Voters Want More Police, Fewer Members of Parliament
As the political parties launched their election campaigns in earnest this week, with politicians trying to convince the electorate that their policies were the right ones, an opinion poll shows that the man in the street believes that there should be more police on the beat to fight crime and that nurses should get more pay. They are also against toll charges on motorists entering cities - and believe that there are too many Members of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. The survey was commissioned by BBC Scotland and asked those questioned to rate 21 policy areas. The survey also showed a low level of support for more money for the arts.
Scottish Forces in Iraq War
A number of units of the British Army with Scottish connections have been in action in the Iraq War. Elements of the Black Watch regiment and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards have been involved in fighting in the south-east around Basra, as have 45 Commando, the Royal Marines, who are based in Arbroath in Scotland. Tornados of 617, 11 and 12 squadrons based at Lossiemouth have also been supporting US troops on the ground. On 7 April, 617 squadron will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of their raid on the German Ruhr dams which earned them their nickname "The Dambusters". Nimrod surveillance aircraft from Kinloss are also operating in the Gulf. During the week, some of the Black Watch soldiers patrolling the streets of Al Zubyar, a town of 175,000 just south of Basra swopped their helmets for berets as they distributed humanitarian aid after establishing control.
Sharp Decline in Retail Sales
City analysts had been expecting a slight increase in retail sales in March after a disappointing set of figures in February. But they were shocked to find that they had declined in March at the highest rate for 18 months. Clothing sales slumped by 26% and demand for household appliances fell by nearly 25%. It is being suggested that consumer confidence seems to have been dented by continuing uncertainties caused by the Middle East and by tax increases which come into force in April.
Ben Nevis Beaten by Sunken Giant
The title of highest mountain in Britain is held by Ben Nevis in Scotland. At 4,406 feet high it is popular with climbers, but now a new peak has been discovered which has left it well behind. However, the Anton Dohrn Seamount is in the middle of deep water in the Rockall Trough, about 125 miles west of the Western Isles. So although it rises 5,700 feet from the sea floor, its peak is over 2,000 feet below sea level - so is hardly likely to be popular with hill walkers. The British Geological Survey discovered the peak some years ago, but has only recently publicised the find on its Web site. It was formed some 45 million years ago and is volcanic in origin.
Hydro-Electric Schemes for National Park?
Proposals to create two dams across streams north of Loch Lomond could ruin a well-known beauty spot, according to environmentalists who have joined with Friends of Loch Lomond and Scottish Natural Heritage to fight the plan. The two burns spill down the mountainside into the scenic River Falloch which feeds into the northern end of Loch Lomond. Objectors say that the dam on the Ben Glas Burn would reduce the flow to a trickle affecting a well-known waterfall. The schemes are modest in size, but would be classed as "renewable energy" and electricity produced by them would attract a premium price. The National Park authority has a duty to promote sustainable development - but also a duty to preserve and enhance the natural heritage. The authority seems likely to oppose the development but there would probably then be a public enquiry set up by the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh.
Connery Pulls Out of Tartan Day March
Sir Sean Connery has turned down the invitation to head the Tartan Day march along New York's Sixth Avenue on 5 April. He claims that last year he was "used as a political football" when he attended the event. He had led the march last year, walking with the Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell. This year, Jack McConnell will not be attending either, as he is involved in the election campaign. However, Sir David Steel, the Scottish Parliament's out-going Presiding Officer, will be representing the legislature this year. Some sources have suggest that Connery is having a rest in his Bahamas home after finishing filming in Prague for his latest movie.
Picture of Sean Connery at the Tunes of Glory Parade, courtesy of www.tunesofglory2002.com.
New Glasgow to London City Air Link
British Airways has announced that on May 1 the airline is to start a new three times a day air service from Glasgow to London City airport in the docklands area of the capital - near the business centre at Canary Wharf. The service will be operated by the BA subsidiary BA CitiExpress. A new daily Edinburgh to Jersey service is to start next month operated by bmi.
Nine Months of Travel Misery
Work has started on laying gas pipes to supply the £500 million Glasgow Harbour development in Glasgow (pictured here), but that will mean road closures in a number of arteries in the west end of the city, creating travel chaos. The work will be not be completed until the end of the year. The development is being carried out as resurfacing of the Clydeside Expressway and the approach roads to the Clyde Tunnel. This will mean contra-flows and 20mph speed restrictions on this artery over the next 17 months.
