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22 September, 2017
  When I heard, last week, that Susan had died of cancer, aged 70, the decision to attend her funeral was immediate.  For 15 years, from 1976, she was a valued colleague and friend – one of the most impressive community organisers I’ve ever worked with; I felt sad that we’d lost contact.             At the service (Mortonhall, Edinburgh), it is quickly obvious that the minister doesn’t know Susan – but he’d taken the trouble to visit her family – listened to their stories – tried to shape a narrative; but it just doesn’t work for me.  I came to pay tribute to a warrior – a ‘sister in arms’ through many a battle with the ‘non-believers’ -  his text has no sense of this; I pay tribute silently to the Susan I knew.  In a few years, I reflect, something like this ceremony will be staged for me; someone (I hope familiar) summarising my life in ten minutes.  These rituals serve a purpose – help with grieving – a reminder where we’re all headed; but I can’t summon much interest in my own ‘send-off’ - don’t feel it matters.             I love and am loved by a number of people – some are dead now, but when they were alive, we loved each other; is this not a better summary of our lives.  When I think about these individuals – I realise that I am the sum total of all that love – that is who I am; it’s within this sense of belonging that I exist.  Philip Larkin’s great line: “What will survive of us is love”. - Read full bulletin

15 September, 2017
  Just bought John Le Carre’s latest novel – ‘A Legacy of Spies’; the story references several characters from his previous books – including a guest appearance from George Smiley himself ! - hoping for a weekend of contented immersion.  My left brain knows fine – that both Philip Marlowe (Chandler) and George Smiley (Le Carre) – are fictional creations; but our right brain decides for itself what’s ‘real’ – for as long as I can remember, both these characters have featured large in my ‘circle of influence’.              Superficially, my heroes have little in common; Marlowe; the hard-boiled, wisecracking private eye – stalking the ‘mean streets’ of 1930s Los Angeles.  Smiley: tubby, bespectacled, scholarly – recruited to Britain’s Secret Service from his obscure Oxford College.  But, meeting them both, you would recognise courage, integrity, honour – and a certain ‘undefeatable’ quality.  Interestingly, they are both, by choice, ‘loners’ – without partners.  Another important similarity is a look they often wear – as though they had something special to do. Some time ago – a friend (forty years younger) gave me the boxed set of Breaking Bad; in spite of recommendations, it didn’t chime with me and I didn’t persevere.  When asked why, I explained that I couldn’t fathom who was the ‘good guy’ in the story – who would restore moral order.  My friend was dismissive – saying that ‘real life’ was not as simple as ‘goodies and baddies’.  I’ve come to believe – that in everything that can be called art – there is a quality of ‘redemption’. This is probably 'old fashioned' now - but Marlowe and Smiley would understand what I mean. - Read full bulletin

08 September, 2017
I've never met Kezia Dugdale – don’t expect to; but her resignation – her reported disaffection with the whole Scottish political 'circus', invites comment.  An official website says her mum and dad were teachers; that she attended Aberdeen and Edinburgh yoonies; did the usual political researcher stuff.  When she emerged as party leader in 2014, I phoned a couple of friends – still in the Labour loop; told she was a bright and popular newcomer – but very little ‘grounding’ so ideologically flimsy; untainted but untried.             I’m never comfortable watching the proceedings of our parliament on TV – the general standard of MSPs is not impressive.  Their established ‘normal’ tone of debate is, to my mind, unnecessarily hostile, acrimonious and hurtful; they can’t realise how much of a ‘scunner’ their casual malice is to most ordinary folk.  Dugdale made the wrong call on Corbyn’s Leadership – but so did nearly everyone – that wasn’t grounds for her departure.  I think she found the whole gig so unpleasant – didn’t want to be there anymore.             The bruising world of Scottish politics supports a level of cynicism, corrosive to any sensitive human soul; Dugdale has been wise enough to recognise that this is not ‘normal’ behaviour – has escaped to reclaim her life.  I wonder if, in due course, this exceptional leader will resurface in civil society as a social entrepreneur – new exciting adventures.  Not sure what it says about the Scots – that we conduct our politics so venomously; except that many consider common courtesy the measure of how ‘civilised’ any society is. - Read full bulletin

01 September, 2017
My cottage sits in woodland, on the highly-banked south shore of the river Forth – facing Rosyth; according to the historian Bede – I’m on the site of a seventh century monastery – which operated a ferry service; people must have crossed the water here for as long as it has been inhabited – thousands of years.  Tradition holds that Margaret – the saintly wife of King Malcolm Canmore – established regular ferries in the late eleventh century – to assist pilgrims (Queen's ferry).  I enjoyed this remembrance of the car ferries which were part of my childhood – until 1964, when the road bridge opened.              During my thirteen years in this cottage, as a frequent visitor to ‘the Ferry’ – I've come to appreciate the importance of the bridges to the very identity of the town; the number of locals who recount some family connection to them.  In 2011, when work started on the new crossing, I remember some dissenting voices – ‘a superfluous vanity project’; but having watched its quiet realisation – the overwhelming sentiment is now proud ownership.             Transport Scotland seems to have acknowledged, that those of us who live close to the bridge, feel a special attachment – because they’ve made ticket allocations, to nearby communities, for ‘visitor sessions’.  South Queensferry got 725 tickets – I was successful in the ballot – on Tuesday (5th Sept) I’ve to be at nearby Primary School for 6.30pm – when a coach will take us down to the new crossing, returning at 8pm.  While I can’t know how I’ll feel walking on the bridge – I’m surprisingly elated at the prospect. - Read full bulletin

25 August, 2017
There’s a wasps’ nest in the roof space of my cottage – but not the aggressive type – a docile, dozy strain; during each day about six of them appear in my kitchen – fly about a bit – then quietly expire on the windowsill.  Apart from disposing of the dead, there is little inconvenience – I just live with them.  As well as humans, our clachan (five houses) is home to all manner of precious wildlife – including badgers and buzzards.  Particularly the company of garden birds, has helped me realise that we all live together.             I live alone and ‘do’ for myself – shopping, cooking, laundry etc – with the exception that every fourth Saturday, a Spanish woman called Maria gives my cottage a ‘deep clean’; she’s very professional – takes pride in her work – and after seven years, we’re friends as well.  On her visit this week, Maria takes a very different view of the ‘friendly wasp’ situation; she clearly considers their nest an invasion of my home to be rid of.  My ‘pro-life’ speech is dismissed as hippy nonsense; I reluctantly agree to take action.             The West Lothian Council website – 'pest control' section – informs that wasps’ nest eradication (domestic) cost £46.50; on Monday, I phone several times but fail to get past some piano music. Tuesday, I abandon the project – admitting to myself that I derive some comfort from the presence of these creatures.  Then I wonder if feeling companionship from dying wasps is a sign that I’m spending too much time alone. - Read full bulletin

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