The Young Americans Are Coming!

February 2nd, 2006

Young Americans

Woo-hoo! They’re on their way. Any day now!

Notre Dame High School For Girls, Glasgow, is in the grip of ‘American Fever’.

Have you heard of The Young Americans? If you live ’stateside’ you probably have.

They’re a touring troupe of American boys and girls aged 18 to 22 who not only tour their native land, but do outreach tours across the globe. Their aim is to further the performing arts of music, singing, acting and stagecraft, with the underlying goal of helping to build the confidence of the kids they meet .

So I’m all for it!

They’re going to be at Notre Dame for five days. During their stay they’ll work with the girls on a show. Ideas and skills will be traded - don’t think for one minute our kids won’t have anything to teach the Americans! - then they’ll combine to put on a performance for the public.

It’s certainly generated a lot of excitement and the girls I’ve spoken to told me they ‘can’t wait’.

I hope to have some photographs - and a detailed commentary - very soon. You’ll love them!

And Now Bad News For Some Other American Visitors!

If you live in the UK you’ll know all about the red squirrel. It’s our native species of squirrel, and the majority of them are in Scotland.

But in recent years their numbers have been dwindling and now they’re under threat of extinction.

This is because at some time in the past - no one seems to know exactly how or when, or even why - the red squirrel’s American cousin, the grey squirrel, was introduced to this country. Now, the grey squirrels carry certain viruses which cause them little or no harm, but which are lethal to the red squirrels.

Last week it was announced here in Scotland that environmentalists will be monitoring both species, and if necessary a cull of the grey squirrels will be carried out.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Notre Dame High School (where I teach) is set in beautiful wooded grounds in the city centre, and the grey squirrels are our constant companions, darting around from tree to tree and often perching on the window sills while lessons are in progress.

Let’s hope the red squirrels build up their immune systems. It would be great to see both!

What About Those Crayfish?

River Tweed

There’s another threat from the States! Crayfish, which are closely related to lobsters and are natives of Louisiana and the Mississippi basin, have somehow found their way into the River Tweed in Scotland, one of the most renowned salmon and trout fishing rivers in the world.

Tweed salmon

In the peak season it costs over £1,000 per day (that’s almost $1,800 US) for a permit to fish in the river. Now the crayfish are causing havoc. Their own predators, the alligator and the turtle, are not in the River Tweed - good news for the anglers :-) - so the crayfish numbers are increasing rapidly. They scare off the salmon and trout and feed on their eggs. Bad news for the anglers!

It’s one thing culling squirrels, but how do you go about culling crayfish who hide under rocks in a river?

‘Hey, Frank, Where Ya’ Been?’

February 2nd, 2006

This was the Subject line of an e-mail I received recently. The writer (yes, you’ve guessed it) was American and wanted to know why this blog had dried up.

He certainly had a point. And it got me thinking. Why had I been neglecting the blog?

The first answer came easily (too easily, as you’ll see if you read on!).

In November I was asked if I’d go back to full-time teaching to cover for a colleague who would be away until the end of December.

I agreed, but the reality of day-to-day teaching soon kicked in. I’d got out of the routine and this, together with the burden of class preparation and marking assessments - as well as dealing with the hundred and one other things that crop up in a teacher’s daily life - more or less floored me!

Ever wondered why teachers get such long holidays? Try working with young people who are coming at you non-stop five days a week and you’ll soon know!

I certainly enjoyed my full-time spell back in the classroom, but, to be truthful, I was glad when it was over.

Back to my writing and doing the things I enjoy in life.

So why didn’t posts to the blog come pouring in?

This led me to the more honest answer.


Yes, the enemy of writers and creative people the world over, since the beginning of time:


  • call it writer’s block
  • call it excuses
  • call it procrastination
  • call it rationalising
  • call it what you will

- but it’s the one true enemy within, as far as any creative activity is concerned.

We all suffer from it from time to time. In fact, some people suffer from it constantly.

