WHEN the sun is over the yardarm I have been known to allow myself to be dragged to our neighbourhood howff, whose name I must withhold lest it be inundated by sightseers.
It's a place of no airs and few graces. The menu, for example, is limited to pork scratchings and crisps impregnated with chilli. The wine list is similarly unpretentious. Once, I was offered by Ronnie, the erstwhile sommelier, a glass of Chateauneuf du Crap, which at least lived up to its billing.
As I enter I am invariably greeted with a cacophony of calls, none of which is complimentary. "Here comes Scoop," cries an unreconstructed Rangers supporter. "Haud the front page!" hails his companion who in another existence was Leith's answer to Inspector Morse.
The television is always on, tuned to a channel devoted to sport. Someone somewhere is playing golf. Though no-one appears to be watching, it takes daring to request the channel be changed to one, say, where news is being broadcast.
In all the years I have been an irregular I have rarely heard one of the howff's patrons mention a burning issue of the day. Who cares whether Nick Clegg is sorry or if Vince Cable is really a pleb or simply posing as one? Uprisings in Syria, suicide bombings in Afghanistan, the extradition to America of Muslim clerics – they all seem so distant as to be irrelevant.
That's not to say my companions are entirely uninterested in current affairs. Of late the issue that has caused most interest has been a proposal to build tennis courts on what is known as the Links. Put forward by the local tennis club, which dreams of producing another Andy Murray, it drew irate opposition from across the community, principally because it would swallow up open green space in an area in which there is not a lot of it.
In a few, feverish weeks, 1500 signatures were gathered, councillors were buttonholed and letters were written to the local paper. In the howff, the tenor of the debate was one of splenetic indignation. How dare a few individuals try to impose that which the majority did not want? At times it seemed as if it was not tennis courts that were being proposed but the construction of another Dounreay. Finally, the council let it be known that there was no "political will" for the mooted development and that it would now look elsewhere in the town to improve tennis facilities.
At a meeting in the howff to announce this fact there was more a sense of relief than triumphalism. A bad idea had been given short shrift and it was hoped that the council would soon explore ways to satisfy the needs of the tennis fraternity. What cheered me, however, was, first, the degree of commitment offered by individuals to make a persuasive case against the proposed development and, secondly, the willingness of elected officials to listen and act on the settled will of the majority.
In an era when we have come to regard politicians as cynically selfish it showed that some of them actually do listen to what those who have elected them have to say.
Would it be too much to ask that other politicians, at Holyrood and Westminster, might do likewise? I fear it may be. Few people were eager to go to war with Iraq but we did anyway. No amount of protesting could deflect Tony Blair from his crusade, mounted on the myth of WMD.
I recall, too, the case of the Beauly to Denny power line which I followed two and a bit years ago. It was my intention to run balanced pieces, quoting evenly from those for and against the line. In the event, those opposed to it, including many MSPs, most of them on the Government side, far outnumbered those in favour of it. Had it been put to the people the line would never have happened but, with a couple of sops to the protesters, it was given the go ahead any way. Thus still more of our finite peerless landscape will be vandalised. It is not how things should, or could, be.
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