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Sunday, 15 November 2015

Jazz journalism

So I'm stood in a bar in Amsterdam, last Thursday night, drinking cloudy Belgian beer, courtesy of my old friend Iain, and chatting to the best drummer in the world.

I am. Honest.

Usually I tell people Friendly Encounters is not reporting. Grounded in a solid groove it takes off at times into flights of fancy. It's jazz journalism.

But not this week. The Steve Gadd in this week's story is the real Steve Gadd. The me is the real me. You can even see my head bobbing at the bottom of this video taken on the night and hear my cry of pleasure at the end.

Which is a strange sound for my body to make at a jazz gig. But I hadn't realised that's what I was listening to. I was so entranced by how Steve makes his drum-kit sing.

"This is great," Iain says at the break. "Every one of those guys is outstanding. I prefer rock to jazz, so it wouldn't have been my first choice. But very well organised."

It's a sentence no one has said to me before, so I take a moment to savour it. Then I replay some of the sounds in my head. And bugger me, he's right. Somehow I've filtered out one guy tooting a trumpet, another on keyboards and a whole lot of swing, syncopation and improvisation. My dad would have loved it. They'd even played Bye Bye Blackbirda song he used to sing us to sleep with, and a staple of jazz bands since the 1920s.

The knowledge I'm at a jazz gig doesn't dim my delight, as Steve and the band play half a dozen numbers, build to a drum solo, get rapturous applause and return for the encore.

"I could listen to Steve Gadd play anything, with anything." I tell Iain in the bar afterwards. "He could make great music by hitting a fresh cowpat with two sticks of celery."

"Or a four-cheese pizza with a couple of cucumbers," he says. 

I've read lots of articles trying to understand what makes Steve special. They talk about his wonderful feel, but they don't analyse it. Having watched him play from a distance of 15 feet I can tell you there's at least three elements. 

He doesn't draw attention to his drumming. It's great music he's after, not the limelight. He works with the other guys in the band to create a groove so strong you could dance six inches off the floor on it. Then there's the dynamics. His are subtle, cool, sometimes surprising. They make you feel good. 

Then there's the space he gives to other players in the band. My lasting image is not of triple ratamacues on every available surface, the drumsticks just a blur. It's of one stick moving down, nice and easy, while the other comes off the skins, or more often the cymbals. The 'tssst' sound of a clipped hi-hat closing at the right point to make your spirits soar is quintessential Steve Gadd.

Iain is all for hitting the rain-silvered pavements at the end of the show, since we've a fair walk to the hotel and don't know the way. But the band's coming into the bar to sign T-shirts, so I spend 30 euros and get in line. 

The scary bouncer catches my eye and I look away, the schoolboy words 'It wisnae me' forming and dissolving in my head. Clad in a dinner suit two sizes too small for him, this guy is big, bulging and bald. He looks like a cannonball on a column of stone. 

Until some poor sap puts his arm around Steve's shoulders and tries to take a selfie. Then the cannonball moves in fast and plucks him off, using an arm like a ballerina's thigh.

At the end of the long table, Steve stands up and has a quiet word with the bruiser, suggesting maybe he shouldn't break the nice fans. So the next selfie, he just stands and watches, twitching slightly with frustrated force.

When I get to the front, I move along the table, getting signatures on my T-shirt, and having a wee word with each musician. "I noticed you smiling a lot when someone else was soloing," I say to Jimmy Johnson, the five-string bass player.

"I was enjoying myself," he says. "How could you not? These guys are good."

And then I'm there. Stood in front of a smiling Steve Gadd, who has signed my T-shirt and is waiting politely for me to say something intelligent. So he's clearly not a reader of this blog.

Thin and wiry, his tattooed arms look just like mine. If only they were. "Imagine you're giving one piece of advice to a young drummer who wanted to get as good as you," I say to him. "What would it be?" 

"There's no secret," Steve says. "Keep playing. Practise. Listen to other musicians. Keep it simple."

I hold my hand out to shake his. "Slip me some magic, Steve," I say and float back to the table where Iain is guarding my beer. Ten minutes later we're all leaving the bar and Steve is chatting to someone next to me. On an impulse I reach out and stroke his arm, an involuntary gesture my hand does to people I really like. He looks at me, smiles and holds his hand out again. I shake it and say goodnight.

I've had hot dates that didn't go half as well. 

