Category Archives: Motor (mouth)

I come to praise caesar not to bury him

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I have been accused of being a grumpy blogger from some of my recent followers and to a certain extent this is probably true. However I like to think of myself as being in tune with the ying and yang of the online vibe and with this in mind I have decided to praise some retailers for actually providing some bloody good service.

Spex in the City
Let’s start with my most recent experience. I decided after some humming and hawing to invest in a new pair of glasses. I already had the prescription and was reminded of the need for a spare pair when one of my colleagues turned up late the other day after presumably sitting on his only set and then having to suffer the frustration of trying to get new glasses from his local optician.
I was more driven by price than brand and chose to shop at a local business in Dunfermline called Spex in the City (I know, cute name huh?). As I said, price was an issue and as they advertise designer frames at discount prices I was emboldened to take the trip to the bottom of the High Street for a look.
The service was unbelievably good. Within twenty minutes I had gone from hesitant buyer to virtual believer, walking out of the shop having ordered TWO pairs of glasses to be ready in two days.
Imagine my delight the next morning when phoning to ask a quick question I was told that the glasses were ready and could be picked up in the next couple of hours. Job done and one happy customer ready to spread the good word to everyone I have met since.
Oh and they weren’t averse to doing a wee deal to get me on the two pair’s route…

The Watch Medic
Ok I am a bit of a watch nut and have already bought my first new watch of 2015 to add to the collection, bit of a bargain on Amazon.co.uk in their weekly deals programme. (Won’t be the last I will wager). But it’s not about the watch this time; it’s actually about the strap.
First off I don’t have the patience to adjust straps or remove links. I just don’t ok? So point me in the right direction and I will get a professional to do it every time – which is why The Watch Medic gets a nod here. They have done three watches for me in the last six months and on each occasion they have been just great to deal with. They are patient, funny, and always ready to engage in a bit of banter. They get the job done in no more than fifteen minutes and don’t charge the earth.
No nonsense, no front. No problem.

The Vic
If you’ve been to this pub in St Andrews recently then I don’t need to convert you. If you haven’t then what are you waiting for?
If you are a student, a twenty something or even a middle ager with children in tow the Vic has something for all of you. Good food, quirky design features, a child friendly policy during the day, (etcha-sketch menus for kids, toys and games plus non condescending bar staff and table waiters), this place has got my attention for night time drinks with my wife, as a day retreat for a child exhausted parent and as having massive potential for my next night out with friends.
Prices are far from scary and unless you don’t drink I think you will find it hard pushed not to want to try one or two of those rather exciting cocktails they serve, just check out the clip board menus for the full skinny. As you leave, if you are still not satiated then indulge in their free fruit basket, just to keep things healthy. Bars the way they are meant to be, friendly and fun in equal measure (if you pardon the pun).

So there you go! 

Three very different places that all have one thing in common, they all put a smile on my face in the last few days, which makes them priceless.

Feel free to tell me about your recent experiences – good and bad!

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Return of the Kitsch

They say that ‘nostalgia isn’t what it used to be’

But ‘they’ are wrong.

Nostalgia is alive and well and playing in a brain near you. Just spend a couple of minutes away from your mobile or other time devouring device and gradually your sub conscious will start re-emerging, timidly at first then more assertively as your brain starts to remember that there was life before IOS7 or Android Jellybean version five hundred and fifty-five.

Maybe it’s because I am getting a little bit older, but it seems to me we are rather scared of spending time alone with ourselves nowadays. Or perhaps we are just so ‘connected’ that our brains just don’t want to admit they can’t keep up and so invent excuses not to switch off.

Twitter is my current favourite waste of time, not because it brings me closer to my real life idols, nor because it allows me to keep up with current affairs in an amazingly quick and inclusive way. No, I like twitter because it means I don’t have to think, I just scan and let the rest take care of itself.

Not really a healthy way to spend all my down time on though, is it?

So you might imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when my brain started to wake up again and make demands on my downloadmemory, forcing me to dredge up images of my childhood, happy ones I am pleased to say. About telephones with wires, which sat proudly in my parents hall, Televisions that had wooden facades and videos that loaded from the top and boasted of remote control, yet needed a cable running along the floor to achieve ‘remote’ on and off access.

