I'M cheered this grey Monday morning by the story of one Leila Johnston, whose lecture to the Boring 2012 conference – yes, there is such a thing – was on the subject of IBM cash registers. She photographs these in situ and plots their location on Google Maps. "I know I'll never be able to get them all, but I've found I can't stop," she told those conference delegates who were still awake after their buffet of plain white bread, undressed lettuce and tap water.

A particularly exciting example – for her, anyway – was the "elusive" white IBM Epos 300 she spotted in a chemist in Sheffield. "I'll never forget that day - My Moby Dick." She has even posted a picture of it on her website, adding poignantly: "Note the matching hand scanner".

Loading article content

The interest stems from her childhood in Greenock, where IBM had a factory. Or, as Johnston phrases it, "a light-emitting diode of hope for Scotland in a very difficult time for the country". She had a poster of the IBM plant on her bedroom wall and, courtesy of friends' parents who worked in the factory, spent her leisure hours tinkering with bags of unwanted electrical components. Today she's a technology journalist and inventor whose life, I would venture, is anything but boring.


Casting an eye over the list of celebrity attendees at the 8th Annual British Curry Awards – congratulations, by the way, to Prestwick's Taj Indian and Mushtaqs of Hamilton on fine wins in the Best Scottish Restaurant and Best Takeaway categories – I see the name Nigel Farage MEP.

So, is the Ukip major-domo trying to disprove the allegations of racism recently made against his party by David Cameron by tearing himself away from his Upstairs Downstairs boxset in order to embrace a multi-cultural photo-opp? Or is he just a martyr to king prawn jalfrezi mopped up with a peshwari naan? For the ignorant among you, that's the one filled with fruit and nuts.


My friends Douglas and Jane-Ann are in trouble with Edinburgh's council. Douglas's home has hosted gigs by folk musicians with entry by donation and all proceeds going to the performers. He'd thrown open his doors and found a global family of musicians eager to play. It's the sort of joyous, pass-the-hat-around-afterwards affair you might see hymned by Creative Scotland as an example of a vibrant grassroots music scene.

I visited one evening last year. After a wonderful performance of tango music by a humble Argentinian musician, I left feeling I'd just tumbled out of a Buenos Aires bodega rather than a grey Edinburgh tenement. It was exciting to think a project like this could flourish on nothing more than selfless commitment and word-of-mouth recommendations. A more recent visitor was Michelle Shocked, who played one night and came back the following night too. This Wednesday it's the turn of American singer-songwriter Rob Morsberger, who has played with Patti Smith and who studied music at Edinburgh University. Now facing a terminal illness, his will be an emotional return.

But the cease-and-desist notices have started. The council deems Douglas's home a venue, despite there being no box office, no bar and toothbrushes in the bathroom. There's talk of petitions being raised and politicians being lobbied in support of the House Concert project but as it stands there will be no more music after December 31, at least not of the live sort.

Someone should write a protest song about it: everyone who cares can join in the chorus. They might even hear it in the City Chambers if we all holler loud enough.


In a fascinating essay entitled The Ketchup Conundrum, New Yorker journalist Malcolm Gladwell addresses the question of why Heinz tomato sauce is so dominant in the ketchup market. In short, it's because the product is so technically perfect that it hits all five basic tastes (sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami) and does it with the same swagger as retiring Australian cricketer Ricky Ponting used to hit full tosses. Hence its ubiquity.

That ubiquity is a curse, however, especially to parents whose kids slather everything in it. The only time of year when they get a break from the tyranny of the ketchup bottle is Christmas, because you can't eat ketchup with turkey, mince pies or Figgy pudding. That's a rule all children acknowledge. Even mine.

However, now the spoilsports at Heinz are trying to eat into the sauce-free Christmas period by mounting a campaign, fronted by celebrities such as Anna Friel and Alison Steadman, aimed at inveigling the stuff on to our Christmas tables. Is nothing sacred?


Chaetophobia is the fear of hair and, as I wear a beard, I can't claim to be a sufferer. However, I do have a fear of moustaches, which means I increasingly spend most of November just a whisker away from panic. The reason? The fashion for Movember moustaches, a trend I can't really criticise as it's a means of raising money for charities dealing with prostate cancer.

Life is difficult, though, which is why I welcome St Andrews Day as the end of the Movember cycle, a time for the 'tache to meet the business end of a razor and disappear in bits down the plughole like hairy iron filings. It's bad enough that the kids' playground feels like the Somme underfoot – I don't need the other dads looking like first world war soldiers into the bargain.

PS: If you type "fear of" into Google, the top hits (in order) are "long words", "clowns", "heights", "flying" and "a black president". Death comes a paltry sixth. Go figure.

PPS: Fear of clowns is called "coulrophobia" and can also mean a fear of humour. There appears to be no name for a fear of cash registers, curry or ketchup, although I'd like to hear from anyone who can come up with a better word than Farageophobia for a fear of Ukip.


Anger Awareness Week kicks off today, timed to coincide with the start of Christmas shopping, no doubt. For those of a particularly splenetic disposition, there's a free Keep Your Cool Over Yule guide and a 12-step guide to "unwrapping Christmas stress".

From these two wonderful documents I learn that 9.58am is when the average family has the first of its Christmas Day dust-ups, that one-quarter of adults surveyed said their relationships come under stress at Christmas, and that the major factors causing Yuletide arguments are booze and fights over who gets the TV remote. In fact, I'm so busy reading all this that I quite forget to pop out and buy the kids' advent calendars. Cue tantrums. Big time.