Just a Wee Blether…

About the football nomads of America

I want you to try to imagine how this scenario would play out in the world of Scottish football.

The town of Fort William decides it wants a Premier League team. So using some private cash and a hefty contribution from the taxpayer, a brand new stadium is built. Then the Highland town comes to a multi-million pound relocation deal with Glasgow Rangers.

The Scottish Premier League gives its blessing and Fort William Rangers FC is born. The fans who have supported the Glasgow club for more than a century are suddenly left without a team. Ibrox Park lies empty and is eventually taken over by housing developers.

On the other side of the city a similar drama is unfolding. Glasgow Celtic have been lured away from their home in the east end to Stonehaven. They become known as Stonehaven Celtic – the franchise name is retained but the location is different.

To fill the void in the Glasgow football market, the SPL is able to persuade Dundee United across to the west coast to become Glasgow United. Lots more money changes hands. And again a massive new stadium development is built to accommodate them.

Down south can you imagine Manchester United relocating to Bath; Tottenham Hotspur to Scarborough; or Newcastle United to Canterbury? Of course not. None of these moves could ever conceivably happen for the simple reason that the clubs, in the vast majority of cases, are historically attached to a specific town or city.

Arizona October 2012 243

Not in the United States. In the past week the American Football supporters of St Louis, who have for the past 20 years spent small fortunes following the St Louis Rams, have been left without a team after the Rams relocated to Los Angeles. To confuse matters, the Rams were, until 1995, based in LA so in a sense they are going home. Tell that to the NFL lovers in St Louis.

The San Diego Chargers might follow the Rams to LA and the Oakland Raiders are reportedly in talks to move to San Antonio, Texas. There is also talk of an NFL franchise moving to London, with the Jacksonville Jaguars the most likely contenders. London Bulldogs has been suggested as a name.

If these moves take place, massive amounts of money will change hands. The NFL, an organisation that is stinking rich and as dodgy as hell from top to bottom, will rake in millions of dollars. The businessmen behind the clubs will profit, so will the sponsors. The people who lose out are the fans. Every time a new arena is built, a special “stadium tax” is levied so the taxpayers can help foot the bill.

The most incredible relocation story involved the Baltimore Colts. The team was established in 1953, but by 1983 the owners were growing fed up a lack of investment by the city and were effectively holding it to ransom by letting it be known they were considering a move elsewhere.

The city of Baltimore responded by threatening to take over the team using eminent domain. Then on March 29, 1984, every stitch that belonged to the colts – team jerseys, mascot outfits, cheerleader uniforms – were driven out of Baltimore in a fleet of 15 moving trucks in the middle of the night. By daybreak the trucks were being given a police escort into Indianapolis, where the Colts have remained to this day.

Our local team here, the Arizona Cardinals, has only been here since 1987. From 1960 they were in St Louis and before that in Chicago. The team now known as the Tennessee Titans was previously the Houston Oilers.

Pity the poor fans over here – they are used and abused. No sooner are they used to one team than they up sticks and move somewhere else thanks to the lure of filthy lucre.

Let’s hope Queen of the South doesn’t move to Wick – or Heart of Midlothian to Oban. It could get really confusing.

 

Just a Wee Blether…

About time to end this haggis insult

Fair fa’ your honest sonsie face

Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race

Aboon’ them a’ ye tak yer place

Painch, tripe or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace’

As lang’s my airm.

It is a toast beloved of Scots the world over. Not only does it celebrate our National Bard Robert Burns, it also extols the culinary and nutritious virtues of the dish he so handsomely eulogised.

In pubs and clubs throughout Scotland the words of the famous poem are spoken on or around the poet’s birthday. And in every corner of the globe where expat Scots and people of Scottish descent gather, they stand to usher in that most appetising Caledonian cuisine item – haggis.

Haggis

We Scots are mighty proud of haggis, we love its heartiness and the fact that a foodstuff favoured by the working classes has been exalted to the level of our national dish. And the fact it is eaten and enjoyed throughout the world only adds to that sense of satisfaction.

