Friday, 30 July 2010

Wet and Miserable in Glen Affric

Glen Affric is reputed to be one of Scotland’s loveliest glens.  Certainly the lower and middle sections are very attractive with lochs and wooded areas full of traditional Scottish trees - the Scots Pine, Ash, Rowan etc.  The upper part of the glen is rather different in character - boggy, treeless and more a degraded landscape than anything else.  It is also very isolated - there is no road into this part of the glen.  However it does have a beauty of its own and more importantly it is the setting for a youth hostel - Alltbeithe.  For upper glen Affric is the base for climbing some of Scotland’s most interesting and inaccessible munros - mountains over 3000ft/914m in height.  Below is an example of what you can expect in upper Glen Affric.  This shows the complex mountain of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan (pronounced apparently as skoor nan Kerranan).
And it was to climb some of these munros that took me back to Glen Affric a few weeks ago.  Though beautiful, Glen Affric, like most of north west Scotland can be a very wet and rainy place.  It was when I was first there some 15 or so years ago and so it was to prove again.  It all started so well, as John and I left Dundee in glorious sunshine.    The first sign of trouble came as we reached the turn off to Loch Laggan and Fort William.  It was closed!  An oil tanker had spilled over and the road was to be closed for at least two hours.  We decided to take the long detour via Inverness.  And shortly afterwards the weather changed and we had our first rain shower.  The weather gradually got worse the further we went.  
The only way in to the hostel in Glen Affric is by walking or cycling.  As the hostel has no store, you have to carry everything you eat in with you.  This makes for a rather heavy rucksack.  The shortest route in is from Cluanie on the road to the Isle of Skye.  Even this takes about three hours.  Luckily, by the time we reached Cluanie, the sun was out again.  This was however to be a false dawn.   The first third of the walk in is over a pretty good stone path.  However this peters out and becomes a featureless outline.  The terrain underfoot also becomes very, very boggy.  And to cap it all, the rain began again.  Heavier and heavier as we approached the hostel.  This rain was not to stop for over 24 hours!  Still we did reach the hostel without any major mishaps.
The following day we awoke to clouds and rain.  Undaunted we decided to tackle two of the munros - Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and Mullach na Dheiragain (the last word likely pronounced Yerrigan).  It is not really that difficult an outing - at least in good weather.  But there are lots of up and downs and the summit ridges are very rocky.  Which is not ideal terrain in the mist and rain.  As the conditions were deteriorating we decided to forego the privilege of climbing the Mullach and just do the Sgurr.  However, even this was very exhausting, at least for me.  I have not managed out hillwalking as much as I would have liked this year, so I found the slog very tiring.  So much so that before reaching the top I felt I had had enough and decided to forego even this summit.  I would descend a little for some lunch and wait for John, who would go on to the top and then come down to join up with me again.
The best laid plans of mice and men!  Someone wrote something along these lines a long time ago.  How true they are.  For at this point things went from bad to worse.  I had my lunch - oatcakes and Manchego cheese.  However it was so cold and I was by now so wet that after ten minutes I was beginning to chill.  No alternative but to keep on walking, just to keep warm.  I slowly descended a little further, and then a little further on.  But no sign of John.  I waited around for some time - walking back and forth on a level section of the ridge to keep warm.  Still no sign of John, so after an hour or so, there was nothing for it but to go back up the mountain to see if anything nasty had happened to him.  Funnily enough after all this rest, I found the ascent second time around very easy and reached the summit in next to no time.  But John was nowhere to be seen.  So all I could do was return to the hostel and wait and see if he turned up safe and sound.  And if not call out the rescue team!
Meanwhile, John had reached the summit and gone on to make the second top further along the ridge.  On his return past the main summit he took the wrong turning and ended up walking along the ridge to the Mullach!  After some time walking along this ridge he realized that something was wrong, and he was lost.  To cap it all the map he had did not extend as far as this part of the mountain.  Luckily for John the clouds rose briefly and he was able to see where he was and what he had done.  He was also able to work out the route back to the main ridge - which involved a descent and rising ascent.
While all this was happening to John, I was descending carefully down the main ridge to reach the col where the path to the hostel starts.  Unfortunately  I missed this point and started to descend too soon.  This meant I was coming down a very steep section, at first rocky and then grassy and boggy.  And all the time it kept on raining and raining.  This part of the descent was so steep and wet that I fell and slipped down the grass.  
However by the time I got down to a plateau section I could see John coming down the path.  I soon joined him on the path and we filled each other in on what had happened.  It looked like our travails were over for this day at least.  Alas, no.  The path crosses the burns that hurtle down the hillside and by now, after some 20 hours or more of continuous rain, the burns were now raging torrents and the stepping stones nowhere to be seen.  We prodded about a bit trying to find a possible crossing point.  Eventually we settled on one section that didn’t look too bad.  And we did both make it across.  Unfortunately in making sure we did get over the spate we both lost our balance and fell over in the water.  Luckily we fell forwarded and suffered little damage.  I hurt my right hip a bit - nothing serious.  We did get very wet, but by then we were so soaked that some extra water made no difference at all.  
After that there were no further mishaps and we at long last, after eight hours  on the hills, staggered somewhat exhausted, (at least I was exhausted) back to the hostel to try and dry off and get something warm to eat and drink.  We started with a well earned nip of whisky.  Never been more welcome.   The following day was sunny and warm.  I was too tired to face up to another long hard climb to stayed by the hostel to rest.  John, however did manage to complete another three munros.
Though a very tiring and for me exhausting day, the whole trip to Glen Affric was not to be missed.  It is always good to test yourself now and again.  And of course you do get to see some of the best scenery in Scotland.  In addition you meet some very interesting and colourful people in hostels, especially one as far off the beaten track as Alltbeithe.  I have now promulgated my very own three golden rules for hillwalking.  1. Never go on a long hard hike (more than six hours walking and over 700m of ascent) unless you are really fit.  2. Never go on long hard hikes on successive days unless you are really, really fit.  3.  Never, ever, go on a long hard hike in the pouring rain.  But do go to Alltbeithe - for an experience of a different kind.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Is there an Afghan Army?

