Edinburgh skyline


I’m just back from the ranch. It’s soggy. The weather has settled into its signature North-west dish of fine penetrating drizzle interspersed with heavy downpours, gales, frosty mornings and an all round panoramic grey pall. Even so, there are brief respites of clear wintry sun. I quite like it. I can scurry up the hill, do my jobs, then scurry home again to the comfort of the back room and kitchen with the glorious soothing warmth of the stove.

Many non-pseudo-farmers presume that winter is a lull period – not so. There’s always plenty to do. The horse-shit shifting is relentless – it’s quite a levelling task. Many times I’ve pointed out to the fam that shit-shifting and hedge-pruning are important foundations of our income and that helping me out once in a while, especially during times of stress, is essential for our continued survival. They’ve never bought it. It’s ok – it helps keep me thin. Combined with my daily back-protecting exercise routine, it’s my anti-version of going to the gym.

Stove with naughty logs
Field in winter
Muck midden

We’ve just taken delivery of a load of logs from our neighbour up the street. They were wet through and I’ve stacked them with meticulous care in the alcove around the stove. There’s a fine art to it – each layer slopes inwards, so as it dries, it naturally settles towards the walls – a bit like building dry stone walls. As usual, I get several bollockings telling me that it’s a fire hazard – it’s not. I know exactly how hot the stove gets and how hot it is overnight on its lowest setting. Even if it fell onto the stove, it wouldn’t ignite. No-one believes me but I’ve tried it and of course, there’s a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector.

Continuing the kitchen analogy, the huge roasting tin that’s used once a year is stored somewhere deep in the back-yard shed whilst the stuff used every day – pots, pans, cutlery are close to hand – so it is with common-sense gardening. The stuff you need access to every day – working area, planting area, herbs, tools and so on are close by and the self-maintaining wild area is on the periphery. Permaculturists use the term ‘zones’.

I’ve done it slightly differently for a number of reasons. The original 1/10th allotment is shaded on the northern and western sides, so I’ve put all the fruit trees and the bushes around the edges, to allow maximum light in the centre. I echoed this when I bought the field. There’s now a well-establishing hedge around the periphery interspersed with fruit bushes and trees. I’ve also built an inner hedge so that both hedges form the boundaries of an outer roadway for the tractor to drive round.

I put the orchard in the far bottom corner of the field because that’s the most sheltered spot, and it gets the run-off of nutrients from the hillside. I’ve just ordered a load of trees and bushes from the excellent Agroforestry Research Trust. It’s run by a bloke called Martin Crawford, who has been most helpful. Coincidentally, he was on the radio as I was driving home from work yesterday aft. it was a programme about chestnuts and he grows them.

Winter raspberry
Unfinished greenhouse

I was in Edinburgh last week. The first time I went, many years ago, I was blown away by Princess St and the fact that there was a park on one side, with squirrels running around.

The next visit, many years later, was to play at the fringe festival somewhere on the outskirts in a tiny little venue. I was playing in The Three Platitudes. We supported the comedian Rory Motion.

A few years later my spectacular exam-failing career began – I went back many times to fail expensive exams – by some little twist of fate, I finally became a member of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in the same month – July 2003.

Many jobs involve lots of exams and hoop jumping and medicine is probably one of the most demanding. Qualifying as a doctor is just the beginning – after that, you have to pass gruelling college membership exams to progress to the next level. After my last exam, I remember thinking ‘never again’.


I love Scotland. The Scots gave me a chance when no-one else would. Funnily enough, I was talking to a well known Scot yesterday. When I mentioned that I’d been to Edinburgh last week, he paused, then jokingly said ‘The only good thing to come out of Edinburgh is the road to Glasgow.’ He then added that ‘Glasgow is the heart of Scotland.’ I can relate to that. Louise’s dad was from Glasgow and my niece lives there.

