Education has gone north

St Andrews University has been named the top higher education institution in the UK, according to The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022. It is the first time that a university other than Oxford or Cambridge has topped the list in the thirty-year history of the guide.

In terms of academic research, St Andrews scored highly in the most recent Research Excellence Framework, especially for its work with Edinburgh University on chemistry and physics. It is also renowned for marine research, pioneering medical work and the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.

The town is named after Saint Andrew the Apostle. The settlement grew to the west of St Andrews Cathedral, with the southern side of the Scores to the north and the Kinness Burn to the south. The burgh soon became the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, a position which was held until the Scottish Reformation. The famous cathedral, the largest in Scotland, now lies in ruins. St Andrews Cathedral was once the largest building in Europe.

St Andrews is also known globally as the “home of golf”. This is in part because of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, founded in 1754, which until 2004 exercised legislative authority over the game worldwide (except in the United States and Mexico). It is also because the famous Old Course of St Andrews Links (acquired by the town in 1894) is the most frequent venue for The Open Championship, the oldest of golf‘s four major championships. Visitors travel to St Andrews in great numbers for several courses ranked amongst the finest in the world, as well as for the sandy beaches.

Notable alumni include Prince William, Duke of Cambridge; Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge; Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland; and, Benjamin Franklin received an Honorary Degree from St Andrews in 1759.

Days Of Magic

Chapter 1

First of all, my name’s Ailsa McGinley. I’m a fae with an anger management problem. Aye, you heard right. No idea where I got it from. My mum, probably. She can throw a mean tantrum when she gets going. And that’s not the only thing that gets thrown. Many’s a night she’s lobbed a beer tankard or two at an annoying customer at the Squeaky Bum. A weird name, I know. Dad says it’s named after me because I had a gastric problem when I was a baby. Mum said they were just looking for a name that attracted attention.

Parents!

You never know if they’re telling porkies or no. Oh, porkies mean porky pies – lies. We’ve got our own patter here, so you’d better get used to it. Anyway, back to what I wanted to tell you. I suppose you’re better off hearing it from me than somebody else. The others keep telling different versions of the story and quite frankly it’s getting on my nerves. I mean, how would you like it if people lied about an event in your life? You just can’t believe some of the codswallop spouted by so-called witnesses to it. It’s crazy.

Before we start, know this. I don’t live in your world. None of us do. It’s a parallel universe in which only fantasy creatures live. Just as well. Five minutes with you lot and we’d be extinct or paraded around as circus freaks.

Oops, I’m rambling again. I tend to do that now and again. I’ve been told I’m one hell of a chatterbox. So let me know if I’m gabbing too much. But say it nicely or I’ll go off the rails. I’m quite sensitive like that.

Let’s get back to the story.

It started one sunny, Friday morning in February when I was in my Right Of Passage class. I didn’t mean to bring the weather into it. But the sun rarely shone here, so it made the start of the day unforgettable. In fact, it’s as rare as seeing a bone-juggling dog. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a wee bit. About the sunny day, I mean. The sun kind of popped its wee head out from behind a cloud, although it was pure freezing outside. The classroom was just as cold. We didn’t have any form of heating as it was Save-the-planet week. Of all times to do it. February’s pretty chilly at the best of times. But to calendar that month for the auspicious occasion really was taking the biscuit. Did nobody think of July or August which was in summer?

Let’s get back to the story before I lose my temper.

My fellow fae and I were sitting in a row at the front of the classroom, backpacks at our feet. Normally, I would start the sentence with Me and my fellow fae, but old McLean would go nuts at the bad grammar should she ever read this. And knowing her, she probably would. In which case I’d better delete that bit later.

So, like I was saying. All five of us were sitting at the front of the classroom, teeth chattering and chatting away excitedly about the Rite-Of-Passage weekend. It began at ten a.m. on the last last day at school, ending at the same time on Monday morning.