I must confess that I am somewhat confused by all this talk about the Afghan army.  The good news we are told, is that they will soon, or at least by 2014, be ready to take over the job of defending and securing their country.  And our boys and girls can at last come home.   Now, am I alone in finding something fishy about all this?  We are expected to believe that after nine years, yes folks, nine years of occupation by the UK, USA and sundry other countries, we are only now beginning to train an Afghan army?  
This all seems to me yet another PR ploy by the hapless politicians and generals in charge, (in charge?) of this mess.  I for one find it simply incredible that the Afghans need anyone to train them in how to fight.  From all one hears about the place this is one of the most warlike countries in the world.  They have a serious and lengthy history of expelling invaders, going all the way back to Alexander the Great.  And more recently they successfully resisted the Soviet occupation to such an extent that the Soviets gave up and left.
Currently of course a minority of Afghans, the Taliban, are doing a pretty good job of thwarting the might of the UK and USA in the south of the country.  Depending on which reporters you read they may even be winning this war. Over 320 UK soldiers have been killed since 2001, the majority in the last two years.  Recent research has in fact found that the rate at which British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan is double the rate which is officially classified as “major combat”.    Yet, to the best of my knowledge, the Taliban have never had the benefit of training by Western forces.
According to our media the Taliban only represent a small minority of Afghans.  In which case why does the non Taliban majority need us at all.  If this majority is united and committed in their opposition to rule by the Taliban, then as the majority they will be victorious in any fight.  On the other hand if this majority is not united in their opposition to the Taliban, then no amount of training by the UK will make any difference.  This non Taliban majority has had as much experience of fighting - against the Soviets for example, as the Taliban so what is the problem?
Methinks the whole Afghan adventure was and is a complete disaster.  Undertaken for no valid reason whatsoever, badly planned and badly led.  The lack of any political leadership in Afghanistan where the Karzai government has clearly failed to win popular support means that there is no united or committed opposition to the Taliban.  Just a collection of assorted regional warlords, each out for his own best interests.  
And in the West, the whole episode has once again shown up the complete ignorance of our political and military leadership.   Neither has demonstrated any knowledge whatsoever of Afghanistan, its peoples, its cultures or even its history.  Yet with the usual arrogance of our Imperial past we blithely step in, all in the name of protecting “our” interests and rights.  Never mind the wholesale destruction of communities and the thousands of Afghans dead and maimed.   “We” can do whatever we like - “we” have the power.  At least as long the USA is along with us.  The only protection third world countries have against the imperial pretensions of the USA and the UK is to get nuclear weapons as quickly as possible.  This seems to be the real and disturbing message from the twin disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Friday, 23 July 2010

