To Stirling on a baking hot day, the first time I’ve been in years, and the place looks braw. Mind you, as the guide at the Church of the Holy Rude (stolen from Catholics at the Reformation) put it, anywhere would look good bathed in sunshine, although probably not Raploch.

It was here, in the Rude, in July, 1567, that the 13-month-old son of Mary Queen of Scots was crowned James V1 of Scotland. The sermon was preached by John Knox who was a vehement proponent, well of just about everything gruesome, but particularly that the boy’s mother should have her head chopped off, which was a least a little churlish in the circumstances, but which duly came to pass.

Christianity is meant to be about compassion, charity, about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, but that’s a message that was lost in the church for almost three centuries. In 1656 the minister, James Guthrie, who had a habit of falling out with folk (and ended up, like Mary, with his head on a spike after being executed for treason), had a spat with a colleague. It might have been about how to divvy up the weekly takings. But it was so bitter that a wall was built to divide the church, so that two factions worshipped separately on a Sunday, until peace finally broke out after 300 years, in 1936, and the wall was knocked down.

There’s Rude and there’s downright criminally rude. A one-man crime wave by the Phantom Flasher is front page news in the local newspaper. The city pervert strikes again, the last time early last Sunday morning, when he exposed himself to three women. That’s the kind of thing which, back in the day, would get you more than just your head cut off.

The church is on the steep hill on the way up to Stirling Castle and I was struck by altitude sickness. The further up up you go the higher the prices in the hostelries. I mean, nine quid for a baked potato? Butter is probably extra but I didn’t check.

The view from the castle was stunning, the surrounding countryside shimmering in the sun, but I didn’t get further inside than a quick yomp to a battlement. Entrance to the main bit is £16, which is more vertiginous than steep. Just to see your old ruins? I appreciate that Historic Environment Scotland has to grout the odd stone, putty a window or two and polish bits of armour, but if we’re going to be taking historic antiquities into public ownership then, like libraries, or the Skye Bridge, they ought to be free to enter.

Mind you the price didn’t put off the swarms of tourists from all over the world who were happy to pay – or if they weren’t I couldn’t understand their complaints – some of them clutching over-priced ice creams form the sole van outside, at three quid for your basic cone. I’d hazard that not many locals pay the castle toll and go there and certainly give the pokey hats the malky.

Returning to ground level the prices came back to earth. So, needing refreshment, I nipped into a Wetherspoons and had one course and a pint for the cost of about half a tottie further up. The Holy Rude was a medieval term for the cross of Christ’s crucifixion, the pub, The Crossed Peels, comes from the crossed baking shovels symbolising an ancient trade guild, so synchronicity of a sort.

Having left my book in the car I flicked through the Spoons magazine, ignoring the pro-Brexit rant at the front from the chairman Tim Martin, until a bit about a pub in Deal, named after a famous comedian, brought back a memory, funny in retrospect. It was in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War which had liberated Kuwait and returned the tyranny and when US messages of support had encouraged Kurds to rise up in the north of Iraq. When no help came and Saddam’s remaining armies crushed them, millions of Kurds fled, to Turkey and Iran. I was in Kurdistan. Or at least I thought I was, when I was arrested by Iranian soldiers, accused of being a spy, and thrown into an overcrowded, communal cell with a dozen or more native miscreants, who were routinely taken out for a spot of assault, which probably relieved the guards’ boredom.

After three or four days, it was probably a Friday, came what was the highlight of the week. A TV with a VHS player attached was wheeled in and a tape stuck in. For reasons I still can’t fathom that English comedian was much-loved in Iran and the recording was of one of his many films, playing to the captive audience. They don’t have pubs in Iran but, if they did, one at least, like the one in Deal, would be named after Norman Wisdom.


Out for a walk the other day I noticed a man with a device in his hand, pointing it to the sky. A plane was flying over so I presumed that it was a laser and that he might be trying to dazzle the pilot, although he was aiming at the underside of the jet which seemed thousands of feet up and therefore a might pointless. I asked him what he was doing and he explained that he had an app which identified the plane, its call sign, showed a photograph of it, a seating plan, gave the flight number and destination and even a 3D view of what the pilot is seeing. I don’t know why you would want the app, how the technology works, but it’s well creepy. So much for train spotters and the Ian Allan booklet of locomotive numbers to tick off.


Boris Johnson is the bookies overwhelming favourite to be the next Prime Minister when June sees the end of May. Going to press he was at 9/4 with the nearest rivals, like Dominic Raab and Michael Gove, at around 7/1. Here’s a little reminder, from his time as London mayor, of the worth of Scotland. “A pound spent in Croydon is far more value to the country by strictly utilitarian calculus than a pound spent in Strathclyde.” That’s uniting the country?


Secondary school pupils in East Ayrshire will be fined £80 and potentially criminalised if they drop a sweetie wrapper. The Big Brother council – controlled by the SNP minority – recently voted to implement this draconian scheme which was the idea, the sole idea, of the sole councillor and sole member of the Rubbish party, Sally Cogley, who lives in a castle and runs a country estate. Council employees, aka spies, will be swooping on any kid who drops litter and hitting him or her with a fixed penalty notice which, if not paid, could lead to a criminal record. The notice is revoked if the miscreant goes on a litter pick. Of course dropping rubbish should be discouraged but, come on, education not penalisation.