legendary Brazilian player Artur Friedenreich. This manufactured team playing against Exeter in the Laranjeiras Stadium (home of Fluminense FC) in Rio on July 21st 1914 is now considered to be Brazil’s first match as a country. For posterity the first goal-scorers for the 25 year-old republic of Brazil were Oswaldo and Osman.

First recognised Brazil match of 1914. Image credit www.exeterpressandecho.co.uk
First recognised Brazil match of 1914. Image credit http://www.exeterpressandecho.co.uk

The travel in 2014 to Brazil I’m sure was a lot more comfortable for the Exeter players. At present the club is under a transfer embargo, and a special loan was taken out with the Professional Football Association (PFA) to fund the trip. This ensured that no funds already committed for use by the Devon club were used. Considering the historical importance of the Exeter/Fluminense/Brazil links in the realms of the football game as a whole, and the necessity for pre-season games to ready a team for a new playing year, I’m glad the Exeter lads went to Brazil.

Once again three games under the Brazilian sun had Exeter City as the visiting opposition. The first game held on Sunday July 20th at the Laranjeiras Stadium featured the Fluminense under 23 team. This game; celebrating the 100th anniversary of that historical first Brazil match; seen the teams wear replica strips of the 1914 colours, and I believe may even have used the original ball from 1914 as well. At the end of ninety minutes the match remained goal-less with the Brazilians squandering the possession they had, and Exeter not having the killer instinct to capitalise on their three scoring opportunities. The second game was held on Wednesday 23rd July and seen Exeter face third division side Tupi in Juiz de Fora situated 112 miles north of Rio. Tupi took the lead with a goal from Maranha but Exeter’s keeper Christy Pym kept his side in contention with several stoppages. Keohane equalised for “The Grecians” and Coles gave his team a 2-1 victory over Tupi with a finely executed header close to full-time. The final Brazil pre-season game for Exeter was on Friday 25th July at the Cricket Ground in Rio, when a Brazil elect team comprising of former professionals and youngsters were the opposition. Despite going one behind before the break Exeter rallied to win 3-1 to secure their second win of the tour. Once again Keohane was on the score-sheet along with Matt Jay and Ollie Watkins.

Exeter City FC will now return to the UK to ply their trade in the English League Division Two. Chairman Edward Chorlton has stepped down, and although the future of the club may seem a little precarious with a transfer embargo in place, the club would appear to have a crop of able young players and a keen manager. By travelling to play on the hallowed turf of Brazilian soil, and undoubtedly facing talented young South American players, “The Grecians” can only return stronger and more confident for the experience.

Exeter City FC players 1914. Image credit Exeter City Football Club
Exeter City FC players 1914. Image credit Exeter City Football Club

Unlike today’s players who play full-time as professionals back in 1914 the Exeter FC lads had “day jobs” and then played football as an extra activity. Those who travelled to Brazil a hundred years ago would be described as coal-miners, millers and farmers who could play football too. Within two short weeks of that historical game at the Laranjeiras Stadium Britain was at war. By some extraordinary chance all of the Exeter City FC players who served their country survived, although many were so badly wounded they never played again. The keeper of” Brazil 1914” Dick Pym played for Bolton in another historic football game, that of the “White-Horse Wembley Final”, the 1923 FA Cup. I’ve read that Pym returned home with a souvenir of his trip to South America, a parrot which happily survived, and at the end of its days was buried behind the goal at St James Park!!

Four players from the first Brazil team. Image credit Exeter City Football Club
Four players from the first Brazil team. Image credit Exeter City Football Club

And what of the national team of Brazil? Twice the nation has held the World Cup tournament, and twice Brazil has failed to win it on home soil. They came fourth in 2014 and second in 1950, but Brazil has been World Cup winners five times, and as a nation they have been an ever present participant of the tournament. That is some achievement, made all the more remarkable when you realise that for several years Brazil was ruled by a harsh military junta. During this period an amazing player by the name of Socrates played a crucial part in establishing the “Corinthians’ Democracy”, where players exercised their freedom of expression and thought whilst playing for the Corinthians football club. Slogans encouraging fans to vote in local elections were emblazoned on the back of football tops, and Socrates even suggested that he would not consider a transfer to play abroad if “free and fair” elections were held in Brazil. I firmly believe that politics should never come into sport, but the Socrates story is an exception. Somehow I think that only in Brazil could the flair of their football be utilised in such a way to help bring about the democratic freedom of the nation. That is something to be very proud of, so Vamos Brazil and Long Live Exeter City FC.

If you are interested in the Al Jazeera programme on Socrates and the Corinthians, you can find it here.