Forth Rail Bridge to Close
The repainting of the iconic rail bridge over the river Forth, which carries trains from Edinburgh to Fife and further north, used to be something that never came to a stop. But after a lapse of a number of years, the current contract, using new longer lasting paint, has been proceeding slowly. Current health and safety considerations have meant that instead of the painters working from open scaffolding, they have been shrouded in a plastic cover as they have moved over the 115-year-old structure. But those same considerations mean that the bridge is to be closed for eight consecutive days from 24-31 July, to allow painters to work near to the track. This will be the first major closure ever imposed on the bridge and will create traffic chaos as 150 passenger and freight trains a day are cancelled or sent on a long detour. Many commuters who use the rail service will have to use either private cars or buses - and the Forth Road Bridge is already a major bottle-neck over the rush hours.
Traffic Ban Extended in Edinburgh's Princes Street
Edinburgh City Council imposed a ban on cars and lorries from travelling eastbound along Edinburgh's Princes Street in 1996. They have now extended that ban to the westbound traffic, which means that the only traffic on the broad street, overlooked by Edinburgh Castle, will be buses, taxis and cyclists between 7am and 8pm each day. The council claims that 30% of Edinburgh's vehicles are "merely passing through and not contributing to the economy and therefore need to be rerouted." Edinburgh City Council failed earlier this year to convince residents that a system of charging motorists who wanted to come into Edinburgh should be introduced. But as the council closes more and more streets to vehicles (there are traffic restrictions on 40 of the streets in the capital), their prediction that they would grind to a standstill is heading for fulfillment. Buses are reported to be taking advantage of the lack of traffic on Princes Street, however, and using it as a "racetrack" to make up time. So much for making Princes Street an area of peace and tranquillity.
This illustration of Princes Street was taken before the banning of private cars and trucks.
Hospital Sets New Record
The Scottish Executive is forever under attack for the failures of the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland. So it was with some triumph that they announced figures this week which showed that the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank (formerly a totally private hospital which the government took over June 2002), carried out 18,509 procedures over the 12 months ending in March, beating its target of 18,362. That target was itself a 40% increase on the previous year. The hospital is also making a huge contribution to reducing waiting times for scans and other diagnostic tests for patients who come from all over Scotland. Health Minister Andy Kerr paid tribute to the staff who have managed to meet and surpass very challenging targets over the last three years. They are now carrying out seven times more procedures than the hospital did before it was brought into the NHS. Last year there was a rise in hip and knee joint replacements (up 39% to 1045), general surgery operations almost doubled to 1,663 and the number of ophthalmology procedures increased by 47%. Plans have been drawn up for a cardio-thoracic service based at the Golden Jubilee to serve the whole of the West of Scotland. The Golden Jubilee is unique in the UK NHS because it has a four-star hotel as part of the complex, where patients' relatives can stay.
2,000 People Queue - for a Dentist
The departure of another dentist from the National Health Service resulted in 2,000 people queuing from 5am in the chill winds of Inverurie in Aberdeenshire this week to sign up as private patients. The queue of patient patients, including pensioners and children, snaked through the streets at one point. The local NHS dentist claimed that he was leaving because of underfunding by the government. Despite various schemes and record finance introduced to reduce the drain of dentists from the NHS, they can earn far more by taking only private patients. They also claim that they can provide a better standard of service and do more preventative dentistry than the NHS scale of charges can provide.