Even our kids at school come up against it. That’s why they find excuses for not completing assignments, or they feel ill, or they switch off, or they decide other things are more important or - - - - (fill in the blanks with any of the thousands of other excuses).

Thank goodness I’m over my resistance now, but again, if I’m truthful, I’ll admit that resistance is the writer’s constant companion, and to combat it you have to discipline yourself and get on with it anyway - whatever it happens to be.

But here’s one good thing that’s come out of it.

I’ve now got an idea for a new non-fiction book which I’ll aim at young people.

It will explore Resistance: what it is, how you can recognize it, and – most importantly – what you can do to overcome it. Because it’s well-known that education and learning are the primary targets of resistance.

I’m up to my eyes with my publisher, editing another book right now - or is that me giving in to resistance already ? :-)

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted!

Back To Business!

October 27th, 2005

You may have noticed!

There have been no posts for a few weeks. Sorry about that if you’re one of the many who have told me you’re enjoying the Blog.

It’s because Grace and I have been soaking up the sun in Texas for the past few weeks. As an author I like to get out and about as much as possible, not only to promote my work, but also to enjoy new experiences.


So if you’d like to read about the highlights of our stay in the Lone Star State - well, we only had time to see the cities of Austin, Houston and San Antonio - follow this link to the strand, Notes From Texas.

We’re now back home in Scotland, and I’ll be adding new posts to the Texas strand in the days ahead. Over there I jotted down my impressions and comments on scraps of paper and recorded some into my digital voice recorder. So keep checking back while I sort them out!


Scotland’s Young Braveheart

September 16th, 2005

I know many people, particularly readers from outside the
UK, have been interested in the story of Rory Blackhall, the
eleven year old Livingston schoolboy who was murdered on his
first day back at school, August 18.

His body was discovered three days later in nearby woods,
and a man, Simon Harris, later hanged himself. The official
line is that evidence gathered by police would have been
sufficient to charge Harris with Rory’s murder, and
enquiries are now closed.

Rory was a boy who loved his native country, Scotland, and
his parents decided to have his coffin draped in the
Scottish flag, known as the Saltire, and they asked everyone
at the funeral to wear tartan.

Scottish Saltire

This morning a lone piper at the ceremony played the well-
known song and unofficial anthem, ‘Flower Of Scotland’.

Indeed, Rory’s love of Scotland was reflected throughout the

A minister and family friend quoted the Russian writer
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn:

“Some people are bound to die young. By dying young a
person stays young forever in people’s memory. If he burns
brightly in life, his light shines for all time.”

Apparently Rory’s light shone brightly in life. His mother

“Rory’s smile could melt hearts at 20 paces and his cheery
good mornings would make many a shopper’s day.”

I’m sure you’ll wish to join me in offering our sincere
condolences, not only to only to Rory’s family, but to all families
whose lives have been blighted in a similar way.

As a teacher and writer, my work brings me into almost daily
contact with children and their parents.

Often I’m reminded of something my Grandmother used to say
to us. She lived in Clydebank, a town badly bombed during
World War II. Apparently a wise old nun said to her AFTER
the war:

“The next war will be a war of nerves.”

Many parents today would agree with that!

The big question:

What can we do to help restore the balance and respect for
life that often seem so sadly lacking?

The Scottish Saltire

Scottish Saltire

Scotland has two flags, the Saltire (blue and white) and the
Lion Rampant (yellow and red).

The Lion Rampant is supposed to be used only by royalty and
on official occasions, and the Saltire is the ‘everyday’
flag used by the people.

It consists of a blue background with a white St Andrew’s
cross to the fore.

This is the oldest flag in Europe, and the story goes that
hundreds of years ago (even before ‘Braveheart’ William
Wallace’s day) the Scots were involved in a battle in
Lothian (near Rory’s home).

The night before the battle the cloud formation in the blue
sky resembled the shape of the cross of St Andrew, our
patron saint.

This encouraged the Scots and they were victorious the next

The blue background in the flag should be azure (sky blue),
but that was considered too light a shade, and the flag has
evolved with a deeper shade of blue.