My nostalgia also extended to a quick giggle about cassette players with microphones you had to plug in to record, integrated music centres with a turntable, cassette and radio (all covered in a smoky gray, top of the range, plastic cover I might add) and calculators with LED red displays that could only add up, take away and if you were lucky, divide and multiply. (Universally hated and feared by schools).

Music CentreI suppose part of all this stems from a recent fascination with the Radio Times, a clear reminder of my childhood which lands on my doorstep every week now, highlighting the current fascination TV and radio seem to have about the eighties, which was a special time for me.

But once that nostalgia genie is out of the bottle it’s not easy to put it back. It is actually great to remind ourselves about a time of limited choice, where four TV channels mattered and choosing a show meant careful consideration, where pubs were for talking and socialising in, not tweeting and fingering phones all night and where conversation meant just that.

I love Twitter, I enjoy Facebook, I email without thought and answer most questions via google. I have even bought into the ‘double screen’ concept and enjoy programmes like question time with one eye on what the twitterati are saying.

But am I any richer for the experience I wonder?

Not really.

Certainly my brain doesn’t think so. We are just not designed to be wired to the massive twenty-four seven and I often wonder…

Are we are so locked in our desire to share our experiences that we forget to live in the moment?

If so then we will find ourselves forgetting what we actually saw and end up remembering via our pictures and our clever little social media one liners: delivering false memories which are less intense and more constructed.

Don’t believe me? Then try tapping into your nostalgia for a moment and see how vivid those memories are compared to your recent ones… Try it. It is quite an eye opener.

Go on…

What have you got to lose?

Milk snatcher no more

When my colleague popped his head around my office door the other day and said “did you hear that Margaret Thatcher died” my immediate reaction was to say “Is this some sort of joke”.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You see, to my mind she was indestructible. The ‘iron lady’, a force to be reckoned with. Not some footnote in history, or a demon to frighten the kids with. She was very real to me as I grew up and I couldn’t believe she was now dead.

‘Maggie’ was the real political McCoy. A strong and determined leader, who demanded and got respect from both sides of the political landscape. A lady who wasn’t for turning, despite the enormous pressures placed upon her by our democratic institutions.

Now at this point you would be forgiven for thinking that I might be a fan, but I’m not, in fact far from it.

When I was growing up, she was the opposite of everything I believed in and I was pretty sure I hated her for it. Much as I hated everything about her entourage of evil.  Nigel Lawson, Norman Tebbit, Michael Hesseltine and John Major to name but a few.

They just made me feel so angry and impotent. Because no matter what we did to confound them, they just kept marching forward. Eventually dominating eighteen years of my adult life.

So lets take a moment, while I remind you about the seventies and why the political landscape changed so much that Thatcherism was inevitable. As indeed were the deep divides which made her tenure so hotly debated even today.

What strikes me, (if you pardon the pun) looking back, is how very different the world was in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power. In the previous years I can clearly remember, for example, my parents discussing their fears about ‘the three day week’ as they tried to explain to me why we were sitting in the dark with only a candle and a calor gas heater for company.

I can also remember scenes of rubbish piling up in the streets and local parks, and unburied bodies in Liverpool as union action affected every household in the country. This was shown intermittently on a television set that would often go blank during Doctor Who, but was in any case officially switched off by the government at 10.30pm every night to conserve electricity supplies. (No really).

No one would disagree that seventies Britain was in a mess and as the result was that on 4 May 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first woman prime minister, winning convincingly at the polls and ushering in a new era of Tory rule.

I was sixteen years old at the time and becoming increasingly drawn towards the left of politics, influenced no doubt, by my friends and the teachers at my school. Through their eyes I saw a country which was broken and needed fixing, but surely not by this simpering woman standing at the front door of 10 Downing Street and quoting St Francis of Assisi!

“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

Did she live up to the promise of her own rhetoric? Not as far as I am concerned.

I don’t remember a whole lot of harmony, truth, faith and hope. What I remember is greed, despair, anger and more greed.

