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Walter Smith

Former Rangers, Everton and Scotland manager – and sometime Sons player – Walter Smith has died.

It is fair to say his best days were with other clubs. He joined Sons from Dundee United in 1975 but in 1976 became one of the select few players ever to appear in a Sons jersey in a Scottish Cup semi-final. Arguably he and that squad appeared in two since the first game (against Hearts) ended in a 0-0 draw. We’ll draw a veil over the replay, though. 64 games for the Sons isn’t a meagre tally, though.

It was as a manager that he made the biggest impact on the football world. His Rangers teams won ten league titles in total, five Scottish Cups, six Scottish League Cups and reached the UEFA Cup final in 2008. He is also the only manager of the Scottish National side to win an international trophy (excluding British Isles only competitions,) the Kirin Cup in 2006.

Walter Ferguson Smith, 24/2/1948 – 26/10/2021. So it goes.

Outbreak of Flags

Scots are not generally given to flag-waving from their properties.

Exceptions come when the national football team qualifies for a major tournament; as it did for Euro 2020 (due to Covid, played in the summer of 2021.)

Maybe there was an extra excuse this time because the previous occasion when Scotland graced a big tournament was in 1998!

Scotland Flags Again

More Scotland Flags

The flags have long gone now.

Croatia 3-1 Scotland

Euro 2020, Group D, Hampden Park, 22/6/21.

Well we know this is how it goes. A gallant effort but this was knowhow – and class – against inexperience. Their control, passing and movement made it look like men against boys.

At least we got a goal.

It’s hard to resist the thought that – notwithstanding they’d never beaten us before – the Croats targeted this game. They certainly played way better than in their previous two outings. They never looked at all bothered or likely to lose and in Luka Modrić they had an outstanding player who totally bossed the game and scored a superb goal. And Ivan Perisić wasn’t far behind.

Maybe Scotland’s players will have relished the experience and it motivates them to want to have it again – whether at Qatar next year or in the next Euros.

We can hope.

But it’s the hope that kills.

England 0-0 Scotland

Euro 2020, Group D, Wembley Stadium, 18/6/21.

Well. The first thing you have to say is that Scotland deserved at least a point. It was a great performance by the players – perhaps unlucky not to get the win. But for that you have to put the ball in the net. We were never convincing about the ability to do that.

A win against Croatia ought to see us through. But they’ve got quality in midfield and upfront and it will be a very difficult game. The other thing that worries me is that they’ve never beaten us. That run has to end sometime.

And we know how this goes. Scotland put in a gallant effort and somehow still contrive to muck it up.

On Tuesday evening Croatia will burst our bubble with about ten minutes to go. Watch through your fingers.

Scotland in Space

Creative Visions and Critical Reflections on Scotland’s Space Futures. Editors: Deborah Scott and Simon Malpas. Foreword by Ken MacLeod

Shoreline of Infinity/The New Curiosity Shop, 2019, 179 p.

Ken MacLeod’s wittily titled foreword “Steam me up Watty” (though he was not the first to it, Watt being apparently one of Birmingham’s finest, according to the Birmingham Mail) sets the scene for Scotland’s entitlement to a share in space endeavours while the editors’ Introduction explains the project’s genesis.

The main body of the book has three sections, each with a story specially written for the book, and academic essays complementing or critiquing the points it brings up.

Scotland and Mars has Pippa Goldschmidt’s Welcome to Planet AlbaTM!, set on the eponymous vistor centre next to a launch pad somewhere in the north of Sutherland, where tourists can experience a VR sensation of walking on Mars at a time when the first humans are actually on their way to the Red Planet. Narrator Ali is of Arabic extraction and spent some time working in the US. The story is about loneliness, rootlessness and fitting in. Alastair Bruce’s essay Mars: There and Back Again relates the hows and when of getting to Mars and the latest plans for that. Sean McMahon discusses what colour Mars really is. (Spoiler: not red – in fact it’s a mixture of browns, beiges and orange with the (very) occasional blue sunset or -rise.) Elsa Bouet in Red Journeys: ‘Welcome to Planet AlbaTM‘! and the Martian Literary Imaginary assesses Pippa Goldschmidt’s story and its themes among the history of Mars in fiction, Wells, Bradbury, Robinson et al.