World Cup - Final Reflections

Congratulations to Spain for winning their first ever World Cup.  They were the selection I most wanted to win and they did so with some style.  Theirs was the selection with the most number of technically gifted players.  Not just the supremely gifted Xavi and Iniesta, but the whole supporting cast are very, very good players, all comfortable with the ball at their feet.  In addition they played with passion, discipline and great determination.  They also played as a team- one for all and all for one.  
The final itself alas was not a great spectacle.  This was primarily down to the Dutch, who played in a most disgraceful way.  It is one thing to try and frustrate the opposition and it is perfectly legitimate to use physical strength.  But on this occasion the Dutch, or at least many of their players went way over the top - in some cases literally over the top.  How they managed to end up with 11 players on the pitch at half time, God only knows.  Both Van Bommel for persistent violent aggression and De Jong for a karate style lunge at Xabi Alonso should have been sent off.  I felt sorry for the referee as he clearly did not want to ruin the game by sending players off.  But it was a very poor show by the Dutch.  Much as Spain deserved to win, the Dutch most certainly deserved to lose.
Congratulations also to South Africa for hosting such a well run tournament.  Perhaps more world events will go to African countries in the future.  It is only a pity that no African team managed to reach the semi-finals, though Ghana were a revelation and should have beaten Uruguay.

From a purely football perspective this was a very conservative World Cup.  Just about every selection put caution and defensive stability above every thing else.  This even held true for Spain.  With his insistence on playing with a double pivot in midfield - two holding/defensive players - Del Bosque severely limited Spain’s attacking and creative options.  The problem is not with the players themselves.  Busquets for example sometimes plays as an attacking midfielder for Barcelona and even as a holding player he still manages to get forward with his club.  No, the problem lies in the tactical approach.  For Spain neither Xabi Alonso nor Busquets ever got into the opposition’s penalty box.  They always stayed behind, ready to stop any counter attacks.  The irony of this is that despite playing two defensive midfielders, Spain could easily have lost the final as Robben twice ran through the Spanish defence.  
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the 4-2-3-1 formation which seems to have become the flavour of the month all of a sudden.  It is all about how the players move about the pitch or rather don’t.  Most selections, like Spain, adopted a fairly static approach with only four attacking players and the odd run upfield by one of the full backs.  Spain got away with it simply because they have such a talented and gifted squad.
However the two selections that stood out for me were Germany and Ghana.  Germany in particular always tried to play in a very fluid and attacking way.  Though they too nominally had two holding midfielders - Khedira and Schweinsteiger - both joined in the attack on a regular basis.  And it was Khedira who scored the winning goal against Uruguay in the third place play-off.  That Germany did so well shows how much better Spain could have been had they adopted the German approach.  Still well done to both Germany and Ghana.
As usual in a major tournament the refereeing came in for a fair amount of scrutiny.  On the whole I think the officials did a fine job.  Sure they made mistakes, but that is inevitable in any fast moving game that allows physical contact.  The problem is with the rules of the game and FIFA’s refusal to allow technology to help the officials.  The most obvious mistake was the England ‘goal’ which the referee failed to spot had crossed the line.  TV replays showed conclusively that a goal should have been awarded to England.  There were other mistakes.  Carlos Tevez’s goal against Mexico should have disallowed as he was clearly in an off-side position.  Both these incidents could have been cleared up within minutes if the referee had access to video replays.  This happens in rugby and in cricket.  It just beggars belief that football alone of the major sports still turns its face against technology.  The use of technology- video replays of actions - would only be required for major competitions - the World Cup finals obviously, but also other major international tournaments.  The basic rule would be if the prime audience for a match is the TV audience then technology should be used.  The TV income would pay for the additional costs.
The World Cup also showed up a couple of incidents which should throw into question the current Laws of the game themselves.  I refer first of all to the last minute hand ball in the Ghana Uruguay quarter final.  Here a shot from a Ghana player was about to cross the line when an Uruguayan player stopped the ball from crossing the line with his hands.  I do not blame the Uruguayan, this was an instinctive action which almost every player would do.  The player was red carded and sent off.  Ghana were awarded a penalty which they unfortunately missed.  This seems to me to be contrary to natural justice.  A penalty is normally awarded when a team is adjudged to have been denied a chance to score.  But in this case it was not the chance to score that was denied - it was the actual goal that was denied.  No hand ball and the ball would have crossed the line and Ghana would have won the game.  I feel in cases like this - which are exceedingly rare - the referee should be able to award a penalty goal.  This is what happens for example in rugby.  The basic premise is that the punishment should fit the crime.  If you deny the opposition a chance to score then they get a chance to score -  a penalty kick.  If you stop the ball entering the net and thus deny the opposition not just a chance, but a goal, then a goal should be given.
The other incident or rather series of incidents came in the final itself.  I refer to the persistent violence committed by some of the Dutch players.  In particular Van Bommel and De Jong.  Nearly all observers are pretty much unanimous that both players should have been sent off during the first half.  However it seems that the referee clearly decided that to send one, let alone two players off so early in the match would so destroy the game as a spectacle that he let consistent violent play by the Dutch go unpunished by a red card.  Now in one respect I am in agreement.  I do not think a team should have to play with one or two players short.  The game should always be 11 v 11.  But what to do about persistent fouling and/or serious violent play?  The answer I would suggest comes from basketball.  In that sport when a player has committed five fouls he can no longer play in the game.  However another player from the squad can come on in his place.  I would like to see football experiment with this approach.  In the World Cup final both Dutch players could then have been sent off as their conduct demanded, but they would have been replaced by other players - so the game would remain 11 v 11.  I do not have much expectation that these changes will happen.  Though the use of a limited amount of TV replays may be permitted.
All in all a good World Cup, but not a great one.  However an undoubted triumph for both Spain and South Africa.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Two Films and a Novel