The final impression that comes to me, as Iain and I wander in circles through the long night, trying to find our hotel using the force, the stars and our unerring sense of direction, is that Steve Gadd isn't projecting. There's no big star aura. Despite all that talent, he's a nice guy who seems to be taking it all in. It's like he's still learning at the age of 70. I love that.

"Keep playing," Steve Gadd said to me. "Practise.

"Keep it simple."

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Why can't I come?

"So you're off to Amsterdam this week?" Al says, as we walk along Milngavie road, resist the blandishments of the Burnbrae and head towards his ice-cold bungalow in Bearsden

"Can I come?" he adds.

"You wouldn't want to," I say. "It's a Steve Gadd and James Taylor gig and you don't like either, far as I know."

"Who's Steve Gadd?" he says, which doesn't surprise me. Al has strong but not varied musical interests. He's into hard rock and gutsy guitars. He's a Hendrix fan. 

"Probably the best drummer in the world," I say.

"I'd go as far as Amsterdam to avoid listening to a drummer," he says.

"But you wouldn't fly there, would you?" I say. "You're scared of flying." 

"You know that's not true," he says, seeming peeved. "I'm scared of climate change. I don't believe anyone should fly anywhere."

"You think burning your passport will save the planet?" I say.

"You think not eating meat will save the animals?" he says, and it's a fair point. But I have an answer.

"You're right. We both are. It's the same principle. You decide between right and wrong by imagining how things would turn out if everyone did what you're thinking of doing - or not doing. If the world would be a better place, it's the right thing to do."

"Or not do," Al says. 

"Or not do."

"Listen," he says, grabbing my arm, as we turn into his drive. "Could you shut up a minute?" 

But I'm already in full pontificate mode, so he might as well wave a white hanky at a charging bull. "There's an alternative principle," I tell him. "The greatest good of the greatest number. Politicians use it to justify everything from benefit cuts to world wars. It's the source of all evil, because even the simplest dynamic system - as you and I know - can produce totally unexpected behaviour. 

"A world full of people is anything but simple. So believe your model, focus on ends and you can justify any means you like. That's not ethics. To be ethical you have to care about what happens to Mrs McGinty, three doors down, not to the aggregate of 60 million faceless units in a mathematical model that deludes you into imagining you can tell the future, when you're actually talking spurious, self-satisfied, evidence-free, unmitigated shite."

"Has the wee spring wound down yet?" Al says, when I stop to draw a big breath.

"Just about," I say, as we take a seat in his back garden and contemplate a vegetable patch the size of Hampden Park. Years of Al's tender care and scientific nutrition have given it sinister strength and an air of brooding menace

His broccolis are the size of village bus-shelters. The regimented rows of tall leeks look set to invade Czechoslovakia. 

"Just about," I tell him. "Has anyone wandered into your vegetable patch and never come out again?"

"Not yet," he says. "I think it might have eaten next-door's dog though."

"Any chance of a coffee before I get back to work?"

"Listen, what I was trying to say when you were off on one was this," Al says, five minutes later, placing two full mugs carefully between us on the wooden bench, dotted delightfully with bird-shit. "Isn't this blog supposed to be mildly humorous?"

"That's the idea," I say, sipping his black, acrid coffee and trying to tell my face it's nice.

"Well I've gone over this conversation in my head and it's mainly you on a moral philosophy rant. That's too serious for your readers, isn't it?" 

"Most of them," I say. "It wasn't the plan. I intended to talk about orgasms."

"Ancient history then," he says. "But why? Is their some topical science angle?"

"There sure is," I say. "Couple of Australian scientists have launched a study to find out why people fake their orgasms."

He shakes his head. "Pretty obvious, I'd say, even for Australians. Daft bloody scientists."

We sit in companionable silence for a while. 

"You ever fake an orgasm?" Al says, without looking at me.

"Nah," I say, staring straight ahead. "You?"

"I can't remember," he says and we sip our coffees, as the vegetable patch rustles ominously and a plane passes overhead, bound for who knows where.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Mr Demotivated

As I get slowly changed in the gym dressing-room (because the faster you undress the sooner the pain starts), I'm thinking about an article I read over breakfast that imagined aliens trying to understand Earth, by eavesdropping on the Internet. 

"What impression would they get of us humans?" it asked.

