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Curling at St. Moritz, 1936

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We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine gun. It is unfortunate that the English working class are exceptionally ignorant about and wasteful of food.
(George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier)

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

There is an ideal country called Utopia (“Nowhere”). Its people are always happy. No such place has ever existed, but because a number of men have thought and hoped that it might be possible for such things to be, socialism has come into existence.

The first socialists were called the Utopian Socialists. Their plan was to reconstruct society and establish a system by which the profits produced by labour should be divided among the workers. Robert Owen (1771-1858), one of the most famous of the Utopians, was a wealthy manufacturer, who made his own factory town, New Lanark, in Scotland, a model community.

Owen wished to establish such communities all over the world. Each was to contain about 1,200 people, who were to live in one large building and share the profits from their labour on farm and in factory. Several communities modelled on his ideas were set up, but failed. The chief outcome of the movement was the forming of co-operative and profit-sharing industries and stores, which have been successfully introduced into many parts of the world.

Louis Blanc, a Frenchman who was at the height of his fame in 1848-49, represents a second type of socialism, sometimes called “political” or “government-ownership socialism”. Its chief outcome was the gradual adoption in many lands of government ownership of railways, telegraphs, telephones, waterworks, etc.

Karl Marx, a German Jew, was the founder of modern “scientific socialism”. He maintained that through all history there had been a struggle of classes. The last phase of this struggle would be that of the labourer against the capitalist. With the victory of the labourer the socialist state would be established. In it only those who toiled – with their hands or their heads – would receive the products of labour. Since labour was the sole creator of value, it alone had a right to the fruits of its efforts. All means of production – land, factories, mines, and so on – should, therefore, be controlled by the workers and operated for the benefit of the community as a whole.

Socialism should not be confused with anarchism (from the Greek for “without rule”), which demands the utter abolition of the state. Many great and good men (e.g. John Lennon, Ronald Reagan) have believed in anarchism in this sense, for they contend that human beings if left to themselves without prescribed laws or organized authority, will soon learn to adjust peaceably all their conflicts over property and privilege.

Aberdeen Harbour

Rushing southward every weekday from this fourth largest city of Scotland, go long express trains carrying the catch of the sturdy North Sea fishermen – herring, halibut, sole, and the like – to the markets of London; for Aberdeen now rivals Grimsby, the great English fishing port, as a centre of the British steam trawling industry.

Aberdeen is situated on a bay of the North Sea, 130 miles north-east of Edinburgh, and is the chief city of northern Scotland. It is sometimes called the “Silver City by the Sea” because of the gleam of its grey granite buildings, especially after a heavy rainfall. In addition to its fisheries and granite quarries it has large manufactures of woollen and linen goods, paper, jams, and preserved foods. There are also large breweries, distilleries, and chemical works.

Aberdeen was already an important place in the 12th century. It was burned by the English king Edward III in 1336, but it was soon rebuilt and extended. Aberdeen University was founded in 1494. The city owns and operates its waterworks, electric light plant, and tramways.

William Topaz McGonagall, poet and tragedian of Dundee, has been widely hailed as the writer of the worst poetry in the English language.

‘Twas Christmastide in Germany,
And in the year of 1850,
And in the city of Berlin, which is most beautiful to the eye;
A poor boy was heard calling out to passers-by.
“Who’ll buy my pretty figures,” loudly he did cry,
Plaster of Paris figures, but no one inclined to buy;
His clothes were thin and he was nearly frozen with cold,
And wholly starving with hunger, a pitiful sight to behold.

And the twilight was giving place to the shadows of approaching night,
And those who possessed a home were seeking its warmth and light;
And the market square was dark and he began to moan,
When he thought of his hungry brother and sisters at home.

Alas! The poor boy was afraid to go home,
O, Heaven! hard was his lot, for money he’d none;
And the tears coursed down his cheeks while loudly he did cry,
“Buy my plaster of Paris figures, O! please come buy.”

It was now quite dark while he stood there,
And the passers-by did at the poor boy stare,
As he stood shivering with cold in the market square;
And with the falling snow he was almost frozen to the bone.
And what would it avail him standing there alone,
Therefore he must make up his mind to return home.

Then he tried to hoist the board and figures on to his head,
And for fear of letting the board fall he was in great dread;
Then he struggled manfully forward without delay,
But alas! He fell on the pavement, O! horror and dismay.

And his beautiful figures were broken and scattered around him,
And at the sight thereof his eyes grew dim;
And when he regained his feet he stood speechless like one bowed down,
Then the poor boy did fret and frown.

Then the almost despairing boy cried aloud,
And related his distress to the increasing crowd;
O! What a pitiful sight on a Christmas eve,
But the dense crowd didn’t the poor boy relieve,

Until a poor wood-cutter chanced to come along,
And he asked of the crowd what was wrong;
And twenty ready tongues tells him the sad tale,
And when he heard it the poor boy’s fate he did bewail.

And he cried, “Here! Something must be done and quickly too,
Do you hear! Every blessed soul of you;
Come, each one give a few pence to the poor boy,
And it will help to fill his heart with joy.”

Then the wood-cutter gave a golden coin away,
So the crowd subscribed largely without delay;
Which made the poor boy’s heart feel gay,
Then the wood-cutter thanked the crowd and went away.

So the poor boy did a large subscription receive,
And his brother, mother, and sisters had a happy Christmas eve;
And he thanked the crowd and God that to him the money sent,
And bade the crowd good-night, then went home content.

(Source: Grauniad)

The mysterious identity of a young Arab lesbian blogger who was apparently kidnapped last week in Syria has been revealed conclusively to be a hoax. The blogs were written not by a gay girl in Damascus, but a middle-aged American man based in Scotland.

Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, posted an update declaring that, rather than a 35-year-old feminist and lesbian called Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, he was “the sole author of all posts on this blog”.

“While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground,” the update read. “This experience has, sadly, only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism. However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers.”

Gay Girl in Damascus blog extracts

The second day of my holiday here, I borrowed the anthology Scottish Poems (ed. John Rice) from the Shetland Library in Lerwick.

A Cormorant in Oils by Gordon Meade

Imagine a month
Without washing. Lank hair
Matted on your brow. Skin, grey
And pocked, an ox’s jowl.

Imagine eating
When every mouthful tastes
Of gall, and swallowing clogs up
Your throat with oil.

Imagine a bird,
Once a pirate in blacks,
Now, a beggar in a clotted sack.
And don’t imagine, see it,

Approach it,
Get within six feet of it.
Then, see it try to open plastered
Wings and fly. See it fail,

Hobble into
The sea and dive. Watch it
Surface over twenty feet away, and
Know, its only future is to die.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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