Wait gain

Nuala Gormley is expecting her fourth child in February. “When I said what date the baby was due, one friend immediately asked if I was planning to defer. At the moment, I’m just thinking about getting through the next year or so. But when it comes to it, I can’t imagine we would send a child to school at the age of four and a half.”
“Are you planning to defer?” is one of the first questions a pregnant woman north of the border will be asked if her due date falls between November and February. Thanks to a once little-known provision of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, the parents of children who are not five when the school year begins have the legal right to hold them back until the next year.

Deferred school entry

Nuala Gormley is expecting her fourth child in February. “When I said what date the baby was due, one friend immediately asked if I was planning to defer. At the moment, I’m just thinking about getting through the next year or so. But when it comes to it, I can’t imagine we would send a child to school at the age of four and a half.”

Holiday Exchange – The Herald

OUR holiday house exchange nearly didn’t happen. I had forgotten to mention the dog. In a flurry of e-mails with the French family we were going to swap homes with for a fortnight, they asked if we would ”garder le chien”. ”Le chien, il aime les enfants?” I asked in my best franglais and they replied that he adored them. Picturing a cute poodle, I put it to the back of my mind. But then, after everything was arranged, my husband opened his e-mail and found a photograph of a large Alsatian slavering over the other family’s three-year-old.

On a heat wave that killed thousands in France

The ”canicule”, what the French call literally the ”dog” weather of the past fortnight, and which was blamed for causing up to 5000 deaths is over and the barometer is set to ”stormy” – for politicians.

Director-general of health Lucien Abenhaim has resigned because of allegations that the authorities failed to react to the crisis quickly enough.  Our family holiday coincided almost exactly with the heat-wave, so we watched the story unfold from the comparative safety of a shady farmhouse  in the Normandy countryside. Even there, it was too darned hot.

Life without the car

Welcome to the slow lane, the slow life. When my car collided with an 11-ton farm vehicle on a dangerous corner and spun off the road, my children and I became carless or, as we like to say, car-free.

Scotland glimpses eclipse through the clouds with quiet reverence

THERE was no fuss. The Western Isles don’t do fuss. Despite the fact that yesterday’s annular solar eclipse comes round only once every 90 years, the Isle of Lewis was not in festival mood.

Four out of five island residents questioned said they were in their beds when the moon passed in front of the sun. It was all a contrast to the hype of a total eclipse in Cornwall four years ago. Then
commentators predicted the county might sink under the weight of millions of people there to see it.

Yesterday was very different. The astronomer Sir Patrick Moore and Queen guitarist Brian May led a small band of eclipse watchers who travelled to the north of Scotland, Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, the Faroes and Reykjavik to see the event.

Keys to Wisdom Keys

Keys. You may have some jingling in your pocket or handbag. Take them out. Look at them. Describe them. Collins dictionary remarks that they are metal instruments that, when rotated, open locks. But there is more to them than that.

In a recent survey, one group used the adjectives “little”, “lovely”,”magic”, and “intricate” to describe them while another chose “awkward”,”worn”, “jagged”, and “serrated”.

This cleverly designed study, reported in this week’s New Scientist, attempted to prove scientifically what poets have always known. Language matters. The first group of describers were Spaniards, who see keys as feminine; the second were Germans, for whom they are masculine. The words they used were identified by “gender-blind” English speakers as gender-linked.

Poisonous pursuit of cheap beef

Billions of burgers, corn dogs – hot dogs on a stick covered in batter. Burritos – Mexican pancakes filled with mincemeat and  covered in runny yellow cheese which looks – and tastes – not unlike custard. Although in New York, Seattle, or San Francisco, where wasabi sauce may be cooler than ketchup and the discerning diner can choose Chinese fusion or vegan Mongolian, across most of the hinterland of North America, food is mince.

A place at the table for old age

IN THE former Gold Rush town of Oroville in Northern California a week ago today, a 92-year-old man leapt from the green steel of Table Mountain Bridge into the deep green water of Feather River. Coval Russell died instantly landing on rocks. He ended his life on a brilliantly sunny morning for one main reason – he was kicked out of

The incandescent beauty of the scene before him could not make up for the fact that it was not Butte County Jail where Russell spent one of the happiest years of his life. ”Pops”, as the other inmates called him, was sentenced early last year for stabbing his 70-year-old landlord with a pocketknife. Once he got used to his surroundings, razor wire and
clanging doors, Russell found some things he did not have outside.