The answer they gave was that we spend our time on three activities - playing with cats, watching strangers doing strange things to each other, and getting into pointless arguments with wankers.

There is a fourth. 

Everywhere I look these days, some self-styled guru is trying to motivate me. "Why not go out on a limb?" the guru says. "That's where the fruit is." 

And, "The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they make the best of everything."

And, "What you do today can improve all your tomorrows."

The idea, I'm guessing, is something like this. The alarm sounds loudly, dragging you out of that recurring dream about Marilyn Monroe, three penguins and a tub of tutti frutti. 

Still fuzzy at the edges, you drag your weary body out of bed and open the curtains on a dreich October morning. Your back is stiff, your teeth hurt and a wee guy with a jackhammer is pounding your eyes from the inside. One glance at the bedroom mirror makes you recoil in horror, as a subhuman with six-inch ear hair stares out at you, without a glimmer of intelligence in his bloodshot, bleary eyes.

All you want to do is crawl back under the blankets. But a glance at Twitter bucks you up. "The measure of who we are," it says, "is what we do with what we have." 

That is so true, you say, and your heart lifts. Your tummy flattens. The sun peeps out from the clouds. Sparrows sing in the sycamore. You throw open the window and welcome the bright, new morning with a burst of Italian opera. Postman Jim comes round the corner and sings back up at you: "Nessun dorma. Nessun dorma. Tu pure, o, Principessa."

And damn it, you feel like a princess. 

Down the stairs you bound, eager to get to work on your new novel, about sex and climate-change, provisionally entitled The Windmill Position. 

But you can't resist another motivational hit. So you look at Twitter again. "Aim for the moon," you read. "If you miss you may hit a star." 

That's a bit astronomically illiterate, you think, starting to deflate slightly. You try another one. "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago," you read. "The second best time is now." 

Your mood shifts. Instead of simply feeling you begin to think. You start to calculate. If the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time isn't now. Not by a long shot. 

The second best time was 19 years, 11 months, 30 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds ago. Unless it was a February. 

That's a bit of a discrepancy, you say to yourself. If I'm going to be motivated by deep-thinking thinkers I'd like them not to be innumerate. If the buggers can't do the sums why should I trust them with the philosophy?

And just like that your insanely cheerful bubble bursts. The miraculous motivator has lost his magic. It's just you against the world again.

As I get to this point in my thoughts, I reach the top of the gym stairs, spot Al in his usual position by the mirrored wall and walk on over. "Listen," I say and he puts the dumbbells down with a sigh. 

"What now?" he says.

I explain my sums to him then realise the discrepancy is worse than I'd thought. "Because the shortest unit of time is not the second," I tell him. "It's the jiffy. That's the time it takes light to travel the diameter of a proton."

"Really?" he says.

"Trust me, I'm a physicist," I say, doing some fast mental maths. "So what the guru should have said is this: 'The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The 210,240,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000th best time is now.'"

Al shakes his head and gives my shoulder a sympathetic pat. "I hate to say this, son, but you need to get out more. It's not advice I'd ever take myself, but ..."  

He stops himself. "No, I can't," he says.

"Go on," I say. "I can take it."

"You need to find yourself a woman," he says, turning to pick up the weights and admire his manly muscles in the mirror again.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Hill Street boots

Photo by Michael Gibb
"Fasten your bootlaces," I tell my son for maybe the hundredth time, as we're wandering back to his flat, after black coffees and a shared plate of salty chips in the Oxford CafĂ©, at the foot of Hill Street, near the Art School.

"Naw," he tells me for maybe the two hundredth time. 

See that's the thing about being a parent. You don't learn that they don't learn from you. They would much rather listen to complete morons who've had sixteen pints and are wearing T-shirts that say, 'Immigrants are like sperm - millions get in but only one works."

Oh sure, for the first coupla years kids pick up some stuff from their mum and dad. Mostly words. Especially if you're well educated. By the time my boys were four years old, according to the expertsthey'd heard 30 million more words than children from less middle class families. (I'm guessing that's about 300 from me.)

All those extra words are a huge advantage in terms of brain development. Which is probably why, after a few years of being a bum, my boy is now a highly capable man. 

Who can't tie his shoelaces. 

"I can," he tells me. "But sometimes I choose not to. You seen the new Ridley Scott, by the way? The Martian? You'd like it. Actually maybe the science would annoy you. High winds on Mars, stuff like that. Good film, though."