So every year, when we celebrate the Bard at Burns Suppers, a kilted Scot plunges a knife into the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race” to reveal the ‘gushing entrails” – as Burns so colorfully put it.

Except, that is, in America. The United States is a shocking blot on the haggis-lover’s landscape. The good old US of A delivered the culinary slap in the face to our Scottish heritage and identity in 1971 when it banned “real” haggis from these shores.

One of the key ingredients, sheep’s lung – which makes up between 10% and 15% of the recipe – found its way on to an American food import blacklist. It has never been removed and haggis aficionados have had to endure a poor substitute ever since. It even features on an American website called Most Disgusting Delicacies, which also includes tuna eyeball and tarantula.

For true Scots, haggis without the flavoursome lungs amounts to heresy. Imagine drinking a glass of water without whisky, it just wouldn’t be the same. What about Thanksgiving Day without turkey? There would be a national outcry.

Haggis is composed of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep minced with oatmeal, suet and spices, soaked in stock and boiled in a sheep’s stomach. At a traditional Burns Supper, a kilted bagpiper pipes it into the room, carried on a silver platter, cut up in front of the assembled company, then flavoured with some good Scotch malt whisky.

I have eaten it every year since I was a teenager. No doubt I am biased but I find it delicious. Served, as it should be, with neeps (turnips) and champit tatties (mashed potatoes), it is as filling and heart-warming a delicacy as you will find anywhere.

No-one has ever died from eating a haggis – not a single person. Many have felt like death warmed up after the amount of whisky they consumed at the Burns Supper but that’s another story.

The haggis ban angers and offends purists in Scotland. Year after year they have called for it to be relaxed but without success. Even the upsurge of Scottish societies all over the US and the emergence of Tartan Day have failed to force the authorities to relent.

Lung-free haggis just does not cut it. And this in a country that happily sells aspartame – a sugar substitute linked to a host of health problems – scrapple, bleached chicken, and GMO corn fed beef.

As Robert Burns said:

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware

That jaups in luggies.

But, if you wish her gratefu’ prayer

Gie her a Haggis.

Just a Wee Blether…

About Health Care or Wealth Care?

Celebrity gossip is not something that greatly interests me – but one story that made massive headlines over here was the fate of Lamar Odom, a former basketball player and the husband of Khloe Kardashian.

Odom was found in a coma in a brothel called the Love Ranch about 80 miles from Las Vegas. He had taken an overdose of drugs and was rushed to hospital and transferred to an exclusive medical centre in Los Angeles. A recent report suggested his medical bill was a jaw-dropping $17million and rising. It was reportedly being paid by the Kardashian family.

Of course he is a very wealthy celebrity and being charged accordingly. But the cost of health care in America is a major day-to-day problem for all “ordinary” people.

Last year the son of a friend of a friend of a friend who lives in northern Arizona jumped into a shallow lake and suffered a bad spinal injury. His family has been forced to start a Just Giving online page to raise money for the cost of his medical care.

Yet another friend of a friend was bitten by a rattlesnake in New Mexico. He was told the cost of his treatment would be $30,000 and that his insurance company was not guaranteeing to cover it. So he went to Mexico and bought an affordable antidote across the counter – a fairly common tactic for people who live near the border.

Health

There is no universal health care system in the United States. In fact, to call the system one of “health care” is stretching it. I recently met a chap from Dundee who said it was “not health care but wealth care” – and he is right.

Imagine if, in the UK, your parents or other relatives retired, then had to sell their house to pay for their health care. It would never happen; the National Health Service is there to look after them. In 2012, a total of 43% of senior citizens in the US were forced to sell or mortgage their primary residence to pay for health needs.

Someone I know recently had to make an appointment with Urgent Care, a walk-in medical provider. She is uninsured so the appointment cost $125. She was passing discoloured urine and feeling off-colour and so blood and urine tests were taken.

A week later she asked if they had the results of the urine tests. The people at the centre told her that, as she a “cash pay customer” rather than a client with insurance, there was no box on the form to alert the administrator to send the sample for further analysis. So the urine sample has never been sent to this day.

