The big freeze

St Andrew’s Day came and went last Saturday, although you would have been forgiven for missing it. Since 2006, it has been a bank holiday but if it falls on a weekend then the next Monday is the holiday, although as banks aren’t required to close and employers don’t have to give workers a day off it kind of poses the question: what’s the point?

In many countries which honour Andrew (no, not him!) they believe the night before is when vampire activity is at its height. In Romania they gather bunches of branches (probably garlic too) and if your branch blooms by New Year’s Day you’re going to be hale and hearty for the year, if it withers and dies, well, you can guess.

I don’t know if Nicola Sturgeon went branch collecting – probably not, she certainly didn’t move any of the planks in her Cabinet – but she did give her Government and all its staff, functionaries, functions, courts, offices and domains Monday off. In fact, I’m reliably informed there’s a wee chap who throws a switch in Edinburgh and all of the heating in all the Government buildings throughout the land goes off – part of the saving the planet plan.

So it was that 20 York Street, the Glasgow Tribunals Centre, was plunged into freezing darkness while the staffs of the Scottish courts administration and Upper Tribunal, on a day off from there, threw another branch on the fire at home. Sadly no-one had worked out – or perhaps it was a devious assertion of independence? – that it was only the devolved arms of Government which were off, and that the UK ones were still at work. Staff and judges of the Social Security Chamber, which rules on DHSS appeals, Child Support and Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals, all turned up to Baltic conditions in the York Street building and had to send out for jumpers, thermal insulation and perhaps a St Bernard or two. As yet there are no reports of hypothermia.

The loyal workers were not amused. Particularly since there’s an ongoing battle to prise wifi passwords for the building out of Government hands.

Bye John

Those of us of a certain age, like me, remember where we were and what we were doing when John Lennon was killed (no, I’m not revealing). It was on this day in 1980 that Mark Chapman shot Lennon having earlier in the evening asked for his autograph. He claimed he heard voices telling him to do it. In prison he claimed to have heard a different voice, the Lord’s, which is always handy when you have a parole hearing coming up.

Fortunately, although he qualified to be granted parole in 2000, after serving 20 years, his plea found deaf ears. And has on 10 occasions since although he is allowed a 48-hour conjugal visit from his wife once a year in a specially-built prison home. I don’t know if it’s at Christmas, though.

Lennon was a huge hero of mine, not just for his music, but his politics and human rights activism. In 1969, when the white South African rugby team, which symbolised apartheid toured Britain, there were mass protests. On December 6, 1969, they played Scotland at Murrayfield and almost 100 protesters were arrested for trying to stop the game.

They were all fined on average £15 (over £200 today) and someone had the bright idea of writing to Lennon to ask if he would help. He sent back a cheque for £1,500, paying all the fines, while insisting that it should not become public. One of those who had his fine paid was Brian Wilson. I am sure something worthwhile became of him.

Recipe for success

Your other national drink has had another makeover. AG Barr, the Cumbernauld-based maker of Irn-Bru, has introduced (or is that reintroduced) a limited-edition version of the drink, called 1901, which the company claims is “old and unimproved”. There’s been a rush to find it, so it it’s been a major marketing coup.

The company, to avoid the so-called sugar tax, now brews the main drink with less of the white stuff and, perhaps as a result of the taste change to it, profits have fallen over the last year. The 1901 version is, allegedly, based on the original recipe, which has been kept in a vault somewhere for 118 years, perhaps next to Jacob Rees-Mogg? Made with girders? Filings possibly.

Foul news

Fans with iPhones: big shout out to whoever hits the buttons on the Hibernian FC Twitter account for a scrupulousness with the facts and for having a profound sense of humour. In the game away to Ross County, the Hibee congratulated his player Vykintas Slivka for “one of those good fouls that stops a dangerous counter attack” and in the next, a minute later, damned County’s Lewis Spence for being booked for “one of those outrageous fouls which stops a counter attack”.

Bah! Humbug!

Talking about Christmas to my kids, which one is forced to do at this time of the year through gritted teeth, my grown-up son commented that, while there were lots of songs about it, there aren’t any, for instance, about Easter or Halloween. Not so, smartypants dad cut in, there’s Easter Bonnet, for instance.


By Irving Berlin.


The man who wrote the biggest-selling song in history, White Christmas. Groan! Berlin wrote more than 800 songs and it just so happens that his musical Watch Your Step premiered on this day in 1914.

I sang a few lines of Easter Bonnet, didn’t mention Judy Garland which would have produced another blank look and contemptuous utterance, and mentioned a few other Berlin numbers, to which the response was, “he wasn’t very good was he?”

Kids today, huh?

But I have uncovered one to shoot the boy’s theory down. It’s This Is Halloween, from The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was later recorded by Marilyn Manson, with lyrics including, “I am the one hiding under your bed, Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red.” What’s not to like?