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The Hill House

I’ve been enjoying the blipfoto site I mentioned recently. I thought I’d share this one with you of The Hill House in Helensburgh which I took at lunchtime today.

The Hill House, Helensburgh

Beautiful Burgh

One to bring a tear to Shanghai Jimmy’s eye no doubt. One from the blog’s home town.

Helensburgh from the pier today

Out and About

Took these on my Ne’erday travels yesterday.

John Logie Baird memorial Helensburgh seafront

Frozen pond at Shandon

Waterfall Shandon

Loch Lomond (current blog header)

Loch Lomond (current blog header)

Down by the jetty - Balloch sunset.

White Christmas

Did I mention that we’re having a white Christmas here on the Clyde Estuary?

The Gareloch from Kidston Park Helensburgh today

Garraway Wood and Ben Bouie this morning (Oot the back as we know it)

You may be thinking that I took these photos with my SLR camera that I got recently.


Here is the SD card from that camera. 2gb and containing every photo I’ve taken on it since September.

And here is number one in the current list of suspects.

Who me?

Days Like This

There are certain days that seem destined to rise above the mundane.

Days in which strange and unexpected things happen.

Yesterday was such a day for me.

I don’t mean that there was anything particularly exciting going on, more a series of odd unexpected events and bizarre encounters.

Firstly in the morning I was taking the dog for her constitutional. There was a guy walking his dog nearby.

I recognise this bloke as a local worthy. He holds deep meaningful conversations.

With his dog.

“The cooncil should dae something aboot this toon! there’s no’ even a decent sports centre. And the weans aren’t back at school yet. They get too many holidays. In service days? they didn’t have them when I was at school” he opined as he went on his way along the road, the dog appearing somewhat disinterested.

Then on the way back a neighbour who I know, but only to say hello to, approached me in a state of high dudgeon.

“You’re going to think I’m mad!” she said.

I’d just been listening to a man’s conversation with his dog so whatever she was going to say was surely not in that idiom.

Whilst still wondering what was coming next she said “My cat’s got a mouse on the path at the side of the house! – please could you try and rescue it? – I hate it when he kills things but I’m terrified of mice!”

One malevolent stare from Sally and me hissing at the cat later I secured the said moose in a poo bag I happened to have on me (for the dog you understand).

I let the mouse go a decent distance from any houses, feeling like a cross between Superman and Rabbie Burns at having saved the wee creature’s life.

And so to work at the pet emporium where the first customer required ten frozen adult mice to feed his snake.


Then a regular customer’s son turned up at the back door in this:


Eighty grand for one of these?

This is a Maserati Quattroporte. For the uninitiated, to see one of these in Dumbarton is not an everyday occurrence.

I just checked the selling price.

“The Maserati Quattroporte model range lies within the price bracket of £77,330 – £89,860″

Or to convert into local currency, over ten thousand bottles of fortified tonic wine.

or 10,000 bottles of this?

or 10,000 bottles of this?

I then had a conversation with a customer who it turned out was getting advice so that she could go and purchase the item on the internet.

Then another was complaining about an aquarium he’d bought and how he didn’t think it was good value. Only well in to the conversation did he make it clear he hadn’t bought it from us.

Sometimes in the strange world of retailing you’re left wondering just why you’ve just had a conversation.

Then there’s Mary.

Mary comes in to the shop to buy food for the pigeons. Whilst there she often regales us about how she once lived in Beverley Hills (true apparently, she was nanny to a fairly well known star’s kids). She’ll then launch into some tirade about a current news item (yesterday the subject was Gordon Brown)

When I got home it really was a case of a quiet lie down for a wee while.

Later on I spoke at length with the dog about the economy and Dumbarton’s crucial match at the weekend.

Ben Lomond This Morning

People ask me why The Ben Lomond Free Press? Well apart from the stunning view, the location I took the photo from is roughly half way between my home and work.  Half way between two towns I care deeply about (Helensburgh and Dumbarton). There are two roads I can go and the Loch Lomond route is a few miles longer. If I’m not in a hurry I go that way.

It’s easy to see why.

I took these ones this morning. The Ben almost looks like a cloud here. I’ve sharpened the first one a wee bit.

Ben Lomond 8;35 am 4/02/09

Ben Lomond 8:35 am 4/02/09

40 am 4/02/09

Contrast with this one taken only last week.

Ben Lomond on a bright day

Ben Lomond on a bright day

So, what was the view like on your way to work this morning?

The Water of Life

Last night at the whisky tasting group, we had a Burns theme. Members were encouraged to wear a kilt for the ocassion and haggis, courtesy of Helensburgh butcher Joe Callaghan, was served. All the whisky was cask strength ones which means an alcohol content around 60% (in other words not watered down like most standard strength whisky which is around 40%) 


Full Bodied and Strong (although Smiler isn’t quite so full bodied as he once was!) 

Single Malt Whisky is really a marketing exercise of the modern age. Before the 1950′s hardly such a thing existed although there were a few. Until then blended whisky had over 95% of the market. As marketing has become more important, new innovations an practices such as different “finishes” (where different sherry, bourbon or brandy casks are used for the last part of the maturing process) and more elaborate bottles and packaging have become the order of the day.


It is hard to read some of the tasting notes for whisky without concluding that the whole thing is perhaps becoming a tad pretentious. However when it is presented in such an interesting and entertaining way by Duncan who is the manager of the local Oddbins and an authority on the subject, I’ll carry on the learning process! Six weeks or so to recover in time for the next one!


