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Three random anecdotes.

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These come entirely unsubstantiated and should be taken with an enormous pinch of salt. However, all three were told to me by at least semi-plausible sources.

1. Maggie's Rump Steak. In the 1980s a friend of mine worked in the Edinburgh restaurant favoured by the then PM when she was up visiting the northern colonies. She always ordered the same thing, the rare steak, just as one might have expected. Each time she ate there the meat received a little extra attention: a marinade in the chef's underwear until cooking time. Of such things was the resistance made.

2. Michael "Joseph" Portillo and Diane "Mary" Abbott. I hadn't realised how far back they went, but the former This Week duo were contemporaries at the paired Harrow County Boys and Girls schools, and both were keen on drama. The rumour I heard was that they did a nativity play together, playing the central couple. This is the one I'm most sceptical about.

3. Who's your favourite Miliband? At a Labour conference a few years ago, badges were available for people to go public with their Miliband preferences. I'm advised that Ed turned up and claimed a David badge, then David turned up and claimed a David badge too.

Please feel free to disprove (or prove) any of these for me. 

This is not party policy.

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I just received the following bonkers email (and so too did my colleagues in Wales, Limerick and others), apparently sent from Germany and apparently typed up while really quite high. Probably shouldn't give it the oxygen of publicity, but never mind.

Dear Greens,

I must warn you that the two major threats to the Planet are capitalism, with its mass consumption, and population explosion, that provokes an even greater consumption of Natural Resources.

The responsibles for this kind of situation aren't necessarily the leaders. In fact a range of people that orbits many organizations, even low in the hierarchy or out of the organization, are the responsibles ones too (they are evil and in the World there must be a mastermind of evilness that don't want life in the Planet, above all).

So I ask you to consider these facts and put Secret Green Agents in the place of this range of people by disintegrate them first from the place they occupy.

Places as in Governments, Associations, Parties, Companies, Religions, Media, etc. should be occupied by these Secret Green Agents.

Comply one, two or three times in messages between for greater security.

Remember, too, that religions are hazardous and authorities not friendly.

With our deepest Green Communist Greetings,

Marx, Engels & Lenin

Thanks for the tips, dead commies. Anyone wishing to be a Secret Green Agent in, say, a religion or other association, please do not get in touch. Also, if anyone decides to do this off their own bat, I'd skip the bit about disintegration.
Thumbnail image for trumphaircheckinfo.jpgThe improbably couiffeured would-be despoiler of Menie has a blog. It's part of the Trump University, which teaches you both vague self-help bullshit and practical measures to ensure your pipes don't crack in winter.

On Tuesday The Donald used his bully pulpit to announce a boycott of Italy. That same day, the Vatican laid into the Italian government for a shocking record of racism and violence. The Pope's newspaper claimed that "Italians are still incapable of shedding their racist past", although many have.

So was it Berlusconi's incitement of racial hatred that had motivated Mr Trump to launch his boycott? No, it's because an Italian court carried out due process and convicted Amanda Knox of murder. He wasn't in court, but is prepared to say "I followed the trial closely and Amanda Knox is not guilty."

I have no idea about her innocence or guilt, but one thing's clear. Italy has no death penalty, unlike many US states, so if she has grounds to bring an appeal she'll be alive to do so. Clearly one privileged American, even one convicted of murder, is more important to him than any number of Europe's most badly-treated immigrants.

Where are the Lego sprouts?

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legoturkey.jpgTwo days ago, the Telegraph warned us that there was a shortage of Lego, and on the same day's paper, that there was also a shortage of sprouts.

Worse, as the shocking pic to the left shows, there appears to be a complete dearth of Lego sprouts. And her Lego glass is empty. Disaster.

May your Christmas (or Winterval, if you're from Birmingham) go better than that.

What planet are they on?

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ballerinaalien.jpgWinchester Lib Dem Councillor Adrian Hicks had a curious secret when he stood for election in 2006 and 2007. He felt that admitting he’d seen an alien dressed as a ballerina under the city’s Guildhall clock might jeopardise his chances.