Fringe in Space begins with Laura Lam’s story A Certain Reverence which is larded with Scottish words and usages. It’s narrated by Blair Orji. She is part of a Scottish contingent, either scientists or entertainers, to a tidal-locked planet orbiting Proxima Centauri b where aliens (who have already given humans access to all-but-light speed technology) are waiting to be exposed to Scots culture. In Life, but not as we know it: the prospects for life on habitable zone planets orbiting low-mass stars Beth Biller considers how we have identified such planets, their nature and how to tell if they are habitable. Tacye Philippson, senior Science Curator at National Museums Scotland, in Alien collecting: speculative museology, assesses what aliens might consider worth collecting from Earth and from Scotland in particular.

Scotland at the end of the Universe starts with Russell Jones’s story Far, in which an (almost literally star-cross’d) love story is blended in with an Inflation Drive which allows a newly independent Scotland to be transferred across the universe. The appearance of the story is notable for its layout which resembles that of modern poetry at times (unsurprisingly as Jones is a poet) but also for the brightly coloured illustrations of drinks glasses and what looks like microwave background images plus a few diagrams and the word ‘Yes’ rendered in blue in the font used for promoting that result during the 2014 Independence Referendum. In The Multiverse Catherine Heymans explains how cosmic inflation (which describes how the early universe must have expanded, its signature left as the cosmic microwave background,) violates Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity but how an Inflation Drive could indeed be a way of travelling faster than light – except for the problems involved in switching it off. Vatjaz Vidmar’s Of Maps, Love Stories and the Universe describes both fiction and science as kinds of maps delineating connectedness and that bonding in this way (as within or between atoms) may be the universe’s resistance to its own demise by heat death.

Colin McInnes’s Afterword notes that the first person to give a description of rocket propulsion (in 1861; well before Goddard and Tsiolkovsky) was a Scot, William Leitch, from Rothesay, and that Scotland is well to the fore in modern space technology, Glasgow now manufacturing more spacecraft than any other European city, a possible proving ground for the exploration of space both fictionally and in reality.

Pedant’s corner:- Jones’ (Jones’s.) “The tourists area” (ought to have an apostrophe; tourists’,) McFadyan (unusual spelling of McFadzean, though presumably pronounced the same way,) “Susan and me carefully wriggled through” (Susan and I,) a missing quotation mark before a piece of direct speech, “about half the diameter Earth” (of Earth,) Marts (Mars’s,) “one variant of these are ion thrusters” (one variant is – even if the ion thrusters are plural they are still the one variant,) Wells’ (Wells’s,) tinging (tingeing,) censors (sensors.) “Scotland’s always dead set on doing it on our own aren’t we?” (either ‘We Scots are always …aren’t we?’ or, ‘on its own, isn’t it?’) “because a shipful of dead humans arrive is likely” (because if a shipful it is likely.) The binary star of Alpha Centauri blaze in two, tiny pinpoints” (stars,) “as we bowed and rose back up, still panting. The humans…” (as we bowed and rose back up, still panting, the humans ….) “Only happened once a millenia or so” (once a millennium,) Anglada-Escud é (Anglada-Escudé,) electronic shocks (electric shocks.) “This class of exoplanet have temperatures…” (This class has …,) “metamorphised limestone” (metamorphosed, or, since this was marble, ‘metamorphic’,) a missing full stop (x 2,) “now the vote and die has been cast” (plus marks for ‘die’ but that ‘and’ makes the verb’s subject plural; ‘have been cast’,) sat (x 2, sitting,) “their owner” (x 2, each time it was a dog, so ‘its owner’,) Heymans’ (Heymans’s,) “using the same physics that can predict the original temperature of your cup of tea 13.8 minutes after you brewed it” (not ‘predict’, it’s already happened; ‘calculate’,) “very epicentre” (epicentre means off-centre; ‘centre’, if you must aggrandise it use the word ‘hypercentre’,) miniscule (minuscule,) the moon (the Moon.)

