Thursday, 26 February 2015


Don't worry, this is not a blog about the mascot of a famous hamburger fast food chain, home of the American Big Mac.

By coincidence it happens to be the full name of a local character, who went by the more familiar title of Ronnie, who passed recently after a five year battle with cancer in his spine.

Back around this time in 2010, just before Pauline was heading off on her big global cycle, Ronnie broke the news to us. Doctors had told him then he wouldn't see Christmas. It is testament to his character and no nonsense attitude to life that he defied them all and held out for five years!

I first met Ronnie in 1989 when I moved in to the apartment where I still live today. He had the middle of three large garages diagonally opposite my apartment, and spent his days fixings taxi cabs. He owned two, but had long since given up the long hours driving them, and concentrated instead on keeping them maintained. Word grew of his skills and many other drivers would visit, sometimes just for a cup of tea and chat. A council worker who drove a tractor along the beach, collecting washed up debris, would always stop at the bottom of the lane and spend his morning break putting the worlds to rights with Ronnie.

His passion was Landrovers. His son-in-law told me recently that, despite his illness robbing him of his strength and mobility, he was always going on about the Landrover chassis sitting in his garage that he needed to start building a new vehicle on. I think it's what kept him going through his illness all this time. He had one small Landrover that was his pride and joy, and he used it in a local Victorian Day parade, heading it up with the crowned, Victorian Day parade queen waving from the open back. That parade sadly is no more, but every year the taxi cab drivers of Edinburgh get together to give sick and disadvantaged kids a day out down the coast, decorating the cabs with all manner of designs. In essence every cab was a unique float, and Ronnie took part every year.

In my street, not only was he a friendly character but he was great for security. Just knowing he was around was peace of mind, and, of course, he would happily help tinker with your car should you have a problem.

He was a good, honest man, who had worked hard all his life, and said it like it was, sometimes colourfully. I fondly recall one day he helped me get a heavy sofa up a flight of stairs into my apartment. He took the bottom end, shouldering most of the weight, but at only around five and a half feet tall, it was clearly a challenge for him. From start to finish the air was blue with muttered obscenities, like a nachine gun emptying its magazine. By the time we reached the top of the stairs tears were streaming down my face I was laughing so much. But the best laugh was to come when we finally got the sofa inside. He stood straight, dusted his hands down, and in a calm and relaxed voice announced, "well that was easy".

The street I live on now is quiet, and on Monday at his funeral, which I suspect will be very busy, we will all reflect on our own, unique memories of Ronnie.

He may have chosen to prefer to be called Ronnie, perhaps because of the connection to the fast food chain, who knows, but to me he will always be just Ronnie, our very own Big Mac.

Thursday, 19 February 2015


Shrove Tuesday, Pancake day, whatever you call it, is the day before Lent, when all good Christians everywhere fast for 40 days. I guess from a layman's point of view we could compare it to Ramadan in the Muslim calendar.

Personally I like "Fat Tuesday". It's just got that "stuff your face" sound about it.  Fat Tuesday is a literal translation of the French phrase Mardi Gras, the name given to the ritual of the last night of eating fatter, richer foods before the fasting period, which begins the day after, Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the ashes of burnt palm branches, blessed the year before on Palm Sunday, which is the Sunday before Easter, and was a reminder that we return to dust (hence ashes to ashes, dust to dust). Palm branches are used as it is believed that palm branches and leaves were scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem.

It's fascinating stuff the way it links and gives us modern day terms. But lets get back to pancakes.

After I sold my deli business in 2006, I traveled for a while, starting in the United States. It was on that trip that I discovered iHOP.  This was not some sort of technology exercise, but stood for the International House Of Pancakes.

I thought at the time that it was a new fast food outlet, but the first one opened in LA in 1958 and now has more than 1500 branches, with new ones opening recently in Dubai of all places. Well, it does say "International" in the name.

