Thursday, 30 April 2015

A Site Of Slaughter

Hard to believe it now but this was a site of slaughter
where hundreds died in an almost forgotten battle.
Looks like the sort of modern units you'd find on most industrial estates anywhere in this or any other country.

You know, spacious, well lit, and well ventilated hi-tech bespoke offices built to the highest of specifications, with staff sat in front of a myriad of computer screens and the like.

Only, this is Scotland, where seemingly every square foot of ground has been fought over at some point in the past. And thus many of the office workers sitting at their desks, answering telephone calls or inputting data into spreadsheets, are doing so probably unaware of the carnage that once took place only a few feet away from them. For this was a site of slaughter, the tragic ending to a little-remembered battle more than three centuries ago.

Extremely complicated

Now, I'm not going to go into any great detail about the Battle of Inverkeithing itself, or the events which led up to it, simply because it's all extremely complicated and I'm no history expert. Wikipedia does a very good job of explaining it all here.

Suffice to say, the battle was fought within walking distance of where I live in Dunfermline on 20 July 1651 between an English parliamentarian army under John Lambert and a Scottish covenanter army acting on behalf of Charles II, led by Sir John Browne of Fordell. Each side fielded about 4,000 troops.

The Scots army was made up of a hotchpotch of experienced covenanter and royalist troops, raw recruits, militia from Dunfermline and Highland clansmen. Up against them were the highly seasoned and disciplined soldiers of Cromwell's New Model Army who earlier had landed from the sea and established a bridgehead at North Queensferry, a small village on the Firth of Forth.

North Queensferry with the Firth of Forth and its iconic
railway bridge clearly visible. Part of the road bridge
can also be seen. Photograph: Transition Network.
But on hearing news the Scots were about to be heavily reinforced, the parliamentarians decided to launch a pre-emptive strike which was initially repulsed.

However, the inexperience of the Scots quickly proved their undoing, enabling Cromwell's men to push northwards towards Inverkeithing and then to Dunfermline.

Initial success turned into a fighting retreat and a last stand by the Scots in and around the precincts of Pitreavie Castle where most of the slaughter, particularly of the clansmen, took place.

Indeed, the 800 or so Maclean clansmen who fought in the battle were killed almost to a man despite some asking for sanctuary within the castle walls, a request refused by its owners, the Wardlaw family.

No quarter

The fighting throughout was a bloody hand-to-hand affair, conducted principally with muskets, pikes and swords, and with little or no quarter given or expected by either side. Some 2,000 or more Scots died in the battle, with around 1,600 taken prisoner. Accounts at the time talk about bodies lying piled up in the surrounding fields, and the nearby Pinkerton Burn, according to local legend, ran red with the blood of the slain for three days.

The main part of the inscription reads: "Near here Sir Hector
Maclean of Duart was killed at the Battle of Inverkeithing
along with some 760 of his men 20 July 1651." 
In 2001, the Clan Maclean Heritage Trust erected a small cairn nearby with a plaque in both English and Gaelic in memory of clan-chief Sir Hector Maclean of Duart who died along with 760 of his clansmen. Beside the cairn is an interpretation board explaining the battle.

According to Historic Scotland, "This is the only commemoration and interpretation of the battlefield, which is surprisingly little known considering the importance of the battle in the last stages of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms."



Pitreavie Castle, which was built in 1615, was owned
by the Wardlaw family at the time of the battle.
Pitreavie Castle, built in 1615, has gone through extensive renovations and additions since the day of the battle.

It remained in private hands until 1938, when it was acquired by the Air Ministry, and became RAF Pitreavie Castle.

When the RAF station closed in 1996, the castle was converted into residential apartments. These are still in use today.

The castle is considered to be an important example of an early 17th century symmetrically-planned house.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Green Fingers, Triffids And The Joys Of Gardening - Not!

Now that's what I call a garden! Check out Perfect Gardens to
see how it should be done.
The god of gardens both great and small sure passed me by when dishing out green fingers.

I mean, I want to have a great-looking garden. Honestly I do! But, sadly, gardening nirvana is something I'm not likely to experience this side of the ether no matter how many gardening mantras I dutifully chant.

But it's spring, again, which means grass grows and hedges take off into the wide blue yonder and weeds turn into triffid-like monstrosities, no doubt out to take over the world, beginning with my little garden.

So you've all been warned!

Triffids? So what are they exactly? According to good old Wikipedia, triffids are a fictitious, tall, mobile, prolific and highly venomous plant species, the titular antagonist in John Wyndham's 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids and Simon Clark's 2001 sequel The Night of the Triffids.