Storm Brews Up Over New BBC Weather Map
The weather is an important subject in this country and an ever popular topic of conversation. Its ever-changing nature makes weather forecasting difficult, but although we often complain about the accuracy of the regular weather bulletins on TV, such reports are watched by millions each day. Despite the advances in technology, BBC weather presenters have been using basically the same system for the last 20 years. So when they announced that a new 3D graphics was to be introduced, viewers looked forward to an improvement. Instead, there has been a storm of protest and a hail of protest letters and e-mails flooding into the BBC. Many viewers complained that the way the camera swoops and pans across the map (with a presenter standing still in front) is inducing nausea while the use of brown for dry areas has turned a "green and pleasant land" into a muddy sea. Viewers in Scotland have been outraged because the perspective of the UK map is taken from somewhere in northern France, considerably enlarging southern England and reducing Scotland to a small area at the top. True, the graphics swoop over all areas eventually, but Scotland (30% of the land area of the UK, though only 10% of the population) is reduced to a small area receding off the top of the map. Even the map used by BBC Scotland displays a similar distorted perspective and Cumbria in England (50 miles long) looms as large as the distance from Glasgow to Caithness (275 miles). The BBC claims that viewers will "get used to the new graphics" but it has become the subject of a deluge of newspaper articles and even TV comedy shows have latched onto deriding it.
Shadow Scottish Secretary Resigns After Seven Days
The main opposition political parties appoint "shadow ministers" who specialise in the work of government departments. After the General Election for the UK parliament earlier this month, the Conservative party (with only one Member of Parliament elected in Scotland) had to appoint James Gray, the MP for the English constituency of Wiltshire North, to the role of shadow Scottish secretary. Within days he had astounded everyone (including Conservatives in Scotland) by suggesting scrapping the 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament and leaving the Members of Parliament elected to the UK parliament in London to look after all Scottish affairs. Mr Gray, whose connection with Scotland is that he was born in Glasgow, claimed in a newspaper article that the current constitutional set-up is unfair to England. The outrage caused by his remarks resulted him resigning (perhaps with a little encouragement from more senior colleagues) after less than a week in the post and before even visiting the country in that time. Eleanor Lang, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Epping Forest has now been given the post. Although an MP for yet another English constituency, Eleanor Laing was born and bred in Scotland.
Airport Expansion Plans Unveiled
The plans for the development of Edinburgh Airport over the next 25 years were outlined this week by the owners, the British Airports Authority (BAA). The blueprint for the expansion includes a second, parallel runway and the creation of 10,000 jobs with the terminal buildings considerably enlarged to cope with the expected traffic growth. The airport handled over eight million passengers in the last year, an increase of 6.2% on the previous year. That is predicted to rise to 26 million by 2030 with landings and take-offs doubling from 33 an hour to 64 by the same date. The expansion will mean that the present Royal Highland show ground next to the airport will have to move to another site. BAA will release similar documents for Glasgow and Aberdeen airports in the near future.
Scotland's Employment Rate Amongst Highest in Europe
The number of unemployed in Scotland (measured using the International Labour Organisation method) fell by 2,000 over the three months to the end of March this year. And the number in work has now reached 2,453,000, an increase of 37,000 over the previous year. The employment rate (the proportion of the working-age population who are in employment) has now reached 75%, which is above the level in the rest of the UK and all other European countries except Denmark.
Builders Still at Work in Scottish Parliament
Contractors worked round the clock to have the £431 million Scottish Parliament building completed (more or less) for the official opening by the Queen in October last year. But seven months later there is still scaffolding round part of the structure and workmen in hard hats are still beavering away completing the "finishing touches". Of course, "snagging" is part and parcel of any large construction project, and the parliament is no exception. However, with a list of 2,000 outstanding items, nobody knows when the final completion date will be. The original project was due to be finished by the end of 2002. Entry in 2004 was achieved only after a frenzied rush of activity. Problems include broken seals on windows - when a third layer of glass was added to the double glazing on 150 windows to improve the bomb-proofing, it created additional heat in the glass - causing it to pop the seals. It took three months to replace them. Since staff are working in the building during the day, much of the work has to be carried out overnight - and cleared up by the following morning.
The picture here of the parliament building was taken ten days ago.
Borders Rail Link Already 30% Over Budget
It is being rumoured in the press that the cost of restoring the rail link between Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders will cost over £200 million instead of the original estimate of £151 million. Since the economic case for the re-opening of the 35-mile railway line was always dubious, this will not be good news - even if the Scottish Executive always considered the original cost estimates as unrealistic. The line was closed 36 years ago due to lack of passengers using the service. Since then, car ownership has soared.
