Scottish Parliament Wins Top Architecture Award
The judges representing the Royal Institute of British Architects have selected the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh to receive this year's Stirling Prize for the building which has made the biggest contribution to British architecture in the past year. Designed by the late Enric Miralles, in conjunction with the Scottish architectural firm of RMJM Ltd, the prize was presented to the architect's widow Benedetta Tagliabue and members of the architectural team. The building has often been more associated with controversy than praise, especially as costs escalated. But the judges said that a lot of money had been spent well - rather than a small amount spent badly. They also called it "a remarkable architectural statement which has an enormous impact not only on the visitors to the building but also on the users who repeatedly move through a series of extraordinary spaces and their changing effects". They also commented: "In its context the building manifests itself as an attempt at an organic transition between the city and the drama of the Scottish countryside surrounding it. An extremely successful landscaping makes this transition even more striking."
Heavy Rain Causes Flooding
Last week's weather was unrelieved cloud cover in Scotland (apart from parts of the north-east and the northern isles) but at least there was little rain. This week started the same way, but then the rain-bearing clouds headed our way from the Atlantic and torrential rain on Tuesday and Wednesday caused some rivers to overflow, causing flooding to homes and offices, especially in the Scottish Borders. 2.6 inches of rain were recorded in 12 hours in Hawick on Wednesday - the equivalent of nearly a month's normal rainfall. There was extensive flooding when the river Teviot burst its banks in Hawick and water rose to four feet in some parts of the town. The West Coast Main Line was closed between Carlisle and Glasgow for much of Tuesday. Drivers in the Lothian and Borders area were advised to stay at home unless their journeys were essential. Flood warnings were issued for the Water of Leith in Edinburgh as water levels rose to a dangerous level.
Tax Plan to Raise Cash for Edinburgh's Festivals
Edinburgh City Council is reported to be looking at plans to raise revenue to help to pay for major events such as the international arts festival and the capital's New Year's Eve celebrations. Discussions are underway over introducing a voluntary scheme which would add to restaurant and hotel bills. It is argued that to maintain the standards and ward off competition from other arts festivals, additional funding is needed. It is said that restaurants and hotels do not provide sufficient support for events that bring them additional business each year. Of course, any extra cash raised would not be paid by the establishments themselves, but by their customers. While an additional few pounds on a hotel bill would hardly be noticed, particularly as hotels charge premium prices during these events, those who lunch regularly in the city may have a different view. An extra pound on the price of a Big Mac, perhaps? Details have still to be worked on such issues as whether the additional tax would apply throughout the year or just during special festival periods, whether restaurants outside the city centre would be involved - and how it would be collected, without adding to the administrative burden of businesses.
Scotland's Economic Growth
The Royal Bank of Scotland's PMI (purchasing managers' index) survey shows that Scotland was second-top for economic growth amongst the twelve UK regions in September and second over the three months to end September. Scotland had been top of the table in June and July but slipped back in August. The figures are said to be consistent with an overall annual economic growth rate of between 1.8% and 2%. Scotland's performance is being put down to a combination of public sector spending and the downturn in the housing market not being so marked here as in other parts of the UK.
Edinburgh Bus Drivers Call Off Strike
The threat of a week-long bus strike in Edinburgh is now over after 800 drivers working for First Bus in the capital accepted a repackaged deal which will give them £8 an hour from the end of October, going up to £8.25 in November. The drivers had staged a series of one and two-day strikes earlier this year and were ready to stop work for seven days, which would have affected 100,000 travellers each day.
BBC Scotland's Headquarters for Sale
Broadcasting House in Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow's West End has been the BBC's HQ in Scotland since 1936. But a new building is going up at Pacific Quay, south of the river Clyde and the corporation has put the building and the prime site opposite the Kelvingrove Botanic Gardens up for sale, with a price tag of £12 million. Two 19th century buildings, one dating back to 1869, formed the basis of the HQ, but various additions have been made over the years.It is thus a veritable rabbit warren and is no longer fit for its purpose. Plans to replace it have been in the pipeline for over a decade. The category-B architectural listing of the property will restrict what any developer wanted to do on the site.
Train Company Forced Off the Rails?
The UK Transport Minister has said that rail company GNER could lose its licence if it does not solve the problems which have resulted in train breakdowns and poor timekeeping, particularly over last summer. In one of the worst examples, six trains were brought to a halt between Huntingdon and Peterborough on the Edinburgh to London line, due to power failure. Temperatures in the carriages soared to 115F in warm weather and the air conditioning was switched off. Passengers received large compensation payouts for their suffering. The Transport Minister, Alistair Darling, is the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West, so he is well aware of the problems on the route between the two capitals. But he put part of the blame on the previous Conservative government, saying that due to underfunding, overhead gantries for the electricity supply to the trains had been placed too far apart when the line was being electrified.
Driverless Subway Trains?