He crosses the road to take a look inside a skip and pulls out a long piece of plywood peppered with one-inch nails. "Hmm," he says. "What could I do with that?"

"Sleep on it?" I suggest. "Has The Martian got that Australian nutter in it? You know the one I mean. Scott uses him a lot."

"They're all nutters," he says, tossing the bed of nails back, stepping on his left lace with his right foot and stumbling. 

"See!" I cry. "That's what happens. You nearly fell there. If you'd been crossing the road you could have been hit by a bus."

"Bollocks," he says. "I went like this." He does a tiny stumble then walks on, going, "La, la, la."

I shake my head at the futility of it all. What is the point of decades of hard-won time on Earth if none of it is transferable to your kids? So much for experience, is what I'm thinking. About as useful as a Scottish twenty pound note in a Cornwall clotted-cream shop.

"They're all nutters," he says again. "You know what Australians are, don't you?"

"People from Australia."

"Scotsmen who've been left out in the sun too long."

We reach his flat. "Coming in for coffee?" he says.

"Just had one," I say. "And got to get back to write."

"Why can't you write a blockbuster science fiction film?" he says. "Can't be hard. Bunch of astronauts headed to Mars take a wrong turn, end up in Australia. Meet talking crocodiles. Turns out they're Martians, scouting for an invasion force. Astronauts tell them Ayres Rock is the capital of the world, which they believe because it's identical to Mars. Whole invasion fleet lands there and gets duffed up by Russell Crowe, wearing big boots with the laces undone."

"I'll get on it right away," I say, turning and stumbling over my own feet.

He raises one eyebrow and looks insufferably smug.

"Bugger off," I tell him and head on home.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Look at me when I'm talking to you

Since my last post I've had a couple of requests for more smart stuff about the brain. Now I have to say this is not one of my main areas of expertise. 

"What is?" Susan says, looking over my shoulder, which is something I've hated since primary school, when Miss Jamieson, as suited to teaching as I am to international diplomacy, read sneeringly aloud my fleeting ambition to be a flower-arranger.  

Jamieson had a booming voice and a chest like Ben Venue and as a seven-year-old I was equally scared of both. I never got the hang of keeping her happy. Quite the reverse. She'd be driven at times to heights of maniacal frenzy I have not encountered in my life as a grown-up. 

"Kids, women, engineering," I tell Susan.

"Ha!" she says and wanders out to the garden, which is looking lovely at this time of year. Pink roses, yellow honeysuckle, purple clementine ... I suppress my inner flower-arranger and get back to the story.

So your brain has three main parts: the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the brainstem

The cerebrum is the grey, wrinkly bit you see in all the brain pictures. It has two hemispheres - the northern, where most people live, and the southern which has penguins. No, hang on. 

The cerebrum has a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere. These are connected by a bundle of nerves called the corpus callosum. If a surgeon cuts this, which used to be a treatment for epilepsy, the halves can behave like two people in the same body. One guy even got stuck in a loop, with his left hand pulling his trousers down and his right pulling them up again. 

And here's a strange thing. The left hemisphere of your brain controls the right half of your body and the right controls the left. Nobody knows why. Maybe God read the wiring diagram wrong. 

But I have a better theory. 

Flatfish such as plaice and flounder have two eyes on one side of their body. They don't lie on their tummies on the seabed, as you might think, but on their sides. So as a flatfish develops, one eye migrates round to the other side of its body.

I believe something similar happens to our heads. They start off facing backwards, with brain and body halves aligned. Then nature looks down, sees heels instead of toes and realises it's cocked up again

So it slowly turns the whole head around. The face is now in the right place but the brain is back to front, relative to the body.

Now you might think this is a stupid theory. I'm pretty sure you do. But plenty of seemingly stupid science theories turn out to be true. Time travel, quantum mechanics and evolution, for a start.

And I have evidence to support my theory. When I worked at British Aerospace my section head Dennis Anderson told me a story about the manager director, whose mum he knew well. When this guy was born they got a big fright, she'd told Dennis, because he seemed to have no face.

"It was a terrible shock," Dennis said. "Then the midwife took a closer look and found the face. What a relief! It was round the side of his head. Over the next week it gradually migrated to the front and he's been normal ever since. In fact, he's a high-flyer, as you know."