Fictitious? Funny, but that just about describes the plants...I mean weeds in my garden to a tee! And talking of weeds means it's about time for the annual ritual, which goes something like this.

Armed with a vicious-looking hoe, I head over to the patch of ground peppered with green somethings and the remnants of last year's perennial wot's-its, closely followed by my eagle-eyed partner.

"Stop!" she shouts. "That's not a weed!"

"Is this a weed?" I say.

"No, it's a plant."

I try again. "So what's this then?"

"It's a plant."

"And this?" I say. "Another weed?"

"No, that's a plant. This is a weed. Do you get it now?"

I don't really but the ritual carries on until all potential weeds in the garden have been identified and marked down for destruction. Ah, the joys of gardening! Wouldn't miss it for the world.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Revealed, Common Scottish Words And Phrases You Never Even Knew Existed!

It's as clear as mud! But listen to the sound
each word makes. Braw, don't you think?
Don't you love words in all their simplicity, complexity and down-right beauty, often conveying over the length of a sentence or two an avalanche of mental imagery and complex emotion.

But it's not just the meaning and the context of words which is important but the sound they actually make, too.

Here in Scotland we're lucky in that as well as the Queen's English being spoken widely, we also have great variety in the number of dialects you can hear as you travel across the land.

Indeed, words which mean one thing in a town or city can have a completely different meaning only a few miles away. But all of that just adds to the richness of the phonetic tapestry.

Favourites

Here's a good word to get your teeth around, drookit, as in 'drookit dug'. Think drowned rat and you come somewhere close to the meaning. Personally, I love the word. Speak it slowly and at the same time picture in your mind's eye a wet, shaggy dog clambering up a river bank and frantically shaking the water out of its fur, soaking everyone within spitting distance at the same time. That's a drookit dug!

Stooshie, stramash, rammy, three Scots words which essentially mean the same thing, a strong disagreement, argument, or even a physical fight. But don't they all convey a sense of drama, movement, confrontation or even a slightly anarchic feeling? They certainly do for me.

Another favourite is blether, as in chat or talk. Blether, along with blethering, makes me think of a couple of old friends having a relaxing conversation, perhaps with a cup of tea, or something stronger, in their hands, each enjoying the other's company. It's a friendly, intimate sort of word. Of course, in a completely different context, a blether can mean a gossip, or someone who talks a load of rubbish.

There's something about the sound of the word glaekit which perfectly describes someone who is foolish or stupid. I find you simply don't need to add anything else to adequately convey its meaning. It's one of these economically descriptive words often found in day-to-day conversation here in Scotland.

Colourful

If anything, the URL of this website, the Scottish vernacular for window (windae, as in 'winday'), has certainly been the inspiration for this post. I love the phrase, 'Yer bum's oot the windae!', which is another way of saying your talking a load of rubbish. It's got a kind of earthy sort of feel to it, don't you think?

Another of my favourite phrases is 'Awa' an bile yer heid!' or, put another way, 'Please go away and boil your head.' Kind of charming, no? It's a colourful way of saying get lost. 'Haud yer wheesht!' is a Scottish phrase that's up there with the best of them, exhibiting the sort of sonic quality which'll end even the most vociferous of arguments!

Finally, 'Lang may yer lum reek!' is a peculiarly Scottish way of saying I wish you good health and continued good fortune. Lum is simply the Scots word for chimney, reek is the strong smell given off as smoke belches out of it, and lang means long. In other words, long may your chimney give off a strong,unpleasant smoky smell, indicating you're well enough off to afford to burn coal or some other fuel to keep warm.

There you have it, just a very few of the many words and phrases used every day in Scotland which visitors can sometimes find a trifle perplexing. What about explaining some of the common words and phrases to be found in your neck of the woods? Tell me about them!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Marketing Music Is A Whole Different Ballgame!

Available from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play,
Bandcamp and other music stores.
Not written anything for a day or two which is rather frustrating. The reason is marketing, at least my ham-fisted attempts at it. The target of my marketing efforts is, of course, We Are Skittles - and you can read all about the song and watch the YouTube video by clicking the page above or by going here.

I'm not a complete stranger to marketing's dark arts. In fact, up until now, I had thought I was rather good at it having pushed the sales of my partner's memoir, No Easy Road, from a few local sales to something around 100,000 sales on Amazon's Kindle platform.