The Doc

So 2020 continued to be a miserable sod right till the end, when it took Tommy Docherty away from us.

The Doc was probably most famous for being manager of Manchester Uinted though he had previous spells at Chelsea and other clubs, plus as Scotland manager. After Man U he managed seven more clubs.

His senior playing career began at Celtic but he could not displace Parkhead legend Bobby Evans from the team and moved south to Preston North End and later Chelsea.

He played for Scotland 25 times including in the 1954 World Cup (but we’ll swiftly draw a veil over the 7-0 defeat to Uruguay – I read once of a player’s recollection that the Scotland team were in heavy woollen jerseys as if playing in winter rather than the heat of a Swiss summer and were shod in big old-fashioned boots – with the Uruguayans in more modern footwear he described as like slippers in comparison. We were lucky it was only seven was the verdict.)

It was as a manager that The Doc made the most impact, taking over a very declined Man United and not able to turn the club’s fortunes round till after a relegation but leading them to a swift – one season – return to the top flight and then to an FA Cup win against Liverpool (denying that club what would have been a first ever treble by any English side.) Who knows what might have transpired if The Doc had not had an affair with the wife of the club’s physio Laurie Brown and as a consequence got the sack? (I note from the obituaries that Docherty was still married to Mary Brown when he died.)

Despite plying his trade mostly in England Docherty, like most of his ilk, remained a proud Scot.

There was a tale told – I think it was of Joe Donnelly, Dumbarton’s perennial substitute in the 1971-1972 season (only one sub allowed in those days and that for injury) that the player had once been involved in an altercation with an English team mate who had called him a “Scottish b*****d.” Docherty, as their manager, took them into his office, got them to settle the matter reasonably amicably then let the Englishman leave the room. Whereon he immediately turned to Donnelly and said, “You didn’t hit him hard enough.”

A character, then.

Thomas Henderson (Tommy) Docherty (The Doc): 24/4/1928 – 31/12/2020. So it goes.

2022 World Cup Qualifying

Gosh, it comes round again.

The draw for the European qualification round for the 2022 World Cup (to be held in Qatar) was made today.

Scotland’s fate could have been worse I suppose – we managed to avoid holders France, world ranked no 1 Belgium and also Spain, England, Germany, Italy and Portugal, nemeses in previous qualification campaigns, but Denmark, Austria and Israel (yet again drawn in a group with Scotland) are no mugs; and I always get the fear over games against countries like the Faroe Islands and Moldova.

Our last two games were 1-0 defeats too let’s not forget, but I’ll give the team a pass on those as they were hungover (in the nicest sense I hasten to add) from managing to reach the Euro finals.

Serbia 1-1 Scotland (aet 1-1; 4-5 pens)

Euro 2020, Path C, Final Play-off, Rajko Mitić Stadium, Belgrade, 12/11/20.

Well this was nail-biting stuff.

I hadn’t watched Scotland live for a very long time before this game. For one thing it wasn’t really worth it, for another the games were behind a pay wall and I’m not temperamentally happy with companies charging you for access and bombarding you with adverts for the privilege.

Anyway, Scotland were surprisingly on top in this game – not at all what you’d expect from an away tie. Serbia looked all-but toothless for most of the match. There was a mystifying graphic during the first half which stated that Serbia had had 55% of possession. It hadn’t looked like it. Scotland only really had one effort on goal for all the good play, John McGinn’s shot which the keeper parried to ground but at the other end David Marshall hadn’t much to do.

