Royal Museum Hits Lottery Jackpot
The Victorian home of the Royal Museum of Scotland is an impressive building but, particularly since the modern Museum of Scotland was opened next door in 1998, the old building has become dated and old-fashioned. The museum's management has been working on plans to transform the large building and this week a major piece of the £44 million funding required was slotted into place. The Heritage Lottery Fund has allocated £16.8 million to the project - one of the largest lottery grants ever awarded and the largest ever in Scotland. The museum contains collections of national and international importance covering world cultures, art and design, science and technology and the diversity of nature. It is hoped to breathe new life into the building and put on display items that have been in storage for many years. As in the upgrading currently being carried out at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow, the basement area which is currently used for storage, will be transformed into exhibition space. If fund-raising goes according to plan, work will begin in 2007. The building will be partially closed while the renovation work is being carried out and it will be 2011 before the work is fully completed.
Parliament Lost in the Tall Grass
It cost £431 million to build (as the media keep reminding the taxpayers) but the new Scottish Parliament's surroundings are being described as a "disgrace" and "eyesore" by some of the country's leading gardeners. The grass which covers the huge concrete spurs which jut out from the building was supposed to symbolise the Parliament merging into the landscape of Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat. But the grass is being allowed to run wild and is now over three feet high. For a nation which prides itself on the manicured greens of golf courses and outdoor bowling, having 800 square metres of tall grass described as "landscaping" does not go down too well. Comparisons are being drawn with such examples as an unfinished Italian motorway (the bridge to nowhere in Glasgow springs to mind) or even Sir Bob Geldof's unkempt hair. Scottish Parliament officials point out that Enric Miralles, the Catalan architect of the building, wanted to create " not just a building but a landscape that would encompass the romanticism of the Scots identity and embrace the democratic ideal." Quite. Although the building was officially opened by the Queen last October, workmen have continued to put the "finishing touches" and complete "snagging work" to the building. They are not expected to be off the site "until the autumn".
The illustration shows the grass a few months ago, before it started to run wild.
£160 Million Renovation Work on Forth Road Bridge
It's not just the rail bridge over the river Forth, linking Fife to Edinburgh, that needs a lick of paint. The much newer road bridge is to have £160 million worth of repainting and strengthening over the next 16 years. That figure includes an estimate of the costs arising from the investigation into corrosion on the bridge's high tension cables. The recent increase in toll charges to £1 (levied only on northbound traffic - southbound is toll free) was designed to cover the £110 painting cost only and additional money will need to be raised to cover the repair costs. Any decision will have to be delayed until the final cost of the work has been established. The bridge carried four million vehicles in 1964 when it opened but that figure has soared to 24 million now.
Painting Closes Forth Rail Bridge
In days gone by, the painting of the iconic Forth rail bridge was a never-ending process and rail services continued non-stop, even when the workmen were close to the railway line. In these more safety-conscious days, however, health and safety regulations have meant, first of all, that sections of the bridge have been encased in plastic sheeting to protect the painters from the elements. And now the bridge is being closed for eight days - the longest period in the landmark's 115-year history. 60% of train timetables in Scotland have been affected by the closure, with long-distance trains being diverted and additional bus services introduced for commuters from Fife to Edinburgh. At least the new paintwork should last longer than the type used previously - the new coating is estimated not to need another application for 30 years.
The illustration shows both the rail bridge and the road bridge across the river Forth.
Island to Lose 100 Inhabitants
Cut-backs at the Royal air Force early warning radar station on Scotland's most northerly inhabited island will result in the loss of 100 out of its population of 700. The reduction in personnel at Saxa Vord on the island of Unst will also be a major blow to the local economy as many other residents depend on the base. With the end of the Cold War, the need for early warning of aircraft approaching from the north has significantly reduced. Another 220 posts are to go at three defence munitions centres in Scotland. Crombie, in Fife will lose 142 posts and another 80 will be cut at Glen Douglas in Argyll and Beith in North Ayrshire. The moves are part of the Ministry of Defence's modernisation plans for the armed services.
Ferry Services Must Go Out to Tender
Transport Minister Tavish Scott has been told by the European Union's transport commissioner that the Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferry services must be put out to competitive tender, despite the argument that they are "lifeline" services. CalMac is owned by the Scottish Executive and operates ferries in the Firth of Clyde and to the Western Isles. It had been argued earlier by the Executive that the European Commission's legislation required such competitive tendering to allow private companies to bid to take over the services. But lobbying by the trade unions involved prompted the Members of the Scottish Parliament to force the Transport Minister to take the case back to Brussels.