The alien was laughing and having a good time, and apparently was “human enough to get away with it.”

As it happens, he lost anyway in 2006 before coming from third to win in 2007. Having served his area for two years now, he feels confident enough to come out, and he’s trying to track her down, presumably so they can go to Venus together.

Grazia have some potentially interesting information for him - they worked out who made her dress. I agree that the likely explanation is terrestrial. He probably just doesn’t know what kind of sunglasses are in fashion.

Still, we shouldn’t laugh. He’s in good company. The wife of the new Japanese Prime Minister believes she was abducted and taken to Venus. It could be worse. Councillor Hicks could have taken her to his leader.

(via glum councillors)

Fail whale.

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failwhale.pngI've just been reminded of what Twitter does when their service goes down. They post a picture of the so-called "fail whale", carried aloft by eight wee birds.

Their birds are a bit darker and a bit more effectual than the one from the Lib Dems' logo, but it's still an extraordinary coincidence that Gilbert the bottlenose whale decided to beach himself outside just as their conference imploded. I recommend Ann Treneman's excellent diary on the subject and Steve Bell's cartoon.

In case anyone feels I've been unduly critical of the Liberals this week, it's Labour conference next week. There's plenty of love to go around.

In praise of Liberal bloggers.

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tavishcamp.jpgRegular readers will know that I am not a huge fan of the Liberals in Parliament. They are, to my mind, the only group without a clear purpose beyond their own re-election, and their campaigning tactics are annoying to say the least. 

Their approach to the Megrahi case was inconsistent and cynical, simply slipstreaming Labour and Tory illiberalism. 

Similarly, Liberal Transport Ministers (including the current leader) rammed through and continue to support massively unsustainable and inappropriate roads schemes like the M74 and the Aberdeen Western Peripheral.

More recently, the party's support for Trump flew in the face of their claims on the environment, and the treatment of Martin Ford and the others by both the local and the national party over this issue was profoundly troubling

And yet, and yet.

If you read Scotland's top two Liberal bloggers, Stephen and Caron, you find an awful lot more sense, and on most of the key issues of the day they take a far "greener" line than their party. Here's a few examples:

The Megrahi case: Stephen and Caron back release
The referendum: I don't share her position, but Caron does grasp the strategic issue and the democratic case, unlike her MSPs, and so too does Stephen
Our insulation campaign: See Caron's supportive comments, and Stephen's too
On the bullying of Aberdeenshire councillors: Stephen supports the former Liberal Councillorsas does Caron
On Trump's Compulsory Purchase Orders: Another spot on post from Stephen here

The most curious missing element, to my mind, is some divergence from their party on the road-building programme - I looked for any scepticism towards either the Aberdeen Western Peripheral or the unnecessary Extra Forth Bridge, but found none.

Even so, are you good people not barking up the wrong tree (pictured)? Are you really in the right party? I'm tempted to send you both a Green membership form, even though I know tribal loyalties are hard to shift. Added incentive, though: you'd both be in the same party as Martin Ford again.

What's in a name?

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Political anagrams have long been a source of amusement, especially if they can be seen as standing up some pre-existing political point. Two notable examples are of Virginia Bottomley (I'm an evil Tory bigot, somewhat unfairly) and Tony Blair (if you use the full "Tony Blair MP" you get I'm Tory Plan B). 

The shorter a name the harder it is to get a good anagram, which is why Rich Arse is so impressive for Chris Rhea. With this in mind, I wondered whether the Scottish parties and their nice long names might provide some easy pickings. Remember, it's only a meaningless game.