I have not managed to get to the cinema to see as many movies as I would have like, but recently I did manage to fit in two, and both were very good.   The first was The Time That Remains by Palestinian director Elia Suleiman.  Though a Palestinian, Suleiman was born in Nazareth and is therefore an Israeli citizen.  And it is the experience of Palestinians in Israel that forms the basis for the film.  It is though a very personal account as it tells the story of Suleimans’ parents.  It is not however a conventional narrative, rather a series of vignettes, some bordering on the surreal.  These vignettes begin with the war of 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel.  For the Palestinians this period is known as Al-Nakba, the catastrophe.  As Israel triumphed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were forcibly ejected or surrendered.  In all cases great brutality was used against them.  Both physical and psychological violence and these opening scenes are quite terrifying.  You really do feel you are the one being blindfolded and forced to kneel on the ground in an open field, not knowing if you will be shot or not.   The rest of the film essentially shows us what it is like to live as a defeated and second class people.  Life goes on, but there is a pervading sense of hopelessness about this life.  Suleiman is suggesting that for Palestinians living in Israel, life has lost its meaning and purpose.  Thus we are shown a series of ever more absurd vignettes in which the Palestinians are the put upon victims.  There is not a lot of hope in this film.  The title itself is somewhat enigmatic.  The time that remains - for what?  Just to keep on living?  This seems to be the lasting impression from the film - live goes on and each character has to work out whatever works to help them live through the time that remains.  A very powerful and impressive film, though not a bundle of laughs.
Whatever Works is of course the title of Woody Allen’s latest film.  And after a series of not very successful films shot in Europe, Allen has returned to his real and spiritual home - Manhattan.  Though not one of his masterpieces Whatever Works is a very fine and very funny film.  Though the premiss of the  plot is that life sucks and is pretty much meaningless, this is a surprisingly upbeat film.  There is in fact a happy ending for just about every character.  As in all good Woody Allen films the central character is either Allen himself or an Allen lookalike.  In this case he is played by Larry David who is primarily a comedian and writer and star of an American sitcom.  David’s character is a more strident and arrogant version of Allen.  He really doesn’t like the world, especially his fellow human beings, most of whom he despises for their ignorance, incompetence and lack of taste.  Like Allen though, he is Jewish, though an atheistic Jew and his performance is peppered with sarcastic one-liners.  This is in many ways a typical, almost old fashioned Allen film.  The main character has a nihilistic outlook on life and twice tries, and fails, to kill himself.  Again, as in most Allen films he is somehow saved by the attractions of a very much younger woman.  This time she is a rather naive and innocent southern belle, played with spirit and charm by Evan Rachel Wood.  Somehow she and David hit if off.  Though their affair does not last it lasts long enough to bring about the beginnings of change in the Larry David character.  Life may suck, it may even be pointless, but happiness when it comes is wonderful, so seize it any way you can - whatever works for you.  In the latter part of the film this motto  extends to all kinds of other characters, all of whom somehow end up finding happiness.  A fine return to form for Allen and a film well worth seeing.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a novel by French writer Muriel Barbery, who teaches philosophy in her day job.   Like the two films, this novel is also about how to cope with living in a pretty senseless and ugly world.   This world is so irredeemably nasty it seems that the only way to cope is by either retreating into your own world or to commit suicide.  For these are the paths chosen by the two main characters in the novel.  And more different they could not be.  The main character and the hedgehog of the title is Renée Michel who is the 54 year old concierge of an apartment building.  Though from a poor working class family, Renée is a self-taught lover of erudition and all things of beauty.  However she hides this from all of the very rich residents whom she despises as part of a snobbish, parasitical and ignorant elite.  Her way of coping with the world is to create her own little sanctuary in which she all alone can continue with her quest for knowledge and where she is free to appreciate the beauty of artistic creations.  The other main character is Paloma the 12 year old daughter of one of the rich and snobbish families who live in the apartment block.  However Paloma too is appalled by the world as it is.  In her case she despises the despicable vacuousness of her family and their friends.  Her solution though is to commit suicide on the day she turns 13.  In the meantime she keeps a journal of her profound thoughts and the movements of the world.  A real precocious child is Paloma.  Most of the novel consists of Renée’s and Paloma’s sarcastic and biting critiques of modern day France and their meditations on the beauty to be found in nature, art and language.  There is not much of a plot and what little there is comes in the form of a new resident, the very cultured and intelligent Mr. Ozu.  A retired Japanese businessman he acts as a catalyst for the denouement of the novel.  By a series of accidental meetings Mr Ozu manages to engage with both Renée and Paloma.  Through his gentle proddings and kindness both women come to realize that they are not alone in their love of art and beauty.  This causes both to reconsider their current approach to life.  Opting out of life no longer seems such an elegant choice.  But what will they do?  This is a lovely little book.  The choice of a Japanese as the catalyst for change is most appropriate as Muriel Barbery now lives in Japan and has clearly been much influenced by Zen Buddhism.
Three very different artistic creations, though all united by a pervading nihilistic outlook on life.  This need not lead to despair - there are too many things of beauty around to be discovered and experienced,  These three works for example.  You just need to create your own meaning for life - whatever works.