Tasting Notes (click to enlarge)


A story in our local press this week. I knew the Tait family well. Richard's older sister Louise was in my class at school. She went on to become a journalist and broadcaster. Richard was a clever and likeable lad. Well done to him!   


A BOARD game creator from Helensburgh is celebrating after selling his company to a US toy firm for over £39 million.

Richard Tait, the brains behind hit game Cranium, has hit the jackpot with the multi-million pound deal with toy giant Hasbro.

Cranium, which has racked up sales of 15 million in 30 countries, was devised by Richard, 43, after a weekend playing board games with friends.

Richard, who is based in Seattle, persuaded his friend Whit Alexander he had a winning idea and Cranium Inc was born.

The pair went on to create a series of other hit games using the same process.

Tait, a former shepherd, has also signed a lucrative deal with game developer Ubisoft Entertainment to launch a Cranium game for Nintendo's Wii video game console.

He said: “The achievements we have had with this company — creating the third best-selling game in the world, winning awards — I believe it had a lot to do with the creativity and perseverance that is there in my Scottish roots.

“I do not know what I will be doing next.

“I will be reflecting and spending time with my family.”

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Trump the Planning Process?

I sit in a very early example of a planned town. Helensburgh which celebrated its bi-centenary as a burgh in 2002, was developed in the nineteenth century. The west of Helensburgh (the posh bit which contains Hill House) is built on an almost perfect grid system of tree lined streets. Many of the large houses therein now have bungalows built in their huge gardens and many of the large villas built originally by wealthy Glasgow businessmen are now divided in to flats. However the planned aspect remains in tact and it is a pleasant environment, created before any modern day planning regulations were introduced.

I would imagine the original, well to do, burgh fathers saw the desirability of this layout and created planning by laws to maintain the shape and development of the town.


Alastair over at the Heart Monitor makes the point that Planning Regulations introduced at the end of WW2 by the reforming Labour government (surely the most significant period of government in Britain in the 20th century) protected the general population from the wilder excesses of the ruling classes. In other words no matter how wealthy or powerful the individual or business, if they want to build anything from an outhouse to a factory they have to go through a planning process. Plans are submitted and will often be decided by a committee of local councillors who in general will act on the advice of their council's officials and lawyers. The current regulations date from 1972 and therein lies a problem. Anyone in Scotland or indeed any part of the UK can see that this legislation needs changed. 



Large, unsightly single story buildings are springing up everywhere on brown (and green) field sites to the economic disadvantage of town centres. Where councils pay lip service to regenerating town centres, If Tesco or Marks and Spencers come along, a coach and horses will be driven through local planning policy to accomodate them. Of course a retail impact survey will be done showing that the already hard pressed local businesses will only be impacted by a few percent. This will translate to another half a dozen empty properties in the town a year down the line. Tesco/Sainsburys M&S and the cooncilors care not a jot.    


The recent decision by Aberdeenshire Council to reject the Trump Corporation's proposals for a housing development and golf course north of Aberdeen threw up another problem of the planning process. Is it fair to ask a committee of local councillors to decide the fate of such a project? Is it perhaps along the lines of the Scottish Junior Football Association being asked to draw up the fixtures, rules and regulations for next seasons Champions League (although maybe a fair case could be put for that!). The actions of the SNP government in calling in the development for a public enquiry or judicial review has been much criticised. Is it illegal? Is it sleaze? Well I can't answer that but I feel they had little choice but to do something. Those who oppose the government's move will say that it is undemocratic if not illegal. Yet the majority of the people in the area seem to be in favour of the development. I would suggest that the decision by the council committee was undemocratic. In fact they turned the usual local council modus operandi on its head. Normally it's "everybody gets what nobody wants" whereas in Aberdeenshire  it would seem that "nobody gets what everyone wants". I wonder if those bemoaning the overriding of democracy were so respectful of the poll tax? Somehow I doubt it.


Those who think that the local MSP (in this case Alex Salmond) shouldn't be aligning himself with a developer might be interested in Lomondgate a new £60m office, residential, retail and leisure development on the site of the former Diageo Bottling Plant in Strathleven, Dumbarton. The Chairman of the Development Company is the Local MP!

Whilst this may not be a site of Special Scientific Interest, its close proximity to the Loch Lomond National Park can be seen in the photo left (the expanse of water at the top of the picture is Loch Lomond)

Of course there are differences in the two projects but there are similarities too. Dumbarton's tradional whisky producing industry is shrinking in the same way as the North East oil boom. Regeneration is needed in both cases. 



I simply don't know if the Trump proposals are "a good thing" and really any view on that would be subjective. Some see it as a millionaire's playground others as a source of employment and inward investment for the area. Whatever it is should the yay or nay be down to a small committee of councillors?

And while we're on the subject I wonder how many retail parks there are in Aberdeenshire? I also wonder how Union Street is faring compared to 20 years ago? The answers to these questions would perhaps give an indicator of the calibre of decision by Aberdeenshire council and their concern for the environment.

Footnote: I do realise that Aberdeen City Council is a different body. The point remains though as you could substitute and rural Aberdeen town or village for Union Street. It's hard to see how the Trump proposal would negatively impact on other employment/investment in the area.



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And on a More Traditional Seasonal Note…

Old buildings look great when floodlit. This is the West Kirk in Colquhoun Square Helensburgh tonight.

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