About Me

I was born in Luton, known for hat making, Vauxhall cars, London Luton Airport and a great football team who once beat Arsenal at Wembley in a Cup Final, currently languishing in non-league football for the 4th season. I moved to Edinburgh in 1990 and now live in Leith, Edinburgh's 'waterfront'.

Married for 24 years to Louise (who is on day release from Fife), I have 4 children: Holly (aged 28) who's studying medicine at Dundee University, William (aged 26) at the Army Foundation College, Harrogate, Alice (aged 23) and Maddie (aged 16).

We live in a 226 year old Georgian house which we are slowly renovating. We once had a note from an artist posted through the letterbox asking if our semi-derelict house was available to rent as studio space. Things have improved lately; the stonework has been repaired and we have shiny new railings. Just the inside to do now then.

Current CNPS score: 999


Header Image: Richard Bloomfield

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    Guy

    “Come on, get to sleep now, you’ve got school in the morning and it’s very late”.  Maddie is offering her usual resistance to the bed time routine.  A movement catches my eye.  I turn towards the door and there is Guy, trying to sneak in so he can sleep in the girls room.  He stands motionless,   knowing he’s been spotted but still waiting for the confrontation.  “Out!”,  I shout, pointing back towards the landing.  He miaows defiantly and stares at me, standing his ground.  “Out!!”, I repeat, and this time he turns and walks slowly back out of the room, turning his head to briefly give me that ‘look’.

    I sit to watch some TV, attempting to eat a stir fry with a tongue and lip still numb from the dentist’s anaesthetic.  Thankfully Guy isn’t in the room or he’d be trying to climb all over me for attention and I’m just not in the mood.  The football ends and I watch some news but the anaesthetic has made me sleepy so I head off for an early night.

    Now, where’s that damn cat.  He’s not in his bed.  I check the girls room and disturb Alice but he’s not in there.  I check our room, he’s not in there.  I check the sitting room windowsill to see if he managed to sneak outside and is waiting to be let in but he’s not there either.  I feel uneasy not finding him but I go to bed;  serves him right if he has to stay out all night, he shouldn’t have gone out this late.

    I wake with a start.  A bleary eye tries to focus on the clock. 12.45, who the hell is that at the door?  I decide to ignore it but as my brain slowly rises from sleep I begin to wonder if it might be Roland on his way in from the pub, knocking to let us know that Guy is outside.  I wander down the hall and peer through to spy hole.  Nobody there.  Into the sitting room to check the windowsill again, see if Guy is there.  Nothing.  I go back to bed.

    Moments later, my mobile rings.  Robin.  What does he want at this hour, come to think of it wasn’t that Robin wandering across the road back towards the pub as I looked out of the window just now?  I answer the call.  “Tony. I’m sorry mate, I think I’ve got some bad news… ”   I dress quickly.

    Walking slowly towards the three figures standing over the dark shape lying in the gutter I pray it isn’t Guy, that he will come bounding over to me any moment.  As I get closer, the reality sinks in, with each step I can see more clearly.  My heart lets go of hope and crashes to the ground.

    Rest in peace, Guy.  You were truly special.

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    2000 Miles

    Last Thursday saw the passing of the 2000 mile mark since I started cycling to work in April. It would have been good to have been out on a nice ride but the event passed quietly somewhere along the North Edinburgh Cycle Path on the way to the office.

    Instead, I clocked up a few extra miles on Saturday morning, having dragged Maddie and Alice reluctantly out of the house on the promise of breakfast at McDonald’s. We headed off along my usual work route, Maddie on the tag-along and Alice on her own bike, stopping at McDonald’s in Corstorphine. From there we headed out to South Gyle and up to Cammo Estate near Barnton where we locked up the bikes and went for a walk around.