Now babies' skull bones are malleable and a tough birth can squeeze them out of shape for a while. My own head was squished pretty flat when I was born. There was some talk of sending me home by post, to save money, and getting me popped through the letter-box. But my mum didn't have a stamp so we had to go on the bus. 

A face right round the side of the head is different though, and I think it's strong evidence for my theory. 

"What theory is that?" Susan says, coming in from the garden with a bunch of pink roses and reading over my shoulder again.

"The human face starts out at the back of the head," I tell her. 

"Yours should have stayed there," she says, heading through to the kitchen to find a flower-vase and laughing like a drain.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Did meat make you smart?

Before relating this week's encounter, I need to slip you some skinny on the human brain. 

Mine weighs about 1.5 kilograms. Yours might be a little more, because I'm guessing you didn't superglue your index finger to your thumb yesterday.

"Be careful," Susan tells me, as I'm dripping liquid UHU onto a plastic doofer I've shaped to fit into a rough-edged hole inside the drum of her washing-machine that's tearing her clothes every time she does a washing. "Superglue can be dangerous."

"Give me some credit," I say. "Do you know how long I've been using tools? Have you any idea how much skill has seeped into these fingers? Can you imagine the depths of knowledge ... Oops."

"What have you done," she says, with that long-suffering drop in intonation I often hear at the end of women's sentences when they talk to me.

I raise my left hand, which looks like I'm doing a shadow-puppet goose.

"Do not," she says. "Move a muscle. I'll google what to do next."

But I reckon time is short. So surreptitiously I start to pull finger and thumb apart, testing the relative breaking strengths of the new superglue bond and my old outer layer of skin. Sensitive to small clues others might miss, my finely-honed engineer's brain tells me the former is weaker, so I exert a greater force.

"'Do NOT try to pull finger and thumb apart,'" Susan reads from her computer

"Aaagh!" I squeal.

"Pillock," she says.

So Carol's theory, which she explains to me in the garden at little Sally's second birthday party, is that the brains of seabirds are evolving so fast they will soon be the dominant species on Earth.

"They've moved inland to live off humans," she says. "So they're getting more protein than ever before. That's what gave human brains a big boost, back in our days on the African Savannah. 

"You remember them?" she adds, unnecessarily.

"And here's the thing," she continues, indicating two yellow-eyed herring gulls perched on the back fence, coveting their neighbour's birthday cake. "When those buggers rule the world, it's going to be Hell. You know why? They're Nazis."

This seems over the top to me. Did gulls annex the Sudetenland? Hardly. Did they invade Poland when I wasn't looking? I don't think so. "They are just birds trying to earn a crust," I tell her.

"No they're not," she says. "They're evil. They'll be goose-stepping around in jackboots any day now. They'll enslave all humans and conduct fiendish experiments on us."

"No they won't," I tell her and I'm pretty sure I'm right. See, here's the thing about young Carol. She is prone to hyperbole for humorous effect. But study the content of her conversation, no matter how far-fetched, and there's usually some interesting truth in it. 

So when I got home I looked this one up. And it turns out there's science behind what she was saying.

Now I'm not telling you seagulls are going to drop bombs on London. Nor that we will have to fight them on the beaches. Far less that there's a little corporal seagull with a black moustache somewhere, writing a manifesto for world domination.

The science is about how humans got big brains. It's called the expensive tissue hypothesis and it goes back to a 1995 scientific paper by Aiello and WheelerFor the full story you'll need to go to our smart sister site, Three Minute Learning. 

The basic idea is that big brains need lots of energy. But humans burn only about the same as other apes of similar body weight. How can that be?

We do it by saving energy on another expensive organ, said Aiello and Wheeler - our guts. Long intestines are needed to digest vegetation. Short ones do meat. Human guts are shorter than those of other apes. So our ancestors' brains were able to grow as a direct result of eating more meat which let them have shorter guts.

This paper was bad news for vegetarians. The carnivores now had a scientific stick to beat us with. "Meat made us smart" crowed the Mail and Sun, contradicting the evidence on every page. 

But here's the thing about science. Like a man on hot coals it never stands still. In 2011 a bunch of Zurich scientists made Swiss cheese of the smart meat story, by punching big holes in it. 

If the expensive tissue hypothesis were true, animals with bigger brains should have smaller intestines, said Ana Navarrete and her colleagues. So they studied the organs of 100 mammal species and found no trace of that correlation. 

