Scots Sweep to Curling Gold
Technically, they were playing for "Team GB" but it was four Scots women curlers who won the first British gold medal at a winter Olympics for 18 years and the first Scots to win a gold in the winter games since 1936. One of the more satisfying aspects of this winning team was that they followed the original traditions of the Olympics and were "amateurs" in the sense that they all make their living at other jobs. In the earlier matches, the Scottish girls beat Canada who had started the competition as favourites. A record-breaking number of viewers stayed up till after midnight to watch the end of the nail-biting final against Switzerland. Skipper Rhona Martin (pictured here) played the last stone of a close-fought match to win by 4-3. Over 5.6 million viewers in the UK were watching the match at just before midnight - 49% of the total TV audience in the UK at that time. (The previous midnight record was "In Bed With Madonna" in 1994). Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prince Charles were amongst the many who sent their congratulations to the team in Salt Lake City. Rhona will now carry the UK flag at the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics. Curling is said to have originated on the frozen lochs of Scotland - and is unknown in England. The sport's ruling body is the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Thanks to efforts to portray the game as "curling is cool" in Scotland, more youngsters are taking up the sport.
High Winds and Blizzards Sweep Scotland
Gale force winds of over 70mph, (with gusts up to 120mph in Grampian) and heavy snow swept across Scotland on Friday, causing structural damage, drifts up to 20 feet deep in places and a spate of road accidents. The southbound carriageway of the Forth Road Bridge was closed when a high-sided lorry was toppled. The driver was left hanging over the water, hundreds of feet below, for 45 minutes. The closure caused ten-mile tail-backs as vehicles were diverted to the Kincardine bridge, 14 miles up-river. A number of drivers in the Highlands were forced to abandon their cars and police had to rescue some stranded motorists when snow ploughs failed to reach them. A 75-year-old pensioner was swept to his death by a swollen river which had burst its banks in Sutherland. The main east coast and west coast railway lines to England were closed after fallen trees brought down power cables. 160 passengers were stranded for four hours in an unheated train near Ecclefechan in Dumfries and Galloway. A number of roads in the Highlands were closed, including the A96 at Huntly, between Inverness and Aberdeen. Forecasters say that more snow is likely.
No "Tartan Tax"
First Minister Jack McConnell has ruled out the use of the so-called "tartan tax" if, as expected, Labour win a majority in the 2003 election for the Scottish Parliament. The legislation setting up the parliament included a provision for the government to introduce an additional income tax of up to 3% but the Labour Party has so far rejected using this, saying that it can deliver its pledges from existing resources.
Population Decline Predicted
The Registrar General for Scotland is predicting a decline in the population of Dundee over the next 15 years of 19% with the Western Isles not far behind with a slump of 17.4%. Most areas of Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and southern Scotland, will see a reduction in the number of residents. Only Edinburgh, especially in the counties surrounding the capital, Stirling, East Renfrewshire and Aberdeenshire are expected to have an increase in population.
Three Escape Helicopter Crash
Three members of Strathclyde Police had a miraculous escape when their helicopter crashed in the dark in East Ayrshire as they searched for a missing boy using the aircraft's hi-tech equipment. One officer had a broken leg but two of the crew walked from the wrecked machine - and then returned to try to pull their colleague to safety, fearing that the helicopter might catch fire. Twelve years ago, two policemen were killed when their Bell Jet Ranger hit a building during a snow storm. On this occasion, although the Eurocopter EC135 was a wreck, the crew were lucky to escape with relatively minor injuries. The cause of the crash is not known but engine failure and atrocious weather conditions may be contributory factors. The illustration is of the helicopter at its base on the banks of the river Clyde in Glasgow.
Most Dangerous Road in Britain
A survey over a number of years by the Automobile Association has highlighted that the most dangerous road in Britain is the A889, a nine mile stretch which links th A9 at Laggan to the A86 near Dalwhinnie in Badenoch and Strathspey. The statistics are based on the number of accidents and volume of traffic - the A889 has only about 300 users a day but the accident rate is 14 times the national average and is four times that of the next worst road, also in the Highlands. In fact, eight of the ten worst roads for accidents in the UK are in the Highlands. The A889 has lots of sharp bends and switchbacks - where oncoming vehicles disappear in dips in the road. Surprisingly, the M8/A8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh (the busiest road in Scotland outside of cities and towns and known to regular drivers as "suicide alley") is one of the safest in Scotland - accidents are low, relative to the high volume of traffic.
£2 Billion Clyde Order Signed
There was a sigh of relief this week in the BAE shipyards on the Clyde when a £2 billion deal was signed for six Type 45 destroyers for the Royal Navy and the company got an even bigger share of the contract than originally expected. It is the largest deal of its kind since the Second World War.
Ultimatum to Oil Companies
The UK Energy Minister, Brian Wilson, has announced proposals to take away licences from oil companies to search for oil in sectors of North Sea if they delay development for too long. Until now, companies had up to 40 years monopoly on acreage in the North Sea on which they had bought a licence. Many of these unused sectors are off the shores of Scotland and it is hoped that the new rules will encourage the multi-national companies to develop more of the area.