I’d been looking forward to it for ages. It meant not working in the pub, which I did in my free time. ‘You earn your keep in this family,’ my parents always told me. Been saying that for as long as I can remember. Exhausting work. Some of the customers were downright rude and a wee bit overfriendly if you get what I mean. But from now on I’d be mistress of my own destiny.

I was sitting next to Margo McDonald, the baker’s daughter. Her addiction to all things sweet and savoury showed in her round girth and chubby face. A nice lassie that carried a lot of baggage. She was one of these folks that always had something wrong with her. But I don’t think it was just plain attention-seeking or anything like that. There seemed to be underlying family problems that I could never quite fathom out. I told my dad about it once. His face was a picture of disgust when I mentioned Mister McDonald’s name. He warned me to keep away from him. And if he ever came within a few feet of me, he’d rip his heart out.

You can’t get much more hatred than that.

Margo leaned into me. “I’m just going to hole up somewhere for a few days and make up stories about my adventures.”

She wouldn’t survive for too long on her own. A pity we couldn’t be paired up so I could help her out. But that was against the rules.

“You do that,” I said. “But I want to have adventures. Might be the only fun I’ll get for a long time to come.” I released a long sigh. “Might not come back. Nothing here for me.”

Margo gasped. “Your family?”

“They can do without me. Besides. I’ve been getting itchy feet for a long time. Need to see life on the other side of the forest, so to speak.”

“That’s if we survive.” The poor soul looked terrified. I slipped out the handle of the knife hidden inside my boot. “Sharpened it this morning. Been practising throwing it as well. When done the right way, I can stick it in anybody or anything from a distance.” I patted my coat pocket. “I’ve also got a catapult and some stones. Been practising with that as well. I’m a pretty good shot.” 

“Seems you’ve got it all figured out.”

“Been planning it for months. You?”

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

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NEARLY THERE

Chapter 1

When I died and passed over to the other side, the only possession I had was a memory of Elizabeth. It was a hot afternoon in July about ten years ago when we had summer jobs at the tourist information office in Fort Augustus. That Sunday we had the day off and hired a rowing boat, intending to venture across Loch Ness. Neither of us had ever rowed before. We ended up veering off in all directions and going round in circles.

Finally, we settled for a spot close to shore, but far from prying eyes. From our backpacks, we took out our copies of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. We’d searched high and low for them in second-hand bookshops in Glasgow where we both studied English at university. The aim was to write a verse of our favourite poem on the inside cover and to recite it at the same time. The ceremony was as close to a wedding as we ever got, and to be honest, what with the scenery, the feeling, and all the rest of it, it was all we really needed. When the moment came, we both stopped after one line and laughed. Not only had we chosen the same poem, but also the same verse.

That was another life.

Now I was standing outside The Jock McTavish Inn that was once owned by Mrs. Pearson. It went bust when she took up collecting stuffed animals in her dotage, frightening away the customers. I used to see the mangy beasts close up when I had to fetch payment for the papers I delivered.

Tall weeds still grew between the cracks in the broken and half-embedded flagstones that led to the house. The number of beer cans and cigarette butts in the tousled garden had increased since my last visit, which must have been some twenty years ago. But the graffiti on the dour-grey facade had remained the same. All except my name, which I’d spray-painted in bright luminous orange above the door. It looked like I owned the house, something that did not go amiss by the police who demanded I scrub it off.

I was about to knock when the lamp tacked under the sill of the doorway flickered on, casting light on Generous Jane–a naked, wooden figure carved into the door. In medieval times her presence denoted a brothel…in England. What she was doing here was anybody’s guess.

Vandals had abused her with a black marker pen, and now her blue eyes peered through lopsided spectacles. Her nipples had grown large and flat, and her other redeeming features left little to the imagination. Considering the previous tenant, it came as a great shock to me when I looked up the figure’s significance one night. I often wondered if Pearson had plied her trade from behind that door, and the guests were her customers. Or she was an old witch luring travellers to their deaths and hiding their stuffed bodies behind the walls or in the cellar.