Skyscrapers for Edinburgh?
Edinburgh's skyline is still dominated by its long cultural heritage, with monuments and buildings from previous centuries visible in all directions. But now Edinburgh City Council has appointed a firm of architectural consultants to create a strategy to assist the city planners in the 21st century. The aim is to provide a framework and encourage new tall buildings, even skyscrapers, but without damaging the present vistas. Currently, it is the ancient Edinburgh Castle which is the highest building in the capital and church spires also dominate the skyline. This will be first time that the issue has been reviewed since 1968. The report by the consultants is expected by the end of the year.
Scotland Has More Bars Than Police
With 17,048 premises licensed to sell alcohol in Scotland, there are more places to buy alcohol than there are police. That was a statistic given at a conference this week attended by the Association of Police Superintendents. The officers called for urgent action to curtail the binge-drinking culture in the country. However, alcohol experts pointed out the failings of the criminal justice system - no prosecutions have been brought in the last three years for a bar or hotel selling alcohol to a drunk person. The police, who are supposed to police the regulations would argue, of course, that they are too busy trying to keep control in the streets outside.
New Forest Planned for Around Loch Katrine
The shores of Loch Katrine are to be planted with a new forest of native broadleaf trees over the next twenty years to create the sort of landscape that has not been seen in Scotland since the Middle Ages. Thousands of acres of land which are owned by Scottish Water are being leased by the Forestry Commission. Instead of planting the regimented rows of commercial conifers, however, the plan is to grow oak, hazel, rowan, alder, willow, juniper, as and aspen. The new areas will merge with other nearby woodland and will not only be an attraction to tourists but should also provide a habitat for wild birds and animals, many of which are under threat due to a loss of their natural habitat. The forest will stretch from Loch Katrine across to Loch Lomond.
A Bridge Too Far
Many small island communities are only too glad to find that large sums of money are to be spent building a bridge to provide access either to the mainland or to larger islands. Skye and a string of bridges in the Western Isles have been constructed in recent years and the island of Luing in Argyll and Bute has been agitating for a bridge for some time. But a few miles further north on the Argyll coast, the 58 residents on Easdale have accused the Argyll and Bute Council of being dictatorial by insisting on the construction of a bridge to the neighbouring island of Seil (which is already connected to the mainland by a bridge). Easdale has no roads and the residents carry their shopping in wheel barrows from the open-topped ferry which calls at the harbour and can carry a maximum of 12 people. If large items are being delivered, special arrangements have to be made for two ferrymen to be available to carry it on board. The council says the ferry is expensive to run, can be unreliable in the winter and a bridge would increase safety. But the Easdale islanders claim the bridge would destroy their way of life - and they are horrified at the spectre of bus-loads of tourists being able to walk over a bridge and overwhelm the island. The islanders describe Easdale as a "museum" - and they want to keep it that way. As in so many situations, however, the politicians are likely to override the wishes of those who elected them.
Five Day Week for Ministers
The Church of Scotland has drawn up a document detailing the employment rights of ministers and now they will be able to rest on the Sabbath (or at least have services on six of them covered by a locum) and can take two days off a week. They are now also allowed to join a trade union, be entitled to sick leave and study leave and be guaranteed a manse which provides accommodation to a decent standard. In the past, ministers have had an open-ended working week which has led many to believe that they are on call 24 hours a day to their congregation.
