Worst Storm for Twenty Years
The most powerful storm in the last 20 years battered the west coast of Scotland on the night of 11 January, with gusts of hurricane-force wind reaching well over 120mph. Most of the Western Isles and parts of the mainland lost electrical supplies, affecting 85,000 homes and high tide and winds caused flooding in Oban. A family of five were swept to their deaths while attempting to drive along a coastal road in South Uist after high tides and strong winds had flooded their house. Ferry and air services were badly affected. In Glasgow and Edinburgh, winds gusted at up to 80mph, causing structural damage to some buildings. Bridges across the Forth (both the road and rail crossings) and Tay rivers (both at Friarton and at Dundee) were closed, as were the Erskine Bridge across the Clyde and the Kessock Bridge at Inverness as well as the bridge from the mainland to Skye. On Wednesday morning, commuters found that the entire main-line rail network had closed down as engineers checked for fallen trees and debris on the tracks. With major bridges and ferries still cancelled, some roads blocked by fallen trees and with the winds still blowing strongly, alternative means of getting to work were not always readily available. The A1 road between Edinburgh and Newcastle was closed after a traffic accident and a section of the eastbound M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh had to be close because an overhead gantry had been made unsafe by the high winds. The storm continued on Wednesday and thousands of homes in Tayside were without electricity. Nine roads in Perthshire alone were blocked by fallen trees or floods. The river Ness burst its banks on Wednesday afternoon, following a tidal surge, causing damage to a number of homes and businesses in Inverness.
Fishermen Catch a Good Deal
The annual round of negotiations in Brussels to decide on the number of fish which can be caught in European waters and when boats can put to sea, usually ends up with Scottish fishermen in the depths of despair. In the days before the meeting to negotiate the rules for 2005, there were suggestions that some of the fishing grounds would be closed permanently, to provide a nursery for young fish. In the end, that plan was rejected and, instead, a proposal to reduce the number of days fishermen can spend at sea, was altered in such a way that it will not affect most of the Scottish fleet. A controversial haddock permit system, which was in force last year, has been discontinued, the North Sea cod quota remains unchanged and there will not be a reduction in days at sea. It appears that the widespread use of 120mm mesh nets by Scottish vessels to protect juvenile fish was instrumental in avoiding a cut in fishing days. The UK negotiating team, including Ross Finnie the Scottish minister responsible for fisheries, also managed to win a 12% increase in quotas for prawn caught off the west coast and a 50% rise in the amount of monkfish caught in the North Sea off the north and north west of Scotland. However, some cod fishing grounds off the west coast of Scotland will be closed as part of conservation measures.
Emma and Lewis Lead List
The General Register Office for Scotland annual list of the most popular names used by parents registering the birth of their children in 2004 shows that Emma and Lewis are still at the top of the tree. For girls, the top five - Emma, Sophie, Ellie, Amy and Chloe - are the same as in 2003, although Sophie has moved from fourth to second. For boys, top-placed Lewis is followed by Jack in second position. James is in third (up one place), Cameron is fourth and Ryan is fifth. The name Keira has jumped 79 places into 32nd place, presumably due to the actress Keira Knightley. Boys' names making significant advances in the top 50 are Aiden (up 25 places to 32nd), Sam (up 24 places to 34th) and MacKenzie (up 35 places to 93rd). Duncan, George, Mohammed, Marcus, Mitchell, Grant, Anthony and Greg have all fallen out of the top 100. Girls' names moving out of the top 100 were Hayley, Rhiannon, Claire, Jade, Catherine, Orla, Katherine and Alicia. 26,200 boys were registered in 2004 with more than 2,200 different first names being used. 24,600 girls were registered, with more than 3,200 different names being used. In England and Wales, Jack and Emily were the most popular names for 2004 and in Northern Ireland, Jack and Katie were most popular.