Now, it's worth remembering if you intend to visit an iHOP, and I recommend you do at least once, we're not talking about a couple of pancakes with a drizzle of maple syrup. We're talking a veritable mountain of carbohydrate, swimming in melted butter and maple syrup. It doesn't just serve pancakes though. You can go for the "lighter" option of crepes. Part of iHOP's fame is they have a lot more than maple syrup, and pride themselves on a wide range of syrups. But all's not lost on the waist line. Some syrups are sugar free.

However, sugar free and lighter options aside, the portions are so vast that you're going to need the 40 days of Lent to burn it all off.

Friday, 13 February 2015


I should have known with all that has gone pear-shaped today that it is Friday the 13th!

I recently changed from probably the worlds worst internet provider, Talk Talk, to a new company called Plusnet, with a much faster connection as a bonus.

The installation was amazingly fast, and though there were a few hitches for the engineer, it eventually went live. However, my main device, a MacBookAir, which is the computer I use for just about everything, froze up when connected to the Plusnet router with wifi.

Though I can use other devices OK and it is still a relief to leave the appalling service of Talk Talk, I can do without the stress. 

I eventually got it working by connecting it directly with a cable, but it's not ideal. I have been waiting all day to hear from the company's technical support team, and by 2pm I decided to phone them.

Only to find my phone is now not working as well! In fact, when I think about it I've not received a single call since the change over 3 days ago.  And I can't call out.

Eventually I spoke to someone using my mobile phone, only to get the run-around saying, it must be a fault with my phone inside the house as they are not detecting a fault. So I'm now at the stage of paying £31 a month for basically nothing! No one is willing to help solve the situation, and when I suggested I would have no choice but to cancel and have the equipment removed, I was told I couldn't unless I paid for the remaining 18 months contract.

There's only so much boring technical chat I can take, and so I drew a line under it for the day. I'm hoping tomorrow will bring better results. If nothing else it's Valentines Day.

Presumably I'll be too busy opening all my cards.

Thursday, 5 February 2015


The 2nd February each year is marked in my calendar as Groundhog Day. It is an American tradition made famous by the film of the same name and putting the small town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania firmly on the map. The 2nd February also marks the mid point between winter and spring solstice  and for those who observe the old tradition of Candlemas  it is the last day to take down your Christmas decorations.

Tradition has it that when the Groundhog, Phil, emerges from his burrow (in reality pulled out of little wooden hutch) whether he sees a shadow, or not, predicts if there will be six more weeks of winter, or an early spring. He's been doing this since 1887 and has seen his shadow 102 times as opposed to not seeing it just 17 times. Professional weather people say that Phil has had an accuracy of 80% over the years.

This morning I stepped out of the house to a crisp day, bathed in sunshine under a bright blue sky. Though only just above freezing there was not a breath of wind, and as I reluctantly headed in the direction of my dentist for a filling, I was cheered up by the feeling of warmth from the sun on the side of my face. They say that the 2nd of February also marks the time that we should start to feel the suns warmth again. As I walked through my local park I noticed that the snowdrops were starting to emerge.

Inspired, once home, I took out the garden shears and attacked some of the overgrowth in the garden from last year before it's too late. The Robin was in the Birch tree next to me, keeping me company with his little song. I suspect there is another Robin close by as his song was never ending. As I finished I chipped away the frozen surface of the bird bath so he might take a drink later. Though cold the garden and it's wildlife have not yet seen any significant falls of snow.

America's east coast has been hit by large falls of snow, and I was kind of hoping we would be on the receiving end of a good dump of the fun white stuff too. Here in Edinburgh though we are protected by a range of hills all around us and the mild waters of the Forth lapping at our shore, so usually we stay snow-free, more's the pity. In the Highlands though, it is a different story, with large accumulations, more to the west. Weather permitting Pauline will be heading off with her new toys, a pair of funky snow shoes, into the mountains this weekend. Sadly I can't join her as every Saturday is taken up with teaching film at the academy, but hopefully sometime soon I'll be back out there.

What of the chance of seeing more snow then? What was Phils prediction for 2015?

In Punxsutawney, PA, Phil, the Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, emerged from his burrow at 7.25am, and in Grounhogese he whispered in the ear of those around him. . . he had indeed seen his shadow.

Six more weeks of winter! Hooray!