I also remember the frustration many of my generation felt about ‘this woman’ and how she was ruining our lives. This is why I fought her tooth and nail at every opportunity.

In my pre-student days I developed my love for music and this led to me becoming part of the Rock against Racism movement. I also joined the Anti-Nazi League because it wasn’tt difficult to feel uncomfortable around the generational and institutional racism prevalent at that time.

Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge

(Photo credit: dannybirchall)

I also wanted to get the troops out of  Northern Ireland and felt that Apartheid was a terrible thing. My politics were to the left and I couldn’t understand why everyone else couldn’t see these things  too.

The eighties were really really what started the dramatic change we still live with today. Out with the old and in with the new. Loss of heavy industry, privatisation, clumsy culling of union power and the rise of the money markets. This was change that genuinely bewildered and frightened older people and they rallied gratefully to the old-fashioned values of Margaret Thatcher’s government..

Yet ironically she was the blunt instrument creating this unbelievable change.

Nowadays this era is viewed with great nostalgia and if you listen to any of the many soundtracks and musical compilations, all you will hear is a sanitised version, full of fun times and playful lyrics.

Seldom do you get to experience the raw anger inherent in much of the punk and new wave bands that didn’t sell out.

My personal soundtrack was full of protest music from the likes of the Cure, the Jam, the Specials, the Clash and of course the Sex Pistols.

I loved punk and new wave and I love it now. In fact ‘White Man at Hammersmith Palais’ is still one of the few songs I can sing word-perfect from end to end.

My dress style was combat trousers, doc martins a Killing Joke t-shirt and the ubiquitous red and black ‘Dennis the menace’ jumper. To complete the look I wore a red star earring, all colours designed to reflect those of anarchy.

I was a rebel looking for a cause and my god there were plenty to choose from.

  • Nuclear power? No thanks! The threat on my doorstep, but also the beating heart of nuclear weapons. Many of which were pointed at my doorstep from the plains of Russia.
  • American bases on British Soil? No way! Get rid of them, we are not an aircraft carrier for a foreign power!
  • Apartheid? A subject which got the blood up and no mistake, everyone, apart it seemed from Maggie Thatcher, could see that it was wrong.
  • Poll Tax? How dare she inflict it first on Scotland (even though rates had recently been reevaluated there and were really hurting people).
  • Taking on the unions… and here it is, the real sore which divided the people of Britain then and a subject which still hurts today.

Thatcher had a gift for alienating people, yet paradoxically was considered a good listener. She talked tough then would go out of her way to support places like Ravenscraig (twice before it eventually closed).

Meanwhile the real collision for power was looming as the miners union flexed their collective muscles and prepared to take on the government. Or was it the government that was preparing to take on the miners?

Arthur Scargill was public enemy number one.

By now I was a student in Newcastle and apart from direct action to support the students my big political contribution was leading the student union activity in support of the local miners.

It became a real people thing you know, as time went on and the miners families really started to struggle. I  remember raising money for them, wearing with incredible pride my ‘coal not dole’ sticker and joining the ‘Zulu’s’ at a Nottingham miners rally (where trouble broke out and we had to run for our freedom from a somewhat aggressive police presence).

We put on gig after gig to raise money, working ever more closely with the local band scene, taking buckets round the town centre in our spare time and attending rallies.

It was all for nothing in the end. But I will never forget the pride and energy that came from these local communities and often wonder if the government couldn’t have handled it better. Reaching out to them rather than alienating them.

Current events in #Talons

(Photo credit: bryanjack)

Thatcher won that battle and then went on to win a war. This time against Argentinean forces hell-bent on taking the Falkland Islands in order to boost flagging political fortunes amongst the military junta.

Ironically this played straight into the iron lady’s hands providing her with the opportunity to boost her own political fortunes instead.

The lady wasn’t for turning and despite being a close run thing; she  returned the islands to British sovereignty.

To the delight of the masses.

The war made Margaret Thatcher a hero, consolidating her position as leader of the Tory party and prime minister of team GB.

The media loved her and with a ground swell of popular support she was ushered back into power in 1983 smashing the Labour and SDP into humiliating defeat.

