We have all been watching in horrified sympathy the ghastly events unfolding in Paris. One wonders what can have been DONE to those people – citizens of Western countries – to motivate them to take part in a shocking and brutal act of merciless mass murder, and then throw their own lives away as well?

My personal reactions are: horror – it was a disgusting event; sympathy for and a desire to support the French; unease – it could be us next time; anger – how dare they and do they think WE are a people who can be bullied and intimidated; determination to preserve our liberties and customs; and finally, absolute incomprehension.

There are many unanswered questions within the issue. One of the most depressing and alarming statements I have heard is that there are large sections of the Muslim population who secretly have sympathy with the aims of the terrorists. Can this be true? What proof is there of this? I can’t personally believe that our fellow citizens, enjoying the rights and privileges of being British alongside ourselves, would condone such wickedness. I believe the vast majority of our Muslim

and indeed other religious residents are decent people and as appalled at these atrocities as we are.

Governments are quick to label as ‘terrorists’ groups whose political aims are in opposition to their own policies, and while we may deplore the violence of the struggle, one can have sympathy in some cases with their cause – a united Ireland, for example, or South Africa free of apartheid and in charge of its own affairs. But there is no stated objective that we could from a judgement of in this case.

I heard George Galloway on this subject on Newsnight, talking sense for once, so you could see his formidable intelligence, his quick thinking, his skill at oratory, his indomitable courage, and you could just glimpse how great he might have been, had he only not succumbed to vanity. Undoubtedly he had much to be vain about, but sadly vanity destroys one’s judgement. He had some interesting insights, but no credible soluion . I find myself (I despise my own foolishness) listening hopefully to Cameron, Putin, Obama, the army, the police, the intelligence officers, seeking some sign that some of these experts will emerge and lead us out of this hazardous war zone we seem to have landed in. I come to the reluctant conclusion that none of them has any idea how to solve the problem.

Bombing? I don’t think bombing ever solves anything. It just lays waste to people’s homes and infrastructure, kills large sections of the civilian population who did not take any action against us; and the British population at large is not comfortable with bombing people in their country when they haven’t bombed us in ours. Over the last quarter century we’ve bombed several countries and none of these campaigns have been regarded as successful. Plus, after Blair’s fiasco, we’d need to get a UN mandate (surely Cameron would not proceed without one?) and that might be problematic.

Boots on the ground. I think Cameron should by now realise that the country is extremely unwilling to put the lives of our own men at risk in a country far from our shores. The enemy would have to be at the gate. Of course in a sense the enemy is already within our gates, but your man in the street, who in spite of being thought of by politicians as the great unwashed and ignorant, exhibits considerable sense and sound judgement, does not believe that sending troops to fight in other countries will enhance our security at home.

A policy of shoot to kill. Obviously if our policemen or soldiers are facing a terrorist on his murderous spree, they do need to shoot to kill, both to preserve the lives of our citizens caught up in the event, and that of themselves and their colleagues. The problem is that the nature of terrorism means that these events rise up out of the blue, so our defendants do not have time to collect their arms and their authority. They must be prepared at all times. But having a carte blanche shoot-to-kill policy can lead to grave miscarriages of justice, and once an innocent person is dead, there is no restitution can be made to him in this world. This is a grave matter, and not a trifling issue which can be sacrificed in a spirit of needs must.

What we can do is demonstrate love, tolerance and support for those affected by this issue. We should show solidarity, not only to the French, but to those of our own citizens who came to us from these countries, for they are not the people who have harmed us; but if we allow our country to be split into factions because of this, then the terrorists will indeed have damaged us. We should send expertise and funds to those countries we have bombed and damaged and help them rebuild their infrastructure. These things are long term and difficult and first of all you have to subdue rebellious insurgents so that you can carry out the necessary work and it will not just be promptly destroyed.

But can we understand it? Indeed we should acknowledge that we are not blameless in this crisis. Over the past century we have meddled where we should not have done, and we have interfered to support our own interests and not those of the local inhabitants. We have blood on our hands. But whereas we could perhaps understand if our attackers were defending their interests intent on adding to their territories, increasing their wealth, making their people healthier, richer, better educated: we might resent them pursuing those things at our expense – but we could see the point of all that. But this does not appear to be their aim at all. Their purpose is simply to destroy us.

What is the answer to this riddle? I’m afraid I don’t know, and what is more I haven’t heard any expert speak that gave me any confidence that he knew either.



I saw the Bond film, Spectre, in an Imax cinema with John the other week and quite enjoyed it although I am not a Bond fan.

Why are cinemas so loud? The noise together with the impact of the Imax sensations made me feel sick and I had to close my eyes at some fast moving sections.

This film required rather more than the usual suspension of disbelief – helicopters performed impossible feats, people got up and fought after terminal injuries, machinery was where it was required with no explanation at all for why it was there etc.

I think Daniel Craig with his arrogant coldness is one of the better cast Bonds. There has been much talk of the emancipation of women in Bond films but apart from the late lamented M, I see no evidence of this. All the women fall instantly for his charms and give him whatever he wants. Someone should perhaps advise the male fantasists who design these films that however rich, handsome, sexy or powerful a man may be, not every woman will collapse like a blancmange whenever he deigns to show up.

The film at 2 and a half hours long was perhaps half an hour too long in my view.

It was action packed and not boring but it never captured your heart.