    The grounds of Cammo House were laid out in the early 1700’s and there are some lovely trees (including Edinburgh’s oldest Ash Tree). Everywhere you go there are interesting features like the former horse stables, walled gardens and a water tower/folly. The girls had a lovely afternoon in the sunshine; Maddie now knows where conkers and acorns come from.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: kyzCammo Tower

    Back on the bikes, we headed over to The Cramond Brig then down the River Almond into Cramond village for a drinks stop at The Cramond Inn where, incidentally, a pint is still under £2! We then followed the promenade to Granton, onto the Trinity Path and back to Leith along The Water of Leith walkway.

    A nice ride, almost exactly 20 miles, nearly all of which was off road. If you want to try it yourself, you can see the detail here.

    Community

    This coming week sees the culmination of another huge drain on my time, once again for no financial recompense. Leith FM and Leith Festival. I really hestitate to add up the time these two ventures take up, and why? They are both thankless tasks without appreciation for the efforts given. The results are taken for granted, errors criticised, peformance questioned. The focus is always on what hasn’t been achieved rather than what has. And, the reality is, I don’t really have any free time to give to either venture, I have to steal it from other tasks which are much more important from a family perspective. It is a constant cause of friction between Louise and I.

    In the last two months I have burnt the midnight oil on the Leith Festival programme (several all-nighters), organised the Leith FM finances and licences for the current broadcast and worked on the websites for both ventures. All in the name of ‘community’. I’ve thought long and hard about why I do this and I just can’t come up with an answer. It’s certainly not for attention or recognition (most people wouldn’t even know what I do), it’s most certainly not for financial gain (more like drain) so it must just be for the feel good factor of doing something for the community in which I live. The more I think about it, the more bizarre it is. I must have inherited it from my mother, she’s very similar.

    Jack of all trades

    Sitting here stressing out over the astonishing level of poverty we are currently facing, I couldn’t help thinking about how I ended up here. I’m actually pretty good at most things I do (apart from dancing) and therein lies the problem. I think I’m suffering from terminal perfectionism. But that’s perfectionism from my perspective, i.e. not very objective. Everything I do takes too long because I can’t just ‘let it go’, I have to get it ‘just so’. The thought of paying good money to someone to do a half-arsed job just makes me cringe. So, in reality, very little gets done. What does get done gets done pretty well, but there just isn’t enough time. I really, really, need to learn to delegate, to let go.

    This problem is part-and-parcel of working for yourself. Quite apart from the discipline issues of only having to answer to yourself if you go to the pub at lunchtime or take a day off at the drop of a hat, you just have too much freedom to take everything on yourself. It’s far too easy to work on the house for a day or, as is the case just now, to think you can take on childcare rather than paying hard-earned cash to a nursery.

    At times I look at workaholic fathers with their fat wallets with envy: other times I pity them for what they miss with their children. Those precious moments I have with Maddie while looking after her when she does something new and amazing, fleeting moments in her development which are utterly unique. All-in-all, this current poverty is a small price to pay.

    Complimentary Scotsman

    My sister and her husband were in Edinburgh last week and it was nice to get to see them, albeit briefly. My brother-in-law has a high-flying executive position with a large computer organisation. If he won ‘The Apprentice‘ he would have to take a pay cut.

    Needless to say, they were staying in a very nice Country Club hotel on the outskirts of Edinburgh. My sister was particularly impressed with the offer of a complimentary Scotsman in her room in the morning. She asked if they wouldn’t mind waiting until after her husband had left for his business meeting.

    We managed to fit in a meal in The Compass on Friday night, followed by the compulsory visit to The Port O’Leith Bar. Just a wee taster though, an early evening fleeting visit, not the full dancing on the bar wildness. Next time maybe.

    They flew back to London Luton on Saturday, which is a particularly handy airport if you happen to live in Luton, although not for London as Gordon commented today.

    He refers to a project to find ‘the greatest words ever spoken’ which was organised by an organisation, ‘lutonfirst’, in Luton. The winning expression will be inscribed into the wall of the arrivals walk-way at London Luton.