Could the Labour party ever beat this woman? It certainly didn’t look that way and in 1987 the Conservatives made history with a third successive win, beating Neil Kinnock and setting the stage for yet more Thatcherism.

Strangely it wasn’t Labour that finally beat Margaret Thatcher, it was her own party, becaming ever more greedy and corrupt and eventually consuming the very person who had led them to the promised land.

Without her the party creaked on until 1997 when the dawn of New Labour did for the fat cats once and for all (or so we thought).

Fast forward to 2013 and the world is once again very different. Yet mention Margaret Thatcher and old wounds are soon opened.

As I write this ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’ sits at number three in the charts as the result of a clever and yes amusing social media campaign to mark her passing with an appropriate musical salute. The first time I can remember politics entering the musical mainstream since the eighties.

So how do I feel 34 years on since she came to power? Well, numb and if I am honest slightly saddened. With the clarity of age, experience and perspective I realise now it was her policies and her government that I hated, but that I never really hated her.

I am proud to say I helped change the world, but then so did she. God knows what it would have been like without her.

If I can grow up, then perhaps it is fitting for some of the other ‘comrades’ out there to do so too. We don’t need to dance or spit on her actual grave. Instead we did that in 1990 on her political career as she left office with those tears running down her cheek.

Farewell Maggie.

A rest in peace sign.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Seven Minutes (and you’re almost there)

How long would you wait for a cup of coffee? More importantly how long should you have to wait for a coffee?

English: Peacock When Dunfermline High Street ...

Going elsewhere?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Peacock Rooms’ at the Glen Pavilion in Dunfermline is designed to provide an ‘all year round’ place for families to grab a coffee, eat cake and let the kids run around in a great play area with full length interior glass windows. Good for you, good for them.

So, it’s popular with families and gets busy, particularly at weekends. All of which is great I hear you say. But to be honest I find myself dreading the moment when someone pipes up “lets go to the Peacock Rooms” because the service is in a word ‘dreadful’.

I mean they seem to try hard and they have improved slightly by getting one person to make the coffees, to let the rest of the staff focus on front of house activities like serving and clearing. But… it still doesn’t work.

Let me give you an example. I was there on Saturday and from bitter experience I sadly found myself taking note of the time I joined the (modest) queue.  Maybe six people in front, two of whom were a couple, none of whom were ordering more than a cake and a cuppa…

A cappuccino in a ceramic coffee cup

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seven minutes later I had not moved an inch. Now seven minutes is a long time to stand still. If you don’t believe me then try it. Now try it with a child tugging at your leg and wanting to go and play on a slide. Now try it with a hangover. Eternity?

By the way seven minutes is also coincidentally, the maximum time a trained waiter would regard as reasonable for a person to wait for table service, (and that’s pushing it). This doesn’t bode well for a counter service environment, which is meant to be quicker.

So what was the hold up? I hear you ask. Well it turns out that the counter-staff were having a crisis, one person was struggling and this put pressure on everyone else.

I mean everyone is entitled to a bad day, right? But why does the same thing happen EVERY time I‘ve been there?

Lose count of your order? Fair enough. Forget your entire customer order? Maybe, not listen to your customer because you were distracted? Ok…

Except it’s not ok. This is their job, it’s why they go to work and it’s what they do.

Now training could be an issue here.

Contrast if you will my ongoing experience with Starbucks and Costa. Both of whom employ excellent staff, who despite the natural reserve that comes from being British, seem to have no problems in serving folk with a beaming smile, taking orders quickly and efficiently, taking payment and often seeking out your name to make the whole thing more slick and personalised, cakes and coffee – done.

Starbucks

Starbucks (Photo credit: Piutus)

“But they charge you more”, you will say hesitantly. Not true says I. My experience is that café prices are not a million miles away from the baristas on the high street. But efficiency, cleanliness and customer service are.

I said that I almost felt sorry for the person in my local café the other day. Almost, but not quite and here’s why. If we just accept bad service then it will never change, never improve, which in a venue like the Peacock Rooms is very dangerous. (and yes my comments went in the customer comments box)

You see, the Peacock Rooms are set in a park with no immediate competitor and because they are the only game in town during the winter they’re very busy (rocket science it ain’t). This is why I think they must think its acceptable for uncleared tables, long queues and muddled orders to be the norm.