The St Andrew’s flag, or Saltire, is incorporated into the
Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, although here the blue
has deepened even more and is a navy shade.

Update On Gary

You may have read about Gary, the abandoned baby found by a
police officer. (See the story below.)

His mother has not yet been traced, but Gary is recovering
and is going from strength to strength.

I’m sure he’ll be placed in a good home soon.

To finish, here’s a wee picture of my dog, Ben, doing what he
loves most: exploring the Scottish hills!

Ben exploring

Keep blogging!


Schoolroom Snippets - Or Torture By Chocolate

September 16th, 2005


Going back to school after the long summer recess is always
a challenge, as much for teachers as for students!

But for me there’s always been one particular aspect that’s
been sheer torture - at least since I started at Notre Dame
over ten years ago. And it’s still the same, even though I
only go there a couple of days a week now.

No, it’s not preparing for classes or teaching students -
believe it or not, teachers always enjoy getting new courses
under way once they’re ‘through the door’ and back into the
school routine.

For me it’s walking along the Home Economics corridor (or

You see, the Guidance Department, where I do a lot of my
work, is situated in a cosy corner at the end of the
building. And to get there you have to walk through the
Home Economics corridor.

The problem?

It’s the irresistible aroma from the cooking and baking.
Sheer torture, when you’re trying to watch your waistline!

But I’ve only myself to blame.

For many years I made a point of proclaiming myself the
Official Taster.

On my way to and from the Guidance Department, I’d call into
the classrooms and compliment the kids - and their teacher! -
on the great work they were doing.

And, of course, I was asked to sample the goodies. Well, how
could I refuse? That would have been most ungracious!

Funny how my visits used to coincide with big occasions at
school - for example, when visitors were expected - and the
girls were busy baking cakes, pastries, chocolate treats,
the works!

And boy, did they do a good job!

So inevitably the old waistband tightened and a few spare
inches appeared from nowhere.

These days I’m sticking to a new regime - well, I’m trying
- which involves cutting down on sugar and chocolate.

And guess what?

In the Home Economics Department they’re
now having a big drive toward more healthy eating. And
apparently that doesn’t mean giving up the ‘goodies’

They’re producing all kinds of calorie-controlled, low-
sugar, low- fat creations with only the finest, good-for-you
ingredients. They even produce a delicious, ‘healthy’ ice-

Music to my ears! Maybe the days of torture are over . . .


Heard The One About The Bouncing Baby?

September 7th, 2005

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’re all back to school here in Scotland.

For me that means back to Notre Dame High School For Girls in Glasgow, where I do some part-time teaching in between my writing.

Notre Dame High School

The last two posts have involved bad news about kids, so I’m pleased to pass on a ‘happy ending’ item that some of the girls told me about.

This one sounds incredible!

I don’t know how I missed it in the news, but the girls brought in some newspaper clippings to show me.

It involves a family who were out flying a kite.

They were in a good, windy position - ideal for kite flying - but unfortunately they were also near a cliff, and that’s where the danger happened.

Somehow, everyone forgot to keep any eye on the toddler - they were probably too engrossed in the kite - and, yes, he wandered over to the edge of the cliff .

Unbelievable, we might think, but what parents can honestly say they’ve never been careless with their own children?

Anyway, over the edge he went and bumped his way down a 150ft drop.

When the rescuers arrived, they were amazed.

One of them quipped: “This kid must be made of rubber!”

For there he was, just lying waiting to be rescued. Apart from some minor scratches, he was none the worse for his adventure!


Gary And Rory: Update

September 2nd, 2005


This is where I live. My house is in there somewhere, on the edge of the town of Erskine, Scotland. It’s just before sundown!

So far there’s been no success in tracing the mother of Gary, the new-born baby abandoned in woods near Edinburgh. The search continues.

There has been significant progress in the hunt for the killer of Rory, the twelve year old boy who never turned up on the first day back at school.