Scottish Conservative Party
Catchy Transvestite Proviso
Trashy Coven Visit Spectator - I envisage this as the Spectator magazine
Activate Press Thirst Convoy
Soviet Tavern Chastity Corps
Invasive Crotch - Sporty Taste

Scottish Green Party
Persistent Chat Orgy
Prosthetic Angry Set
Shoestring Party Etc - this is 100% true, so appears despite being a bad anagram
Gritty Phone Actress
Atheist Gentry Corps 

Scottish Labour Party
Statutory Crab Polish
Busy Hospital Tractor
Solitary Butch Pastor
Robust Postal Charity
Trashy Tribal Octopus - possibly my favourite on this list

Scottish Liberal Democrats
Orchestrate Basic List Mold
Bothersome Acrid Class Tilt
Democratic Asbestos Thrill
Storm? Ditch Electoral Basis

Scottish National Party
Hypnotic Trot Assailant
Hast Only Cast Partition
Nasty Atlantic Riot Shop
Thirsty Satanic Platoon

Any other entries?

(pic via weaving)

Good food is only moments away.

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So it says in the Parliament canteen, and for lovers of spicy food this was true, at least until Mai Thai moved away. The canteen food is fine, and the staff are lovely, but it is pretty bland. 

Hence this off-topic post, comprising my top ten hot sauces for livening up Parliamentary cuisine. 

A note on the heat ranking: I could, of course, use the proper Scoville scale, but I don't have the technology to do the tests. 

By my scale, anything below four isn't really hot, and anything over eight should be handled with caution. Also, I'm not an extremist: hottest doesn't necessarily mean best.

1. Mr Vikki's King Naga. The name says it all. The king of hot sauces, made from the hottest chili in the known universe, but full of flavour as well. There are plenty of hotter sauces, but this is rich and complex. Excellent mixed with houmous in a sandwich too. 
Heat: 9/10
Country of origin: UK

2. Sriracha. A thick red garlicky paste sold in big squeezy bottles, internationally loved and great with simple things like fried egg rolls. My favourite version here is by Flying Goose.
Heat: 7/10
Country of origin: Thailand 

3. Mr Vikki's Hot Banana. Apologies, this is really cheating. It's not a hot sauce, it's a chutney, and it's not even particularly hot despite the name. It is, however, so outstandingly and implausibly good that it can come third even in the wrong list. Buy several at a time - I find jars sometimes don't last very long, in one case less than twenty minutes. (note: we've only had the regular - they're now doing a habanero version, to which the link refers)
Heat: 3/10
Country of origin: UK

4. Swazi Fire. A multi-award winning sauce, this is quite the hottest thing I have ever eaten. It's fair trade, too, so that should offset the carbon footprint. Best used in small quantities as a substitute for fresh chillies.
Heat: 11/10
Country of origin: Swaziland

5. Lingham's with garlic and ginger. A classic southeast Asian dipping sauce, also available as just chilli, or just with garlic, or just with ginger. Seriously, just have the lot in one sauce.
Heat: 5/10
Country of origin: Malaysia

6. Tabasco brown. This is their chipotle-based sauce, and quite the best from the most mainstream hot sauce manufacturers: ideal for veggie breakfasts, and presumably meat ones too. Their garlic version is great as well, and the habanero is an excellent hot hot sauce. In fact, the only one I wouldn't recommend is the rather bland one you get everywhere. Available in gallon jugs (!) for $38.95, but they won't ship to the UK. Ask a friend to help you with that one.
Heat: 5/10
Country of origin: USA

7. Patak's Chilli Pickle. I'm cheating again, this isn't a proper hot sauce either. It is the Indian equivalent, though, a very finely balanced oil pickle, both hot and still curiously subtle. A sandwich staple.
Heat: 6/10
Country of origin: India/UK

8. Reggae Reggae sauce. I found out it'd been on telly after I got into it, believe it or not, so don't let the celebrity put you off. Properly more of a barbeque sauce, but also hot enough to spice up any breakfast. Not recommended on porridge, though. Also, I'd avoid the guava version. It sounds like a good idea, but it's actually really tasteless.
Heat: 4/10
Country of origin: UK

