A Shackled Scotland?

So the people of a Scotland have rejected independence. ‘Yes’ supporters, including good friends, are asking if they are the first country to ever make such a decision.

It’s as though they have chosen to be underdogs, and there is genuine upset from the Yes camp. In the interests of smoothing things over, here are a few facts about Scotland which, had I been given a vote, would’ve pushed me towards voting ‘No’.

Scotland has a completely separate legal system to the rest of the United Kingdom

Scotland has a completely separate education system to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Six Prime Ministers have represented Scottish constituencies.

Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were both born and educated in Scotland.

Scotland has had their own parliament since 1999. The parliament building was scheduled to open in 2001 and cost between £10m and £40m. It opened in 2004 and cost £414m. Corrupt or incompetent? It’s not for me to say.

The saga of Edinburgh’s trams has been a sore point for taxi drivers in the Scottish capital. Originally costed at £375m (indexed for inflation), a tram network linking the city centre with both Leith and Edinburgh Airport was hoped to be operational by 2009. A shortened route began operating in the middle of this year (2014). It has cost £776m, plus more than £200m in interest on a 30-year loan taken out by the council. For the better part of seven years, Princes Street, Edinburgh’s main shopping thoroughfare has been an inaccessible building site. Again, you have to decide between corruption and incompetence.

In Scotland, prescriptions are free (they currently cost £8.05 in England).

Scottish students pay no university tuition fees. If English, Northern Irish or Welsh students wish to attend a Scottish university, they will have to pay these, though students from the rest of the European Union are exempt, which seems rather unfriendly.

The West Lothian Question. In 2004, Scottish MPs pushed through measures to introduce tuition fees in England and Wales, even though these would not affect their constituents studying in Scotland.

All I am saying to disappointed ‘Yes’ voters is this: none of the above exactly screams the notion that you are struggling under the yoke of English tyranny. Things not only ain’t so bad when you look at them, if you’re a student, elderly, ill, or employed building a tram through Edinburgh, you actually have things pretty good.

I cannot see the logic of rejecting a parliament with dwindling powers 500 miles away for a parliament 1000 miles away that is quietly getting more intrusive. And I cannot see the logic in exchanging the pound for the euro. I am, of course, open to contrary arguments in the comments section.

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Quick Words on a Slow Watch

When I pushed my face gingerly into the loving embrace of my first pair of Kirk’s, I knew I’d found a new way of looking at the world – and the world was going to find a new way of looking at me. From ocular necessity to style statement. Even without being able to focus on my reflection in the hand mirror, I knew the week it would take to get them glazed to my particularly wonky prescription was going to be agonising. But the wait was worth it: from the day they were delivered and for the next two years, when I arranged meetings with strangers, I would say ‘You’ll recognise me, I’m wearing the best glasses in the room.’ And I was always right.

I got a similar feeling of welcome but unexpected reassurance from the Slow Watches website. Their watches are more about what isn’t there than what is: no date, no second hand, no minute hand… Just the one hand, the hour hand, making one graceful 360° revolution every 24 hours.

The Lilliputians thought that Gulliver worshiped his watch as a god, since he did nothing without consulting it. In Lilliput, the Slow Watch is a timepiece for atheists. I would make a good Gulliver: ‘better an hour early than a second late’ is the mantra that has found me helping to set up many a party or glugging coffee outside a meeting venue.

At around the £200 mark, these watches won’t break the bank, and I can certainly see one of these objects gracing the wrist of a certain type of entrepreneur – not the ball-breaking character-voids from The Apprentice, but one of those real people who creates soft and lovely businesses that customers feel cozy about. There is no automatic version – yet – which raises the question of how long it will take the wearer to realise that their Slow Watch has stopped entirely, but this will surely be the step that makes this a must-have for the sort of people who have people to make sure they are on time for things.

This philosophising is at odds with the highly functional look of the watch itself. Available in black, silver, steel and gold, plus a range of straps, the watch is a square block built around a reliable Swiss made Ronda Caliber 505.24H GMT Quartz movement. Watches are always a meeting of functional crafts and artistic design, but the design in this has been in creating the clean lines rather than fussy detail. Even the logo is absent from the face, which has been built to make the wearer more aware of where they are in their day, rather than where they are in an hour.

This could be the treatment for those of us who have raised punctuality above an art form and into actual pathology. The claim on the website is that the product ‘fundamentally changes the way you look at your watch and it will give you a much better consciousness about the progression of your day.’ Dispensing with the minutes means making the half hours matter, but I can already see a future of stood-up dates stretching ahead of me. I can also imagine biting the inside of my mouth in a panic as I try to work out which side of the quarter hour my watch is now reading. But I can also dream of a brave day dawning when I become relaxed about time: ‘it is what it is,’ I shall say to the departing train, catch myself about to order a flat white, and instead asking for a camomile tea.

Like the Kirk’s, I can see this watch changing my life – for better or ill, I cannot tell. One day, I might even turn up to a party when the crisps are already out.

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Exactly 500 Words on How to Write

One of my favourite distractions from writing – the kind of distraction I actually embrace with a whole heart – is being invited to speak at schools, universities and colleges on my career as a writer. Plenty of young people live in their heads, and to hear from someone who actually makes a living from doing just that is, I hope, an affirmation.

Often, variations on the following questions come up:

Where do you get your ideas from?
How do I get started as a writer?
Why do you write?

The answer to all three questions is the same: sit on a chair in front of a computer, and write a thousand words on your project. The ideas come from having to fill those thousand words with interest and meaning. If you want to be a writer, this is what you must do. If I do this, I feel good at the end of the day. If I don’t, I feel lousy.

That’s all: the only way to write is to write. And write, and write, and write.

The daily word count is King. Graham Greene (author of Brighton Rock) used to do a modest 500 words (but what words!) before lunch, then go for a swim in the sea by his home in Mallorca. Stephen King gets up early and does 3,000 words to the same deadline. On a good day, I will write a thousand words on each project I have running (usually two) and go to bed planning the following day’s thousand words.

If the physical act of writing a few thousand words in a day feels like too much (and as a writer, it will happen: you enter the zone, the wind is in your sails, and you’re teeming with ideas for your project – or you have a deadline and a mortgage), then try it. It isn’t like having to hand in an essay; you can, and perhaps sometimes should, write a load of twaddle you can cut later. Cutting crap before anyone else sees it is a joy.

If you want to write but are dyslexic, bad news: you don’t get a pass. Two of the best writers I know are dyslexic, so you’ll just have to work as hard as they do to make sure your work is legible. I’m not dyslexic: my grammar and spelling are splendid, but it doesn’t stop me writing absolute rubbish content sometimes. Oscar Wilde used to get his woulds shoulds and coulds in a muddle, which gives all of us hope.

You will either write or you won’t. It’s up to you. I don’t mind that ‘writing a novel’ is something that reasonably well educated and perfectly nice people claim at parties to be doing with their spare time when they patently aren’t, but don’t lie to yourself. You’re either making the word count, or you’re not.

Finally, look after your back. Writing is no fun if it hurts, and is very difficult to fit between trips to the osteopath.

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Speaker, author, conference moderator & coach

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