The door creaked open, allowing a musty odour to escape. It made me want to spit; I would have done so if Pearson hadn’t suddenly appeared. I gasped at the sight of this lanky woman in her funeral frock, as I used to call it. The attire comprised a black dress that trailed the ground at one end and had a high collar at the other, stretching up to her ears. A black cardigan complemented it.

Her slate-grey eyes narrowed. “Andrew Milligan.” The stern voice chilled me to the marrow, as it did all the kids who lived in the village. Every time we passed by her door, she’d come outside and invite us in to take measurements of our body size for a future pedestal. One end of her lips curled up in a crooked smile. “In you come.”

I swallowed hard. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Where else would I go?”

She was right on that score as she was synonymous with the inn. Even death could not prise open her bony fingers from the place. She was an unworldly creature-a demonic spider with a sticky web she had woven for innocents such as me. No way was I stepping inside there with her in it.

“Think I’ll go haunt somewhere else.”

She chuckled. “You don’t have a choice.” She dropped her gaze to the floor. “Unless you want to-” her eyes lifted, catching me in a death stare- “go down there. We could arrange it.”

Though I didn’t believe in Hell, I didn’t want to take the chance. “Well, just a for a little while. Then I’ll be on my way.” I stepped inside on stiff legs and started trembling from the cold and fear.

The door slammed shut, startling me. “No chance.” She came round front and swept her hand. “How do you like my work?”

“You’ve been busy,” I replied as I checked out a deer head mounted on the wall, bearing antlers as high as the ceiling. More impressive was the wild boar’s head below it, whose curved tusks bore the weight of two black coats. Elsewhere, pedestals showcased otters, stoats, foxes, badgers. An assortment of birds gave menacing stares from inside cages. Atop the pedestal to my right stood a life-sized fox on its hind legs with a pheasant’s neck clenched between its teeth.

Pearson caressed the fox’s head. “Always wanted to do it with the clients.”

“I bet you did. So what’s next?”

She cocked her head. “Go see him.”

“Who?”

“John. He’s in the living room.”

I stepped closer to the doorway and peeked inside A man in a grey suit was sitting on a green, wing-backed armchair by a log fire.

“But who is he?” I whispered. I was hoping she’d say my guardian angel, though that would have been hypocritical of me as I didn’t believe in Heaven either.

She shrugged. “I only know him as John.”

“What does he do?”

“You know in the Harry Potter film when they propped that hat on the new kid’s head? The one that told them which house they were going to?”

“One of the best scenes. Yes, I remember.”

“Well, it’s nothing like that. That’s all I can tell you.”

I never saw her as humorous. Or she’d always been that way, and I just didn’t get it. And I was sure this guy I was about to meet was no laughing matter either. But I would have to face him, eventually.

“Go on!” she snapped.

“Don’t be in such a hurry. I’ve got eternity.” I chewed my bottom lip. I dreaded meeting this guy, even though I was unsure what he was all about. I just hoped he wasn’t anything like his caricature or I was in for the high jump. Anyway, I didn’t deserve to go to Hell.

The moment I stepped over the threshold, the wall above the fireplace suddenly sprouted a bull’s head. It had a furrowed brow, narrowed eyes and was staring right at me like it was about to charge at any moment. John’s eyes also seem to burn with malice as he stared into the fire. He had neatly-cut, grey hair, and a goatee trimmed to a point. His blue tie and white shirt matched his suit to a tee. He reminded me so much of Mr. Grayson, my old headmaster at St James Secondary School in the nearby town of Garnoch.

“Sit,” he ordered. He had the same cold voice and abrupt manner as Mr. Grayson.

I flopped down on the proffered armchair, its soft leather squeaking under my weight. I pressed my legs tight together and rested my clammy hands on its arms. I dug my fingers into the armchair’s soft leather, curling them into fists.

John drew my gaze to the wooden fire surround, which was a little scratched and worn down in places. “What do you see?”

“The same as you, no doubt.”

He snapped his fingers. “Now.”

The paintwork on the fire surround bubbled as if a flame torched it. The bubbles formed contorted, twisted faces–each one with its distinct features, so it was easy to tell them apart.
When John stroked one of them, the corners of its lips lifted in a grin and a contented moaning sound emanated from it.