Those who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.


The other week, helping my grand-daughters to read their school books, I was suddenly struck by how wonderful the process of reading actually is. You start by learning the letters; then sounding them together (a process fraught with difficulty in English, since there is neither rhyme nor reason in how letters are arranged or pronounced. ) Finally a miracle happens and oh! how amazing and wonderful – you can read!

I’m not convinced that we fully understand how this is done. I could see for example that my grand-daughter read in advance of herself, for she would stumble over easy words that she knew. two or three words before a long and difficult one that she could see coming up.

But when you consider the speed at which an accomplished reader can read (and retain the information), clearly we are not reading word by word. Do we cast our eye down the middle of the page and guess the words at the ends of the lines? I myself am absolutely useless at proof reading. I just see what ought to be there, and don’t identify any errors. Whatever the actual process, we are not aware of it being operative as we read.

This leads me on to the mystery of thinking. Since I speak only one language easily, I have frequently asked multi-linguists : in which language do you think? (There is never any clear answer.) On reflection, I wonder if we think in words or language at all? Consider the occasion when we hear of some crisis which urgently requires our attention but we are engaged in some task which we cannot leave. But when you are free to consider the matter again, you find your brain has been, unbeknown to you, dealing with the isue, and has a number of options laid out for you. Most assuredly that process of thought was not in words.

It is humbling to reflect that we do not entirely understand the process of being ourselves.


I’m someone who doesn’t belong to any place. Oh, of course I’m Scots – heart, soul and spirit; but that’s our country. There is no town or city that, when I go there, is obliged to take me in.

I think this is because I left the town where I was born too soon ( and have spent in the 60 years since then about half an hour in it, spread over 2 or 3 visits). Then we moved a lot, so in terms of home town, I feel like the cat ‘that walks by himself, and every place is the same to me.’

Nominally there are probably 6 cities in Scotland, but the four smaller ones don’t really count. Inverness – I’ve never liked it, and a Macdonald ancestor once razed it to the ground because the king had chosen to imprison him in it, and I don’t care; Aberdeen, a grey fastness full of alien oil men and located in a frozen region of permafrost and perpetual haar’ (fog) and top of my list of places to which I hope never to return; Dundee, jute mills (used to be anyway) and the River Tay which swallowed up trains and attracted bad poetry. Of course these places have their attractions like anywhere else, but they never appealed to me. Perth is lovely but I think it is actually a town, and it’s just Scots who refer to it as ‘the fair city’. That leaves however the two lovely cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, between whom there is no love lost. (I did not realise until recently that Glasgow’s catchy slogan, ‘Miles Better’ had the unspoken corollary, ‘Than Edinburgh.’) I am not a citizen of either city, but I once went to work near Glasgow having come from Edinburgh, and when I was introduced, a woman fixed me with her gimlet stare and said, ‘From Edinburgh, are ye? Fur coat and nae knickers.’ Fortunately she left there shortly after my arrival!

Edinburgh is beautiful, with its mediaeval and Georgian architecture, it’s one sided Princes Street, and its air of genteel superiority (it, after all, is ‘The Capital.’) I went there for the first time one Spring when I was about 17. The cherry blossom was out in the gardens in the Georgian Squares and I promptly fell in love with it, and it has remained firmly on my list of Ten Most Beautiful Cities in the World ever since, though I have subsequently visited many other contenders.

I’ve just spent ten days in Scotland, and though I have never been and could never become a daughter of the city of Glasgow, I’m very fond of it and feel very comfortable in it. It has a reputation for drunken violence which it’s quite comfortable about, but if you’re savvy and streetwise it can also be a place of great warmth, kindness and generosity. It is handsome, with its Victorian tenements and its merchant palaces and modern areas of development. There are many trees and parks and the great River Clyde glides smoothly through it all. Glaswegians are witty and stylish. They have a subversive humour (hence the Duke of Wellington, whose statue is permitted to remain unmolested, but always with a traffic cone on his head. Sometimes officials of the city come and remove the cone, but it is invariably back on his head by morning, and it is rumoured that sometimes in dead of night it’s the police themselves, or the fire brigade, or even passing city buses who organise the return of his head gear. Of course there are never any witnesses to this event.) On the whole, its people are good-looking. They take no prisoners and they consider themselves the equal of any man, but there’s a rock solid foundation of proper values that is wonderfully comforting.

We visited Glasgow Cathedral, to which I had never before been. I did not care for it ; it was dark, forbidding ad cavernous, and it felt in fact like one of those intimidating Catholic churches deep into Spain. Reading its story we realised that it was (for various differing reasons ) a survival from pre Reformation days, hence its lack of Protestant ‘plainness.’ We descended to its crypt and then visited a nearby ‘museum of religious artefacts ‘ (Was this interesting? What do you think?) However it had a welcoming coffee shop. It also had a fabulous view of Glasgow’s necropolis, whose monuments dominate the skyline.

We climbed up towards it. Towering overall was a statue of a man in robes, dominating the entire scene. I thought, oh dear, surely that’s not an English king, one of the despised Georges? So we climbed right up to see who it was who had been according first ranking. Imagine my relief when we saw that it was a statue of John Knox. And even though he wrote about the ‘monstrous regiment of women’ he’s one of our own, and I was glad to see him.

This city doesn’t disappoint. Let Glasgow flourish!