We now know the police broke into the house of someone matching the description of a person seen loitering near the spot where Rory’s body was found.

In the house they found the dead body of the man, who had apparently hanged himself. There are as yet unconfirmed reports in the media that Rory’s school bag was found with him.

It also transpires that this man was a sex offender and was on bail, due to appear on further charges of the same nature.

The only good news to emerge is that the Scottish Parliament is now proposing legislation which would make possessing and accessing extreme internet pornography illegal.

Does everyone agree with me that it’s about time too?

Well no, everyone doesn’t agree.

On BBC TV the other day a Dr Chris Evans was complaining that such measures would be a serious infringement of our civil liberties. No material should be banned and we should all be free to make up our own minds.

There’s no conclusive proof, he claims, that viewing this stuff on films, TV and via the Internet affects people adversely.

Well, I for one don’t need academic proof.

When the rise in violent and sexual crimes goes hand-in-hand with the rise in violent pornography, common sense tells me there’s a link!

I wonder, would Dr Chris be happy to let his kids play around the street when he knows his next-door neighbour is polluting his mind with images of sadistic and sexual crimes against children?

Oh dear, let’s not infringe the poor guy’s civil liberties. Let’s forget about the fact that there’s a serious public order issue here and that our kids are regularly attacked by people who do this.

My advice to Dr Evans is - please! - go back to the Planet Zog or whatever wacky place gave you a doctorate . . .


Back To School

August 26th, 2005

It’s back to school time here in Scotland.

You often hear Scottish kids complain that English schools go back two weeks later, but everyone conveniently forgets that in England they don’t break up for summer until well into July!

This is our local high school here in Erskine. Not a soul to be seen, as they’re all inside getting down to the new term’s work.

High School

On a more serious note, Scottish parents have been rocked by two news items in the last week or so. Both are tragic - although, thankfully, one has an element of hope.

They concern two little boys, one named Gary, the other Rory.

Gary is a new-born baby, but was abandoned and left in a wooded area near Edinburgh. He was discoverd by a police officer doing his patrols, and taken to the local hospital where he is being cared for.

He is in good health, and the hospital staff have named him after the officer who brought him in.

A search is now under way to find Gary’s mother, and there are serious concerns about her health, both physical and emotional.

The other case will have no happy outcome.

Rory was an eleven-year old boy, who was apparently having a tough time. His grandmother, to whom he was particularly close, died recently. There were unhappy circumstances at home, and his best friend had moved to another part of the country.

Rory didn’t want to go back to school, and we can only assume that when his mother dropped him off by car, instead of going into school he sneaked off quietly.

A few days later his body was discovered in a wooded area, and the cause of death was asphyxiation. A murder enquiry is now well under way.

Now, let’s consider this.

Every year, it seems, we hear of a relentless stream of crimes against children. The world over - and Scotland is no exception! - we hear of all kinds of abuse, often ending in the torture and deaths of these innocent kids.

Gary’s mother was probably a victim herself who felt she couldn’t cope with the birth of a child, and he was left abandoned where it was unlikely anyone would find him.

But what led her to that course of action?

The failure surely lies in part with society itself: why did the mother feel she could NOT turn to family, friends, social services or any of the churches?

Her state of desperation must have built up over a period of time - so where were we when this was happening?

Holly, Jessica, Millie, Rory - and, sadly, many more - are familiar names in the UK. They are the names of kids whose lives were violated in an increasingly lawless and valueless society.

The big question:

Why do we ALLOW the media to pollute society with violent and pornographic images, ones which show no respect for life and which encourage people to lower their standards of behaviour?

And often this behaviour is fuelled by easy access to drugs and alcohol, yet our politicians do little to curb it!

Some argue there’s no proof that the rise in violent and porno films (PLUS the example of so-called celebrities) contributes to the rise in crime and lack of respect for others.


It’s just pure coincidence, then, that the rise has gone hand-in-hand with these crimes?