I gasped. “Pretty neat. Is it mechanical or does it use electricity?”

“Neither.”

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Cops For Hire

If we hire private cops, what becomes of the local bobby?

A recent article states the success of private security firms to police the streets. But what becomes of the local bobby, or even the police as a whole? Should we have a two-tier systen in which those who can’t afford it, make do with an underfunded police force?

Here is the article.

Private cops available to hire could hit Scots streets to tackle local anti-social behaviour

Concerned members of the public have contacted private law enforcement form My Local Bobby, who have become increasingly prominent in England in recent years.ByGordon Blackstock

  • 04:30, 1 MAR 2020
Private security firm My Local Bobby is looking at opportunities to provide services in Scotland (Image: Philip Coburn)

The UK’s first private law enforcement agency has held talks about patrolling Scottish streets amid complaints police are failing to tackle antisocial behaviour.

My Local Bobby (MLB) said it is assessing “opportunities” north of the Border after being contacted by concerned members of the public in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Since it was launched by two former Met officers in 2016, MLB has become increasingly prominent across the UK.

Staff in police-style uniforms have been policing communities in upmarket London suburbs and shopping hotspots plagued by low-level crime.

My Local Bobby security patrol in central London (Image: Phil Harris/Daily Mirror)
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MLB has mounted hundreds of private prosecutions for theft and other crimes such as drug offences and pick-pocketing in England after claims police had given up on targeting the offences.

It has even set up a prosecution unit, which has resulted in offenders being jailed.

Former Met commander and co-founder of MLB Tony Nash, 55, said his firm was expanding into the north-east and north-west of England from its London heartland. He said Scotland was the logical next step to their growth.

Nash added: “While Scotland has a different legal system, it still supports an evidence-based security patrol which works with the right tie-ins with the community.

“We’ve been approached by a residential group in one of Scotland’s main cities who were concerned about anti-social behaviour at night going unchecked near the city centre. It’s similar to the inquiries we field across the UK.

My Local Bobby co-founder, former Met Police officer Tony Nash (Image: Collect)

“This was only at the inquiry stage but we’re willing to work where the community wants us. We have an ability to expand and are keen to do so in places like Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh.”

The service sees “officers” hired out to customers who pay a subscription of up to £200 a month.

In return, locals get uniformed patrols, urgent responses to emergencies and alarms and direct contact with the firm.

The service was set up by Nash and David McKelvey, a former detective chief inspector with the Met.

Nash said: “Regardless of where you are in the UK, the impact of modern policing coupled with budgetary restraints has created this storm where you don’t have the frontline service anymore and that’s where MLB comes in.

Police forces have too much on to patrol the streets.” Scottish Tory shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “The SNP has failed to support Police Scotland since its creation in 2013.

“The consequence of that neglect is that some communities are suggesting they need extra help to keep them safe.”

Policing expert Professor Stuart Lister, of Leeds University said: “We’re seeing a growth in these sort of schemes after a decade of austerity has led to a fall in visible police presence on our streets.”

Assistant chief constable Steve Johnson, said: “Police Scotland takes all reports of anti-social behaviour seriously and we recognise its impact on those living in our communities.”

The UK’s worst-selling map

From the Observer’s Robert McKie

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A single Scots pine grows from a boulder standing in the middle of Achness waterfall in Glen Cassley in the Highlands. It is a striking sight. Isolated in the fiercely flowing river Cassley, the tree towers above a long stretch of rocks swept by torrents of water. Salmon leap upriver in summer while golden eagles swoop overhead. It is an image of Scotland at its glorious, scenic best and would be expected to attract tourists in their droves. But in Glen Cassley, 50 miles north of Inverness, visitors are conspicuous by their absence.