Thursday, 15 July 2010


In Scotland July is the main summer month.  This is when we have the longest, sunniest and warmest days which go on long into the night.  Not that it usually gets really warm, not Mediterranean style hot, for sure.  But pleasantly warm and just fine for golfing, walking or whatever activity takes your fancy.  So far July has been quite warm, though we have had some showers and lots of windy days.  All the schools have finished by the end of June, so there are young and not so young children - ie teenagers - everywhere.  With the economy in a poor shape and the pound rapidly losing value, more and more people are staying in Scotland for their summer holidays these days.  So it’s even more crowded than usual.  Still good for local shops and businesses. 

As one of the main summer months July is full of festivals and major sporting events.  For us in Scotland the main event will be the Open Championship which returns to St. Andrews once again.  I have fond memories of almost all of the St. Andrews Opens going back to 1955.  The most indelible moment was Seve Ballesteros’ winning birdie put in 1984.  He was so emotional to have won again.  This year Tiger Woods will be going for a hat-trick of Opens at St. Andrews.  Is he up to it, after all he has gone through.  We will know soon enough.  Hope the weather stays fair.We should have a better idea about the weather on the 15th.  This is St. Swithin's Day when tradition says that whatever the weather is like on St. Swithin's Day, it will continue so for the next forty days.  This little rhyme explains it all.

'St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain 
For forty days it will remain 
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair 
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.'

July is also the month for two of the world’s most famous and celebrated national days.  The fourth of July was Independence Day in the good old USA.  This commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.  One of the first to get free of Britain’s imperial clutches, some of us in Scotland would like to join you soon.  Anyway a belated greeting and well wishes to our American cousins and friends.  Yesterday, the 14th of July was of course, the French national holiday.    This commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789.  Amitiés á tous les français et françaises.

There are some wonderful festivals throughout the world during July.  Far too many to mention.  But one that I have always wanted to visit is the Montreux Jazz Festival which is on just now from 2-17 July.  This is one of the most prestigious European jazz festivals.  It always seems to attract a great line up and the setting by the picturesque shores of Lake Geneva only adds to its attractions.  Too late for this year, but if I start to save now who knows for next year.

Back in Scotland we have our fair share of festivals.  Three are worthy of mention.  T in the Park is now one of the biggest and most successful open air celebrations of popular music in the UK.  The event takes place in a vacant airfield on what was Balado farm in Kinross.  An added attraction for Rutherfords is that our ancestor James Rutherford was born in this part of the world, at Easter Balady in 1796.  So you can combine a bit of family history with some rocking.

If traditional Celtic music is more your scene then check out The Hebridean Celtic Festival, which claims to be Scotland’s premier Celtic music festival.  Runs from 14-17 July in Stornaway in Lewis, the capital of the Western Isles.

Even more local is the Dundee Blues Bonanza a free blues music festival held over 3 days, which is unique to the City of Dundee.  It takes place in over 30 city centre venues, all within easy walking distance of each other.  Apparently Dundee is now called the Blues Capital of Scotland, and some have claimed it is the biggest free music festival in Europe.

If you prefer something a bit more outlandish then here are a couple of unusual festivals to choose from.  The World Bodypainting Festival is the biggest annual event of the body painting culture and community. The festival is the first of its kind in the world and has become the "Mecca of Bodypainting". It draws over a hundred artists and models, and thousands of visitors, from all over the world every year.  It is held in Seeboden, Carinthia, Austria and this year it runs from 12-18 July.  This video will give you an idea of the artistic creations from the festival.

