IMAGES OF SCOTLAND
This month we feature some cottages outside Milngavie, near Glasgow. It's just a little country scene, nothing outstanding about it from a photography point of view, but it is nonetheless a scene that makes walking on quiet minor roads in Scotland an utter joy.
Cottages at Baldernock, near Milngavie. June 2012
July 2012 News cartoon - The Kilmarnock Bonnet
Wi' Ma Big Kilmarnock Bunnet
The town of Kilmarnock, like many towns in Scotland and perhaps all of Europe, is struggling. It's the old story about lost industries, increased foreign imports and mass unemployment. When Diageo stopped bottling Johnny Walker whisky in the town it was akin to a death-knell that signalled an era when all hope would be gone.
But I have a plan.
While we all have to focus on remaking the things that were once made in Scotland, to recapture our very lives from the Far East, we also have to create interesting things for visitors to Scotland. Tourism is booming. Visitors to Scotland are bringing in literally billions of pounds to the Scottish economy. We all have to do our bit to keep that momentum going and the wolf from the door.
My plan is this. An annual event will be created. It will be a day of fun and frolics, fine food and drink, music and dance, and it will very much involve that item of headwear for which the town is famous. I propose an annual Kilmarnock Bonnet Day.
During the annual Kilmarnock Bonnet Day wearing of the Kilmarnock bonnet in the town will be mandatory. Everyone will wear one. Visitors arriving by bus or train will be met at stations by folk who will present them with their free Kilmarnock bonnet. They will be given strict instructions that the bonnet will be worn at all times when in Kilmarnock.
Can you just imagine the fun. Everyone wearing a big floppy hat. My goodness, it is an event that has the potential to attract visitors from all over the world. It would really put Kilmarnock back on the map. And with all that additional revenue perhaps there would be enough left over to build a museum and heritage centre dedicated to Johnnie Walker and the history of the Scottish whisky industry. It would be a  world-class attraction not unlike Edinburgh's Scotch Whisky Experience where visitors are trundled through time on slow moving cars. And if Kilmarnock was short of a bob or two to get such a thing up and running, I'm sure Diageo would help out. Scotland's whisky industry is not short of a bob or two.
And so, I toast the town of Kilmarnock, and the bonnet for which it is so well known, a bonnet that may well hold the key to Kilmarnock's future.
In Kilmarnock they once made bonnets. They must have been good bonnets, because the word 'Kilmarnock' can now be found in the dictionary. The dictionary definition is, 'A kind of closely woven broad cap for men, originally made at Kilmarnock in Scotland'.
Now, I think you will agree, that's quite a claim to fame. And yet, you rarely see a Kilmarnock bonnet these days. The bonnet-making industry in Kilmarnock died out a while back, like most other industries in Scotland. If the Kilmarnock bonnet was to make a comeback, it would probably be made in Thailand or China or some far-flung place.
Scotland's Online Tourist Guide
July 2012
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ADOPT A STATION
I was in Stonehaven recently. It was Saturday afternoon and the railway station had been abandoned by staff. The toilet was locked. Any travellers needing a pee would have suffered problems. As I wandered along the platform I noticed a big poster. It announced proudly that Stonehaven's railway station had been adopted. It was part of some huge Adopt-a-Station campaign. The poster mentioned the firms who had done the adopting, each, one presumes, hoping to promote its business to the hoards of travellers who used the station.
Am I alone here in thinking this to be nothing but a load of tosh? I mean, Scotrail seem unable to get the very basics right. Peeing is as basic as things come. How on earth can you have a station open and in use, yet no toilet facilities? It beggars belief. And it certainly must do the firms that adopted the station no favours whatsoever.
Snippets
ALMOST EVERY DAY I receive automated telephone calls. It is not a human making the calls, but a machine. A speaking machine. A speaking machine whose ultimate aim is to fleece you of money in one of any number of colourful sales pitches. The fact that one soon learns to immediately replace the handset on hearing the speaking machine before muttering quiet sweary words does not appear to deter them. There is no stopping them. The march of progress is upon us. All hail The Machine.