Indeed, according to the Ordnance Survey, its map of Glen Cassley is the least purchased item in the entire OS Explorer map series. “Getting up there is only for the more hardy of us, perhaps, but it is still not clear why the map should be so unpopular,” said Nick Giles, the managing director of Ordnance Survey Consumer.
The Ordnance Survey now sells 1.7m paper maps a year (an increase on previous years) but is coy about sales of individual maps “for reasons of commercial sensitivity”. However, it recently revealed that its most popular map – Explorer OL17 of Snowdonia and Conwy Valley – sells about 180 times more copies than its worst seller, Explorer map 440: Glen Cassley and Glen Oykel. In other words, for every person who uses a map to explore the waterfalls and moorland of these two glens, there are 180 who would rather make the most of the crags and tracks of Snowdonia.
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Certainly some of this disparity can be blamed on remoteness. Glasgow is more than 200 miles to the south. Nevertheless, the area still seems curiously unloved even closer to home.

Inverness tourism office had stackloads of local Explorer maps during my visit – with one exception, map 440. Similarly, the WH Smith nearby also had shelves groaning with cartographic offerings but only one of Glen Cassley. This may not be the map that time forgot, but it is not far off.

“Essentially we are dealing with the least populated place in Britain,” said Dave Robertson, an OS surveyor for the Highlands. “There are a few dozen houses inside the land covered by map 440 but many of these are only sporadically inhabited holiday homes or shooting lodges.”

Robertson estimates that there are fewer than a couple of hundred people living in the 826 square kilometres covered by map 440. “By contrast, there are other OS Explorer maps which cover areas with millions of inhabitants,” he added. “Essentially the Glen Cassley area is an empty zone.”

It is Robertson’s job to update OS maps when new roads are built, mobile phone masts put up, houses constructed or wind farms erected on hill tops.

Mapping these features was once a laborious process involving theodolites and other instruments but has been transformed by digital technology. Now Robertson uses a two-metre pole – known as a Global Navigation Satellite System receiver – that is fitted with GPS sensors. They can pick up a combination of US, Russian and Chinese satellite signals that allow him to pinpoint his position on Earth’s surface with centimetre accuracy.

“You follow the line of the road or track you that are mapping and the GPS receivers marks your route on your laptop. Then you record what the surface is made of – grass, or tarmac, or soil.” All that information is recorded and is then used to generate a new map of the area. It is a constant business even in the Highlands. Or at least in most parts.

“The one exception to all that activity is Glen Cassley,” said Robertson. “I have very little to do there. It doesn’t change and nothing much happens there to require new mapping.” That lack of activity and isolation gives the area its grand, bleak beauty. There are no villages within its borders, and only a handful of farms, a couple of hotels, and a few roads, nearly all of them single track. By contrast, there are acres of blanket bog covered with blaeberries (bilberries), heather, bog cotton, tormentil and an exotic range of fungi including the purple amethyst deceiver.
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Robin McKie, right, with Dave Robertson of the Ordnance Survey in Glen Cassley. Photograph: Robin McKie for the Observer
Some of Scotland’s finest fishing rivers cut through this boggy land and there are stunning waterfalls and salmon leaps. Bird life includes buzzards, stonechats and an occasional golden eagle.

On my visit last week, Dave Robertson and I strolled through these wonders that were only intermittently blighted by rain or midges. We met only one set of fellow walkers – who looked aghast when I explained that I would be writing about the region. “Please don’t let everyone else know about this place,” they pleaded.

In fact, the Ordnance Survey says it is very keen to get more and more people to know about lost national treasures such as Glen Cassley. At the end of this month, on Sunday 30 September, the OS will be promoting National GetOutside Day when it hopes to get as many as a million people to take trips, walk and enjoy the outdoors. Thousands of routes around Britain will be promoted in the process.

“Once people realise what is on offer in places like Glen Cassley, they could make a lot of difference,” said Giles. “Certainly, it would be good if we could get Glen Cassley off the bottom of this year’s sales charts though that would only mean we would have to try to do the same for the current second bottom selling map – Peterhead and Fraserburgh – next year. And that might be harder.”