Glasgow Top of the Shops
The reputation of Glasgow as the best retail location in the UK outside of London has been confirmed once again by independent retail analysts Experian. Shopping areas in Glasgow are said to be verging on "world-class status" and the city is placed second behind London out of 250 UK shopping locations. Edinburgh came in 12th. Flagship centres such as Buchanan Galleries, St Enoch Centre (illustrated here) and Princes Square have all helped to maintain Glasgow's position.
Flight Delays Hit Glasgow Hardest
Last summer the delays to package holidaymakers from Glasgow were amongst the worst in the UK. On average, flights were delayed by 47 minutes, five minutes longer than the year before. At Edinburgh airport, the average wait was 27 minutes, eight minutes less than in 2000. Holidaymakers heading for Mediterranean and Iberian resorts were the hardest hit. Scheduled flights were delayed by an average of 17 minutes from July to September.
Strike Signals Chaos on Railways
This sign at Queen Street Station in Glasgow will ring a bit hollow now that Scotrail drivers have voted for a series of one-day strikes next month in support of their pay claim. Since privatisation, wages have rocketed due to a shortage of drivers but mainline long-distance drivers have benefitted more than regional networks such as Scotland. Scotrail have offered 13.5% on top of a basic 3% but in return for a number of "productivity" initiatives which would cut holidays and sick pay. Drivers have already imposed a ban on overtime and "rest day" working which has cut train services by 25% over the last seven weeks. With average daily driving hours of 5½ hours, most drivers work a four day week - but augment their basic pay by working five days a week or more. Even so, Scotrail drivers earn less than those in most other companies in the UK, hence the militancy.
Dismal Rail Reliability Figures
Only 83% of Scotrail services in July to September last year arrived within ten minutes of the scheduled time - and the figures were lower than in the previous three months. Even so, Scotrail was above the average for all UK regional train companies. Scotrail used to be the best regional company for timekeeping - in 1999 nearly 98% of their trains were on time. Long distance train services, including those between Scotland and England, are even worse - only 70% were within ten minutes of the scheduled time in July to September - and that dropped to 62% in the month of September.
Public Transport Takes Back Seat
Government efforts to persuade us to use public transport instead of private car keep getting run over. True, despite the reliability problems highlighted in the previous item, rail travel has seen a major increase in passenger numbers. But buses still fail to attract more passengers. Allocating bus lanes, to allow them to travel through cities more quickly, create more traffic jams for other road users, with less space allocated to cars. But it has not spoiled the love affair with the motor car. And the latest car sales seem to show that an increasing number of us are unwilling to wait in the rain for the next bus and would rather sit in our cars and listen to a CD. The official figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders will not be released until early March but industry insiders say that sales this month are up by 21% compared to last February. There has been a boom in car sales since manufacturers were forced to cut prices in the middle of 2000. New car prices are about 10% below the level of two years ago.
Archbishop Takes Over
The Most Reverend Mario Joseph Conti took his place at St Andrew's Cathedral (illustrated here) in Glasgow as Archbishop of the city and the leading figure in the Catholic church in Scotland. He succeeded the late Cardinal Winning. At his inauguration he called on all sections of society to end sectarianism and bigotry.
Glasgow's First Million Pound Mansion
A five-bedroom Victorian house in Pollokshields, Glasgow, is set to break house price records in Scotland by going on the market at over £1 million. The large detached villa was built in 1893 and in recent years has been used as offices by Glasgow City Council. It has been refurbished by developers and turned back into a luxury family home. The 8,000 sq ft of accommodation is on the market at "offers over £1.25 million."
Ferry May Be Axed to Fund Pay Rise
The pay settlement, which resolved the industrial action by staff of the ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne, may be funded by scrapping the car ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon in the Firth of Clyde. This is one of the options being considered by the company. The government-owned company undertook to make the new pay deal self financing and not to ask the government for more financial support. The subsidy paid to CalMac is only for a passenger service on the Gourock to Dunoon route as there is a competing vehicle service operated by Western Ferries to Cowal. Western Ferries claims that it could transport all cars and commercial vehicles on the route - and did so during the Calmac strike before Christmas.
Bid to be Clan Chief Fails
The Lord Lyon has rejected the claim of Squadron Leader Iain MacAuley to be 13th chief of the clan. He had been unanimously elected by a special clan court of senior members last year and was commissioned as commander or interim leader in 1997. But the Lord Lyon has decreed that someone who has no provable blood link with a past chief must serve as commander for at least ten years before being proposed for the chieftaincy. In the past, 20 years had to elapse but the Lord Lyon, who is responsible for all heraldic matters in Scotland, has agreed that this is too long. He agreed that there was no doubt about the sincerity of Sqn Ldr MacAuley to make the clan successful - he has worked for 30 years revitalising the clan's international profile. MacAuley, aged 81, lives in Drumbeg in west Sutherland. Although disappointed, he says he will consult with clan members but hopes to be able to apply again in 2007. The clan has been leaderless for 235 years. It claims descent from King Kenneth MacAlpin who ruled Scotland from 841 to 860 AD.
