Just a Wee Blether…

About Galloway vs Trump – Bring It On

A familiar face popped up in the American media this week.  At least it was familiar to me, as it will be to anyone who has sat in a Scottish newsroom in recent years.  The gentleman involved was at the heart of one of the most memorable – not to mention embarrassing and downright hilarious – news vignettes of the century.

This week’s news was tinged with sadness. It was reported that Senator Norm Coleman from Minnesota had been diagnosed with throat cancer. On a brighter note, his doctor said it had been caught early and a full recovery is likely.

Who is Norm Coleman, I hear you ask? Well cast your mind back to 2005, when the US was in the grip of Iraq War hysteria. A Washington Senate Committee – headed by Coleman – was set up to investigate individuals believed to have profited from illegal Iraqi oil deals.


To the lifelong misfortune of poor old Norm, one of those accused was none other than Dundee’s finest, the most combative MP Scotland has produced for  many years, “Gorgeous” George Galloway. And he wasn’t taking it lying down. In fact he was on the first flight to the States to single-handedly take on the might of the Washington establishment.

Norm had obviously never heard of this man from – where was it? – oh yeah… Scotland. By the end of the day he must have been longing for the relative peace and quiet of Minneapolis. In a bravura 48-minute performance, Galloway stared him down and quite simply tore him to shreds.

He branded Norm a “neo-con, pro-war hawk” and the “lickspittle of George W Bush” who had “traduced” George’s name around the world without asking him a single question. Memorably he added, “I know that standards have slipped over the last few years in Washington but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice.”

On and on he went. The investigation, he said, was “the mother of all smokescreens”. Poor Norm tried in vain not to look shell-shocked. He shuffled uneasily from buttock to buttock as both barrels came hurtling in his direction. It was classic Galloway, arguably his finest moment.

Even today, type the words ‘Norm Coleman lickspittle’ into Google and it brings up pages of results.

The sight of Norm Coleman this week made me wonder just how much fun Galloway would have with the man who has dominated the news in the US for months now. Can you imagine the potential TV debate?  In the red corner (naturally), George Galloway, and in the blue corner, that lovable billionaire and wannabe US President Donald John Trump.


It would be an absolute televisual extravaganza. I would pay for a front row seat. And I know who the winner would be. As Norm Coleman found to his cost, Galloway has his beliefs, he sticks to them and he is a brilliant orator. Trump, on the other hand, just throws insults around like confetti. I predict a knockout in 6.

An old newspaper colleague of mine once said that, whether or not you like or agree with these people, they “add to the gaiety of nations”. And he was right, old newspaper men often are.

Of course it won’t happen but it would be a damn sight more exciting than the stagnant live debates that are set up to inform (entertain?) the nation but are, in reality, snoozefests.

As for Norm Coleman, he may have looked like a stiff establishment lawyer when sitting on his Senate Committee, but I discovered there is more to the man than meets the eye. In his youth he was a long-haired hippie, attended Woodstock, and was a roadie for Jethro Tull and other rock bands.

Let’s hope his treatment is successful. I can’t speak for George Galloway but I’m sure he would wish his old adversary a speedy recovery.


Just a Wee Blether…

About the Perils of Spellcheck USA

It’s been a marvelous week. I’ve socialized with neighbors, been to the movie theater, enjoyed a savory pancake, visited a jewelry store, checked the car tires, and had a cozy night in with a glass of whiskey and some licorice treats while analyzing an interesting TV program.

And imagine the thrill of maneuvering the automobile next to the curb at the drive-thru Starbucks in the center of downtown and ordering a decaf skinny latte – a bit of a favorite drink in these parts.


I thought of Scotland and the likelihood that the snow plows would soon be out; the specter of a long cold winter forcing people to wrap up in their woolens and go to bed in their warmest pajamas, perhaps fortified by several whiskeys.