For something really bizarre why not try the The Wife Carrying World Championships which is held annually in July 2-3 in Sonkajärvi, Finland.   Here the husband has to carry his wife across a course that's over two-and-a-half football fields in length and punctuated with sand, hurdles, water obstacles, and gravel pits.  Not sure that Kathleen would put up with the indignity of me trying to carry her over this course.  But if you fancy a peep at what it looks like go here.

For the more religiously minded July sees two important festivals.  The eight of July was the Lailat al Miraj.  This is an important Muslim festival also known as the Night of Ascent.  This commemorates the ascent of the Prophet Muhammad into heaven accompanied by the Angel Gabriel.  He rose to heaven from the rock of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock sanctuary now stands.

Sunday 25 July is Asalha Puja Day, which is one of the most sacred days in Buddhism. It is observed on the fifteenth day of the waxing moon of the eight lunar month (July). Asalha Puja Day is the anniversary of the day on which Lord Buddha delivered his first Sermon to his five Disciples at the Deer Park in Benares, over two thousand five hundred years ago. The day also marks the beginning of the worship of the Triple Gems, namely: the Lord Buddha, His Teachings and His Disciples.

As regards the ancestors of my branch of the Rutherford clan I have managed to discover a few important events.  There were three births and one marriage.  Elizabeth Laing was born on 20th July 1816 in the picturesque little East Fife village of Kilconquhar.  She married a Henry Rodger and their daughter, Catherine Rodger would marry James Rutherford.  This makes Elizabeth Laing one of my great, great grandmothers.  On my maternal side, one of my great grandmothers, Agnes Morrison Rae was born on 21 July 1854 in Perth.  Her daughter, Jessie married Henry Mohring Henderson, and they were the parents of my mother.  The other birth was that of my uncle and my father’s elder brother, James Alexander Rutherford, who was born on 12 July 1906 in Calcutta, India.  The marriage was between David Rutherford and Elizabeth Lily Philp, the parents of James Alexander and my father.  They were married on 18 July 1905 in St. Andrews.  James of course went to live and settle in America.  Lily, after her travels around the Empire returned to live in St. Andrews.  Though she did visit the USA in the 1930s.   Here she is holding my sister Pat.

Looking more to the future, my daughter Elena’s husband, Mark was born on 15th July in St. Andrews.  Happy birthday Mark.  They now have two sons, Liam and Jamie, so  the Rutherfords continue to expand, if not in name.
The birthstone for July is the Ruby.  Most traditions seem to have settled on the ruby as the gem for July.  It symbolizes devotion, integrity, courage and happiness.  A pretty good combination.  Here is a fine example of a ruby.

The birth flower for July is the lovely Larkspur.  This is a member of the same family as the Delphinium, but is an annual flower.  Larkspurs represent an open heart and ardent attachment.  A purple larkspur can be found at the beginning of this post.

Happy July to everyone and I hope you all have a lovely, warm and sunny summer.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


Blue is the colour I most associate with summer.  Which is perhaps a bit surprising as blue is usually regarded as a cool or even cold colour.  However a bit of cooling and relaxing blue is most welcome in the heat of summer.  And even up here in Scotland we have had our fair share of warm summer days lately.  This is the sort of thing I mean.
Now of course we do not normally get that kind of peaceful sea around Scotland nor do we get it that hot.  Nevertheless blue is definitely a summer colour for me. 
Especially in the garden, where blues can be found in abundance during the summer months.  Here are some cornflowers, one of my favourite flowers.  These are the annual variety and part of this photo can be found at the top of this blog.
Next up are these lovely light blue irises.  T’is a pity they only bloom for such a short time.  But worth it though.
Here are some more blue blooms from the garden, though the delphiniums are from Falkland Palace gardens.
Also in the garden are these delightful ornamental ceramic balls.  We have to watch them closely though as our grandchildren still think they are just unusual mini footballs and like nothing better than to pick them up and play with them.
We are both very fond of ceramics and have acquired a few pieces here and there on our holiday travels.   Below are some examples.  The first is an original modern piece which we bought in Tarragona in a little studio just off the cathedral.  
The next collage shows some of the plates we bought in Sitges.  Most are modern reproductions of traditional Catalan designs.  The one on the bottom right though is from Mexico and I do not know if it is an original or a reproduction.  I just like it.
Blue also features in our table ware and here is an assortment of cups and mugs.
We have one or two rather special pieces.  The following photos show a couple of our Wemyss ware collection.  These are all modern pieces based on the traditions of the original Wemyss ware process.  The owner and main designer of the company is an acquaintance of ours, Griselda Hill.  Her workshop and studio can be found in the little village of Ceres in North East Fife.  Well worth a visit.
The one above is a loving cup and is one of a pair that we bought to celebrate the birth of our second grandchild, Jamie.  This has my lovely cornflowers painted on the surface.  For the birth of our other grandchildren we bought pairs of cats.  Below is an example of a Wemyss ware cat. 
Blue of course features prominently in my stitching projects.  There are so many wonderful shades of blue to choose from.  Below is a few of my current stash of blue threads in cotton.
In an effort to expand my horizons in my stitching work I have just acquired a couple of skeins of silk thread, one of which is an exhilarating light blue.  I have still to work out how to use these threads.  Any ideas welcome.
Below is one of finished pieces, part of my Five Easy Pieces collection.  Each little panel is stitched in a Bargello design.  Apart from the rectangle in greys, the other panels are all stitched in various shades of blue.
To end with a couple of photos from the outdoors.  The first is this night scene from our recent trip to Berlin.  There is an ultra modern glass building in there, but I like the darkening night blue sky.
The final photo is of Emma and Cosimo sporting two lovely fleece jackets.  This was on their trip to the Isle of Skye.  Here they are at a wonderful viewpoint looking over Loch Garry towards the rugged mountains of Knoydart.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Blog for Gaza