Glasgow is looking at options to extend its limited underground train service and Alistair Watson, the chairman of Strathclyde Passenger Transport, is to visit modern subway services in Toulouse in France, Turin in Italy and Nuremberg in Germany. But the trade union for the train drivers has noted with alarm that all three networks operate with computerised, driverless trains. Mr Watson is a retired train driver himself and he maintains that all options have to be investigated. The subway train drivers have gained a reputation for militancy, and will no doubt be watching developments with great care.
Alert for Signs of Bird Flu
As birds are diagnosed with bird flu in Turkey and then eastern Europe, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is setting up surveys at their reserves at Vane Farm in Fife and Caerlaverock on the Solway Firth to look out for any signs of the disease amongst wild birds in Scotland. It is thought that the risk to birds in the UK is low as most of the migratory birds fly from north to south (from places such as Iceland, Greenland and northern Scandinavia). But several thousand ducks such as wigeon and teal come from the east each year. The surveillance programme is an important element in remaining vigilant. It is being emphasised that if there is an outbreak the impact will be mainly on wild birds but it could affect chickens and turkeys reared on farms. Many of these are kept outside in the UK so that they can be marketed as "free range".
Black Box Recycling Effort Abandoned
In an effort to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill sites and increase the amount of paper, glass, certain types of plastic and cans being recycled, many local authorities have introduced large blue plastic containers for householders to separate newspapers and magazines and black boxes for glass and cans. These have been successful in many areas, with the amount of material being recycled rising to 18% and more. But the trial collection of glass in selected areas of Glasgow has been disappointing, with only 167 tons picked up between October last year and August this year. Many householders are said to be reluctant to put glass out in the street for collection in case hooligans use it to cause trouble. As a result, the service is not financially viable and has now been discontinued - though many other areas of Scotland are continuing with the collections. Instead, Glasgow City Council will arrange to collect unwanted clothing and similar material.
Another Record Month for Air Passenger Numbers
The British Airports Authority has reported that a record number of travellers used the airports at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen in September, with nearly two million passengers, a rise of 5% over the previous month. Glasgow was the busiest but with Edinburgh close behind. However, Aberdeen was the fastest growing of the three, with an extra 10% over September last year and a rise of 8.2% over the year as a whole. Bergen in Norway and Esbjerg in Denmark were popular destinations from Aberdeen. A new air service between Aberdeen and Stavanger, and on to Kristiansund, was launched this week by City Star Airlines. With the school half-term holiday in October, when they close for an entire week, the expectation is that this month will be even busier at all the airports as many Scots jet off to some sunshine.
Modern Airport for Oban?
A project to upgrade Oban Airport to modern standards has been awarded £2.9 million by the European Regional Development Fund. The plans include new runways on the islands of Coll and Colonsay and there are hopes that a scheduled air service from Oban could be introduced.
Former First Minister's Statue to be Elevated
In May 2002, Prime Minister Tony Blair unveiled a statue to the late Donald Dewar, who had been the first First Minister in the new Scottish Parliament, until his untimely death in October 2000. There is no doubt that Donald Dewar, whose modesty became an art form, would not have approved of a statue in his memory, even one beside the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in the city he loved. But many who saw the statue, which is an excellent likeness of the man, with crumpled suit and glasses, immediately recognised that it was an easy target for vandalism. And so it has proved, with his glasses being broken off several times and his clothing daubed with graffiti. Now Glasgow City Council (who should have known better in the first place) are now arranging for the statue to be removed and repaired. When it returns it will be placed on a new, taller plinth, fully two metres off the ground. It remains to be seen whether this will be sufficient defence.
The illustration of the statue was taken soon after it was installed and any damage was done.
Gaelic is a Foreign Language
There was outrage this week amongst Gaelic speakers when it was revealed that the Prime Minister's office in Downing Street sends letters it receives in Gaelic (and Welsh) to the Foreign Office for translation. Adding insult to injury, it appears that the Foreign Office has nobody to do the translations and they have to "enlist the aid of other departments." Britain ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2001 and that obliges the government to encourage the survival of languages such as Gaelic. While the government is paying lip service to these requirements, it appears that royalty is playing its part. A Harris-born police protection officer was startled when the Queen, on a visit to the West Highlands, asked him "Ciamar a tha sibh?" - or "how are you?" in Gaelic.
Slump in Parking Fee Income
In previous decades, it used to be a nightmare trying to find a parking meter in the centre of Edinburgh. Recently, however, there have been plenty of bays lying empty. Not that Edinburgh City Council's income suffered - they keep raising the charges. But it seems that the last hike (from £1.20 an hour last year to £1.60 now) has been counterproductive and too many motorists have forsaken the city centre for out of town shopping centres. Confusing changes to the road layouts in the city have also not helped. As a result, income from the charges has actually fallen by £800,000, with an estimated 25% of spaces left empty. If that continues, it could have an impact on road maintenance projects - though that might help to improve traffic flows. Traders in the centre of Edinburgh are also suffering from a reduction in customers.