9. South Devon Chili Company's Hot Habanero. A really citrusy number, more so than one might expect from a habanero-based sauce, but also one to apply sparingly. A 60ml bottle should last ages, at least a month.
Heat: 9/10
Country of origin: UK

10. Mama Africa's Peri-peri.  Another really fierce one, made from sacanas (not a variety I've come across elsewhere), but again with a nice broad flavour to it. Approach with caution. Comes with a nice tassel on the bottle, if you like that sort of thing.
Heat: 10/10
Country of origin: South Africa

Finally, seeing as I'm endorsing businesses, Edinburgh and Glasgow residents should check out Lupe Pintos, where many of these sauces can be found and many more besides. It's a spicy treasure trove.
lutherkingdream.jpgPeter Cranie tells the story today of his recent experiences in the dreamland version of Iran. I think it's time to start admitting how political obsession can work its way into dreams. 

This is not cool. In fact, it's properly embarrassing. But here goes. In about 2001, I dreamt an entire Scottish Parliamentary by-election for the Angus constituency. 

The SNP's candidate was Shona Robison, since 2003 the MSP for Dundee East and since 2007 the Minister for Public Health. The Tory challenger was Ben Wallace, now the MP for Lancaster and Wyre. 

I don't think it's any coincidence that I'd worked with both of them through the cross-party group on refugees and asylum seekers, where Wallace defied his whip just by joining the group. His military experience meant he "knew what they've been through", as he put it, and she was the group's efficient convener.

Both were regional list MSPs for the Northeast at the time, so would also have been relatively plausible choices as candidates, and the Tories have indeed been in second place in the seat every time it's been contested. I don't remember anyone else getting a look-in, presumably because the squeeze effect works even in dreams. Nor was there any explanation about what had happened to Andrew Welsh, who still represents Angus at Holyrood. 

When I say I dreamt it, I don't mean that I just dreamt there was a by-election. There was a hustings, copious newspaper coverage, Brian Taylor doing pieces to camera and vox pops, and a full by-election special. Sadly, I woke up before the declaration, in a reversal of the normal run of things, so I can't tell you who won.

I've got one more even more bizarre political dream to confess to as well. If enough other anoraks come out of the woodwork with shameful political dreams I'll do the followup here. It can't just be me and Peter.

Buy a book, do some good.

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christianaid.pngThis one's for Edinburgh residents only. Christian Aid's annual book sale is on at St Andrew's and St George's church on George St until Friday. It's the best sale of the year, with all the stuff that's too good to go in an average church jumble sale. Also, even pagans and atheists can appreciate the quality of the work Christian Aid do. So go buy a book or ten and feel good about it.

A galaxy to be at home in.

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raspberrydaiquiri.jpgThe papers love to get over-excited about scientific research, turning two and two into about nineteen, but the idea that the centre of the Milky Way has something marginally in common with a raspberry daiquiri is too good to ignore. 

It might be nonsense, but Douglas Adams would approve. Cocktails all round! (recipe here)

Yours for the planet.

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earthfromspace.jpgIn these parts we regularly receive letters signed off with the phrase "yours for Scotland" above the author's signature. Some of these letters are helpful, others less so.

I'm trying to imagine what response I'd get if I advised Robin and Patrick to start using "yours for the planet". An unprintable one, probably.

Your branes are empty.

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Thumbnail image for syb.pngI've linked to spEak You're bRanes before, but these two entries are really worth being a read. Terrorism. Plane Stupid.

Fowl play.

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One of my friends in the media passed me a leaflet last week, a Morrisons tract designed to persuade me that they only use happy chickens which get to live normal lives. Here's the cover, which should really have been called Come and meet the meat...

Inside, however, we see what this actually means. Those normal avian lives include.. playing football.

I know it looks like I've Photoshopped that ball into the picture but the original is available for inspection. Oddly, the text contains no explanation, which makes me think it's as realistic and accurate as this chicken-football video, and that the reality of Morrisons' average chicken's life is still likely to be more like this.

