NEWS, RAMBLINGS AND AWARDS                                          APRIL 2010
                                             Shhh... tickets please...

It was once the case - and I know you'll find this hard to believe - that ticket inspectors would announce themselves with a big booming voice when they entered a train carriage.
'Have your tickets ready for inspection, ladies and gentlemen,' they would boom.
This was to allow us travellers to delve into the deep recesses of our pockets and handbags to locate the said ticket. It meant there was no delay while the wee old woman with the small but ferocious dog went through every compartment of her tartan trolley to find her ticket.
We were all a lot happier with this system, both travellers and inspectors alike. It was a system that ran smoothly and made us all feel pretty good. The inspector felt good because he commanded an air of authority that made him feel that his life was worthwhile, and passengers would obediently proffer the said ticket when asked. Us travellers also felt good because we felt there was someone with a big manly voice watching over us, ready at a moment's notice to step in at the merest hint of an emergency. (I was once on train where someone got stuck in the loo. The door jammed, and his cries for assistance made the journey much more exciting than normal, but that's another story.)
But all that's changed. Now the ticket inspectors sneak up on you, deftly creeping along corridors so as to catch you unawares. I mean, it is not practical to sit for a whole journey clutching your ticket. Most of us like to keep it somewhere. Somewhere safe. And so, when a ticket inspector suddenly appears, as if by magic, at your side, with no warning whatsoever, occasionally drumming their fingers with impatience, well... it's just not cricket. In fact, it's damned annoying.
And not just that. For instead of popping a nicely shaped hole in your ticket with a special punch, they now run their pen over it in a manner that suggests they are not so much checking your ticket as making sure their pen still works.
Sigh. Changed days indeed.
BEST SOUP IN SCOTLAND AWARD goes to Brian's Cafe in Bo'ness.

BEST ALE BREWED IN SCOTLAND AWARD goes to 'Seven Giraffes', a superb ale brewed by the Williams Brothers in Alloa.

BEST PUB AWARD goes to Greyfriars Bar in Perth. Go there now to find out why.

BEST THING TO SEE AWARD goes to the panoramic view from Edinburgh's Calton Hill.

BEST LITTLE WALK AWARD goes to the forest track through Mugdock Wood in Milngavie.

There is an alarming trend amongst those faceless people on the other end of the telephone to ask complicated questions. The other day, by way of one final security question, I was asked to confirm the last four digits of my mobile phone number. It would have been easier manually blowing up a life-sized inflatable hippo. Our brain does not store such data in segments. It stores it in a oney, and as such most of us can happily reel off the whole number, not bits.
Security questions are really starting to annoy me. You can, for example, be asked to confirm the third and seventh letter of your password, or the second and ninth or fourth and sixth or whatever. There are times when asked such a thing that I'm sure I can hear chortling on the other end of the line while I hum and haw and dither like an old yin. It's similar to the trick question asked by the interrogator to make you unwittingly spill the beans.
I'm beginning to think that the whole thing has been thought up by bored call centre staff, each trying to outdo the other by coming up with the most complex question...
'What is the letter after the fifth letter from the end of your password?'
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MARCH 2010

Duncan was a dinosaur
Of the Diplodocus kind,
Who was often very dithery
With a very leaky mind,
So he plugged his ears with hippos
To stop his thoughts going far,
But all the other dinosaurs
Just thought he was bizarre.
The Lost Word
If you are an old person, then I should warn you that now is probably a good time to take to the hills. Not for recreational purposes, but to escape the madness that pervades our lives. Further to concerns about the increasing numbers of old people in our society, top government officials have ended a lengthy debate and enquiry into the problem by coming up with a startling conclusion. Although you may not know it, in the past week or two emergency legislation has been drafted and passed in parliament, and the Prime Minister is expected to make a speech to the nation very very soon. (Stand by your beds.)
A government insider has spilled some of the beans. We understand that all old people will be required to report to their local council headquarters on the first day of May this year. Those who fail to do so will be rounded up and forced to report. There, they will be enrolled in the NRPFS (National Road Pothole Filling Scheme).
Once in operation, the scheme will see pensioners taken in busloads to areas where the roads have a high incidence of potholes, and will be required to lie down in the road, in the hole, between the hours of 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday. This will make it easier for those in our society who have a purpose to get about the place, delivering food to supermarkets and such like, and rush-hour traffic should move much smoother.
Any old person who refuses to take part in the scheme will be placed instead in the FSFAS (Fresh Sausages For All Scheme), and may never be seen or heard of again.
Rating System details for The Good Soup Guide, Scotland's online tourist guide
                                           THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH
How come you often see women standing smoking at the entrance to Hair, Nail and Beauty Salons? If there was but one thing certain to be bad for your hair, your nails, and to make you wrinkly and quite ugly, it would be smoking.