But marketing music is a whole different ballgame. It's much harder simply because there's so much more competition out there and, to really make inroads, you've got to spend a little cash. In fact, the more you spend the easier it becomes, assuming the product is good enough in the first place.

Research is vital

One of the biggest problems any would-be marketer has to overcome, no matter whether it's a song or a book, is separating the wheat from the chaff, particularly if you intend turning to all things online, which is what most people do nowadays.

There is literally a plethora of websites all claiming to provide all manner of opportunities - for a price, of course. You could easily end up spending a fortune and still be little further forward. That's where doing a fair bit of research, prior to parting with any money, becomes ever-more vital, especially if the budget is a little bit on the low side to begin with.

I think I've stumbled on a pretty good website where, for a few dollars or so, you can get your song in front of music-industry specialists who'll take a listen and give you a fair and accurate review. The website, New York-based Music Xray, appears to be the real deal - at least that's my initial impression. But we'll see what happens over the next weeks and months.

Two points to finish with: I'm not a Music Xray affiliate; and, you've guessed it, I'll keep you all posted over any developments!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Moments That Changed You, Me, And The World Forever

Ben Nevis, photo courtesy of the Guardian.
I often find myself wondering why events separated by decades of time and great distances can have such a profound effect on the way you continue to look at the world, even to the point of defining who you really are so many years later.

A good example is the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. I was 10 years old at the time and living thousands of miles away in a small, isolated village in the Scottish Highlands. The village lies under the shadow of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain both in Scotland and within the rest of the British Isles.

What I particularly well remember was not the shocking event itself but the reaction of my father. The time was late evening and I was in bed sleeping. Suddenly I was awakened by my father standing silhouetted against the open bedroom door.

"The president's been assassinated!" he blurted out. I looked at him and he looked at me and although there was barely any light in the room, I was somehow aware of the shocked expression on his face. A moment or two later he turned around and walked out the room. That was it. Within seconds I was fast asleep once more.

Funny thing is I've never forgotten the moment. Was it the assassination itself, or the profound sense of shock on my father's face, something I'd never seen before, which has stayed with me ever since? Probably the latter.

It was only over the next day or two while watching television that I began to slowly realise how momentous an event the death of JFK really was. And that realisation only grew stronger with each passing year.

Strange atmosphere

Just over a year earlier there had been the Cuban Missile Crisis, of course, in which for almost two weeks during October, the whole world held its breath as civilisation teetered on the brink of possible nuclear war. Even although I was a year younger at the time, I still had a feeling something was very wrong although I didn't know what.

My parents were acting strangely, tense and often distant, talking in hushed, quiet tones. I didn't really have the sense to ask them what was going on. They wouldn't have told me even if I had. At that time I didn't listen to the radio, read newspapers or watch very much television. So I had no idea at all. But that strange atmosphere in the house could be felt everywhere. Tension seemed to be etched onto every passing face.

Then, one day, everything returned to normal. Everyone, including my parents, was laughing and smiling once more and the strange atmosphere hanging over everything simply vanished into the cold autumn air.

Mesmerised

I suppose it was from that point onwards I began to take a greater interest in what was going on around me. I watched more television, particularly the news, even although much of it simply sailed over my head.

Then one day, quite by accident, as I passed the television set which had been left switched on, I watched a man speaking to tens of thousands of people about a dream that he had. Sitting alone in the living room listening to him, the tingles ran up and down my spine rooting me to the spot. I was mesmerised. I'd never heard anything like this before.

That man was Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in America. Even although I didn't understand what was going on, his words touched my very soul and changed me forever. And his words have been with me, guiding me, ever since.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

7 Steps To Pop Super Stardom (And You Won't Have To Lose The Shirt Off Your Back Either)

They say everyone has a book or a a pop song hiding somewhere inside of them. I don't know about the book, but the song? Here's 7 simple steps you can take right now to turn a potential hit pop tune into reality!

1. Compose a catchy song - kinda goes without saying, almost.

2. Grab a DAW, short for digital audio workstation (sequencer) and download onto your laptop. There are some great free DAWs you can use - check out LMMS, for example (just Google it). Or for less than $100, try Cockos Reaper, Mutools Mulab or Zynewave Podium. I've tried each one and they're all extremely good.

3. Create the drum, bass and instrument tracks. Don't mix them down.

4. Buy a half-decent USB microphone (the Yeti from Blue Microphones is excellent and costs around $130). Record the vocal track of the song in your DAW of choice.

