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When even the servants can't get us decent gifts the highlight of my festivities is a bag of free sprouts

TO the National Library where, as the countdown to Christmas gathers pace, I encounter my dear chum, Struan Robertson.

His son is Angus R, EmPee, who is in charge of the Gnat's independence campaign. Mr Struan tells me he has been reading (and enjoying) Michael Fry's latest opus, A New Race of Men, but he must finish it tout de suite. Pourquoi? Because, says Mr Struan, without a smidgin of shame, he is giving it as a present - doubtless well-thumbed - to Mr Angus.


A friend emails from Italia with word of a three-time killer who was let out of the clink for two days for "good behaviour". Bartolomeo Gagliano was due back in his cell in Genoa after undergoing treatment in a mental hospital.

But having dropped in on his mother for Christmas, Mr Gagliano jumped into a baker's van and forced its driver at gunpoint to take him wherever. Unsurprisingly, the prison authorities, which didn't seem be aware of Mr Gagliano's record, were embarrassed by his escape. Among his victims was a prostitute whose head he smashed in with a rock. For this he received an eight-year sentence.

A transsexual and a transvestite were later murdered by him and an accomplice. Widely regarded as off his rocker, he claimed he only targeted people who were spreading HIV. "We didn't see it coming," said a prison warden. "Lately his behaviour had much improved."

Mr Gagliano was caught in France. Should his good behaviour continue, it's expected he will be freed in a year or two. Can't wait!


CHRISTMAS Day, the object of which is to avoid tripe on TV. This is easily achieved by not switching the machine on. As per tradition the Home Secretary has invited the estate workers, kitchen staff, grooms, butlers and sundry scruffs to the Big Hoose for a glass of bubbly and a jammy dodger.

This we see as an opportunity to get to know those whose names we've never learned on a one-to-one basis. The highlight of the half-hour is the present giving. Counter-intuitively, they give us gifts. Consequently, we now have eight box sets of something called Downton Abbey, all to be shipped off to charity shops. Next we head east, in the direction of a very bright star and Dunbar.

En route, the highlight is a roundabout near East Linton where there is a regular spillage of Brussels sprouts, which we scoop up while the traffic whizzes around us. All of which adds piquancy to a very special day.


THE more one thinks about Charlie Scraatchi, lately deposed squeeze of Paella Lawson, a cook, the more I see of myself in him. While it's true that I have never attempted to throttle the Home Secretary - she's an all-in wrestling champion, for goodness sake! - I can understand his need to purchase umpteen identical shorts, suits and shoes.

It's a man thing. When we find something we like we buy it in whatever number we can afford. For Mr Scraatchi this means acquiring Turnbull & Asser shirts and Paul Smith suits. The equivalent for me is tea towels. It's all relative.


CONGRATS to my dear ubercool chum Kamal Ahmed, newly recruited to the Beeb as its business editor, succeeding Robert - hey! - Presto. Mr Ahmed received his formative education at the Lennox Herald, where he was licked into shape by Bill Heaney, who credits him with first getting the word "sybarite" into a story, and thereafter at Scotland on Sunday, which is where I initially encountered him.

It was the then editor's smart idea to send new recruits to Aberdeen where, he reckoned, they would freeze, starve or thrive.

Mr Ahmed thrived, outscooping rivals and parading around Union Street in designer socks as if it were an extension of a Milan catwalk. One story eluded him, however. One of Queen Tupperware's corgis had gone awol, near Balmoral, sparking a nationwide dog hunt. The editor let it be known that he wanted it found and its story snapped up. All leave cancelled until this was accomplished. By way of inducement, he said, he would offer the beast free Pedigree Chum for life. It was my duty to relay this to Mr Ahmed who, it must be acknowledged, was not taking the story with the seriousness required.

"All you have to do," I said, "is get hold of the corgi and get it to spill the beans." There was a long silence on the phone, followed by halting words from Mr Ahmed, best summed as: "You cannot be serious ...!" But I was, I was!


AS CEO of the Anent Preservation Society I feel it necessary to give members - of whom there are countless - an update on how the campaign is progressing. Needless to say, not a cheep has been heard from 121 George Street, aka the Stasi, aka the Kirk's HQ, about how its sweetie wifies intend to address the international outrage over its persecution of the humble and rather useful word which gives the society its name.

This leaves us with no alternative but to take our protest to the Big Blether - aka the General Assembly - where we intend to bring matters to a head. Already, umpteen meenisters and congregations have intimated their desire to save "anent", to which end they would be willing to leave the Kirk forthwith.

As one meenister said: "Lo! We're fed up to the back teeth being pushed around like weans in buggies. Eneuch is eneuch!"

On a more upbeat note, I can announce that in time for next Christmas, I expect to have available an anent calendar. Like advent ones, it will have wee windaes, each of which will have printed on it a Scotch word. Possible contenders include hochmagandy, stotious, mingin' and, of course, anent. On opening a windae you will see a picture illustrating the word. Order now to avoid disappointment.

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