Today - July 9 is the day for bloggers to unite for Gaza.  According to Bloggers Unite, “On 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion condemning Israel’s infringement of the Palestinian right to self-determination and violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The ICJ explicitly affirmed the international community that the burden also falls on them not to recognize or assist the illegal situation. This year, on 9 July, remind your own government of its own obligations not to recognize or assist Israel’s violations of international law. Urge that there must be an independent and international inquiry into the attacks on the Gaza aid flotilla.”  You can find more about the campaign here.   This particular campaign is promoted by The Palestine Legal Aid Fund, which is a global human rights fund to enable access to justice for the Palestinian people.   As my little contribution to this campaign, below are some unconnected comments on Gaza and Israel.
1.  Failure of Israeli hasbara (propaganda)   
In the USA of all places, it seems that Israeli propaganda is losing its power. The following is part of an article which appeared in Coteret, a blog by Didi Remez, who translates selected stories and article from the Hebrew media.   He writes, “The Israel Project (TIP), an American Hasbara outfit, commissioned Republican political consultant Frank Luntz to examine the effectiveness of Israel’s public diplomacy in the US on the Flotilla debacle. TIP gave the memo to the Prime Minister’s Office, where someone promptly leaked it to Chico Menashe, Channel Ten TV News diplomatic affairs correspondent.  Luntz’s findings are grim. Here’s a summary:
  1. 56% of Americans agree with the claim that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza;
  2. 43% of Americans agree with the claim that people in Gaza are starving;
  3. [Only] 34% of Americans support the Israeli operation against the Flotilla;
  4. [Only] 20% of Americans “felt support” for Israel following announcement of easing of Gaza closure.”
You can read the full post here.   
It is not only in the USA that Israeli hasbara is beginning to fail.  Further evidence can be found closer to home - in the letters page of the Courier of all places.  Dundee’s own daily newspaper has been the site of an exchange of letters on Gaza - the attack on the flotilla and the blockade itself.  Even yours truly felt compelled to fire off a letter.  What has been interesting about this correspondence is that the pro-Israeli letter writers never, ever, address the real facts - the cold blooded murder of the nine civilians on board the Mavi Marmara or the ongoing occupation which is the root of the problem.  They simply repeat tired old allegations about their opponents, a pathetic attempt at smear which merely highlights the complete bankruptcy of the entire Zionist project.
2.  The Occupation 
Ah, the Occupation - this seemingly never ending and always growing occupation.  The Independent has a story about Israel’s landgrab.  It seems that 42% of the West Bank is now occupied by Israeli settlers.  This is not exactly news as last year the Goldstone Report contained the same information.  Based on UN sources it seems that around 42% of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure associated with the settlements, including roads, barriers, buffer zones and military bases.  Still it is good that these facts are now getting published in some of the mainstream media.  All making the task of Israeli propaganda even more difficult.  You can read the Independent article here.  

3.  Boycott Divestment Sanctions 
This campaign is probably the one most likely to bring about an end to the Occupation.  And it is beginning to bite.  At all levels.  It seems that even very mainstream actors are now willing to say no to Israel.  For example it is reported in the Jerusalem Post that Hollywood actors Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman backed out of attending this year’s annual Jerusalem Film Festival, following the international outcry over Israel’s attack on the Turkish led flotilla that attempted to break the Gaza blockade.  Prince Albert of Monaco, son of legendary actress Grace Kelly, has also cancelled his programmed attendance at the festival.  It seems that the Prince’s advisors believed it would have been very negative for him to attend.