Newsflash! It ain’t and it’s a real shame, because it totally overshadows the fact they serve great cakes and very tasty coffee… worse still it’s slowly but surely turning me from a customer into a critic and come the summer I can vote with my feet.

But the really sad thing is this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many badly managed establishments out there in the wider world that I just know I will have struck a chord.

Which is why our motto this year should be “I’m not called Matt now stop walking all over me”

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“Wake me up before you go go”

Ed Milliband MP speaking at the Labour Party c...

Ed Milliband MP speaking at the Labour Party conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To my mind examining British politics is a bit like peering into a prefect’s common room to see Cameron, Miliband and Clegg ‘Minor’ taking turns to practice their end of year debating skills.“The right has it, the left has it, and aye the centre has it”. But can the centre hold?

“Who cares “says I

Well hang on, surely I care don’t I? I mean it wasn’t that long ago that I cheered on Labour because I wanted them to come along and make everything better.

Well they did, for a while, and it wasn’t really their fault there was a terrorist attack which led to a war, which helped divert attention away from the naughty little bankers and anyway, we were all too busy making the most of it and waving our credit cards in the air weren’t we?

But all good things come to an end and before we knew it the party was over, Blair called a cab, the iron chancellor creaked his rusty way onto the world stage and suddenly it all became so bloody boring as all the real characters exited stage right (or left) leaving an altogether less passionate group of politicians behind them and a country which suffered as a result.

Oh nowadays you will still get the rhetoric and big brown puppy eyes beseeching you to do the right thing, you will get earnest points delivered by politicos in tailored shirts with rolled up sleeves, you will even get tweeting and ‘likes’ on facebook but passion? Not a chance.

Back then everything seemed so wonderfully clear cut. With radically opposing parties scrapping it out for the love of the electorate, pantomime heroes and villains caricatured in newspapers and not afraid to stand up for what they believed in, even if it made them unpopular.

Not anymore.

Now it’s just dull – yellow, red and blue pale imitators carefully keeping to the middle of the road and avoiding extreme bends with their Volvo shaped policies.

Which is why the words of Commons Speaker John Bercow are so important:-

“”I think there is a wider dissatisfaction that people feel, partly that the parties are still quite similar and perhaps there isn’t a huge choice, and partly they feel, well ‘I said what I wanted, and I voted accordingly, but I haven’t got what I wanted or what I voted for two years ago'”

Well disaffection leads to apathy and apathy leads to boredom which destroys our desire to vote. As a result turnout drops and we are all the poorer for it as we end up creating a self sustaining prophecy.

In Scotland we have a secret weapon against apathy called Alex Salmond, a bogey man demanding independence and who is also coincidentally Scotland’s first minister. A paradox who is liked and loathed in equal measure and also one of the finest politicians of his generation.

First Minister Alex Salmond speaks at the laun...

First Minister Alex Salmond speaks at the launch of A National Conversation August 14, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He has certainly rattled the ‘establishment’ which is why as I write this the mainstream press are preparing to castigate him with pitchforks and burning oil for telling fibs (allegedly).

But the point is he is gaining column inches two years before the vote for independence here, because both his personality and convictions mean something to others.

So can I suggest that David, Edward and Nicholas come and spend some time with Uncle Alex and learn how to inject some personality and life back into British politics?

Before we lose all desire to ever vote again.

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Fast cars

English: The Skelta G-Force, a car produced by...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Am I the only person in the world who is constantly disappointed with the drivers of little sports cars?

I mean, every day I drive to work and back, amble to and from the shops and on occasion even wander further afield. Yet hardly ever do I feel any sense of well-being when driving past smart cars or luxury vehicles.

I live in hope that just once the driver will match the promise. Maybe this time they will be a gorgeous female model or a smart suited city gent tanned and handsome. But no, invariably they are old, dry skinned, fat or far too skinny with all the life leached out of them. Maybe that’s why they look so very unhappy with their lot. Which is a shame when you think about it.

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