    I don’t know why they didn’t just use ‘Were you truly wafted here from Paradise?‘. Or maybe they’re trying to shake off that image.

    Spaced out

    Tuesday night I was doing the usual flick through the eight hundred channels of cable crap which Teleworst deliver to us, when I spotted a documentary on BBC4: “British Space Race”. For years my late uncle worked for Hawker Sidley, later British Aerospace, eventually becoming Senior Space Designer, so I decided to see what he’d actually been up to.

    Germany were the clear leaders in rocket technology during World War II and the Americans were elated when Wernher Von Braun gave them his V-rocket technology but this didn’t prevent us Europeans from playing a significant part in the subsequent development of rockets. In spite of our lack of resources, Britain developed the Blue Streak ballistic missile but the project was cancelled in the early 60’s. Then, just as now, the government decided to buy American technology (Polaris) rather than fund our own development programme. The project limped on as a potential satellite launcher with European partners, but after 6 failed launches in 6 attempts, we finally withdrew from the project.

    Britain went on to develop the Black Arrow rocket but on the eve of the first launch from Woomera, Australia, the government cancelled this project too, although there was no point in preventing the planned launch with the Prospero satellite payload at such a late stage. The launch went perfectly and Britain put a satellite into orbit using our own technology for the one and only time. What a frustrating working life my uncle Don must have had.


    Next on BBC4 was a documentary about Project Orion – “To Mars by A-Bomb“. This was a highly classified project to develop a space capsule which would be propelled into orbit by the detonation of thousands of small nuclear bombs. The theory here is that traditional rocket propellants don’t actually provide much energy over and above that needed to lift the weight of the fuel itself along with the vast container needed to house them. Hence the vast size of traditional rockets which only deliver a relatively tiny payload into orbit. Nuclear bombs, on the other hand, provide a tremendous amount of energy compared to their size and weight. Could a capsule be launched in this way without blowing it to bits and could stresses on the payload be kept within acceptable limits?

    The maths was done, experiments were carried out and the conclusion was that, yes, it could be done, but it would require upwards of 1000 miniature nuclear ‘bomblets’ to carry the payload of 50 people and living space into orbit. Much of the research then focused on the development of miniature nuclear bombs, which remains classified. Handy technology for terrorists. Particularly harrowing was the film of nuclear shells being fired from convensional artillery guns.

    Before the next stage of development, which presumably would have involved the building of a prototype, someone finally thought about the obvious. Fallout. More calculations were done and the inevitable conclusion was reached: each launch would cause between 1 and 10 deaths from radiation, not to mention (which they didn’t) the non-fatal cases of radiation sickness and the accumulation of fallout and eventual creation of radioactive hotspots. It was decided that this was unacceptable, and the project was axed.

    “To Mars by A-Bomb” is to be repeated on BBC4 on Sunday 21 November at 9.40pm. See genuine mad scientists at work.


    Capping off my obsession with BBC4’s space season was last night’s “Reputations” documentary “Yuri Gagarin: Starman”. Yuri Gagarin was the first human being to leave the Earth’s atmosphere and venture into space and he became a powerful symbol of Communist success. The programme looked at the man himself and what happened afterwards when drink, women and a growing disillusionment with the Soviet system culminated in a mysterious air crash that cut short his life. Fascinating to see the truth behind the propaganda.

    Home and away

    The past two or three weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster ride, to be honest. We’ve been back from Spain for 5 days and definitely suffering from the post-holiday blues.

    Before we left for the sun, we received the rest of the amnio test results and everything seems fine. Trouble is that at almost the same time, I received a telephone call from my sister to tell me that my father had lost all feeling from the waist down while flying to Cyprus on holiday. Dad has been having a lot of back problems over the last couple of years resulting in a drastic reduction in his overall mobility and he had an operation a few months ago to try and help this. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to have happened and he ended up having an emergency operation in Cyprus to remove a disc. The good news was that it hadn’t actually severed any nerves, they were just badly crushed, however only time will tell how much permanent damage has been done. Progress has been slow since the operation.