Heat is on as US drowns and browns

IN some parts of the US there is water, water everywhere, but in others there’s hardly a drop to drink. Last week in Texas eight people and thousands of cattle drowned when 30in of rain fell in just a few days, causing flooding along the San Antonio river, which crested 30ft above normal levels. Meanwhile, in prairie states such as Wyoming, less than a
quarter of the normal expected level of rain has fallen. Farmers are making special prayer appointments with ministers as they watch their land turn  dustier by the day.

Crazy Horse

Shelley’s poem Ozymandias tells of the wreck of a huge rock sculpture which stands in the desert above the inscription: ”Look on my works ye mighty and despair.” ”Nothing beside remains,” the poet tells us. ”Boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

A thousand years from now, when the US empire has crumbled into dust and climate change has cleared beef cattle and farmers from the western prairie, it is possible to imagine that tourists will travel across the sand to visit the mountains of South Dakota and marvel at the massive monuments of a bygone civilisation.

Let’s knock MMR battle on the head

Well done, Dr Eileen Ruberry. Finally, an important medical personage has seen sense on the MMR and recommended that the government retreat from its intransigent approach and allow concerned parents to choose triple injections. This does not mean she is convinced by Dr Andrew Wakefield’s attempts to prove the combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine is linked to autism. She is not. It simply means that she recognises that allowing a minority of parents to choose the time-consuming option of separate jabs is the best way to deal with the situation.

The threat to the future of Gaelic

What’s the Gaelic for ”can of worms”? Because it’s time to open one up by asking tough questions of the Gaelic lobby. Number one is why are we failing to save the language and failing badly in spite of massively increased resources?
In 1991, when the census figures revealed a drop in the number of Gaelic speakers from around 79,000 to 67,000, there was consternation. Government had to do more, it was said, to save the ancient language which held the key to understanding the hearts and minds, the songs and poems, of our Celtic forebears.

Some thoughts on Iraq.

The situation in Iraq is complex and difficult and although I opposed it strongly before it started, my view now is that after the fact, secular society and those who are trying to build a new peace in Iraq ust be supported.

Here are some of the columns I wrote on this issue from the Herald.

On a book about autism

The baby came outside under his own steam for the first time yesterday, crawling over the doorstep out into the pale sunshine, blinking hard. I was planting primroses and he crawled into the flowerbed and sat up between my legs, looking as ever like a miniaturised Mark Lawson – that round, bald bloke who presents Newsnight review. He waved his arms
largely, as if encouraging me to favour the television audience with my most rabid views on the latest cinema release, and adding something incomprehensible in baby language, he picked up a handful of black loamy soil and shoved it into his mouth.

Thoughts on Freud

Thoughts on Freud

This is a column about  the news that Pfizer had shelved female Viagra published in the Scottish Herald on 03 March 2004.

I am always rather pleased when I read that scientists have been thwarted in their attempts to reduce this or that great mystery to a few diagrams and a dull explanation. Thankfully, despite the faith our age puts in science and all its works, it still happens quite often. So just as some of the hopeful predictions of the previous generation of scientists have failed to come to pass – the paperless office, the cashless economy, unmetered electricity, to name a few – so reality is intruding on the dreams of the current crew.

Why this treehouse beats Disneyland. Holidays in Lismore

WE are walking back from the island’s only shop at a pace that would disgrace a snail. But it doesn’t matter – supper is at least three hours away, and that’s the only other thing we have planned for today. On the verge, which stands 15ft above the single-track road, we can just glimpse the top of a caramel-coloured head amid the long grass. Reuben –
who, at six, is the eldest of the eight children in our party – is commando-crawling back to the cottage.

Every now and then he stops, disappears and doubles back on himself, reappearing behind a tree further down the track. If one of the others catches sight of him, a
lengthy gun battle ensues, involving pointed index fingers and amazingly realistic sound effects. This is a Scottish holiday very much as it would have been 50 years ago, when the Broons left their tenement in Glebe Street for a two-room but and ben in an anonymous glen.

Alison Hargreaves

Mountaineer’s parents grieve for children’s loss
The Independent 

Katie Ballard – Alison Hargreaves’s four-year-old daughter – still does not know that her mother died climbing K2, the world’s most dangerous mountain, her grieving grandparents said yesterday.

Joyce and John Hargreaves broke down in tears at the news conference organised by their son-in-law, Jim Ballard, at a ski centre 700 metres up Aonach Mr in the shadow of Ben Nevis in the Highlands yesterday.
The couple who travelled from Derbyshire to be with their grandchildren were told that their 33-year-old daughter had finally been confirmed dead this weekend. “Katie just thinks she is lost, she doesn’t know her mummy is dead,” Mr Hargreaves said. The grandparents admitted that they do not wish Katie and Tom, six, to travel to see the peak where their mother died.