Chip and PIN Cause Confusion
In an effort to cut back on the amount lost by credit and debit card fraud, the UK banks have been issuing new plastic cards incorporating a fraud-proof (so far) micro-chip. Customers will require to tap in a four-digit PIN (personal identification number) at the counter or check-out, instead of scrawling an ineligible signature (which retail staff frequently don't even bother to check anyway). The transition to the new system is being phased in, but as from 1 January the banks' computer systems can demand a PIN instead of a signature - and pass the responsibility for fraud to the retailer if the customer cannot provide the correct number. Despite all the advance publicity and advertising, that is causing problems as many people cannot recall their PIN, especially if they have a number of different cards and have not selected an easier number to remember. The situation is made even more complicated by the fact that some customers have not been issued with a "Chip and PIN" card and the computer will then require a customer signature as before, causing confusion to staff and customers alike.
City Council Approves Scotland's Tallest Building
Glasgow City Council has given backing to the construction of a 39-storey building on the site of the former Strathclyde Regional Council HQ, close to the approach road to the M8 road over the Kingston Bridge. The tear-drop shaped complex will soar to 134 metres (440 feet) and will be taller than the Glasgow Tower across the river at Pacific Quay and the Red Road flats (also in Glasgow), Europe's tallest homes at 328ft. More than 200 luxury homes are planned for the new building and the public would have access to a restaurant on the 34th floor. It is hoped to start demolishing the current buildings this year and have the new development ready for occupation in 2008. Of course, on a world scale, the Glasgow building will be relatively small - the Empire State Building on New York is 1,250ft tall and the Sears Tower in Chicago is 1,450 ft high while the Taipei 101 in Taiwan (completed in 2004) has a roof which is even higher - and a tall spire on top of that.
New Branding for City of Inverness
Apart from some vague benefit of "prestige", being named a city does not give a town any particular advantage. But ever since Inverness (a Royal Burgh since 1158) was selected to be given a charter by the Queen as part of the Millennium celebrations, Inverness has been raising its profile. The latest move has been to create a new "brand identity" with a logo which emphasises, by the use of colour, the "In" in Inverness. Itís claimed to be a simple graphic way of expressing its personality and conveying the city's strengths and qualities. Inverness is the only city in the Highlands and the brand mark is a way of making sure everyone remembers that. See www.inverness-scotland.com/branding.asp to see the brand in various guises.
Patter Guide to Help Baffled Typists
Typists from courts in Dingwall in Ross and Cromarty in the north of Scotland have been helping out in the procurator fiscal's office in Glasgow, preparing the prosecution case by transcribing witness statements from tapes. But they have been baffled by the thick Glasgow accents and phrases such as "You're gauny get the malky" (You are going to be stabbed) and "Aw therr 'n' a wee bit mair" (Someone who is street smart and not to be taken for a fool). So the six typists have each been given a copy of the "Glasgow Patter" books by Neil Munro to help them understand their fellow Scots. The language barrier has sometimes become more apparent in recent years as the Scottish Executive has followed a policy of dispersing government jobs around the country. TV programmes such as "River City" and "Taggart" have helped, but there is nothing to beat the authoritative "Glasgow Patter" books.
Curry Flavoured Haggis?
Supermarket chain Sainsbury's has revealed that this month it will be selling 200,000 of Scotland's traditional delicacy, the haggis. However, while many will be consumed at Burns Suppers across Scotland, nearly two-thirds of them will be sold in England. The supermarket says that people of all nationalities love the ceremony of piping in the haggis and a night of Burns before consuming a traditional meal. Sainsbury's credentials for supporting Scottish culture took a dip, however, when it admitted that one of its fastest-growing varieties is a curry-flavoured, hot and spicy version, catering for the British love of Indian food. Even the humble oatcake is getting a makeover these days. Walkers Shortbread of Aberdeen has unveiled a version with sun-dried tomato and herbs. This oat cuisine is pandering to a taste for Mediterranean flavours.