Buying Spree by Scots Shoppers Continues
The Scottish Retail Consortium has published figures showing that in June sales in Scotland's high streets jumped by 6.9% compared to the same month last year. This followed on from a healthy 5.0% rise in May. By contrast, sales in the rest of the UK grew by only 3.5%. Sunshine towards the end of June produced a surge in clothing sales while food and drink retailers experienced an above average demand. Sales of health and beauty products were also up - they include suntan lotions.
Edinburgh Bus Drivers Take Strike Action
Just as traders in Edinburgh were trying to recover from the loss of business which occurred as a result of the disruption during the week of the G8 conference at Gleneagles, 1,400 drivers employed by Lothian Buses went on a one-day strike this week in support of a pay claim - with threats of more industrial action if their demands were not met. However, traffic levels were said to be "near normal" with no extra congestion. Of course, with Lothian buses off the road, the lanes monopolised by buses were open to all traffic and other bus services were also running normally. Although the margin between the pay offer on the table and union demands is not great, it is changes to rosters and routes which would lead to more weekend working which are getting the drivers upset.
Taxi Company Takes Edinburgh City Council to Court
There are currently 1,260 licenced taxis in Edinburgh, a figure which has not changed in the last five years. But an Edinburgh taxi firm, which wants to expand, is taking Edinburgh City Council to court for refusing to increase the number. Taxi firm Threemaxblack is challenging the right of the council to restrict the number of cabs on the road. Local government in cities and towns across the country decide on the number allowed.
New HQ for National Park
The administration staff for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park have been working in temporary accommodation since the country's first national park was launched in 2002. Now, at last, the Scottish Executive has announced plans for a £9 million HQ in Balloch, at the southern tip of Loch Lomond. 122 central and mobile staff will be based there from the summer of 2007. The announcement came as a new ranger patrol boat, Osprey 1, was launched on Loch Lomond. It will allow extra patrols to provide not only a better response in emergencies but could also be used to enforce any speed restrictions introduced on vessels using the loch. These are currently in the pipeline.
Prices Go Through the Roof
With a significant slow-down in the soaring prices of houses in England and Wales, the cost of buying a home in Scotland is now rising at a faster rate than in the rest of the UK. There has been a slow-down in the housing market in Scotland too, but it is not nearly as severe as in the south. According to the latest quarterly survey by the Bank of Scotland, house prices in Scotland in the first six months of 2005 rose at an annualised rate of 12.5%. Housing in Scotland is relatively more affordable than in England - Scottish prices are about 30% less than the UK average. The average house price in Scotland was £107,294 compared to the UK average of £162,850 according to the Bank of Scotland survey.
Dunbar Wind Farm Extended
An existing wind farm, at Crystal Rig in the Lammermuir Hills south of Dunbar, currently has 20 turbines in operation. The Scottish Executive this week approved plans to expand the site with another 52 turbines, with a generating capacity of up to 164 megawatts. Theoretically, that is enough power to provide "green" electricity for 100,000 households each year without producing greenhouse gases as a by-product. The approval followed the usual lengthy consultation processses to ensure that it did not create an unacceptable impact on the surrounding environment.
The Case of the Disappearing Books
The new Harry Potter book fairly flew off the shelves this week, smashing sales records on both sides of the Atlantic, with almost nine million copies being purchased in the first 24 hours after publication. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold 6.9 million copies in the US and more than two million copies in the UK, beating all previous Potter records. But it was the outlets which trimmed their profit margins and sold the book at the cheapest price which fared best, as purchasers shopped around for the bargains. It was thus supermarkets which came out best by "piling high and selling cheap" while conventional bookshops still had stacks of books unsold.
Monarch Flying to Spain
Earlier this year Aberdeen airport lifted operating restrictions on night-time flights, arguing that it would help to attract more services to Scotland's airport in the north-east. One early result of that decision is the announcement this week that Monarch airlines is to fly four times a week from Aberdeen to Malaga on the Costa del Sol from November. As well as allowing Scots to fly to sunny Spain, the budget airline estimates that about 15,000 tourists will fly from Iberia to visit the north-east each year as a result.
Secret Obsession of Princess Royal
Lots of us succumb to the collecting instinct and it can manifest itself in many ways from postage stamps to climbing mountains and can sometimes become an obsession. Princess Anne revealed this week that one of her compulsive preoccupations is visiting Scottish lighthouses. Sometimes she calls in on "official business" as patron of the Northern Lighthouse Board, on other occasions it is as she and her husband Commander Tim Laurence sail around the coast in their yacht. Such visits don't always go smoothly - on a recent visit to the island of Oronsay, off the west coat of Jura in the Western Isles, they were refused permission to visit the gardens of Oronsay House by an islander who did not recognise them and thought they were "a couple of chancers".