Further support for BDS has come from the Methodist Church of Britain which has agreed to launch a boycott against goods emanating from settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Let's hope the other Christian Churches will follow this lead.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign is one that everyone can participate in.  We can all begin to stop buying Israeli goods in supermarkets and other stores.  We can also complain about the presence of Israeli stalls that sells goods produced in the illegal settlements in the West Bank.  We have one of these in Dundee - Premier Dead Sea Products.  This company has a stall in the Overgate and sells cosmetics based on material from the Dead Sea.  Some of us have complained to the owners of the Overgate that it is wrong to have such a company operating in Dundee.  So far they have replied that their products are not made in the settlements but in pre 1967 Israel.  This seems unlikely and in any case if they market their cosmetics as from the Dead Sea then either they are using material stolen from Palestinian land or they are breaking the Trade Descriptions Act.  This is one that will run and run.
Also in Dundee we are lobbying the local Council to take a more forceful stand against the Israeli Occupation.  Specifically we are calling on the Council to support the following measures:
  1. Not buy products from Israel or from Israeli-owned companies - this would include water from Eden Springs and Veolia waste contracts amongst others; as well as any company which supports Israel’s illegal settlements.
  2. Fly the Palestinian Flag over the City Chamber until such time as Israel has ended its illegal blockade of Gaza. 
  3. Support officially the next flotilla and get a ship loaded with goods sent from Dundee
The more people begin to take action locally the sooner Israel will begin to feel the pressure.  More more information about the BDS campaign can be found here.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Immigration - more nasty government

Our new coalition government is determined to never miss an opportunity to show how nasty it is.  The latest example is immigration.  The Home Secretary’s wheeze about an immediate cap on non EU immigration is a pretty pointless exercise.  All about showing how nasty the government is and playing to their hard core right wing fanatics in Parliament and in the media.
The reality is that the previous Labour government has already done the dirty work for the coalition with the introduction of a new points based system.  Add in the effects of the economic recession and the government’s target of reducing net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ will be met without the government having to do anything at all.  As is explained in an article in the Guardian: “The level of net migration – the number of people coming to work and live in the UK over people leaving to live abroad – has been falling sharply, from 220,000 in 2007 to 142,000 in September 2009.
Net migration has continued to fall in the past nine months and for the first time since Poland joined the EU in 2004 the number of east Europeans leaving exceeds those coming here. This trend is likely to accelerate next year as Germany lift its seven-year transitional restrictions on Poles working in the country.
This has been accompanied by a 15% fall in applications by skilled migrants from outside Europe – the group to be covered by the annual immigration cap – in the first three months of this year. It means that the coalition's aim of reducing net migration below 100,000 within five years is likely to be achieved whether or not the cap is in place.”
But of course that is not good enough for our nasty government.  After all in this case they could not claim credit for any reduction in net migration.  And that would not do for our macho government.  So they have to trot out a fairly meaningless cap before they impose a permanent cap on non EU migrants.  
The reason why this is nasty is that it is all a bit of a charade.  For this policy only covers legal migration from non EU countries.  There is nothing, short of leaving the EU altogether, which even this government is not prepared to do, that the government can do about EU migration.  And of course illegal migration is a completely different case altogether.  As is the issue of refugees seeking asylum.  So if we take the four routes of immigration into the UK - 1. legal EU migration; 2. legal non EU migration;  3. refugees and 4.  illegal migration;  the government is only proposing to tackle one of these.  And then only in a completely arbitrary way - imposing an cap on total numbers.  
The reason of course is the government, even as nasty a government as ours, can do nothing of practical substance about the other three routes.  Illegal migrants will find some way or another of getting into the UK.  But they will only stay if they can find and maintain some kind of work.  As illegals they are not entitled to state benefits, so they are not a burden on the rest of us.  A really, really deep and long lasting recession would presumably stop illegal migration in its tracks.  However I don’t think the current lot are that daft.  Let’s hope not anyway.  
Binding legal international obligations make it more or less impossible to do anything about the other two routes of immigration.  So we or rather the government is left with non EU migration to play around with.  And that is all they doing - playing a nasty little game.  Unfortunately it is a game that affects real people.  Not just those who might be denied an opportunity to find work here.  But also those businesses who will be denied the right to employ a needed worker.  For an arbitrary cap is just that - arbitrary.  The limit for workers from outside the EU is to be set at 24, 100 for the year to April 2011.  Why this particular figure?  What happens if 24, 100 workers have entered the UK by the end of this year?  How are businesses expected to meet any rise in demand if they cannot hire the labour they need?  Will the government be really nasty and stick to this arbitrary limit and harm UK business?  Or will they be forced to allow exceptions?  If so they would merely confirm that the whole exercise is a media charade and a nasty one at that.