  • A few weeks ago a teenage boy was found guily in court of the rape of his teacher
  • A youth was found guilty of murder by shooting a toddler with an airgun
  • A twelve-year old girl is on trial for hanging another toddler from a tree and leaving him for dead . . .
  • No, there’s no connection between violence and pornography in films and music and the horrors we have now come to expect with relentless regularity!

    Our kids deserve better!

    We ALL deserve better!


A Trip To ‘The Wheel’

August 17th, 2005

On Friday Grace and I decided to have a day off, and we drove to Falkirk (pronounced ‘fall’ - as in ‘to fall down’ - and ‘kirk’) to see the Falkirk Wheel, a contraption that’s the only one of its kind in the world.

My mother is always keen on a jaunt in the countryside, so we took her along too.

This is what the wheel looks like. Any guesses as to what the heck it is?

Falkirk Wheel

No, it’s not a giant can opener!

Full marks to anyone who guessed it’s a rotating device for lifting canal boats from one level to another.

Recently £86,500,ooo (yes, 86 and a half million pounds!) have been spent on upgrading the canal system from one side of Scotland to the other.

When I was a boy the canal used to be a disgusting place that swallowed old bicycles, refrigerators and small boys with monotonous regularity.

The system was drained and closed for several years, but now it’s been revitalised and is used mainly for the leisure industry.

They plan to have pubs and cafes lining the banks as they do in rural England.

Since boats can’t sail uphill in the canals, they used to have a system of six or seven lock-gates at this point. It took boats over six hours to navigate them.

Now with the Falkirk Wheel the same distance can be navigated in under an hour.

Falkirk Wheel basin

The boats enter one of the ‘gondolas’ in the wheel and are rotated up or down to the next level, at which point they sail out into the canal and go on their merry way.

Because it is such an unusual structure it has become a tourist attraction, and the building at the side is a Visitor Centre.

On the day we visited there seemed to be tourists from everywhere!

This is my wife, Grace, and my Mum as we waited to board one of the boats to have a sail through the wheel and along the canal.

Grace and my Mum!

And this is yours truly, thinking about how much the canal has changed since he was a lad!


Incidentally, the next town to Falkirk is called Bonnybridge. You can see it clearly from the Wheel, and it has two main claims to fame:

* It has the highest percentage of Lottery winners of any town in the UK
* It is the world’s number one hotspot for Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)

Or so they say . . .

The truth is out there!


A View From What Bridge?

August 9th, 2005

Erskine Bridge

When you meet someone new, one of the first questions is, ‘Where are you from?’

I usually reply, ‘Erskine.’

This is most often followed by a blank stare, then, ‘Erskine? - Oh yes, the Erskine Bridge!’

No, I don’t live on (or under!) a bridge. It’s just that for some unknown reason most people have never heard of the town, but they have heard of the road bridge that spans the River Clyde.

Erskine is a small town in the West of Scotland, and even the local hotel calls itself after the bridge!

EB Hotel

But it has to be said, the views from the bridge are spectacular. (I’ll post some very soon to let you see.)

I decided to call my journal ‘A View From The Bridge’ because I enjoy walking over the Erskine Bridge and it gives me a chance to think - about this, that, and life in general.

So if you’d like to listen in on my mumblings and musings - and maybe even log a reply - feel free!

Good to have you aboard. But be careful! They say the Erskine Bridge is one of only three similar designs, and the other two have collapsed!! (One was in Australia, I believe.) So don’t rock the Bridge!

Oh, and just in case it sounds as if we’re out in the wilds somewhere, the Bridge is linked to a six-lane motorway (or highway) that’s only five minutes from Glasgow International Airport, and another fifteen minutes takes you into the heart of Glasgow.

That’s a city that’s seen major re-generation, and is now reputed to have the best shopping and nightlife in the UK outside London.

From there it’s only forty-five minutes to the beautiful old city of Edinburgh, our capital.

Well, that’s it for my first venture into Blogland. I’ll post again soon - if the bridge is still standing, that is!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got lots to say about most things. Have fun!