Parking Charges Rise 20%
Edinburgh City Council will be implementing plans to increase parking charges in the capital by up to 20% next week. The move comes shortly after the council had announced a large scale extension of the areas covered by parking meters. In central areas, charges will rise to 45p for 15 minutes - nearly £2 an hour. Motoring organisations say that the charges will have an impact on businesses, particularly retailers, encouraging people to use out of town shopping malls instead. The city transport department insists the rises are not unreasonable - they are the first since 1998 and are below the accumulated inflation levels since then.
No Speeding Day
Police forces in Scotland took part in a 24-hour initiative called "National No Speeding Day" this week in which they mounted additional high-visibility radar speed operations to encourage motorists to slow down. This is part of a government strategy to reduce the number of road deaths and serious injuries. Much has already been achieved in recent years to achieve reductions in serious accidents, despite the ever-increasing numbers of cars on the roads.
Bid to Save Cinema Fails
An eleventh-hour attempt to save a historic Glasgow cinema has failed after local residents and the Member of Parliament failed to find a new operator for the Toledo cinema in Muirend. The ABC cinema chain closed the building in October 2001, saying that the B-listed building would be converted into 30 luxury flats by Cala Homes. The fabric of the 1933 building, with its Spanish architectural elements, has been allowed to deteriorate and would require substantial investment and repair. Cala say that they plan to retain the Art Deco facade, incorporate elements from the original cinema in the foyer and extend the building to the rear.
Reprieve for City Centre Cinema
Glasgow's oldest surviving city-centre cinema has been given a temporary reprieve. The Odeon cinema was due to close at the end of this month after audiences had slumped by 50% following the opening of the UGC multi-plex cinema nearby. But although plans to redevelop the site will still be progressed, the owners have decided that rather than mothballing the cinema, it will be kept open. It had been hoped that the art deco style frontage of the building would be retained by developers, but it has emerged that the building is not listed as being of architectural importance and could be demolished.
Luxury Penthouses Sold - At Last
The luxury penthouses at the top of the former Post Office building in Glasgow's George Square have all been sold - a year after being put on the market with price tags between £350,000 and £500,000. Most of the smaller apartments were sold soon after they went on sale. The selling agent claims that where large sums are involved, people often want to see the finished product before agreeing to buy. The flats are due to be occupied at the end of the month.
Pearl Poachers Targeted
Freshwater mussel beds on the River South Esk in Tayside are being targeted by pearl poachers, threatening the extinction of the last population of these in Europe. In 1998, following a surge in the collection of the rare mussels, a law was passed banning anyone from disturbing them. Since then, the number of incidents have declined but police are currently investigating reported poaching on the River South Esk. The population of fresh water mussels in Scotland has become so endangered that they are now said to be on a par with the tiger in Asia.
Mackintosh Writing Desk Returns Home
A writing desk which was designed in 1904 by the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and which was bought recently by Glasgow City Council for £1 million, has returned to the house for which it was originally designed. The desk, made from ebonised mahogany, was created by Mackintosh for the drawing room in Walter Blackie's home at Hillhouse in Helensburgh. It was bought along with three other Mackintosh designed items for a total of £1.5 million at an auction last November. The furniture has been on display in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.
18 Months Without a Day Off
The shortage of doctors and dentists in the remoter parts of Scotland was highlighted this week when Dr Angela Lewis, who works single-handed in a practice on the islands of Uig and Berneray, announced that she was leaving - after working 18 months without a day or night off. With replacement cover costing £4,000 a week, she has been unable to afford even a week's holiday and has been on call non-stop. The local health authority was willing to supply an associate doctor but nobody wanted to take on the job. Dr Lewis says that she is giving up as a result of overwork.
Moving to the Countryside Can Drive You Mad
Researchers at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities have produced a startling report that suggests that moving from towns and cities to the countryside to reduce stress can often result in feelings of desperation and loneliness. They say that people who decide to move to what they perceive as the restful environment of the Highlands, exacerbate stress levels and increase the likelihood of people developing mental health problems, including depression. The researchers say that many of us have an image of the Scottish rural idyll and a relaxed pace of life. But people who move there to escape the rat race often find that although there is peaceful countryside there is not the support mechanism they need.