Moray - the final frontier.

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scotty.jpgAll the parties make shameless bids for Christmas coverage when the standards are lower, but the most absurd this year is a supposed bid by the SNP to get Richard Branson to fly his"spaceships" from Lossiemouth. 

I have to hand it to the Nats, purely in media terms. Space is always good box-office, and the bearded one has provided a massive archive of absurd promo shots. Angus Robertson is probably still sniggering about the word "serious" in his quote. 

The whole thing is genius, except for the fact that it's as real as Scotty from Star Trek. There's the slight obstacle of having to get MoD permission, and they tend to object to everything that moves.

It also seems less likely that people will pay $20,000+ for up to six minutes of weightlessness nowadays. Even counting the getting there, that's a lot of money for a two and a half hour holiday. Ain't happening.

Thank god, too. As if the prospect of getting the very rich to fly here for brief stops in Trumptown was not financially unsound or unsustainable enough, do we really want to burn gargantuan amounts of fossil fuel getting rich nobodies into the lowest of low earth orbits?

The whole Virgin Galactic thing is all about Branson's self-promotion, his only true skill. To prove that, what would you do if you ran a real serious space programme and some pornographers wanted to shoot a film on your craft? Why, surely you'd have a press conference

Oh no he isn't.

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uglysister.jpgAccording to Scotland on Sunday, a character based on the First Minister appears as a villain in the Tron's Christmas panto - Alex Salamander, an "evil landlord" obsessed with tartan, longwindedness, his tenants' money, and of course himself. 

The article also features what may be the most toe-curlingly awful official quote ever given, but it did make me think what a great pantomime dame the man himself would do. Annabel Goldie could help with his delivery and double entendres, and clearly Kevin Pringle would be the man to advise on the script. 

Unfortunate handles.

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TCPortrait.jpgI know it's wrong to make fun of people's names, but surely we can make exceptions when their names reflect the crimes they have admitted? This week brought us both a US governor caught on tape trying to sell a Senate seat, conveniently named Blagojevich, and a Ponzi scheme specialist whose name, Madoff, the BBC pronounces Made-off, as in Made-off with your money.

Not since Thomas Crapper (left) entered the toilet business can a name like the latter, in particular, have been more apt.

Firth of silence.

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Strange Maps is one of my favourite quirky wee blogs, and yesterday it featured the Atlas of True Names, where familiar placenames are given in their original meaning. A few English placenames survive unchanged - Blackpool, Newcastle, Oxford - but none do in Scotland, and many are picturesque. 

I had thought I lived in Edwin's Burgh, but the cartographers confess only an 80% accuracy rate, so don't complain to me about errors. I would also be surprised if Orkney really is properly understood to be the Isles of the Sea Monsters, but I do like living by the Firth of Silence.


Who you gonna call?

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mitchellhedges.jpgYesterday we all trooped off to see the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull at the Hub. These skulls are associated with endless speculation about their origin, the odd movie, and a fair amount of woo, including Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World (Youtube of that episode). 

Is it a fake? I don't know. But the next visitor from America will have to bring me one of these. They're definitely real, I know, as the Mitchell-Hedges crowd were raffling one.

Update: a reliable and level-headed friend and reader sends me the following story.

"I was part of a university expedition to Belize and Guatemala in 1974. Our team leader, a universally respected American anthropology prof, who spent many years exploring the jungle and Mayan temples round Tikal, told us about a crystal skull which he had been shown by a local tribesman. It was at the back of an underground cave, protected by bone bars jammed into rock, and reached by a tunnel."

"He had sworn not to divulge the location, and never did. But (one might say) the fates intervened for added protection: earthquakes devastated the Tikal area a short while later, and when he went back to check damage to an adjacent site, he was sadly at the top of the Temple of the Sun when lightning struck, and was killed instantly. His small son was uninjured but severely traumatized. So somewhere one of those crystal skulls is quietly resting, now probably forever."

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