Lost and found
The origin of the Ordnance Survey can be traced to the government’s decision to map the Highlands in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion. British troops, in pursuit of the defeated rebels, found they had no proper maps to help them locate their enemies. So the government launched a mapping exercise that produced the first detailed maps of the Highlands and later the rest of the country.

Today the OS has two main series of British maps: the Landranger with red covers and the Explorer with orange covers. The latter are scaled 1:25,000, in which 4cm represent 1 km. Landranger maps at 1:50,000 scale have less detail but more coverage on a single sheet.

The top 10 most popular Explorer maps all cover areas of England and Wales. The 10 least popular all cover areas of Scotland.

The top three are:
OL17 Snowdonia and Conwy Valley.

OL7 the Lake District, South Eastern section.

OL24 the Peak District.

The three least popular are:
OS440 Glen Cassley and Glen Oykel.

OS427 Peterhead and Fraserburgh.

OS333 Kilmarnock and Irvine.

Catalonia – What Now?

catala nreferendum injured woman

The horrific events in Catalonia on October 1st 2017 have shown Spain’s intolerance to dissent. True, the vote was illegal, and the Spanish government had to do something about it.  However, was such brutal force necessary? From videos and eyewitness accounts it clearly was not.

Earlier indications showed that, had the vote gone ahead legally, the Remain camp would have won. So why the abject refusal to allow a vote?

As we have seen from the Brexit and Scottish referendums, relatively few incidents occur when they are done legally. This is a fine example of democracy in action. It should have set a precedence for the rest of the world. Instead, here we have Spain, a member of the EU, behaving like it was still ruled by Franco. Result: more people want Catalan Independence.

Violence is not a way to combat dissent in a democratic country.

 

DARAPRIM – where’s there pain, there’s wealth

Martin Shkreli, a biotech entrepreneur (pictured), bought the American marketing rights to Daraprim, a drug that treats a parasitic infection.  His company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, said it would increase the price of Daraprim in America from $13.50 a pill to $750. On September 22nd, he promised to rethink the price rise,but defended his move, saying that Turing plans to invest in research and development to improve the 62-year-old drug. Doctors expressed scepticism. Some said they needed not a better drug but a cheaper one. The medicine is used to treat toxoplasmosis, an infection that is particularly dangerous to people with weakened immune systems, such as those with AIDS and some cancer patients.

The patent for Daraprim expired long ago and in theory there is nothing to stop another firm producing and selling it under its generic name, pyrimethamine.

In  Britain, Daraprim is sold by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), at a far lower cost of around $20 for 30 pills. GSK sold the rights to market Daraprim in America in 2010 and those rights changed hands again recently, with Turing the buyer.

But Turing is not the only company to have bought the rights to older drugs and raised their prices. Valeant of Canada sharply raised the cost of two heart drugs after acquiring them this year. Horizon Pharma increased the price of a pain-relief tablet, Vimovo, by 597% after buying the rights from AstraZeneca in 2013. Since 2008 the price of all branded drugs (including both patent-protected ones and those whose patents have expired) has risen by 127% in America, compared with an 11% rise in the consumer-price index, reckons Express Scripts, which manages medicines’ costs on behalf of employers and health insurers.

Turing promises to waive the cost of its pills for people who have no health cover, but the move could impose a big price rise on insurers, hospitals and government health schemes. The 13.1% increase in prescription-drug spending in 2014 is already leading to higher premiums for health cover.

Gateway to the Catalan Republic 2015 (Via Lliure cap la República Catalana)

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For the last three years the pro-independence organisations Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Culturala have organised a mas rally (Via Lliure) in Barcelona on September 11, Catalonia’s National Day.

This year (2015) the rally took place along Meridiana Avenue, which stretches from the ‘Parc de la Ciutadella’ where the Catalan Parliament stands, to outside the city. TheVia Lliure cap la República Catalana (‘Gateway to the Catalan Republic’) was 5.2 km-long.

The route was divided into 135 stretches, symbolising the Catalan Parliament. Following this, the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Jordi Sánchez outlined the importance of being registered “not because we fear that the ‘Via Lliure’ won’t be full” but to inform the participants of their position and role during the demonstration.