Creature Comforts on Hedgehog Safari Holidays
The Hebridean Hedgehog Rescue organisation in North Uist is attempting to capture and relocate hedgehogs on the Outer Hebrides, before the animals are culled by Scottish Natural Heritage. In order to attract additional volunteers and funds, the unit is offering "hedgehog safari holidays" in luxury self-catering mobile homes, with visits to hedgehog "hot-spots" with experienced guides and lessons on how to handle the prickly creatures. But this is not exactly mass tourism - they can take up to four visitors a week at a cost of £200.
McGonagall Memorial Mangles Spelling
The memorial to William McGonagall on Dundee's Riverside Drive has lines from the poet's works set in stone on the walkway. Visitors smile when they see that the first line of his poem about the Tay Rail Bridge begins with a spelling mistake - "Beatiful" instead of "Beautiful". But the creators of the memorial spelt the word like that deliberately. McGonagall, who is well known for mangling rhymes and metre in his works, was prone to the odd spelling mistake too. It appears that in his manuscript for the poem he made five spelling mistakes in the seven verses of the poem. (The illustration here is of the McGonagall memorial, Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh).
Hunt the Gowk
It is said that April Fool's Day (known as "Hunt the Gowk" in Scotland) began when Pope Gregory revised the calendar in 1562 and moved New Year's Day from April 1 to January 1. Those who were slow to pick up on the change and continued to party on 1 April, were known as April Fools - and we've been playing April Fool jokes ever since. The media enter into the spirit of the day (I have to be careful about "news" stories printed in the papers that day), sometimes with great effect. The respected BBC programme "Panorama" had an item on 1 April 1957 in which Italians were shown gathering the spaghetti harvest from trees. Those who asked how they could grow their own spaghetti were told to place a sprig of pasta in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best. Then there was the story in the Scotsman newspaper which revealed that because of tight royal budgets, the Queen was to lease part of Holyrood Park in Edinburgh as a theme park - with wild boars for German tourists to shoot at and a waterfall for white water rafting down the side of Arthur's Seat.
Faster Freight Trains?
Freight trains could travel faster than passenger trains on services between London and Edinburgh under plans unveiled this week by freight operator EWS. The company wants to run non-stop trains at 125mph in services starting next year. But they will have to negotiate time slots on the already busy route with the infrastructure owner Network Rail. EWS is launching new freight services over the next four months serving Glasgow, Stranraer, Grangemouth, Aberdeen and Inverness.
Putting Faith in Text Messaging
Buckhaven Parish Church has been without a minister for two years as a consequence of the shortage of Church of Scotland clerics - nearly 200 parishes are without an incumbent. But the congregation has come up with a novel way of attracting a candidate - they are placing a text message "R U the Min 4 us?" in the next edition of Life and Work, the Church's magazine. The church is also inviting applications by e-mail in the hope that they can attract the attention of a suitable applicant.
Dry Weather Causes Countryside Fires
The prolonged spell of dry weather (it was the driest March since records began) has created tinder dry conditions in many areas and firefighters responded to 1,000 calls in just one day last weekend. It was one of the busiest days experienced by the firemen - Ayrshire and Lanarkshire were particularly badly affected, The fire brigade have asked the public to be careful with smoking materials - including avoiding throwing cigarette ends out of car windows.
Weather in Scotland This Week
It was almost a relief to have rain on Tuesday this week - while not exactly a drought, the long sunny spells are continuing. Glasgow had over 50 hours of sunshine from last Saturday to Friday and Edinburgh only slightly less. Early in the week, temperatures were not particularly high at 10/12C (50/54F) and cool winds from the North Sea made it feel even lower than that. But by Thursday the temperatures had risen to 18C (66F) in St Andrews and on Friday Edinburgh was not far behind on Friday with 17C (63F). Glasgow did not enjoy such high temperatures, however, managing only 14C (57F) on both days. But that was better than a decidedly chilly 9C (48F) on Tuesday.
This week's illustrations of current flowers in Scotland are (above) a camelia flowering in the grounds of Finlaystone House in Inverclyde. Also illustrated here is the blossom of ornamental cherry trees which line some of the streets in Milngavie, north of Glasgow. Both photos were taken within the last ten days.