Road Trip Part One: Utah. Bryce Canyon

Photos: Rob Bruce. I have a precious 15 year old Baedeker guidebook to the US, the pages falling out with overuse. In the flyleaf of the book is a tiny map of the entire country with around a dozen sites picked out. Bryce Canyon is one of them. It always intrigued me as it was one of the only ones of which I had never heard. So it was great to get an opportunity to visit on a road trip from Salt Lake City to San Francisco this September.

Glastonbury for Geeks, San Francisco Dreamforce ‘15

SAN FRANCISCO gave itself over to ‘Dreamforce’ for a few days in September. Now in its 12th year the event was bigger than ever. Usually busy roads were closed to traffic and rolled over with fake grass, inflatable arm chairs, stages, huge screens and food and drink stops. A 1,000 berth cruiseliner moored near Fisherman’s Wharf to provide extra accommodation. Airbnb apartments were available for $1,000 a night. Stevie, Wonder, the Foo Fighters and Japanese artist Yoshiki played. But this was not a music festival – it was a software conference.

A Children’s Food Fight and the Edinburgh Fringe

Children and food. What a lot is in those three little words. A recent argument on Mumsnet and Women’s Hour ( Tuesday August 11) reminded me of the anxiety I used to sometimes feel as a parent about what, how, when and why my children were eating.

The row was about an assertion that mums today are ‘addicted” to feeding their children constant snacks,  On the show food writers Annabel Karmel and Joanna Blythman slugged it out, with Blythman arguing for three square meals eaten round a table and water in between; while Karmel voiced sympathy for struggling parents trying to get their children nutritiously fed and watered each day without too much stress. 

Freedom of Expression and Edinburgh, 2015

Freedom of Expression and Edinburgh, 2015

THE BIGGEST threat to freedom of expression in Britain today is not the shadow of the law, but whispers behind the scenes. Not the courtroom so much as a slippery excuse from someone in authority that says, I’m so sorry but we can’t put this on, because of this or that or the other dog-ate-my-homework reason. The fear of protests; the wrong kind of attention, a storm on social media. Trouble with the venue, the risk assessor, the insurance adviser, the head of college. These nebulous fears are recast politely as “it doesn’t quite fit in with our programme this year,’ or ‘ we don’t think it will sell enough tickets”, or “I’m sorry, we are already full.” This was what I argued when, at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I took part in a panel discussion after a show about the tension between art and politics, inspired by a trio of called-off productions in 2014, called “Walking the Tightrope” staged by Underbelly Productions.

A Science Professor Pens a Patriotic Song

March, 2015
I first heard the song “Call it Alba” at an African evening at my children’s primary school. The choir sang it to visitors from a school in Tanzania and I wasn’t the only one blinking back the tears as they belted out the chorus: “I belong to the land I live in, and the land is in the deepest part of me.”

The song allowed the children to express love for their country of Scotland but in a simple style, free from the hubris these things often contain. It seemed inclusive too, offering a sense of belonging to everyone who lives here. I couldn’t think of another patriotic song that would have worked in that context and which would have made me feel so proud.

 “Flower of Scotland” is fine for a sporting arena but the lyrics are very focused on Scotland’s sometimes conflicted relationship with England. I for one was glad when the Scottish Parliament recently rejected a petition to make it an official anthem.  (  

The others I could think of like Scots Wha Hae, Caledonia, or Highland Cathedral are too martial, too adult or too grandiose.

Mona Siddiqui on love, sex and death.

Sexual desire, the search for happiness, dealing with death and living as a member of a minority are just some of the topics Muslim theologian Mona Siddiqui discusses in her new book – part handbook to life, part autobiography: “My Way”, which she will discuss at Glasgow’s “Aye Write” festival this April.

Eclipse: A Magical Moment Obscured by Bureaucracy

Eclipse: A Magical Moment Obscured by Bureaucracy

Photo by Rob Bruce. The view of the eclipse from Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat was magical. Many observers were ill-prepared without anything much to view it with but in the event, a partial veil of scudding clouds made it possible to see the crescent sun at its moment of occlusion. The sunshine dimmed to a twilight, the land was shadowed and chilly. The birds fell silent but watchers on the hillside let out a few ragged whoops. As I watched, I felt so sorry for the children at my son’s High School that I could have wept. The school had ordered some eclipse glasses; there was a waiting list and those who did not have them were to be refused permission to go into the playground due to fears they would stare too long at the sun and damage their eyes.