Arbroath Smokie Soufflé
TV cook Delia Smith on her popular show this week gave a recipe based on the Arbroath smokie, a delicacy produced only in the Scottish east coast town. Smokies are haddock which are headed, cleaned, salted and tied in pairs and smoked over an open hardwood log fire. They must be produced within five miles of the Angus town to be called Arbroath smokies. Unfortunately, Delia's timing could not have been worse - due to winter weather and shortage of fish, cooks who are encouraged to rush to the fishmongers to buy a pair of smokies are likely to find that there are none to be had. Delia's recipe involved a soufflé of Arbroath Smokies in smoked salmon with a foaming Hollondaise sauce.
Royal Warrant for Humble Oatcake
Oatcakes used to be a basic part of the diet of the poor in Scotland, but in recent years nutritionists have highlighted the beneficial aspects of the unsweetened oatmeal biscuit. And now the Speyside firm of Walkers has been granted a Royal Appointment by the Queen to supply her with the traditional Scottish speciality. Walkers has made oatcakes and shortbread in Aberlour for over 100 years. They are now exported to more than 40 countries. Without wishing to detract from their achievement, I have to say that the oatcakes produced by the Orkney company of Stockan and Gardens are superior!
New Twist Not Suiting All Tastes
A new alcopop is being produced by the drinks company Diageo for sale in Spain (the largest export market for Scotch), Portugal and Belgium. The new "J&B Twist" is a mixture of J&B whisky and fizzy lemon. Whisky aficionados, who are sceptical of anything being added to whisky apart from water, expressed scepticism. The manager of Aultbea's Drumchork Lodge Hotel, which won the Scottish Licensed Trade Association's Malt Whisky Bar of the Year Award last year for its Uisge Beatha Lounge which stocks 360 malts, said that he had no intention of sampling it. He commented that they "do things to whisky these days that ain't just quite right."
Vandalism of the Highest Order
Plans by a company which wants to convert the disused Kelvindale Parish Church on the corner opposite the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow were condemned this week as "vandalism of the highest order" by local heritage groups and local people. The B-listed church, built in 1862, has stood empty for four years. The conversion would result in the removal of stained glass windows but the developer claims that the proposals "protect the integrity of this important landmark." City council officials have recommended approval of the plans but conservation groups are trying to persuade councillors to reject it.
Mobile Phone Crêche
Kinlochbervie in Sutherland is a place where you can relax and get "switched off" in the tranquillity of the beautiful scenery. Now the hotel has come up with a special service so that literally guests can "switch off" from their mobile phones. Staff are running a "crêche" which is staffed 24-hours a day and will answer calls and take messages. The phone minders will only get in touch with guests if the call is urgent. Otherwise they will take a note of any messages and give them to guests as they check out.
Safety First for Squirrels
A busy road in Glenmore Forest Park in Strathspey is often crossed by red squirrels living in the area - with the inevitable carnage caused by passing cars. But now a series of rope bridges have been built from trees on each side of the road and the hope is that the local squirrels will learn the "green cross code." Similar bridges have been constructed in other parts of the country, making a significant contribution to reducing the death toll. 120,000 of the 160,000 red squirrels in Britain are located in Scotland. But their numbers have declined over the years, not just because of road accidents but because of the expansion of the numbers of grey squirrels.
Weather in Scotland in January
The Meteorological Office has published the aggregate figures on the weather in Scotland during January and these show that everywhere had above average temperatures - in most of the country by two or three degrees centigrade. But apart from the north-east, sunshine was in short supply - the west coast had only 50% of the normal hours of sun. Rain, however, was certainly not hard to find - Fort William, a wet spot at the best of times, had twice its normal amount and only the north-esat had below average levels. The highest temperature in January was 14.3C (57.7F) on 12th January at Lochcarron on the north-west coast while the coldest night-time temperature was recorded at Grantown-on-Spey where the thermometer fell to -16.1C (3F) on 2 January. Another feature of January's weather was the number of high winds, especially towards the end of the month.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Last Saturday saw temperatures of 12C (54F) and nearly eight hours of sunshine in Aberdeen. By Tuesday the temperature there had dropped to 3C (37F) though other parts of Scotland still hovered around 7/9C (45/48F). Glasgow had 0.6 inches of rain on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, though at least on Wednesday there were at 6.6 hours of wintry sunshine. As noted in an earlier news item, gales and snow arrived on Friday, creating blizzard conditions with drifts up to 20 feet deep in some places. The snow affected the central belt of Scotland, which sometimes escapes in such situations. The 0.7 inches of precipitation on Friday in Glasgow was mainly snow.
The illustration is of crocus flowers struggling through the snow. The photo was taken this morning.