Pure Dead Embarrassing
Glasgow Prestwick Airport (in Ayrshire, 30 miles from Glasgow) is borrowing the Glaswegian phrase "Pure Dead Brilliant" as its new advertising slogan. It will greet arrivals at the airport and will be emblazoned on its world-wide marketing efforts. The airport management say it is intended to inject some fun and humour into air travel in the wake of September 11 terrorist attacks. They claim it is "energetic, humorous and edgy." But marketing analysts are mystified at the use of a phrase incorporating "dead" for an airport. It may be familiar to Scots, but is a puzzle for most travellers from abroad. One marketing consultant described it as "embarrassing". A spokesman for VisitScotland was reported to have been cautious, saying it had a strong Scottish flavour and was "catchy". Parisian holidaymakers arriving at the airport stared at the words and muttered "pur mort brillant?" - and were dying to fly back home soon.
Beauty in the Highland Beast
It appears that prices of the traditional Highland cattle, with their long horns and shaggy coats, have been rising in recent years, but not because farmers are taking them to produce top quality beef. Instead, country estate owners are buying them because of their aesthetic value and attractiveness. In the last two years the Highland Cattle Society has welcomed 160 new members, many of them small-holding owners and hobby farmers. The majestic animal is certainly photogenic and those browsing in fields are often the subject of photographs by passers-by. The breed has also spread to other parts of the world, with herds in the Czech Republic, Poland and the Faroe Islands.
Elvis Spotted in Glasgow - Twice
Internet search engine Google has launched its maps of the UK on the Web but it appears that although a useful addition (in an already crowded marketplace) users are finding that some of the street maps are not 100% accurate. In Glasgow, for example, King Street has disappeared while two non-existent Elvis Streets have appeared off London Road. The maps are linked to business listings provided by Yell.com which can produce some odd results - if you are looking for a brothel in Edinburgh (as you do - or at least as newspaper journalists do) you end up with such locations as the up-market Witchery restaurant. Searching for restaurants can produce fast-food outlets with no seating accommodation. And the site does not work for those using the Firefox browser (as an increasing number of people are doing). See maps.google.co.uk.
Tyrannosaurus Rex For Sale - One Careful Owner
Millie the 14ft tall and 46ft long model of a dinosaur has been sitting outside the Hunterian Museum in the University of Glasgow for the last five years. The fiercesome creature has become established as a well-loved landmark after it was installed to advertise a "Walking With Dinosaurs" exhibition in 2000. The exhibition is now extinct, but coach tours still stop at the gates to allow visitors to take photographs and school children seem to take delight in having their pictures taken standing beside the monster. But the museum has now decided that it can no longer afford to keep the Tyrannosaurus Rex and are looking for a good home for their mascot. Organisations that can offer her a retirement package (and can afford the expensive repair bills) are being invited to contact the university. But students and other well-wishers are shocked at the idea of losing Millie and have launched a petition to get a reprieve.
Weather in Scotland This Week
After a warm start to the week (Edinburgh reached 20C/68F on Sunday) the weather turned colder again. Aberdeen could only manage 7/8C (45/46F) on Monday and Tuesday though by Friday both Edinburgh and Aberdeen reached 16C (61F) though Glasgow struggled to reach 13C (55F). If the temperatures were on the low side, lack of sunshine was not the cause - Aberdeen recorded 13.8 hours of sun on Wednesday. After a dry spell over the last two weeks with only light showers, it was almost a relief to have a heavier fall of rain, at least in the west of Scotland.
The pictures taken this week to illustrate the current season in Scotland show first of all one the last daffodils still in bloom. The photo was taken in a private garden in Kilsyth which was open to the public last Sunday under the Scotland's Gardens Scheme.
The fluffy cygnets above were photographed at Kilmardinny Loch, north of Glasgow earlier this week. They are about ten days old and their parents are still carefully escorting them to the best places to find pond weed.
There are a number of duckling families at Kilmardinny Loch - though dad mallards take nothing to do with the escort duties and are nowhere to be seen.
Another real sign of the advancement of spring is lilac in full bloom. This photo was taken in the gardens of Falkland Palace in Fife.
New growth is also very apparent on this Norwegian Spruce (Picea Abies Acrocona, according to its helpful label) growing in the walled garden in Colzium Country Park.