In the realm of absolutely pointless world records I somehow missed the World Haggis Hurling Championships which took place at the house Burns built, Ellisland, outside Dumfries, at the end of last month. It involved competitors chucking a 500g specimen as far as they could, with the current world record, 217 feet, marked by a large turnip (OK, I may have made the second part up). Organisers are quick to point out that no haggises (haggi?) were hurt at the event and there was no waste as spectators could take them home later, although they were likely to be a little perturbed and careworn. Competition was fierce – you could say it was neep and tuck! – but despite having a sore arm caused by a fall at his day job –delivering haggis! – Garry McClay, from Kilmarnock, took the title with a throw of 130 feet, well below his unrecognised record of 223 feet. Garry is surely chieftain of the puddin’ race. However, you are not advised to try beat this at home, unless you have a particularly large garden or understanding neighbours.


To quote Michael Caine (although he claims he never said it) not a lot of people know that Saturday last week was the anniversary of the death of the man who invented table football (foosball to the cast of Friends). He was Alejandro Campos Ramirez and the idea came to him after he was badly wounded when Francoist forces bombed his house in the Spanish civil war. He was an anarchist poet (I imagine this involves scorning meter and scansion and rhyming couplets) and the idea came to him as he looked on the injured young kids in the hospital who would no longer be able to play.

It was some time in 1937 when the lightbulb went on. ”I thought: yes! There’s table tennis, why not table football?” he recalled. “I located some steel bars and a fellow patient, a Basque carpenter called Javier Altuna, turned and carved the wooden figures.”

After the war and defeat of the Republican forces Alejandro fled, eventually ending up in Ecuador, where he improved the game, making the figures in mahogany, and began to manufacture his idea in quantity. Apparently, Che Guevara was a regular player against him, although history does not record wins and losses.

In 1956, Alejandro was kidnapped by Franco’s secret police and bundled onto a plane for Madrid by a posse of agents. But while in the air he went to the toilet, wrapped a bar of soap in aluminium foil and came out waving the ‘bomb’, threatening to blow up the plane, shouting that he was a Spanish refugee being kidnapped. The passengers and crew turned on the officers holding him and had the plane diverted to Panama, where Alejandro was released. It could well be the earliest successful plane hijacking. None of which is known to Joey and Chandler from Friends.


It could be the end of the world as we know it. The signs are ominous. Last Saturday, Scott Brown scored his first goal for Celtic in two years, which isn’t too surprising given that his prime mission in matches is simply to "neutralise" opponents. It was, however, a rocket of a strike, which is where it gets dark. On the day of Brown’s previous and distant goal North Korea ratcheted up international pressure and contumely by firing a ballistic missile across the Sea of Japan, with Donald Trump then vowing to “totally destroy” the country. The US ambassador to New Zealand joined in the opprobrium, a guy called Scott Brown (no relation).

And this is no coincidence. In December 2012, when "Broony" scored against Kilmarnock, North Korea fired a rocket over Japan four days later. In 2009, when a Celtic draw handed the title to Rangers, North Korea tested their second nuclear weapon. Then, in February 2013, when Celtic lost to Juventus, once more there was a nuclear weapons test.

I am grateful to my boy for this assiduous research and the scare-mongering. Let’s just hope calm heads prevail here and that Trump has been on the hotline to Kim Jong-un, his new best friend, telling him to just forget the Scott Brown precedent. It will certainly be high on the agenda when the two meet for their next summit.


I wasn’t aware that there was a star, prosaically named KIC 8462852, which may be 1,470 light years away but is where some scientists believe there is evidence of extraterrestrial life. This is because the star keeps dimming and then lighting again which , i presume, indicates the aliens going to bed and getting up in the morning, although my grasp of science is not too firm.

Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Meti), a non-profit organisation based in California (where else?) is planning to enlist hobbyist hams to bombard radio signals to the stars from all over the earth. This is something Stephen Hawking warned against, pointing out that “meeting an advanced civilisation could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus”.

It’s too late to hide, countered Meti president Douglas Vakoch, because any travelling extraterrestrial “could already detect decades of BBC broadcasts”. Which undoubtedly explains why no shell-shocked ET has turned up demanding, “Take me to your director-general”.


Bees, wasps and insects are in trouble, which many may think of as a good thing, but modern life, the agribusiness, nasty chemicals and the like are decimating populations. Wildlife experts point to the windscreen test, that there are a lot less dead flies and squishy stuff on the glass after a fast drive than there used to be. Fortunately I’ve never experienced this phenomenon as I don’t go quickly enough, well I wouldn’t want to hurt the wee guy in front with the red flag.

A chap called Jim Jeffrey, who has the wondrous title of pollinating strategy manager at Scottish Natural Heritage, alighted during the week to say that on Valentine’s Day we should be giving seeds or shrubs to the loved one(s), not red roses or bouquets. “Flowers are a lovely, traditional way to celebrate your love for someone,” he said, “but don’t last very long.” Jim, I’ve had relationships briefer than a petal fall! But this well-meaning but limp advice is also missing the point. Millions of us live in flats with, if we’re fortunate, only a window box to encourage the pollinators, who, if they’re around our major cities, won’t survive through the diesel fug to do their business. SNH would surely be better advised to name and shame the polluters and call for regulation rather than issuing fatuous self-serving Valentine’s messages.


There is much that annoys me, but nothing more so than people who start a conversation or an answer with “So”, as if they were passing on to you the secrets of the universe, in a patronising and haughty way, making it so simple even a moron could catch on with sufficient repetition. So I was slightly discomfited to learn that the first word in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (a real page turner), hwaet, translates as "so", according to our own epic poet Seamus Heaney. It doesn’t make those opening with the word any less annoying though.


So we’ve spent a grand of taxpayers’ money on elocution lessons so that Derek Mackay now speaks less like a constipated Dalek and more like a Cyberman. The money went to Glasgow company Pink Elephant Communications. I pass no comment on the Wikipedia definition of seeing pink elephants, which “is a euphemism for drunken hallucination caused by alcoholic hallucinosis or delirium tremens”.