And don’t mention aluminum, mustache, skeptic, paying by check, the hospital’s pediatric unit, a marriage guidance counselor, and the skillful players on the Arizona Cardinals defense (with the emphasis on the first ‘e’)

My non-US friends will see exactly where I’m coming from here. As someone who writes for a living, I now have to adjust from the spelling regime I learned in primary school to a system that is different in many key respects and, to the eyes of an immigrant Scotsman, just looks wrong.

To make matters worse there are inconsistencies galore over here. Meagre becomes meager but massacre remains massacre; civilise is civilize but surprise is still surprise; pretence becomes pretense but license stays as license.

I have no problem at all with the terminology in the US being different from the UK. After all there are thousands of great “dialect words” throughout Scotland that enrich the language. And I find it quite fun to call a tap a faucet, a pavement a sidewalk, a car boot a trunk and a car park a parking lot. Hell, I’m even beginning to say zee instead of zed.  Well…I’ll be darned, I must be going native.

But I had always believed that there was a correct and an incorrect way of spelling and that it was clearly set out in any good English dictionary. It was drummed into us in school that spelling – orthography as one of my old teachers used to say – was an art and set in stone; we had very strict spelling tests and were belted for repeated failures.

So why have Americans changed it so drastically? Do they want to be different, or feel superior, or divorce themselves as much as possible from their old colonial masters? Are they wrong in spelling certain “English” words the way they do? No other English-speaking country such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand deviates quite as much as the US.

It turns out there is one man to blame for this – a certain Noah Webster whose name lives on in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. He was a linguistic revolutionary in the 18th and 19th centuries and believed that the US, as a new nation, should “assert cultural independence” from Britain through language.

He proposed far more extreme spelling changes than were accepted. He wanted phonetic spellings – wimmin for women, tung for tongue. The publication of the final version of his dictionary in the 1820s is the reason Americans spell the way they do.

Of course we just have to look at a document from the days of Olde England to realise that spelling has evolved over the centuries. But the bottom line from my point of view is that, thanks to Noah Webster, my working life is now more of a pain in the butt than ever.

In the meantime I’ll carry on typing and let my new American spellcheck do the rest.

Just a Wee Blether…

About Weird and Wonderful Arizona

I was never sure whether Maggieknockater was a village or a criminal offence until I drove through it on the way to Craigellachie. Apparently it has nothing to do with a woman called Maggie; it means “plain of the hilly ridge” in Gaelic.

But it has always been my favourite weird Scottish place name. Of course there is Dull, Perthshire, which as many people know is twinned with Boring, Oregon. I remember scratching my head when I visited Twatt, on Orkney. And don’t get me started on Cockbridge.

It was no surprise to discover that Americans do bizarre place names on an almost industrial scale. Last week it was announced that a man who had changed his name by deed poll to Santa Claus was running for a place on the city council in North Pole, Alaska. He’ll no doubt be Councillor Claus.

At least North Pole is a fitting name for a town in the freezing wastes of Alaska. But why call a town in middle of the Arizona desert Santa Claus? Someone did early last century. The town used to issue special Christmas stamps and there was a café that sold a Dasher and Dancer omelette. Unlike the real Santa, this place died a death in the 1990s.

Show Low

My favourite Arizona name is Show Low, a town that got its name from a poker game between two men who decided the place “wasn’t big enough for both of us”. One said to the other, “If you can show low, you win”. So he did..on both counts. The main street is called Deuce of Clubs Street in memory of the low card he turned up.

Not far from Show Low is the town of Snowflake. This has nothing to do with the climate; it was founded by two Mormon pioneers, Erastus Snow and William Flake.

The story of Tombstone, Arizona is well known. The town was the site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral and was named by a miner who began looking for ore in the area. He was told that “the only rock you’ll find out there will be your own tombstone”. In fact he discovered silver and made his fortune.

Happy Jack is a hamlet and popular campground near the centre of the state. It was so called because of a cheerful lumberman who lived nearby. Down near the Mexican border is the town of Why. Or should it be Why? It was built near a Y junction but state law insisted that all names must have at least three letters – so instead of Y it became Why.