Americans pay massive amounts of money to a confusing myriad of so-called health schemes for medical insurance. Yet incidents such as those I have described happen all the time and are symptomatic of a colossal failure on the part of a wealthy nation. It produces scores of great entrepreneurs and leads the way in research and technology but cannot look after its own people.

A report in 2009 showed that between 45,000 and 48,000 people die in the US every year as a direct result of lack of health insurance. The Affordable Care Act – dubbed Obamacare – has since been introduced by President Obama to try to increase access to health care for people who cannot afford it.

To most people that sounds like an excellent scheme yet Obama’s opponents have resisted it tooth and nail – something that speaks volumes about the pitiful state of American politics.

A health professional recently told me that the US health service is “broken” – which assumes it was ever working in the first place. As an incomer it strikes me as a shameful situation, a complete and utter scandal, the biggest disgrace in American society. The people of America are penalised for being ill.

If a country is judged on how it looks after its people, then America, one of the largest and richest nations on earth, is an embarrassing and spectacular failure. Everything is profit-driven, the pursuit of money is the bottom line, greed is a national pastime.

What is even more amazing is that most people never question the situation. They seem perfectly happy to throw thousands of their hard-earned dollars into the coffers of super-rich insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

When I tell them about the NHS, most think it is a wonderful idea and wish it could happen here. Although one person said he hated the sound of it as it was too “socialistic”.

So for those of you back in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK – next time you feel like criticizing the NHS, just be very grateful it exists.

Just a Wee Blether…

About ‘silly season’ news days

In the world of newspapers and media, the Christmas and New Year period is what we call the “silly season”. All the regular story sources have dried up, the courts, local councils, and sensible politicians – if that’s not a contradiction in terms – are on holiday.

Finding stories to fill the festive papers requires a lot of forward planning. Big breaking stories such as the devastation caused by Storm Frank in Scotland this week, relieve the pressure. But reporters have always had to dream up weird and wonderful “space-fillers”.

The review of the year – or the retrospect as we called it – was a major task. Two dedicated reporters could spin it out to at least three days. But some other festive features that have appeared over the years have been, shall we say, a bit desperate.

It’s good to know it happens everywhere. One of the Arizona papers this week had a double-page spread on the top 10 new coffee shops that had opened in Phoenix in the last 12 months. That was followed by “favourite nature trails” – another two-page spread.

These stories used to be called “set and holds” – they were set and then held – but are now put into an electronic file known as the “Christmas Box”. They might be desperate and the products of fertile imaginations but readers often love them. They comment on them as much, if not more, than the important events of the day.

A few years ago I wrote a two-page feature on Clyde-built vessels that were still in operation in various parts of the world. One was on the Mississippi River, another on Lake Titicaca, two were ferries in Guyana, and another was plying her trade on Lake Malawi in Africa.

It got at least a dozen responses, one from a gentleman who said he had travelled on three of them as well as another old Clyde ferry that was still operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

clock

The same happened when I exposed Glasgow’s “untimely” clocks. I used to get on and off the subway at Cowcaddens station. There was a clock on a public building that had never worked in all the time I was there and it infuriated me.

So I found five or six other examples of public clocks in the city that didn’t work. Again the response was amazing. If I was infuriated, then you should have read how “Indignant, Cowcaddens” felt about the situation. The Running Man clock at Buchanan bus station (pictured) really got their goat.

During the 1980s I took part in a newsroom contest with some colleagues to see who could get a story from the most obscure source. I got one from the secretary of Dunbeath and Berriedale Community Council in the north of Scotland – and it was published.

But my favourite response came after I wrote a story about the historical influx of Highlanders to the Partick area of Glasgow. I interviewed a barmaid in one of the traditional Highland pubs who told me that part of town was known as the “Tcheuchy Triangle”.

For the uninitiated, a “tcheuchter” is a name used for a rural dweller, usually from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I had never thought of it as being in any way offensive.

The following day my editor received a letter. There was no sender’s name on it. It simply read, “Dear editor. I resent being called a tcheuchter by your monkey Iain Lundy”.

As the editor astutely observed, “It must be someone who knows you, Iain.”

I hope you all have a very happy 2016 – and continue reading my Wee Blether!