Should auld grievances be forgot ...

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The Independent Online
This year my family and I spent hogmanay with my Scottish cousin in Blairgowrie, and I was reminded - if I needed reminding - that Scotland is indeed a different place. They have hogmanay up there, for a start. The younger members of the household all went off to Edinburgh for New Year's Eve, where they joined what was billed as the biggest New Year's Eve party of them all, and we older members did a staid amount of first- footing after we had watched Rikki Fulton.

Rikki Fulton? I seldom encounter an Englishman who has heard of this Scottish comedian, but for years he has been presenting a hogmanay programme on Scottish TV called Scotch and Wry which, whenever I have seen it, has been better than anything on offer on Sassenach TV. I still remember the item in which he played an undertaker who was discussing with a recently bereaved widow the form that her late husband's funeral should take. "Actually", she confided to him, "his great ambition was always to be buried at sea."

"I have the very thing for you here, then," said Fulton, pulling out a large coffin with an outboard motor fixed to the back. A wonderful gag. It is sometimes said that the Scots joke more about death than we do, which may be why I can't readily imagine that joke being done down South.

Fulton's programme was muted this year, being a selection of clips from the past. The weather was muted too, being milder than in England.

"The terrible weather conditions continue," said the TV news, "with Kent being the worst affected county ..."

"What they mean by that," said cousin Laurence, "is that London is having a bad time of it. Odd how bad weather hits the headlines if it hits London, but not much otherwise. We get weather like this most of the time most winters, but I don't recall it being on the news much. The E.coli bacteria deaths in Scotland were being reported here for a week before they got into the London news."

I have to say that I feel he is right. Almost all national news is seen from a London angle. I remember when I first moved to Wiltshire from London in 1987 it was just before the big hurricane hit the Home Counties, so that I escaped the worst of it - it was bad in London and not too bad elsewhere. When I next met my London friends they could talk of little else, and whenever I said that it was only a London-centred phenomenon, they ignored me. To this day it is still talked about as the Great Hurricane of 1987, but I can tell you that if it had happened in the North or Wales or Scotland it would be forgotten by now.

"The apertures of British post boxes may have to be changed to fit in with European standards," said another bit of news over the New Year, which goes to show how short of news they get over the New Year. Laurence snorted.

"Bloody Brussels. The amount of stupid regulations. Take frost cocks, for instance."

I did not know what frost cocks were, not being a farmer like Laurence. They are, apparently, little devices fixed to the pipes feeding water to cattle troughs, which drain off the excess water into the ground so that the pipe does not freeze.

"Unfortunately Brussels has got the idea that frost cocks are a possible source of infection, so they have outlawed them. Result: they are like gold dust. The only place you can get them now is America. You could make a fortune bringing back a load of frost cocks from the USA. Bloody Brussels."

"It's not just Brussels," I said. "The British Government is just as bad. Take those post boxes, for instance. I remember when I was in Edinburgh last summer there was a local news item in the Evening News about the East Lothian town of Haddington. Apparently Haddington had received a gift from the French town it was twinned with in the form of a French post box which it invited Haddington to adopt and use. But it turned out that the aperture of the French box did not correspond to British requirements, so it was put up in Haddington Post Office in a glass case for people to come and look at but not use. I think Brussels and Westminster are as bad as each other."

Laurence thought about this and realised that if he commented, he was in danger of being nice about one or the other. So he changed the subject.

"Take this BSE nonsense ..." he said.

I haven't room to summarise his dissertation, but I'm afraid neither Brussels nor Westminster came out of it very well.

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