But this left a fact without an explanation. Humans and apes of the same weight burn the same amount of energy. But human brains need more energy than ape brains. Where was it coming from?  

Energy efficiency from walking on two legs was part of the answer, said Navarrete. The other is that humans carry more fat than the rest of the apes. Compare lean body weight rather than total and we humans are burning more energy than other apes.

So not only was the expensive tissue hypothesis disproved. There was no need for it in the first place. 

So nice try Carol and bad luck seagulls. But I'm wondering if evolution is all it's cracked up to be.

When did you last see a gorilla superglue its index finger to its thumb?

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Sweet scents in the afternoon

My reaction is all wrong. I know it is. I shouldn't be so prejudiced. But it all goes back to Jim Girvan, my best pal in primary school. 

I made the mistake of telling Jim, when we were about 10, that I fancied going to university to become a scientist. I hadn't a clue what a university was, or a scientist come to that. But I'd discovered a dusty, blue-bound book in my Aunt Mary's attic in Kirkcaldy. It had glossy black-and-white photos of spiral galaxies and far distant nebulae.

The size and beauty of the universe took my breath away. It really did. I forgot to breathe for half a minute, then I gasped. The book was called The Marvels and Mysteries of the Universe. My Aunt Mary said I could keep it. That made me happy.

But it horrified Jim. "If you go to university you'll get posh and never speak to your old pals again," he said. 

I assured him no such thing would happen, but our friendship was never relaxed after that. I tried too hard not to be posh around him and it made me stiff and uncomfortable.

I'm still trying. I can feel him in there now, disapproving. Which is why I'm less enthusiastic about the new supermarket than young Rachel. "It's a better form of business," she says, as we pass the adverts for Barbour jackets and cello tutors. "There's no shareholders and the staff get a share of the profits. And they treat farmers better than other supermarkets."

"Ah ha!" I say. "That's your ethical system right there, isn't it? What's good for farmers is good, period. That's because you're a farmer's wife. I'm not so keen on farmers. They pollute the atmosphere."

"You don't half talk shit," she says.

"Precisely," I say. "We had farmers' sons in our class, Jim and me. Sweet scents wafted off them in the afternoon. 'A fine healthy smell,' they'd tell us. But it wasn't. It was cowshit. Or maybe horseshit. I'm not a shit expert."

"You're a shit judge of shops," she says. "This one's lovely.

"Yeah, if you like buttercup petal tea," I tell her. "Or yak's milk cheese. Or quails' eggs dipped in dark chocolate, with a hint of mint. 

"Look at this!" I shout, picking up a long, thin can with a sea-green label, and getting a sharp glance from a couple of blondes of uncertain age and eyebrows. 'Octopus testicles.' That's appalling. What kind of pervert eats octopus testicles?"

She takes the tin off me and reads the label. "Tentacles, you fool," she says. "Octopus tentacles."

"That's just as bad," I say. "Poor old octopus."

"Listen, I know what you'll like," she says. "It's very satisfying."

"What?" I say.

"Charlie's marmalade."

"That's some kind of euphemism, isn't it?" I say. "'Let's invite the neighbours around for a spot of Charlie's marmalade.' I think it's disgusting what you people get up to."

"Put a sock in it," she says, taking a jar off the shelf and pointing to the label. 'Duchy Originals, thick cut orange marmalade.' That's the company Prince Charles founded."

I take a look. "Read the rest," I tell her.

"Rich bittersweet marmalade made with fine Seville oranges, hand-stirred in open pans for a chunky texture and robust flavour," she reads. 

"Would you like a slice of toast and mahmalade, my deah?" I say, in my southern stupid voice. "It's hand-stirred in open pans for a chunky texture and robust flavour."

I shake my head. "I got to get away from here."

Outside in the car-park I sit sadly on the fence and look at the sky. Blue all over with a little fluffy job in one corner and the sun in the other. A blackbird trills in a nearby sycamore. It's kinda peaceful.

Rachel walks across the tarmac and sits beside me, annoyance all gone. "Listen pal, I bet Jim Girvan lives in Bearsden now, drives a four by four, grows aubergines in his garden and has beautiful vowels." 

She pats me on the head sympathetically. "It was a long time ago," she says. "You're middle class now. It's all right. Honest it is."

I am not convinced. And I hate it when posh people pat you on the head. I really do.