THERE WAS A story in The Press a while back about Lloyds TSB. Seems they lent a woman with dementia £18,000. But it wasn't just that she was a pensioner with dementia. She could clearly not afford to make repayments on the loan. Of course, the main story here is that banks have not learned their lesson. They got us into this sorry financial mess through lending money with no proper checks, and still they do the same. Unless they get rid of target-led bonuses for front-line staff, this will never change.
IT MAY HAVE escaped your notice, but there's a little thing called the Olympics taking place. The Argyll News told of the efforts of a small community to join in with the celebrations. The Tarbert Seafood Festival wanted to create a shop display with Olympics things, like those five interlocking rings. The local Trading Standards informed them that they were not allowed to do such a thing. It was all copyright, or something. Coco-Cola might get upset. Gordon Bennet! There aren't half some daft folk in the world!

Somewhere in the city of Glasgow there is a lane. The Hidden Lane. The thing about it is that although it is a lane, it's not hidden, although you could pass it by without throwing it a curious glance, or indeed any sort of glance at all, and as such I suppose you could say that it is, in a way, hidden.
The Hidden Lane
Special feature on the Highland Chocolatier
THE STATE OF SCOTLAND'S TOURIST INDUSTRY
There are areas of Scotland that might not want to be pestered by tourists. Stunningly beautiful remote areas where travellers are eyed with an initial suspicion as if they were the scouting party for a loud litter-strewing mob. (Just ask the people of Edinburgh how undesirable hoards of visitors can sometimes be.) Yet there are many other areas of the country where we are trying to encourage tourism, areas where we want people to come and spend money and contribute to the local economy.
St Monans in Scotland's East Neuk of Fife is like this. It has the scenic harbour, the colourful houses with the red pantiles, and it sits on a wonderful long-distance route: The Fife Coastal Path. It also has an historic kirk, an old windmill, and a Heritage Collection attraction. St Monans clearly wants people to come and pay it a visit. And yet, when I turned up at around 3pm on a Friday in May everything was shut. It annoyed me so much that I sort of went to town on the town, if you know what I mean. I contacted The Press, and what followed can only be described as a bit of a stooshie with lots of folk shouting and bawling.
But, at the end of the day, all the hullabaloo was not so much about St Monans, but more about the whole Scottish tourist industry. For it was once the case that visitors had a perception that things shut at certain times and you might be struggling to get a sandwich at two-thirty-two in the afternoon. And we all thought these days had gone. Well, I've got news for you: they haven't.
For still we in Scotland exhibit a blinkered and lackadaisical streak of apathy that shows us in poor light when compared with other countries. Apart from attractions being either shut or only open for peculiarly limited periods, we are rather poor where signage is concerned. In St Monans there was a large sign saying 'Welcome to St Monans'. It was so faded that its map was all but illegible. What sort of welcome is that?
Haddington's the same. There are signs pointing hopeful visitors towards the 'Jane Welsh Carlisle House Museum'. It shut a number of years ago and is now a private house. A street map in Greenock is so covered in dirt and moss to be undecipherable. You can find examples of this lack of care all over the place. The impression it gives to visitors is that we just do not care, and if we just do not care then why should they come and see us?
Tourists are by and large an understanding bunch. They don't expect perfection. But until we start properly appointing folk to maintain things like signage, start opening the visitor attractions that we have, and throw off our mantle of lethargy, then we will continue to turn away and disappoint the many visitors who at present contribute literally billions of pounds to our economy and whose depth of understanding has limits.
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GUARDING THE ALCOHOL
I
have been in some supermarkets where there was a security guard standing guard in the alcohol aisle. It's very hard trying to concentrate and decide whether to go for the strong cheap stuff or the tasty not-so-strong stuff while your every move and twitch is being scrutinised. You sense as your arm moves forward to select a bottle that its exact position is being monitored. I think it's the mistrust that gets to me. This instant presumption that you're an iffy character who needs watching. It hacks me off something terrible.