    The whole episode has cost them an absolute fortune. Dad didn’t mention his previous operation when taking out the insurance. Result: insurance totally invalid. They wouldn’t even cover mum for the remainder of the time in Cyprus.

    I double checked our holiday insurance as a result and telephoned their hotline to disclose that I had cut my toe nails last week and one of the kids had sneezed two days ago (it’s amazing what they’ll link to a ‘pre-existing condition’). I also hot-footed it down to the post office to get an E-111 form which I completed and got stamped. An E-111 form ensures you get free medical treatment in an EC country, essential for when the insurance company lets you down (dad didn’t have one).


    Transporting a pregnant wife and three children to Spain requires military planning and I’m pleased to say that, on this occassion, the invasion went remarkably smoothly.

    The plan involved an early Leith departure and car journey to Luton, arriving in time to watch the beloved Luton Town FC play their 13th game of the season. Record to date: 2 draws & 10 wins, top of Division 1. Result: lost 2-1, first defeat of the season. As a result, I was red-carded and banned from ever showing my face at Kenilworth Road again. Jinx. Alice was, as ever, highly amusing as she shouted at the top of her voice “Daddy, is the referree that Urs-hole from the world cup?“. Not far wrong.

    The next leg required us to wake the kids at 2.30am Sunday morning in order to get to Gatwick for a 5am check-in. Those of you who have small children will know that this was not going to be easy and would be carried out to the tune of much wailing and groaning, especially from Louise. We made it to North Terminal in plenty of time and dropped off Louise, Holly & Alice, found a trolley and dispatched them to find the check-in. Meanwhile, William and I set off to find the carpark which we’d had the foresight to pre-book on the internet. I’d also printed-off the map and instructions to find the place, thank god: it was practically in the next county. They take the expression ‘off-airport parking’ into a new dimension, and only £54 for a week.

    The rest of the journey went without hitch, apart from Alice’s prolific use of the aircraft’s sick bags, and we arrived at the house in Santiago de la Ribera at one minute to noon. Military.

    We had a great week. The temperature never fell below 24 degrees and we only had five minutes of rain on one day. My Spanish was appauling and improved only slightly over the week. One highlight was asking for 5 cheeseburgers “to wash”, instead of “to take away” which the Spanish Burger King employee found particularly amusing.

    Back in Scotland now, the contrast couldn’t be greater. October holidays are great while you’re there, a late throwback to the summer just gone. But the coming home bit sucks.

    Middle years

    I slipped quietly into middle age on Tuesday as my 45th came and went. Well 45 is the start of the “middle years”, isn’t it? I did a quick Google and discovered that the US Census Bureau defines middle age as 45 to 64. So it’s official. Unless you believe the definition of middle age for a man is when his prostate is bigger than his brain.

    Middle age brings us a greater awareness of our own mortality. The beginning of a realisation that time is starting to run out, and at an accelerating rate. I love the analogy of the roll of toilet paper where each sheet represents a year. At first it never seems to get any smaller, but just watch how fast that last third of the roll dissappears! Softer, stronger, longer: we hope.

    No mid-life crisis here though. No looking back with regrets at what might have been or what’s passed me by. Middle age is a time to reflect on our collection of life experiences, to realise the worth of our acquired wisdom and insight. To appreciate what we’ve got. If I could just stop turning into Victor Meldrew.


    As a family we are experiencing the full cycle of life all at once just now. Louise received the devastating news last week that her father’s illness is terminal. Of course, they won’t commit to stating how long remains, only that it can’t be cured, that he will die of it. What mixed emotions she must have struggled with today as we both watched our unborn baby turn in her womb and seemingly wave a hand at us on the scanner. Her hope is that her father will hold that child.