YOU are probably eager to know where the Home Secretary and I went for our hols. Scarred by last year's toxic trip to Siena, the pain of which only eased after a super-dose of antibiotics, we eschewed Italia and opted instead for La Belle France.

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Bordeaux was our destination and not, as some mischievous wags have suggested, because of the ubiquity of le plonk rouge, of which nary a drop touched my lips. Honest!

Our landlady said that since there was so little to see in Bordeaux itself we should make two trips, one to St Emilion, which is to wine what Lourdes is to miracles, and Arcachon, famed for its Sahara-like sand dunes. As ever, we did as we were told, only to discover when we reached Arcachon that it was a public holiday and therefore no buses to said dunes. Hey ho. At least St Emilion was open for business and doing its damnedest to educate polluted palates on the joys of the grape.What I wanted to know, however, and what no-one could answer, is why is Bordeaux plural? What's that all about?


MY dear chum Monsignor Tom Devine, hystorian extraordinaire, is retiring.

I mean professionally. Personally, is another matter. After 45 years drumming dates and names into pimply youths he is saying ta-ta to academe.

This momentous event is to be marked by a discussion between Monsignor Devine and Irn Broon, erstwhile Pee-Em, at the McEwan Hall, Embra, on June 15, which will be chaired by Jimmy Naughtie. You might call it a meeting of minds; I cannot possibly comment.

Mr Broon says he is looking forward to "perhaps bringing up a few things he [the monsignor] would rather forget!" Whatever can he mean?


BIDDEN by my dear amigo Fraser McAllister to attend a debate/discussion in Musselburgh-sur-mer on the referendum I managed to go to the wrong community hall.

The jannie was a sympathetic cove. "You could always attend the fitness class," he said.

I located Mr McAllister on the eastern fringes of the Honest Toun. There was but a smattering of No voters, perhaps because the event had been organised by the Yessers.

There were five speakers: Tommy Sheppard, of the Stand Comedy Club, Louise Batchelor, ex-BBC environment correspondent, Colin Fox, of the Scottish Socialist Party, Karine Polwart, singer-songwriter, and me.

All but your diarist spoke perfect sense. My message was simple: keep buying this throbbing organ and all will be hunky-dory.

Mr Fox recalled his recent gig at the Oxford Union where he managed to persuade 65 toffs to vote for independence. He, however, was more concerned with the bus fare from London to Oxford.

The outgoing journey was £14 while the return one was £23. Or was it the other way round? No matter, it was the very definition of capitalism in action.


TO the dentist, always a pleasure, never a chore. Had I known as a wean what I know now I would never have touched a bar of Highland Toffee.

As it is, I was informed that my few remaining teeth are clinging to my gums like survivors to a stricken ship.

All, however, is not lost. I have what my dear driller termed "options", which range from looking like gummy Albert Steptoe to George Clooney who, when he opens his mouth, appears to switch on a torch which illuminates even the darkest of nights.

The hygienist, meanwhile, dealt with the here and now, explaining in detail what I need to do to keep decay at bay. Suffice it to say that Nato may need to be summoned.

I said that hers was a job I could never see myself doing. She said she couldn't see herself doing anything else. She recalled with amazement one former colleague who went from being a hygienist to a midwife to a chiropodist or, as she neatly put it: "From the top of the body to the bottom with a stop in between."


EVERYONE who's anyone is reading My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, a hirsute Viking. Proust has been invoked, not least because Mr Knausgaard goes on and on and on about something that initially seems uninteresting, such as cornflakes.

"After she had put out a bowl and a spoon for me, and I had poured milk over the golden, somewhat perforated, irregularly formed flakes, I came to the conclusion that cornflakes were best when they were crispy, before the milk had soaked into them." More, much more, in a similar vein follows.

My dear friend Zadie Smith is so enchanted by Mr Knausgaard that she likens her craving for his work to "crack". I am less impressed, for the very good reason that cornflakes are much better eaten after they've been soaked for a while. Having said which, why eat cornflakes anyway? The day that starts without a bowl of porridge and a dollop of syrup is destined for the dustbin.


IS Embra the most sozzled town in the UK? In a word: yes. It has 50% more pubs than anywhere else in these isles. Last year alone the licensing board granted 136 new licences in order to ensure that the silly burghers of the capital are never sober.

This accounts for the number of urinators displaying themselves in public and the countless peers of renown to be found in the New Toun.

I can't remember the last time I spoke to a completely sober Edinburgher. Firmly on the side of those determined to get guttered is my old pal Eric Milligan, Embra's former Lord Provost, current convener of the licensing board. "I sometimes think the health lobby would like none of us to drink at all," he hiccuped. I dare say he's right.

At the same time, publicans also don't want there to be more pubs, not because they're concerned about our livers but because they see their profits going down the drain like slops.

Is it any wonder we're a nation of dipsos?