Plan to Save Burns Heritage
Stung into action by the collapse of a £7 million project to to save the cottage and museum in Alloway in which Scotland's internationally famous poet Robert Burns was born, the Scottish Executive asked the National Trust for Scotland to create a plan to save the iconic building. The Trust have proposed a national centre which would bring together all the visitor attractions related to Burns for the first time. So one ticket would provides access to the cottage, museum, the Bachelor's Club at Tarbolton and Souter Johnnie's Cottage at Kirkoswald, both in south Ayrshire, as well as Burns' cottage in Dumfries where he died. The National Trust already administers the Bachelor's Club and Souter Johnnie's Cottage - both locations get very few visitors. The National Trust hopes to get funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Scottish Executive to finance a £10 million restoration of the Burns Cottage and expansion of the museum. The Trust believes that it has the credibility to drive the project forward and turn the dilapidated cottage and museum into a first class attraction. The government at last seems keen to support this, particularly in view of the 250th anniversary of the poet's birth approaching in 2009. Until now, however, financial support has been measured in tens of thousands of pounds rather than millions.
The Real Scrooge
Film versions of the book "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens are often televised at this time of year. But few people watching the performance of Ebenezer Scrooge will know that the basis of the main character was an Edinburgh man, buried in Canongate Churchyard in the centre of the city. According to the diaries written by Dickens, the author was wandering in the churchyard in 1841 when he came across a grave which he thought read "Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie - mean man". The inscription actually read "meal man" as that was his occupation. Dickens misread it and was so shocked that it stuck in his memory and formed the basis of the novel published in 1843. He thought that the description on the gravestone must have "shriveled Scroggie's soul" to carry such a description "to eternity". In fact, Scroggie was a wine merchant as well as a corn merchant and he won the catering contract for the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 and supplied whisky to the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, the gravestone with the inscription which prompted the famous story is no more - it was lost during redevelopment work in 1932. Dickens story not only maligned a Scottish merchant - it killed off the boy's name Ebenezer which, until then, had been quite popular.
BBC Win Battle of the Bells
BBC Scotland trounced rival Scottish TV in the television ratings war in the hours leading up to midnight on Hogmanay. Although high profile events such as the Street Party in Edinburgh's Princes Street and other gatherings around the country were popular, most Scots these days stay at their own firesides on New Year's Eve. TV entertainment is part of that, even if it is only in the background. BBC Scotland's comedy show "Chewin' the Fat" with Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan had a 77% audience share and the football comedy show "Only an Excuse" on BBC was not far behind. In the run-up to the "Bells" at midnight, BBC Scotland got 54% of the viewers with a Hogmanay party fronted by news reader Jackie Bird. STV's offering was hosted by Lorraine Kelly and Stephen Jardine. Despite their popularity and the show being staged live above Princes Street, they had half the number of viewers compared to the BBC.
BIG in Falkirk
Now in its sixth year, BIG in Falkirk's national street arts festival is returning on 30 April and 1 May with an assortment of spectacular outdoor theatre, international street arts, live music, comedy, children's entertainment - and much more! There will be a variety of nationally and internationally renowned artistic performances alongside activities for children, young people and families. The festival features a range of top quality performances at venues across the region as Falkirk and the surrounding areas become the focus for an exciting, eclectic mix of cultural entertainment. The live music stage will be presenting a variety of first class entertainers. See www.biginfalkirk.com for more details.
Million Pound String to Her Bow
Nicola Benedetti, the first Scot to win the BBC Young Musician of the Year prize, has signed a million pound recording deal with Universal Music's Deutsche Grammophon label. The 17-year-old from West Kilbride, Ayrshire, will produce six CD's for the company. She began playing the violin when she was four, leading the National Children's Orchestra of Scotland by age eight and at age ten she began attending the Yehudi Menuhin School for gifted musicians in Surrey. At the official opening of the Holyrood parliament building in Edinburgh last year, she played before the Queen. The company hope that Nicola's charisma and personality will mean that her CDs will sell to the broader public as well as to those already enthusiastic about classical music.