Top Gear, RIP.


I enjoyed Top Gear. You would think from the reaction I get to this statement from some of my friends that I was voicing support for Islamic State or something. But when my kids were younger it was one of the best family viewing experiences that we had. I will remember it fondly for that reason.


Is the Southbank Centre right to exclude Scotland from its flagship exhibition on British history?

The big new exhibition at the Southbank Centre in London “History is Now” is meant to address British postwar history. It does not do so. As a Scot who voted ‘No’ in the referendum I found the experience of visiting this show profoundly depressing. I left with an increased sense that a ‘British’ identity has become problematic, dislocated and fragile, and that the ties that bind the countries that make up the Union are fraying.

On #KingsmanTheSecretService and the Porno Society.

A friend of mine was kind enough to say recently that she had found the piece I wrote below about the movie Kingsman The Secret Service really helpful. Her 15-year-old daughter had been to the movie with friends and because my friend had read my blog, she was able to raise with her daughter the fact that there is a graphic image of  anal penetration in the closing minutes of the movie. Her daughter said “Oh Mum, it’s all right, the woman wanted that done to her.” My friend responded that this scene represented a male fantasy. My friend then went on to say that she felt sorry for all the young women who might be thinking: ‘What’s wrong with me, that I don’t enjoy this?”

The scene is a glimpse into the porno world which I generally manage to avoid. But taking place as it does in a mainstream movie now heavily advertised on TV as a DVD or download – it’s another example of how mainstream that current has become.

A Find

This poem is inspired by Burns Yard, a junk yard in East Lothian.

Albie Sachs – lecture transcript

This a slightly abridged text of the lecture given by the ANC veteran and South African constitutional court judge Albie Sachs at the National Gallery of Scotland on June 25 2009 in Edinburgh, transcribed from my shorthand note.


Hillwalking with my father, he would say: Take the slow way Over the shoulder of the hill. Follow the lie of the land.

Yes or No to politics in the classroom

From the Guardian.
Scottish referendum: is it yes or no to politics in class?
Some Scottish schools have not debated the issues over independence. Have pupils who will be voting missed out?l

Pupils at Boroughmuir high school in Edinburgh show their differing voting intentions for the referendum. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Sean Warrington, 17, will be putting his cross in the yes box when he casts his vote in Scotland‘s referendum on 18 September, a different choice from his parents. But Sean feels he has been able to reach his own decision through studying the options at Boroughmuir high school in Edinburgh’s Morningside. “The stuff we have done in class has presented both sides of the argument. I just thought that yes had a better case. My parents are no voters and it’s difficult for them to talk about both sides of it.”

Scottish Universities and the referendum

A look at the debate on Scottish independence in the University sector in Scotland. Published in the Education Guardian on March 25, 2014. Glasgow University: many of the reservations about independence are based on fears over research funding Photograph: Alamy

Does Edinburgh need to sacrifice green belt?

From the Evening News, Dec 4 2013. Does Edinburgh really need to sacrifice hundreds of acres of green belt to the west of the city for A development to fill a housing shortage as Murray Estates owned by former Rangers chairman Sir David Murray argues?

Farm labourer who created garden centre

Published in the Herald, Tuesday 8 October 2013. Businessman and horticulturist;Born: January 28, 1937; Died: August 27, 2013. Eric Gallagher, who has died aged 76, was a former farm labourer who left school at the age of 12 and through years of dedication and hard work, built up a multi-million pound horticulture business. With his family, he ran Cardwell Garden Centre at Lunderston Bay on the outskirts of Gourock and was a passionate gardener at home and at work. The son of Irish immigrants who came to Scotland in the 1930s, Mr Gallagher believed in growing as much of his stock as possible locally and was convinced of the transforming power of gardening; it was, he said, a great social leveller.

Francophile architect and teacher

Published in the Herald, Tuesday 24 September 2013. Born June 24, 1935. Died September 15, 2013. A proud Scot and a Francophile, Professor Charles MacCallum was a dedicated teacher and an academic as well as a practising architect with an interest in showcasing design features in the buildings he helped to create.