5. Now do two things - convert the completed tracks (drums, bass and instruments) into a midi file; and create a WAV file of the tracks with the vocals included.

Recording studio

That's phase one of the project completed. The next step, Step 6, involves finding a reasonably-priced recording studio to professionally record the vocals. Unless you plaster your living room or broom cupboard with cardboard egg cartons, to absorb both audible and inaudible extraneous noise, you'll never be able to achieve the desired vocal quality.

So how much will that cost you? Shop around. About $30 (£20) to $45 (£30) an hour is not unreasonable. And three hours in the studio should be more than enough time to lay down the vocals. Just hand the studio the midi track you've saved onto a pen drive and, hey presto, there are your drums, bass and instrument tracks ready to go. The WAV file simply allows the studio to gain an impression of what the vocals sound like against the instruments.

If, at this point, you decide the track perhaps needs the addition of a guitar part, ask the studio if they can suggest a competent and reasonably-priced session guitarist. Most studios will have several musicians that they regularly use. Anything around $110 (£75) per hour is reasonable - it shouldn't take any more than an hour to lay down a guitar track, for example.

Adding it up

So let's add up what we've spent so far:

Catchy song - $0.00; DAW - free to $100 (£67); microphone - $130 (£87); studio time, including session guitarist - around $225 (£150). Total cost: $455 (£305) (approximately).

We'll probably need to add maybe two hours of mixdown time in the studio to produce a master copy of the track, as well as MP3 and WAV versions to upload to music stores and streaming websites. So add another $60 (£40) to the cost, which brings the total to $515 (£345).

But there's one final piece of the jigsaw to consider, Step 7, distribution, to the likes of  iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify and other top stores and streaming websites. And, again, that'll bump up the final bill.

Confusing

However, unless you know about ISRC numbers and bar codes, which have to be incorporated into your MP3 or CD in order for official music charts around the world to track any sales you make, you're better off leaving that side of things to one of the many distribution companies which you can find online. And because there are plenty of them, offering all sorts of plans and deals, it can all become rather confusing and time consuming.

The use of a distribution company is vital because they know how to correctly format the track so it'll be accepted by iTunes and the other stores. And many will issue the track with an ISRC number and bar code as part of the deal.

After much research and deliberation, I finally went with DistroKid. Their plans start at $19.99 (£13.50) per year, which allows you to upload unlimited songs and albums. And they're fast and deliver precisely what they say. I'm impressed (and, no, I'm not an affiliate or something like that).

So there you have it, a final bill of around $535 (£359) and seven steps to potential pop super stardom. Marketing is the next stage, of course, but that's a story for another day.

And here is an example. Click  on the 'We Are Skittles' tab at the top of the page to listen to the end result, or simply click this link instead. Money well spent? Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Day UK Democracy Died

If you live outside of the United Kingdom (UK), you may or may not know there's an election currently taking place to decide which political party leads the country for the next five years. And, as you would probably expect, there's daily wall-to-wall media coverage.

But, in a sense, there's really two elections taking place simultaneously. There's the one here in Scotland where all the polls indicate the Scottish National Party (SNP) is likely to take the majority of seats and return a record number of Members of Parliament (MPs) to the UK parliament in London.

Then there's the one in the rest of the country, where neither of the main parties, Conservative and Labour, look likely to win an overall working majority. And, if the polls prove true, that will mean they'll have to co-operate formally or informally with one of the smaller parties, the Liberal Democrats, UK Independence Party, Greens, SNP, Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Féin, Plaid Cymru, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, or the Respect Party.

So why does the political landscape appear to be so different here in Scotland, where traditionally Labour have held sway until relatively recently? Four words - the Scottish independence referendum.


Last year's independence referendum changed everything, particularly the way the Scots now look at politics. Indeed, the referendum, which independence supporters narrowly lost by a 55% to 45% majority, was simply a natural progression, driven initially by a resurgent SNP who proved beyond doubt they could run a government - the Scottish government - in a responsible and progressive manner.

But all of that is about as much as I'm going to say about the UK general election. On the independence referendum, however, which I fully accept was a defeat for the Yes campaign, I want to say a couple of things.

Firstly, the two-year-long campaign was an energising experience for millions of Scots. For the first time in my life, I took part in a march and rally in Edinburgh, joining more than 30,000 independence supporters from all over Scotland. My whole family was there, all marching proudly. None of us will ever forget it. I can now cross that one off of the bucket list!

Secondly, I'd like to say something about the media, particularly the BBC. It was bad enough every daily newspaper in Scotland was aggressively anti-independence, spewing bile and hatred on an unprecedented scale.