Another Memorial for Queen Mother Planned at Glamis Castle
The estate managers at Glamis Castle in Angus, where the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother spent much of her childhood, have applied for planning permission to erect a memorial to the Queen Mum in the form of memorial gates and a piazza. There are already memorial gates to the Queen Mother at Glamis - commemorating her 80th birthday. The new memorial will form an imposing new entrance to the historic building. Removal of a stone wall will create an even grander view of the castle from Glamis village and open up a vista of Glamis Castle which passing traffic does not see at the moment. It is hoped that work on the memorial will begin later this year, funded by public donations. The piazza is to be paved in granite and the gates will bear the words "The Queen Mother memorial gates, donated by the people of Scotland. Erected 2006".
Twilight Years of Dial-Up Internet Connections
As the price of broadband Internet connections continues to fall, government statistics show that it has now officially overtaken dial-up in the UK and Scotland as the most popular way to connect to the Internet. New broadband connections have outstripped dial-up for some time, growing by 80% in the last year, but this is the first time broadband has accounted for the majority of all net connections. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), broadband overtook dial-up in May, making up 50.7% of all net connections. When the ONS began compiling such data in January 2001, high-speed access accounted for less than 1% of connections.
"Beam Me Up Scotty"
Canadian-born James Montgomery Doohan - "Scotty" in the cult classic sci-fi series Star Trek - did much in the last few decades to enhance the reputation of Scottish engineers. He became totally identified with the fictional character Montgomery Scott and also the phrase "Beam Me Up Scotty". So there was sadness in Scotland as elsewhere when he passed away this week at the age of 85. Doohan tried out a number of accents for the character before settling on a Scottish one, saying: "If this character is going to be an engineer, you'd better make him a Scotsman". He said that the Scottish accent was based on an Aberdonian he met during military service in WW2. Contrary to popular belief, Captain Kirk never said the immortal words "Beam Me Up Scotty" during the original series. He did say "Beam us up, Mr Scott" in just one of about 80 episodes. According to the Star Trek scripts, Scotty was born in Linlithgow (in 2222) and West Lothian Council were quick to react to the news of his death with plans to erect a plaque to the actor in the town.
Touchdown for Scottish Artificial Turf Company
Although Dunfermline has failed to convince the Scottish Premier League of the benefits of artificial turf, a Dundee company is experiencing increased demand for its "grass". Bonar Yarns & Fabrics has seen its revenues in North America nearly double in the last two years, with American football teams such as the Atlanta Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks using their products. The recent green light from UEFA for artificial turf being permitted in competitions such as the European Champions League has given a boost to prospects and there seems to be strong demand from Chinese colleges and schools for artificial playing surfaces.
Scottish Fishermen Squids In
As Scottish fishermen struggle to cope with reduced stocks of their mainstay species, a new catch has appeared off the north-east coast. Squid have become abundant over the last three years, providing a welcome boost to both fishermen and processors. They have been appearing off the coast of Banffshire from June to December. A box of squid can fetch up to £200 and will often end up as "calamari" in supermarkets both in the UK and in Europe.
The One That Got Away
A customer buying a tin of Scottish salmon fillets in a Morrison's supermarket in Caernarfon, north Wales, blinked when he saw that the tin had a picture not of a Highland mountain - but of Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. The supermarket's "own brand" product had been on sale for two years with the picture before the embarrassing mistake was caught and reeled in. A spokesman for Morrison's commented that "Welsh people should be flattered that somewhere as beautiful as Snowdon is being used to promote Scottish salmon." He did not have anything to say about the reaction in Scotland where Scottish salmon is protected geographic status within the European Union.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The week started warmly enough with temperatures last Sunday reaching 25C (77F) in Aberdeen and 23C (73F) in Edinburgh and Glasgow. But by Tuesday Glasgow had dipped to 15C (59F) although Edinburgh and the north-east were slightly above that. The thermometer rose in the central lowlands later in the week, however, with Edinburgh again reaching 23C (73F) and Glasgow rising to the same level on Friday. There was not much rain during the week and what little there was tended to be just short showers. There wa a fair amount of sunshine - Glasgow recorded 9.1 hours on Thursday and14.3 hours on Friday while Aberdeen's total for Tuesday to Friday reached over 23 hours.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland shows two differently coloured delphiniums which were growing in the garden at Kellie Castle in Fife. For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
Newsletter "Colour Supplement"
Regular readers of this Newsletter will be used to seeing more photographs illustrating the current flora and fauna in Scotland. This week, there were again so many photos to choose from a Colour Supplement has been created so as not to overload the main Newsletter. Click on the link and you will open up a new page with a half-dozen more illustrations.