Second half we dominated Serbia for the first part. When Andy Robertson was set up by Lyndon Dykes it ought to have been 0-1 but Robertson somehow managed to balloon it well over. I thought then that it wouldn’t be our night. It wasn’t long though till Ryan Christie scored a magnificent individual goal, dragging the ball from behind him, side-stepping a defender then cutting it back through his legs in off the post.

Even though Serbia began to push (they had to) it wasn’t till very late they threatened our goal.

Then came the substitutions, taking off our two main attacking threats and midfield driving force. I couldn’t see us creating much from then on and it seemed as if coach Stevie Clarke had decided to hold out for the win.

Their goal was typical Scottish stuff, conceding late. The momentum swung then and there. As did the emotions.

Extra time we weren’t in it. Glorious failure once more beckoned. Still, David Marshall had a very good save indeed from a long range effort. But the boys dug in and took it to penalties.

And what a performance they were. Five banged in all but perfectly. And David Marshall’s apotheosis with the save of Serbia’s last. Cue bedlam.

History made. First qualification through a play-off. First major tournament in 22 years.

We can all relax now for the months until June. (Except there are two games to come in the Nations League on Sunday and Wednesday.)

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland

In The Grampian Quartet, Canongate, 1996, 88 p, plus 2 p Author’s Foreword, 1 p Contents and v p Introduction by Roderick Watson.

 The Grampian Quartet cover

One of the hallmarks of Scottish writing (or I should say good Scottish writing) is its facility for landscape description. In The Living Mountain, a non-fiction work of virtually nothing but description, Nan Shepherd elevates this to an outstanding degree. Here is the Cairngorm plateau in all its glory, beauty and menace; its prominences, its rocks, its shifting hues, its changing moods, its sparkling waters, its light and air, its sudden vistas and deceptive perspectives, its capricious – and dangerous – weather, its plants, birds and deer, its people, its effect on the senses, its being. If Shepherd had set out to write a love letter to the Cairngorms she could not have succeeded better. Her immersion in and knowledge of the landscape is profound. That it did not find a publisher on being written towards the end of World War 2 is amazing. It did not see the light of day till Aberdeen University Press published it in 1977. Shepherd’s foreword to that edition refers to the changes that have occurred in the Highlands during the interim. But her feelings about the mountains remained the same. They are where she seemed to be most at home, at one with herself and the world.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Introduction; a closing bracket without a previous opening one. Otherwise; “Its waters are white” (if they were tumbling over rocks, yes; but this is in a passage about clarity. The last thing an utterly transparent medium is is white. You can not see through white. Try looking through a piece of paper,) acclimitisation (acclimatisation,) felspar (feldspar.) “In December an open heather” (in open heather.)

Whithorn

And so on our journey through Dumfries and Galloway it was on to Whithorn.

Whithorn has an important place in Scottish history as it was the location of the first Christian Church in Scotland after St Ninian crossed over from Ireland in the year 397 or thereabouts and the ruins of the mediæval Whithorn Priory stand in the town.

Architecturally Whithorn is a typical small Scottish town with stone built houses. I wasn’t really expecting any Art Deco but it does pop up in unlikely places.

Charles Coid, Butcher:-
There is a hint of eastern influence to this but the date in the cartouche is 1934 – slap bang in deco times – the geometric surround to the proprietor’s name with its mosaic construction and the towered roof line give it the look.

Art Deco Style in Whithorn

What looks like an old Woolworths; now houses “The Whithorn Story”:-

Old Woolworths, Whithorn

Georgian house:-

Georgian House, Whithorn

Memorial plaque to George Dickie, “Jack Brent,” member of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War:-

Spanish Civil War Veteran Memorial, Whithorn

Pend leading to Whithorn Priory:-

Pend Leading to Whithorn Priory

The coat of arms above it is the Royal Arms of Scotland:-

Coat of Arms, Whithorn Pend

Priory side of pend:-

Pend in Whithorn, Priory Side

Shutters on pend windows:-

Shutters on Pend Windows, Whithorn

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