One old Arizona ghost town sounds as though it was named by a drunken Scotsman on a Saturday night. Yes there was once a thriving community in this neck of the woods called Total Wreck. It had two hotels and five saloons to cater for only 35 occupied houses – so it might well have been aptly named.

Talking of appropriate names, Nothing, Arizona, is literally that. There was once a filling station and a convenience store but now there is just absolutely nothing in Nothing. As for Surprise, it is a major city with a population of more than 120,000. The founder, one Flora Mae Statler, said at the time that “she would be surprised if the town amounted to much”.

I have no idea of the origins of Monkey’s Eyebrow and Grasshopper Junction.  Carefree presumably promises a laid-back and relaxing life; and Bumblebee is named after a quick-witted gent who threw a rock at a beehive to distract an armed pursuer. The bees then attacked his assailant and he escaped.

It’s a weird and wonderful place out here in the Wild West. But I’m not sure any of these places comes close to Maggieknockater.

Just a Wee Blether…

About the Killer Critters of Arizona

I could list dozens of things I miss about Scotland. Proper haggis for one – over here it is illegal to serve one of the key ingredients, sheep’s lung. Nardini’s ice cream, nothing in Arizona comes close to it; sailing on the Waverley; the beers produced at the Cairngorm brewery in Aviemore to name but a few.

But most of all I miss being in the Scottish countryside. I used to love spending time in the hills drinking in the breathtaking Scottish scenery and seeing the great diversity of wildlife that inhabits it. There is nothing quite like standing still in the middle of a remote Highland glen listening to what seems like the sound of nothingness.

Yes, I can get a tad misty-eyed thinking about it. But of course there is one other great thing about a day spent tramping through the heather and moorland of Scotland. You are pretty much guaranteed to get back home alive and in one piece.

Don’t copy the actions of a certain gentleman from Saltcoats who picked up two adders – one in each hand – while hillwalking on Arran so his brother could take a photo. Not surprisingly they both bit him – and nearly killed him.

Talking of snakes those of you who know me will be aware that I am not too keen on the slithery creatures. In fact they terrify me with a vengeance. So why did someone who loves the great outdoors but hates snakes come to a place like Arizona – the rattlesnake capital of the world?

The warning signs were there when I discovered the local baseball team is called the Arizona Diamondbacks. There is even a state reptile – the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake. And out in the deserts and mountains there are many other critters that you should steer well clear of.

The truth is that, unlike Scotland, there is no certainty you will come back unharmed from a day in the Arizona countryside.

I haven’t seen a rattlesnake yet – they never venture into the city – but in the desert they are everywhere. Most other snake species are afraid of humans but rattlers attack. A bite from one of these creatures will leave you in extreme pain and in need of immediate medical treatment to remove the venom.

According to the Arizona Poison Center, less than 1% of rattlesnake bites result in human deaths. Somehow “refreshing” statistics like that fail to take the edge off the fear factor.


So what else is there to be worried about? Coyotes are common in these parts; they are often seen at night running across main roads. And though they don’t often attack humans, it is worth remembering they are small wolves and can be vicious if cornered.

In the hills of Arizona – the highest point of the state, Humphreys Peak, which is three times higher than Ben Nevis – there is a healthy population of mountain lions or cougars. These animals will attack humans, causing serious injury and sometimes death.

Black bears are found in forests and woodland areas. The Arizona Game and Fish Department helpfully suggests that, if a bear attacks, then “fight back with everything in your power – fists, sticks, rocks and bear pepper spray”.

Arizona is home to a venomous lizard called a gila (pron. heela) monster. They have never killed any humans but they do secrete a nasty poison.

And don’t go near a javelina (pictured). Otherwise known as a peccary, it looks like a small heavy pig. If threatened it will charge at you and give a very nasty bite. Javelinas can grow to 200lbs and attract mountain lions which feed on them.

So far I’ve only ventured out in the wilds of Arizona a few times – and thankfully survived. But you do have to keep your wits about you, and your eyes and ears open for danger.

Ah for beautiful Scotland – where the adders slither away into hiding at the sight of a human.