"Dragonlady" Charms Australians
When Helen Liddell, the former Secretary of State for Scotland was involved in local and UK politics in the 1980s and 1990s, her combative and abrasive style earned her nicknames such as "Stalin's Mother" and "Dragonlady". But there are media reports in Scotland that her plain-speaking, no-nonsense approach has won her a lot of admirers now that she is High Commissioner of Australia. She has been described in the press there as "refreshingly ribald" and "a delight". The warmth is apparently reciprocated and she is settling down in Australia, refurbishing the official residence - at her own expense. She is also enjoying no longer having to suffer at the hands of the British media and says her former career was like "catching bullets in my teeth." Her term as High Commissioner lasts for four years.
Search for Girl on a Banknote
When Clydesdale Bank introduced the new design for their £10 note in 1997, it featured a portrait of Mary Slessor, who arrived as a missionary in Nigeria in 1876. The bank claimed that it was the first time that a woman had been illustrated on a Scottish banknote - but Bank of Scotland's public relations department rapidly pointed to their £20 note featuring a female researcher working in a laboratory in the Scottish Borders. Clydesdale's spokesman responded that their illustration was the first woman on the front of a Scottish note. Now the Royal Society of Chemistry is trying to track down the girl featured on the Bank of Scotland note, believing that she may have been working as a chemist. In 1997, Bank of Scotland identified her as a Janet Mullen - but are now refusing to shed any further light on her identity.
Motorists and Deer on Collision Course
The increasing number of deer roaming Scotland's hills is causing various problems, ranging from the destruction of saplings to collisions with road vehicles. It has been estimated that there are thousands of these accidents every year. While some may cause only slight damage, many result in the death of not only the deer, but also injury and death to drivers. But statistics on these accidents have never been gathered together properly, so nobody knows the precise figure. Now the Scottish Executive and the Woodland Trust are joining a number of organisations backing a research project to compile information on deer-related accidents. Preliminary findings from the Deer Collision Project suggest that 300 people were injured (15 fatally) in accidents involving deer in 2003. By highlighting high risk areas, it is hoped that various accident prevention methods can be implemented, including installing underpasses at points where deer are known to cross the road.
Bonnie and Clyde Turned Down
The little vessel which has been cleaning up the waters of the river Clyde in Glasgow was unimaginatively named "St Mungo" after the city's patron saint. But when the city council decided to buy two more of the boats, Glasgow's reputation for humour came to the fore. After a competition to find a name for the two boats, the council's water safety committee decided that "Bonnie and Clyde" would clean up the river, their namesakes having cleaned up as bank robbers in the Hollywood Film starring Warren Beattie and Faye Dunaway. But when the names went before the Lord Provost, he was not amused and insisted that Glasgow should not be associated with criminals. So the water safety committee has been sent off to think again.
Now Scotland Can't Win at Making Porridge
It's one of Scotland's national dishes, known the world over and porridge is said to have been "the backbone of many a sturdy Scotsman". There is a lot of mystique about making porridge and lots of traditions associated with cooking and eating it When the annual Golden Spurtle contest was begun in 1994 to find the best porridge each year, it was perhaps assumed that this was a contest in which the Scots would excel. Representatives from Scotland have indeed won the competition on most occasions, but this year an English guesthouse owner has taken hold of the Golden Spurtle for best traditional porridge. (A spurtle is a short, round wooden instrument traditionally used to mix the classic Scottish fare). And a Zimbabwean mother (who helps run the family-owned Buccleuch Arms Hotel, in Moffat, Dumfriesshire) has taken the top award in the "speciality" category - with a concoction made with chocolate and caramel. The runners-up in both traditional and speciality categories were not Scots either - but a Dutchman and a Spaniard.
Long Wait for a Wee Toilet
Staff working at the ticket desk at the Scott Monument in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens have been inconvenienced over the years by having to use toilet facilities at nearby shops and restaurants, as none were provided by the Victorian designers of the famous monument. But last year it was decided to build a simple extension which would mirror the existing wooden box which houses the ticket staff and the visitor entrance (see bottom right in the illustration). Sixteen months later, planning permission has still not even been applied for - and the staff are still keeping their legs crossed that officials will be able to submit plans soon. But a spokesman for Historic Scotland has said that the organisation had not yet seen the plans for the structure - which will be externally identical to the existing wooden hut at the foot of the monument. Hopefully the two structures will be clearly labeled so as not to confuse those intending to climb to the top of the monument. A local councillor commented that he was "relieved to hear that the staff at the monument will be able to relieve themselves soon."
Weather in Scotland This Week
As noted earlier in this Newsletter, there was heavy rain and flooding in Scotland on Tuesday and Wednesday, particularly in the Scottish Borders. Temperatures also fell on those days, with the maximum temperatures reaching only 9/10C (48/50F). The skies cleared on Thursday with a good amount of sunshine (Glasgow recorded 8.3 hours and Aberdeen 6.9 hours) but the clear skies resulted in overnight temperatures falling to freezing point in a number of areas.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of a Fly Agaric mushroom which has been encouraged to sprout in response to the damp weather. For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
Newsletter "Colour Supplement"
This week's additional online photographs taken in Scotland this week to show the current weather scene include Falkland Palace, vine leaves, eider ducks and gulls. See Colour Supplement and you will open up a new page with a half-dozen more illustrations.