All the Royal Medical colleges have annual conferences – it’s not the sort of thing I would typically go to, but as part of the job, you have to earn so many brownie points (external CPD) a year. A conference gives you a big chunk of them in one go. I’m a big sufferer from imposter syndrome. The thought of going to the annual conference (they actually call it a symposium) of the prestigious Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh never entered my head until recently. Someone pointed out that I was perfectly entitled to go – I passed the exam and I pay my annual membership – also it’s far cheaper than the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s conference.

The College building on Queen St is magnificent. The Great Hall with it’s chunky marble pillars and stupendous ceiling is truly majestic. The symposium comprises two days of lectures and The College had got in some great speakers. There were talks on Art in Medicine, The use of apps in medicine and The building of the new Alder Hey childrens’ hospital as a sterling example of the use of innovative technology in healthcare.

I wandered the streets in the lunch breaks marvelling at the grandiose architecture. I got a couple of nice 7s from Vinyl Villains

Princess St skyline
Three Oncologists - Ken Currie
Rock & Roll

The same inquisitive nerdishness that led me to brief stints of childhood stamp and coin collecting, transferred to 7″ singles from my teens onwards. The labels, the back story, the picture sleeves –  not to mention the music itself. When I was 16 punk smashed its way in and we regularly caught the bus to Manchester to buy the latest singles. Every other kind of music was shit. We knew a few people who wore those stupid wide parallel trousers and were into Northern soul. They banged on and on about Wigan casino, but it was of no interest to us.

The beauty of being in at the beginning of punk, was that there weren’t that many singles about. There were certain ‘must haves’ such as God Save The Queen. Another was The Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch – it was great, because it had 4 songs on it instead of the usual 2. We got our first break playing at Band on the Wall on a Tuesday night. The Fall and Joy Division played there in their early days. I remember Buzzcocks guitarist had a blue Morris Minor. We once did a great gig with The Frantic Elevators at a little club at the bottom of the CIS building in Manchester. Pete Shelley was there. I seem to remember the first Buzzcocks album was long awaited. In the meantime there were a couple of bootlegs about, and I had them both. I gave one to Khany.

Spiral scratch
Times up bootleg

Years later, I gravitated towards gutsy American rhythm and blues on labels like Chess and Checker and Cadet. It transpires that I lot of what I consider to be pure R&B is classed as Northern – Marlena Shaw’s Wade in the Water is a perfect example. I became fascinated with a movement based exclusively on 7″ singles, that totally grabbed the hearts and souls of a small cross-section of ordinary working class Northern kids.

I have one record that has the title and the name of the artist scratched and scribbled out (The Toussaint Shuffle by Toussaint McCall – it was a big Twisted Wheel/Mod track) – apparently it was common practice – DJs were very competitive and didn’t want rivals getting a copy of their latest tune. That snobbery still exists today. About ten years ago I was lucky enough to come across a record dealer in Newcastle called John Powney. He had no mobile, no computer and was wonderfully wittily acerbic towards profiteering peers. He sent out a hand-typed list once a month and you had to ring up from 8 onwards the next morning on a first-come, first-served basis. I got some really nice records off him including some great Northern 7s.

Our monthly music nights at the 160 cafe are going really well – on Sat we’re having a Northern and Twisted Wheel night which I’m really looking forward to. It’s the first time we haven’t had a band – just 7″ singles. The simple joy of just going down to the cafe with a few boxes of records instead of the usual van load of band gear.

Gaz, Eamonn and I are starting to rehearse regularly. Seeing videos of Roy Bailey sitting on a chair, singing his songs into old age and reminding me of my dad has somehow cemented a new quiet confidence in going out and playing live again. At Gaz’s request, I’ve resurrected an old song called Insane. It’s one of a few of my songs that observe America’s genocidal tendencies (the genocide of native Americans in the 1960s by forced sterilisation is in the news – someone made a film about it). The song came about when I was out with an A&E colleague a few years ago. He was wearing a teeshirt that said ‘G. W. Bush and sons. Family butchers since 1969’. It took a while for it to click – it’s the first line of the song, which is more apt than ever today.

Classic Northern 7s
Northern soul disco
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