Yes, that was their right, I hear you say. Sorry, but I vehemently disagree, and that's me saying so with my ex-journalist hat on. I was always taught a journalist's job is to report in a fair and balanced way. If I'd ever written the sort of biased stories that I constantly read during the referendum campaign, my old editors would have chewed both my ears off - and quite rightly.

And the BBC, what happened there? I, along with most other journalists I once knew, always looked at the BBC as the pinnacle of any career, a byword for fairness, accuracy, impartiality and professionalism when it came to news reporting.

The referendum proved how naive I'd been for so many years. Disappointed and disillusioned doesn't even come close. Now I can't stand to bring myself to even listen to BBC news coverage, or to read any newspapers come to that. Ultimately, democracy within the UK is a sham. I now realise it died a long time ago.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Blogger Versus WordPress - The Chatter Continues!

From the website Ayudawp.com. Nice one!
So which blogging platform is best? You know something folks, I really couldn't give a fig. And yet the chatter still rages on, incessantly, day after day, year after year, wasting so much energy and effort in between for so little gain.

In fact, the Internet is full of it, some claiming this platform is the bee's knees and others saying that that one is, with both sides usually proffering some reasonable points, it must be said.

But here's my take. It's the content, not the blogging platform, which we should be worrying about. You know, those pesky little letters making up words which you string into sentences in a bid to enlighten, inform or entertain. At the end of the day, that surely is all that matters.

Slick websites

I mean, if the message is a strong one, is entertaining and/or informative, it'll get across. If it fulfils a desire or need, are you going to worry about the platform it's on? Hardly! Yes, I hear the chatter about presenting a professional, business-like image. And that's important, but up to a point.

Let's face it, we've all seen those slick websites, filled with glitzy sales messages and pitches, selling this and that in a bid, ultimately, to prise from you some of your hard-earned cash. Probably some of you have even bought into one or two. But when you've seen one such pitch then you've probably seen a thousand. In the end it all becomes a bit of a turn-off.

Et moi?

So, are you a WordPress blogger or a Blogger blogger. Or something else? Et moi? Blogger, through and through. Here's why.
  • It's free. Who doesn't like free?
  • Unlimited disc space
  • An easy-to-understand post editor
  • Plenty of design templates
  • The power of Google behind you
  • Simple to incorporate your own domain name
Look, I could go on and on. But that last point is an important one, especially when it comes to cost. This blog, you may have noticed, has it's own domain name, purchased via GoDaddy for less than £1.00 ($1.46) for the first year, and just over £8.00 ($11.70) for the combined two years (which I went for). Talk about value for money!

So, is it easy to set up a custom domain on the Blogger platform? Yes it is. It's simple. All I did was follow the excellent  instructions on the Wonder Forest website. All worked first time and the URL was almost instantly available on the Web.

Let me know what you think. Hey, you're even allowed to disagree with me. Come on, let's add our tuppence-worth to all of that inane chatter. You know you want to!


Monday, 13 April 2015

Writing For Me!

My name is John Donaldson and I feel I'm at the start of a journey. Let me explain.

I've written millions of words over my lifetime, most of them while a professional journalist for a number of weekly and evening newspapers. I've also written hundreds of articles for several search engine optimization companies over the last few years.

Now, I'm writing for me. And I'll be writing about all sorts of things, whatever takes my fancy. That's a great feeling. Indeed, there's only one word which springs to mind.

Freedom!

From the New York Daily News Online
Hence the picture of Mel Gibson playing the part of Scottish patriot William Wallace in the 1995 film Braveheart. Somehow, it feels perfect.

Of course, I loved the film. And to say that it took more than one or two liberties with regard to historical accuracy is a bit of an understatement.

But no matter. Suddenly the world knew the name William Wallace, and that many centuries ago he stood up for Scotland. In 1995, that still had an incredible resonance all around this proud and ancient land which I call my home.

So often, Scotland is subsumed by its largest neighbour to the south, England. For as long as I can remember, England's history has replaced so much of Scotland's history, to the point of neglect.

In many respects, that's where Scotland's sense of inferiority has sprung from. After all, how do you know where you're going if you don't appreciate or understand where you've come from? I'm pleased to say that that particular pendulum is beginning to swing back once more.

So, hopefully, dear reader, this first post has given you a sense of what this blog might be all about. I say might because even I don't quite yet know where it'll take me. But then that's what freedom is all about. Isn't it? Let me know what you think.