November 2011
Shadows in the sun at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow in Autumn 2011
This month we feature the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow, looking splendiferous when backlit by an Autumn sun. The park around these greenhouses is at  times a strange place. One day there could be wonderful floral beds, the next they are gone. Council workers don't wait for the seasons, they just uproot and replant in an at times rather alarming and quite sad instant. We want nature, and we want it NOW!
November 2011 News cartoon - Braehead Shopping Centre incident
Braehead Shopping Centre Incident
Last month an incident occurred at the Braehead Shopping Centre In Glasgow. It was initially reported that a man had been approached by security staff for taking photographs of his daughter, and that the police were then called. It was also reported that the male in question was then threatened with confiscation of his camera under anti-terrorism legislation. This, understandably, caused a bit of a brouhaha, whatever a brouhaha is, with members of the public up in arms over the foolishness of any number of rules and regulations, photography in particular. It was felt that folk should be allowed to go about their business without some overbearing security person with the brains of a fish or an officer of the law regarding them as one might a child-stealing paedophilic terrorist. The police later strongly refuted the initially-reported version of events, and in the end no one really knew for certain what had or had not actually taken place.
Whatever did take place at Braehead, it has nevertheless led to a relaxation in the previous 'No Photography' policy at a number of shopping centres, including Braehead, although all staff are now issued with special panic buttons which will trigger instant deployment of Apache attack helicopters, F-15 fighter jets, and nuclear missiles that will all automatically home-in on and target any suspicious camera-wielding dude.
                    Alcohol Fiasco

Measures were recently introduced to prevent discounted bulk buys of alcohol. The measures would, it was thought, have more impact on supermarkets who on far too many occasions were selling alcohol at greatly reduced prices, sometimes selling it at a loss with the spurious excuse that loss-leaders helped draw in customers who would buy other stuff. It didn't appear to occur to the supermarkets that folk were buying their cheap alcohol and nothing else.
The measures were introduced to try to quell the tide of alcohol abuse that is currently blighting Scotland. Something had to be done. But, like all legislation, there are often ways around the law, and legislative tweaking often has to take place to tighten up on any loopholes that had not been initially spotted.
What then happened is that the supermarkets reduced the retail price of individual bottles of alcohol so that consumers could effectively purchase it at the previous cheap price. i.e. where you might before have paid, say, £1.50 for a bottle of beer or £4 for three bottles of beer, the price of each bottle of beer was then reduced to £1.33 so that you could still buy three for £4. This beggars belief. The government has tried to sort a real problem, and the supermarkets are effectively thumbing their nose at the law.
Well, they will only have themselves to blame when they start to see their alcohol licenses revoked.
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I think most of us have probably been there; used a card to pay for purchases and found to our utter embarrassment that the transaction has been disallowed and we have to slink off in a shameful manner leaving our purchases behind. In most cases it is because our bank account did not have enough in it to cover the cost of the sale.
The thing that I find a tad alarming about such events is that often you do not get a 'receipt', and by that I mean a printed slip from the card-reading device/till to say that the transaction has been disallowed. We merely have to scuttle off with nothing to show for all that shame. This, I think is a failing on the part of someone. I'm unsure if it is a failing on the part of the supermarkets, or a failing on the part of the card-reading-device manufacturers. Because, at the end of the day, it would not be out with the bounds of possibility for some sort of fraudulent criminal activity to take place to dupe you into believing that your payment has been disallowed, and for someone to then pocket the amount that the payment was for.
So, let's tighten things up guys. If a card transaction fails, for whatever reason, there should always be a receipt so that the customer has a record/proof that this was so.
Pub interiors, like so much of our social fabric, are designed and tweaked in such a manner as to make it difficult for bad guys. But the problem is that in doing so they are also making it difficult for the good guys.
'What on earth are you going on about now?' I hear you all cry.