While last year’s V-shape’s demonstrators dressed in red and yellow, symbolising the colours of the ‘Senyera’, the Catalan flag, this year’s predominant colour was white which symbolises a blank page, a book that citizens have to fill with their wishes for the next country that will be Catalonia.

Different coloured cards in the shape of arrow pointers were located all along the avenue, one for each of the ‘10 concepts’ that have formed the core of ‘Ara és l’hora’ (‘Now is the time’), the ANC and Òmnium Cultural’s summer campaign for the Catalan elections scheduled for the 27th of September. These 10 concepts represent key values that the new independent Catalonia must guarantee. The colours will be distributed as follows: yellow for democracy, blue for regional balance, red for solidarity, sky blue for openness to the world, green for diversity, dark green for sustainability, purple for equality, brown for welfare and social justice, pink for innovation, and orange for culture and education.

The ‘Gateway to the Catalan Republic’ will be divided into 135 stretches, the same number as the total number of representatives sitting in the Catalan Parliament.

The demonstration was officially started at 17:14. 1714 was the year when Barcelona finally succumbed to Bourbon troops, after 14 months of siege. The whole demonstration is supposed to last approximately an hour and a half, including the final speeches that are normally given by the president of the ANC, Jordi Sánchez, and that of Òmnium Cultural, Quim Torra, and other outstanding representatives of civil society. At 17:14, a giant arrow pointer symbolising the way to the Catalan Republic travelled along Meridiana Avenue, starting at Roselló Porcel Street, at the entrance of Barcelona, and going all the way up to ‘Parc de la Ciutadella’, where the Catalan parliament is located.

Anti-Catalan nationalism party Ciutadans (C’s) had stated that they would try “to put all the possible obstacles” to impede the rally from happening. Ciutadans’ councillor in Barcelona’s City Hall, Carina Mejías, said that the pro-independence rally is “partisan”, only “interests a few” and creates a “split” as it divides Catalan society. “I don’t know why Barcelona has to each year be the stage for partisan harangues. Such events do not fit into the party’s model for Barcelona, she said. National Day (on 12 October) and the Spanish Constitution’s Day (on 6 December) supporting Spain’s unity in Barcelona are adequate and have nothing to do with the division created by the pro-independence demonstrations.”

Thirty people from different countries were invited by Òmnium Cultural to witness the independence movement at Meridiana Avenue in Barcelona. Scottish writer, Irvine Welsh, French-American activist, Susan George, Germany’s foreign affairs advisor, Kai Olaf Lang, and professors such as Michael Keating, Michel Seymour, Bard Fassbender, David Farell and Rogers Brubaker are among those invited by the sovereignty association.

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Harley Days

harley days

Since 2008, Barcelona has hosted Harley Days – the biggest urban event of the Harley Davidson brand in Europe. It lasts a weekend and takes place at Plaza España, near Montjuic Fairground. Harley Davison enthusiasts come from all over the world to participate, and over a million tourists come to watch the free event. Yes, you heard right – it’s free.

I nipped along on Saturday afternoon for this year’s event (Friday 3rd-Sunday 5th July 2015.) Temperatures hit the late nineties. With skin as pure as the driven snow, I barbecued nicely under the watchful eye of the sun. (And that was with factor fifty sun-blocker.) I posed for photographs as I sat on a Harley Davidson which was far bigger than anything I could ever handle.

And it was free (sorry, just love that word.)

There were motorbikes for sale and all the gear that went with it. And of course, no event would be complete without some tacky souvenirs. So I bought a SONS OF ANARCHY Tee shirt! Well, you’ve got to, haven’t you?

I doubt the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels will be quaking in their boots!

Afterwards, I watched a female rock singer called Clara Plath. She was really, really good. Listen to her songs on the internet – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

On Sunday was the big parade of bikes – all sizes, some custom-built. Well worth watching, despite the noise. Here are some photos.

Hope to see you there next year.

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Clara Plath (worth listening to)

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