How come householders usually take great care when positioning their wheelie-bin at the edge of the pavement, while bin-men often place the empty bin right in the middle of the pavement so that it gets in everyone's way?

How come practically every single pub in the country assumes that customers enjoy watching football and have flat-screen TVs positioned at every available angle?

How come milk no longer tastes nice and creamy when you put it on your breakfast cereal?

How did we manage before we had plastic bags and things that go, 'bleep'?
This month we feature the huge crane at Finnieston, on the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow. It is a hugely impressive bit of kit, once used to move whole trains from low-loaders onto ships. As a child I once climbed ladders to the top and found an old man living there. Or maybe he worked there. Or maybe he was a wizard. Climbing to the top is not advised and not permitted as it is too dangerous. The crane stands today like a sentinel guarding the gateway to Glasgow's great engineering and shipbuilding past, and to a past where Britain was really Great. Changed days indeed.
Finnieston Crane, Glasgow

                                       THE COUNTRYSIDE IS BEING TAKEN OVER BY ALIENS

As you will no doubt be aware, in some visually sensitive parts of the country, mobile phone companies have been disguising their masts as trees. You can see a couple of examples at the large roundabout between Bridge of Allan and Dunblane. Well, what you probably don't know is that the mobile phone companies are extending this philosophy to include other things that you might ordinarily see in the countryside. The image on the right was taken near Maybole, and is a mobile phone mast cunningly disguised as a cow. It is not too obvious at first, but if you stand and watch it for a while it is an absence of movement that gives it away. So realistic are some of these masts that farmers have been known to drag them back to the shed for milking.
mobile phone mast
New Call Centre Staff For BT's Glasgow HQ

Jobseekers were spotted queuing in their droves outside BT's Glasgow headquarters recently. This comes after advertisements in newspapers, which were not quite what they appear to be.
'We had become dissatisfied,' said a company spokesperson, 'with our regular call-centre staff, and decided to take on Blobs. We didn't think there would be just so many Blobs in Glasgow, and were pleasantly surprised. At present we're thinking about extending the scheme to other parts of the country. We think Blobs are the way forward. They take less breaks, rarely complain, and although we recognise a potential issue with excessive weight and its resultant health problems, we are happy to put our full backing behind them. We wouldn't be the company we are today without exhibiting some sense where employment issues are concerned.'
The Good Soup Guide understands that 200 Blobs may be taken on.

[Photograph, showing some hopeful call centre workers queuing, is brought to you courtesy of Blobs Are Us Inc.]
In Paisley - 'A number nine? A number nine? Ah said, what the f**k dae ye mean.'
In Glasgow - 'Ah wonder whit thur sellin' noo - them wi' thur kebabs an' thur pizzas.'
I saw someone in the street the other day and they were not using a mobile phone. Their head was not down, their finger was not pushing buttons, and they were pretty much looking where they were going. I thought it was suspicious.
'Hallo, police. There's someone in the street not using a mobile phone. I think he's up to something...'
Mobile phones are becoming quite dangerous things. Dangerous and addictive. I now take my phone into the toilet so as not to miss any calls. Speaking on the phone with your trousers around your ankles and your hand clutching loo-paper is not the most attractive image I wish to convey when holding an important discussion.
If you want my advice - and I'm not really the man to give it, but - switch the thing off for a whole day every week, and try to get some semblance of normality back into your life. You know things have gone too far when you're discussing the efficacies of lentil soup and there's a number two on the way.
How we ever got away with introducing wheelie-bins is beyond me. They spend most of their time clogging up pavements and obstructing people with prams and in wheelchairs. Now the government is extending a scheme whereby electronic chips are placed in locked bins to allow them to weigh and, ultimately, charge you for the amount of refuse discarded. They might argue that such Draconian steps are necessary as we're running out of landfill sites and people are not properly separating their rubbish into stuff that can be recycled and stuff that can be discarded.
Well, I'm sorry, but this is a load of bollocks. You cannot force people to comply by introducing such nonsense. It is the start of a very slippery slope that will see this society break down completely into lawlessness, rioting on the streets, and such like. If you want to do this properly, then we have to bring back that trusted Victorian rubbish-sorter, The Scavenger, who would go through household refuse back in some depot and sort it into various types for recycling and so on. Because if you roll out this lockable lid/weighing scheme, then I can guarantee that we will see more rubbish discarded surreptitiously on our streets, in lay-bys and hedgerows in the countryside, and in generally every available space. And, to be perfectly frank with you, any government person who reckons such a scheme is a good idea wants his rear-end used as landfill!
He has a 'chemical dependence' = he's a drug addict.
He's being 'disingenuous' = he's a liar
A recent report by the Scottish Affairs Committee expressed concern that frontline staff were still 'under pressure to sell potentially unsuitable products' in banks. Never a truer word was written. At present we are seeing tens of thousands of ordinary people in the UK going bankrupt because banks sold them unsuitable products like loans or overdrafts or credit cards without carrying out proper checks as to whether that person could properly afford to meet the repayments. I thought banks had learned from this. And yet, go into practically any bank today and just happen to mention in passing conversation to the teller about these hard financial times, and chances are they will offer to increase your overdraft. They can do this at the push of a button, with no check on your current employment status. For those struggling to make ends meet, pensioners, the unemployed, and loads of others, being suddenly faced with an extra £100 or £200 is just too good an opportunity to pass by. Because you suddenly see a short spell where you will not be scrimping and scrabbling in the bottom of the financial bucket, and you might even get to buy those new shoes that you desperately need because your old one are old and worn and leaky. The temptation is just too great. So you agree to an increase in your overdraft. And then, over time, this overdraft creeps up and up and up, and before you know what's happening you're paying a good portion of your meagre monthly income on interest on the overdraft. So you think about maybe a small short-term loan, then maybe a credit card, and before you can say, 'Here we go again,' you're having to declare yourself bankrupt because you cannot afford to live.
Unless banks drop their bonus-led targets for frontline staff, this sorry financial mess is just going to keep coming around again and again and again.
Historic Scotland have enlisted the services of a man called Hamish and a large and quite beautiful white horse to promote a special offer. Their campaign runs from 26th March to 11th July, and anyone signing up for a year's family membership will be given an extra three months free. The 'Make Your Own History' campaign will be touted around the country via leaflets and various electronic means, and you may even spot Hamish on television. Bear in mind that once you have your membership you can visit all of Historic Scotland's historic sites, like castles and abbeys and what have you, for free, even when there's an event on, like the jousting at Linlithgow Palace in July.  [Remember, if you say you were sent by The Good Soup Guide, you will be given a free round of applause.]

Picture on the right shows Hamish at Doune Castle.
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Hamish at Doune Castle
Stirling Castle is hosting an Eastery thing. As is to be expected, there are eggs involved. There will be people in costume, puppetry, magic, dancers, and a 'hilarious panto-style comedy show featuring ‘Baron Hardegg’ and ‘Squire Softboiled’ - characters who were a huge hit at our previous popular Easter events'. So, there you go. But remember, once you've seen the castle and soaked up some Eastery stuff, walk down the hill into the town. Because there's much more to Stirling than just a castle. Might I recommend that you begin with a hearty bowl of soup in the Darnley Coffee House (2009 Winner of The Good Soup Guide's 'Best Soup In Scotland' Award), which is located near two shiny black cannons at the foot of the aptly named Broad Street.