Well, consider this. If you go into a pub toilet you will be hard-pushed to find a flat level surface. That sensible little flat area that used to be on top of the cistern has now been replaced by a sloping surface. The reason: to stop bad guys snorting drugs off flat level surfaces.
Now, consider this. The spiking of drinks by bad guys is something we all have to be aware of. You might leave your drink unattended for a moment, come back and take a sip, then come to many hours later with no recollection of what has happened, where you've been, or where your purse and underwear might be hiding. This is no laughing matter. So, it makes some sense, more so if you are on your own, to take your drink with you into the toilet. Thus you may be assured that no one is fiddling with it.
Do you see where I'm going with this? Because now you find that there is nowhere in the toilet, with the exception perhaps of that grotty pee'd-on floor, to place your glass.
There are thankfully some pubs out there who are owned by folk who have some sense, who side with the good guys and adopt other less-obvious methods of thwarting the efforts of bad guys. These are the places that still do have that essential flat little shelf in the loo on which to place things, like your drink or handbag or whatever.
And these are the pubs I will go to every time. Why would I go to a place that thinks more of the bad guy?
The Pharmaceutical Industry is Killing Us

One of the milestones of old age is when your doctor presents you with a bucket of pills and instructions to take them every day for all time coming, however long that is destined to be. Some of these drugs are of benefit to us. In fact, they are all individually of some benefit to us, but when lumped together we do not fully understand or know how they ultimately interact and affect us.
But that's another story. Money is my gripe here. We are in the midst of a seriously deep global recession. People are going personally bankrupt in their hundreds of thousands. Companies are going under. Whole countries are going bust. There are riots on the streets.
Amidst all the public anger at how we ever managed to get ourselves in such a mess there has been much focus of attention on banks and power firms. The banks probably caused the problem in the first place, and power company shareholders continue to rub their hands in glee while folk sit in their little houses wondering if they should have a meal or turn the fire on.
We have searched in every nook and cranny to find solutions. We have plumbed the depths to save a few bob.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry seems to have avoided being thrust into the limelight. Their head sits very much below the parapet. They have quietly remained in the background, still raking in a fortune from health services around the world.
But, in this day and age, can we still afford the billions of pounds we throw at the Pharmaceutical Industry? We can't. Choices are being made. Ill folk are being denied potential life-saving treatments.
Let there be no doubt here, people are getting rich at the expense of other people's lives. Shareholders rake it in while doctors make decisions they should never have to make about who will live and who will die because we can't afford to give them the drugs they need. Is this the real world? Is this the world we truly inhabit, or do we prefer to live in a charade where such global unfairness and grossly inflated drug prices are brushed under the carpet?
Oh the power of the drug firms.
This can no longer be allowed to continue. Governments have to take action to nip this right in the bud, even if it means taking over or closing drug companies. Many of the drugs that we use could be made in government facilities for a fraction of the price. People could be allowed to live. Money would be saved. Problem solved.
Or could it be that governments would not wish to take action because politicians sit snugly in the pockets of the global pharmaceutical giants? And if that is the case, then the time has now come to show certain so-called politicians the door.
THE DEPARTMENT OF Work and Pensions is to send out leaflets advising families with a large number of children on ways to save money during these difficult times. There will be advice on budgeting, keeping warm in winter, and how best to make use of what is already available to them. In particular, they will be advised that they may both save money on the household food budget and allow more space within the home by eating one of their children. Recipes will be sent out.
SUPERMARKETS ARE TO do their bit in helping impoverished households out during the recession by offering individual items for sale. 'We felt it was important to keep in touch with our customer base,' said a spokesperson. As from December customers will be able to purchase one sausage, one slice of bread, one biscuit, and one sheet of toilet-paper. A Christmas deal will be introduced so the poor don't feel left out, where all of these items will be assembled in a special gift-pack.
JOBCENTRES ARE NOW sending out text messages to remind the unemployed to sign on. Seems to me like the Department of Work and Pensions might have more money than sense.
How much does two-and-a-half million text messages a fortnight cost then? At a minimum of 3p a text this equates to an annual figure of about two million pounds. Could someone please tell the DWP that we are in the midst of a recession.

Much advice has been given over the years to those members of our society who have not quite grasped what it is they should be shovelling into their mouths at meal times. If you were to diligently trawl through the literature you could in all probability find valid health-giving reasons for not eating anything at all. For most things have been proved to be bad for us: too much fat (and the wrong type of fat at that!), too much sugar, too much salt, and such like. A lot of the tinned and packaged foods preferred by poor folk is crammed with added sugar and salt. This is to make something with no taste taste of something, and to make poor folk slap their bellies and smack their mouths after a hearty yet unhealthy meal. 'My oh my,' they might say, 'but that was a fine tin of food, so it was.'
It's the salt and the fat thing that appears to give the most cause for concern. The fat clogs up your arteries, and the salt increases your blood pressure. Poor people, or those who feast mainly on fat- and salt-saturated foods, are popping their clogs with strokes and such like, and it's all down to their diet.
One major piece of advice has centred around a 'FIVE-A-DAY' campaign. This has tried to educate poor folk about the need to eat at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day so as to stay nice and healthy and live longer.
Most of us probably see fresh fruit and nutritious green vegetables as forming a main part of those five daily portions, but if you check NHS websites then the list of acceptable items is actually quite extensive. Beans and pulses, for example, can be counted as a portion. And this, I reckon, is where we could be going wrong. Because, at the end of the day, tins of beans in tomato sauce are generally laden with added salt, and not something that I personally would class as one of your five-a-day. To do so would be to give the wrong impression and encourage poor folk to consume too much salt. Which is exactly what Heinz are currently doing with their tins of beans: actively promoting them as 'one of your five-a-day'.
I personally don't think that beans and pulses should be on that list of five-a-day. I also think that Heinz are taking advantage of - milking, even - a slight flaw in the list of what foodstuffs constitute one of your five-a-day, and in doing so they are messing with people's lives.
HEINZ - Spilling the Beans
And now, for your delightful delectation...
Britannia Panopticon Music Hall, Trongate, Glasgow - exterior in October 2011
'Treasure' is a word I do not use often. In the Britannia Panopticon promotional leaflet, they describe this - 'the World's Oldest Surviving Music Hall, Entertaining Since 1857' - as 'a hidden treasure.' And that, my friends, is exactly what it is, an historical gem, a treasure of the type one very rarely gets the chance to see. For inside this old theatre the past is laid bare before you. The bones of this old theatre lay hidden for many years, gathering dust in what was for a while a tatty blue building in Glasgow's Trongate. And what you can now see is not some fluorescent 'Experience' fashioned by tourist industry wallahs. What you see IS the past, in all its unaltered grimy splendour. Bits are missing, bits are hingin' aff, and bits are still hidden beneath the Victorian stains of nicotine from the belching clay tobacco pipes of the working man having fun. It is one of few buildings that I can stand in and truly feel the past around me; men and women leaning over balcony's to applaud and cheer or hurl an occasional piece of fruit. To pee, even, as some urchins may have done at acts which failed to keep them amused.
The music hall was designed by architects Thomas Gildard and Robert H. M. MacFarlane, and built above the Britannia Vaults public house in 1857. Stan Laurel performed here in 1906.
There is much work to do to continue to discover other parts of this old building and preserve the parts that have already been discovered, and as such it is not always open to the public. But still it entertains.
At 7pm on November 2nd you can see the 1920s film, 'Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde', and on 5th November between noon and 5pm there is the Britannia Bazaar, so there is still plenty of opportunity to see inside this wonderful old structure.
In fact, the music hall is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4pm right up until 10th December.
You can check on the details of these events, and other upcoming events, at the Britannia Panopticon Shop, which is not far away at 49 High Street, Glasgow (shop opens Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm).