Thursday, 27 June 2013

The BBC.

I warn you now, this is going to be a tedious post, I'll try to make it more bearable.

First thing; The Crown Estates. I was casting about on the BBC news website, its still good for the simple stuff - by which I mean - things like encapsulating bloody raids by soldiers or by more hands-off remote controlled methods into nice, simple-to-understand and most importantly; bloodless & corpseless diagrams and flow charts. But I digress, two reports can be found on the BBC news website about The Crown Estates, one in the 'UK' section and another in the 'Scotland' section. If you're a current affairs anorak (or even if you're not) its sometimes easy to spot when they're spinning stories to suit the audience.

The clipping above is from here, its sitting in the Business section of BBC News Online and linked from the UK front page. But how is it being reported in the Scottish section of the BBC news website?

The headline above and article in the Scottish section (here).

Very quickly, what is The Crown Estates Commission? Well, its a Quango that looks after land and property owned by the Queen, there is an explanation in the UK article:

"An analogy often used is that the Crown Estate is the property version of the Crown Jewels - held by the Queen as sovereign, but not for her personal use."

So, while the Crown Estate Commission (or CEC) manage the Queen's various properties & lands, they don't own it. But, none of it is for the Queen's personal use or gain... Yup, I don't really get it either... What is easier to grasp is this, there's a thing called The Sovereign Grant which funds the Queen's spending as head of state, at best you could call this expenses, at worst; a wage. In 2014 it'll rise from £36.1 million to £37.89 million - a 5% pay rise. (A bit jarring really with Osborne's recent spending review speech...)

Where does the money come from though? Well, if you're local to Edinburgh The Fort Kinnaird Retail Park near Musselburgh sits on land owned by the CEC as is the seabed out to the 12 mile mark around most of the UK - any pipelines or wind farms laid down or thrown up pay rent for the land they're using with proceeds going to CEC coffers. Income from forestry plantations (5000 hectares in Scotland) and loch beds is hoover up by the CEC, the local communities which overlook them get hee-haw. You could make a point about jobs in the area, which would be as valid as it was moot - all income should benefit the local community, not just a part of it - especially the part that can be most easily outsourced.

In other news, the BBC received a number of complaints about  the coverage (or lack-there-of) of Holly Willoughby's breasts (pictured) during the final of The Voice.

Phillip Schofield - Willoughby's co-host on ITV's This Morning tweeted in her defence: 

"139 complaints over Holly's gorgeous Voice dress. Let's hope those outraged on behalf of their kids don't take them to the beach this summer."

Meanwhile, The Voice judge Tom Jones (also pictured) was too busy counting Willoughby's most prominent features that evening to comment.

I think it's important the BBC reports such things as I understand there is an interest in certain quarters. For me, there is no unit of measure small enough to quantify the amount of crap I couldn't give about what Holly Willoughby decides to wear of an evening.

(Did you see what I did there?)

Back to the CEC and the BBC which reports that last year, revenues from Scottish Crown Estate assets increased to £13.7 million - not to be sniffed at. But in the same report it said CEC - last year - had made capital investments amounting to £9.6 million in Scotland.

Is that all & where's the rest? And why are Scottish resources being filtered through a London quango then dressed up by the BBC as a gift from a beneficent British establishment back to Scotland? (It should also be noted, a lot of that investment is in renewable power generation. One wonders what subsidies the CEC is accessing when it rents out Scottish land and seabeds...)

This is one of those 'Union Dividends' they keep telling us about - reasons for staying a part of the UK - because if we left, we'd lose out... Instead of investing £13.7 million in local communities, we get £9.7 million. The rest pays for the quango and The Sovereign Grant.

Other than that, the BBC get to spin it so it looks as if Scotland benefits from this arrangement. Meanwhile, down south - where the scream of indoctrination is most felt - they can sleep safe in the knowledge that their beloved Queen is earning a crust + 5%.

I'm fairly ambivalent when it comes to the monarchy. I see them as a living museum display or perhaps a theme park with rides and attractions (but for old people and American or Japanese tourists.) The CEC though should be scrapped and income from Scottish lands, lochs & seabeds go to the communities adjacent to those lands, lochs & seabeds.

Of course, if the Monarchy really was a theme park, think of the rides you could have. On the Prince Charles themed ride - instead of safety bars - revelers would just hang on to a pair of comedy ears. The Queen Mother's ride would be a bar that only sold gin... Prince Harry's ride - umm - would just be a bar... Prince William's ride, erm, would be really popular but secretly jealous of its sister-ride's backside... For the Duke of Edinburgh, it would just be a room which existed outside of normal space & time where every day rules of decency and political correctness would not apply, (a surprise hit I think...)

Prince Andrew and Edward would have one ride between them (if you'll excuse the mental imagery) but it wouldn't be very popular.

We demand our own ride.

(The last two paragraphs could be read in several different lights dependent on the depth & breadth of the reader's sense of decency. That being the case, please delete/not read the following as it applies to your view: The dirty republican bastard/Oh the banter/Will there be a Pippa Middleton ride and will it be a roller-coaster?)

Monday, 24 June 2013


You're probably thinking this is a made-up word - it isn't - it stands for Getting It Right For Every Child. This is the Scottish Government's answer to child protection and safety going forward and its incredibly stupid, completely unwieldy and devoid entirely of anything approaching the merest sensation of common sense.

Here's a quick digest of what it means:

Basically there will be a 'named person' (a teacher or guidance councillor most probably) for every child, it is said this person will not have to do anything beyond what they already do except record information about the child in-line with something called the National Practice Model. So what's that then? 

Its this:

OK, so I've lost the will to live. I've skimmed over the picture and I've seen it before. Its bad enough - patronising enough even -  to have this in the work place, like we all live in a perfect little bubble where policies and directives can be applied in a uniform manner across the board. But to apply such a thing to real life and to a kid?

Even this random baby thinks its laughable.
GIRFEC will, (in theory) facilitate a more uniform collection of information about the child's development, the idea being, any risks to that development can be identified early and targeted for some sort of positive intervention. There will be a database (isn't there always?) that social services, the NHS and education managers among others will be able to access, the truth is, access is a bit vague - its not clear who would have access - the police? What about other council departments or commercial enterprises buying data - councils are strapped for cash after all...

I could go on about the ten core components and the set of values and principles that underpin GIRFEC but I've seen that before too. No government or civil service project, strategy or scheme exists without values and principles, in fact, if the managers in charge feel the need to include any - then you know its a waste of time and the main motivation of the exercise is the maintenance of the people who are being paid to deliver it.

Which brings us to the next problem: social work. I have some experience with social work, a fair bit as it happens. Never have I ever come across a more ineffectual occupation. If you require assistance beyond the simplest thing (organisation of a care package) then don't contact them. Social work isn't about protecting vulnerable people (adults or kids,) its about protecting Social Workers. Its not entirely the social worker's fault, they've just lost sight of their own purpose - they've been criticised so often that social work managers are now more concerned with covering the occupation's back than protecting vulnerable groups. In my own experience, after months of honesty - I had to lie through my teeth to get rid of them. It would have been less stressful to shoot the problem-person in the face then sit through my own murder trial - probably quicker too.

Suffice to say, when it comes to supporting vulnerable young people and adults, I'm a firm believer in the flexibility of community & family as opposed to the rigid framework of social work, local council authority or government.

Which is why GIRFEC is such a terrible idea, it is intrusive, unnecessary and ripe for abuse itself. It is a response to a tiny number of terrible incidents where children fell through the cracks in the system. Instead of tightening up existing practice, they formed a committee and came up with this dog's dinner. They argue that by monitoring all children they can catch any potential escapees, in fact, they'll spend so much time collating info about ordinary families - they'll end up on so many wild goose chases started by the over-zealous jobsworths these programs inevitably attract - they'll miss the very kids they're trying to protect.

I work with young folk in a voluntary capacity (I've also worked in a paid capacity through Social Work and Education & Community Services,) the idea of 'monitoring' or 'observing' then applying my findings to a 'Resilience Matrix' if things go beyond GIRFEC's daft idea of the Circle of Life; where you have to decide whether the kid is a Successful Learner, a Confident Individual, an Effective Contributor or a  Responsible Citizen. If I think they're not, the last thing I'm going to do is report it to my local authority - heck - I'd run a mile before that even crossed my mind.

I'm not sure I know a child who ticks all those boxes, more-over, if I did - I wouldn't think they were normal (and I wouldn't tell anyone that either.) I don't want to live in a society where kids are little robots, its their differences that make them who and what they are. I definitely don't want to live in a country where our kids are spied on and notes are taken behind their back for inclusion in yet another giant database which I have no doubt will end up fulfilling purposes outwith that which was envisaged on its inception.

I've already signed this petition, obviously its entirely up to you whether you do the same, I should warn you though, if you don't...

I'm not above shameless emotive jingoism.

You will most probably be haunted by the face of this sad baby crying because you deserted him (or her, its another random one so I don't really know.) Most probably, in the future this random baby will not be a Confident Individual or an Effective Contributor forcing their Named Person to consult the Resilience Matrix. 

And it'll be YOUR FAULT.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Food Bank for the needy.

Sorry, that should read 'food bank for the greedy'.

While many of the good citizens of Dundee (for example) have to go here

Courtesy of the Dundee Courier

The great and the good of the great British state go here

Wankers assembled for a frenzied bout of self-congratulation for fucking things up so well.

The Mansion House Speech given by George Osborne (or who ever the current sitting chancellor happens to be) paid for by you.

I'm not going to bore you with Osborne's speech, I'll give you this digest though: Basically, he said he had your best interests at heart,(which he doesn't.) And that it would be a 'dereliction of his duty' if he failed to represent your 'best interests', (why break the habit now?) And even although he says they are your best interests; he actually means the best interests of those sitting down to dinner directly in front of, to the right and to the left of where he was standing while giving his speech, (not including domestic staff of course because that would be unfair on the rest of us...)

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Country To Let

I genuinely have no idea what that woman is doing in the background, I picked this for indicative purposes only.

I have a question.

How do you regard the country in which you live and your place in it?

Living in Scotland, its a bit different, we're sort of a country within a country. Although technically (and historically) the UK was a union between two countries, over the years, the idea of being 'British' has been hammered home with vigour. Putting that to one side though and going back to the question...

You (or your parents) pay your taxes, maybe volunteer some time and generally do your bit to make the country a decent place to be, its an investment. You vote for the parties that best suit your aspirations, not just for you but for your kids - and if you're at all civic-minded - anyone else travelling in the wake you leave behind. We make a compromise, we understand individually we can't change the entire world but perhaps, if we improve our little bit of it -  it'll spread and rub off.

So, what about it then? Scotland, you and/or your parents have worked hard to invest in it, to make it habitable. You've studied hard so you can make your way in it - and why not; it is yours after all isn't it?

Well, no actually - it isn't.

Lamont, Darling, Davidson & Rennie - Letting Agents.

Turns out we're only renting Scotland from Westminster, the people in the picture above are the current letting agency staff. In all the debate, the resounding and repeating mantra has been; 'Its not yours, you can't have it.'

Passport: A symbol of citizenship, its your internationally recognised label. According to Theresa May (Tory Home Secretary) its not yours. You've paid for it (£72.50) and you've paid your share of the costs of its production (via the Identity & Passport Service funded out of the tax you pay.) You're also paying for the embassies and consulates in countries to which you can travel; but it and they are not yours, you're just renting.

Currency: The cash in your pocket, the money you earn. Scotland has been using it for over 300 years, our industry has contributed to its strength (such as it is now but never-the-less...) The Bank of England was founded by a Scot, we print our own notes and are responsible for generating more of it in terms of tax than the rest of the UK - we pay our way with it. But its not yours. According to George Osborne, current Chancellor of the Exchequer and ex-towel folder, it belongs to the UK, of which we are an integral and much loved part - except we can't be - because if we chose to leave, we wouldn't be allowed to use it.

Armed Forces: We rent this too, its not yours, in fact Scotland is so inept, we'd need to rent a foreigner to run our armed services on independence. Phillip Hammond, current Secretary of Defence tells us divvying up UK armed forces - toward which we pay handsomely - 'lacked coherence'. What actually lacks coherence is why we'd spend more money and get less as part of the UK rather than spend less money and get more as an independent country. (Scotland's share of the defence bill on a per head of population basis in 2011 was £3.62 billion, actual spend in Scotland is below £2 billion, in 2008 it was as low as £1.57 billion, subsidising the rest of the UK to the tune of £2 billion.) Lets not forget Trident, parked less than 40 miles from Scotland's largest population centre and costing us £163 million every year.

Worth every penny?
SNP policy (for example) is to spend £2.5 billion on defence - more than is currently spent in Scotland and less than our current share of UK defence spending.

Welfare & Pensions: I think you can guess where this is going, correct - its not yours. I never understood why pensions and welfare were conflated, for what its worth, I take the view, if you've worked for most of your life; your pension isn't a welfare benefit - its money fairly and squarely owed to you. Also, in terms of UK government, pensions aren't a benefit; they're a liability. There is no pot of cash earning 5% pa in to which Scotland has paid, we won't be asking for our per-head share of it because it doesn't exist. Pensions are paid on a pay-as-you-go basis out of general taxation and borrowing. We do however rent the infrastructure, it goes without saying, even although there are 10,000 people working for the DWP in Scotland for which we pay our share - it & they are not ours, we can't have any of it if we vote yes in 2014.

Oil & Gas: In the face of every normal practice, in contradiction of all known examples; if Scotland decided as a country it wanted to govern itself - its possible that resources contained within its borders wouldn't belong to it. Obviously none of us have contributed to the wealth of Oil & Gas beneath our land and sea, we have geology and history to thank for that; you would think by any normal measure of the idea - that it sits within our borders - it would belong to us. Well it doesn't - its not yours. As you well know, when news readers are talking about Wales, Northern Ireland and England, they also temper any fiscal statement with the words; 'if you take a geographical share of [insert resource or tax income] into consideration.' Why wouldn't you include oil & Gas income in Scottish figures? Oh aye, I forgot - its running out.

The EU: I'm not sure how this works but bare with me. Our share of EU membership isn't ours, it belongs to the rest of the UK - which includes us - because as we all know, we're a part of the soul of one-nation-UK - a UK which would be much diminished without Scotland, which is probably true, but not in the way Westminster representatives would have us believe. It goes without saying, your membership of the EU (whether you want it or not) is not yours. I've deliberately linked to a dodgy Telegraph article, the headline reads; 'Independent Scotland 'would have to 'apply from scratch to join EU''. The article then goes on to undermine and disprove it's own headline by comparing Scotland with Croatia. Scotland is already in the EU, it already adheres to EU laws and policies, comparing it to Croatia - which has never been in the EU so did have to apply 'from scratch' - is fatuous.

Ok, I get the message...

My point is, you think this is your country, but it isn't. At least not according to the Union - its out on loan to you. All the infrastructure, the bureaucracy and functions of state for which you pay - are not actually yours. In Scotland, we're all second class citizens - tenants if you prefer - living in a house we don't own but have been paying for and investing in for the past 300 years.

All the tax you pay, the tax your parents and grand parents have paid. All the effort you put and will put into your future in Scotland won't be yours - if it truly was - if you decided to leave; you could take your share of it with you, couldn't you?

In a bizarre exercise of state-based auto-eroticism, our Prime Minister has ordered - and I'm going to be charitable and call it - a commemoration of the start of WW1. Normally the end of hostilities are cause for commemoration, not the start. Unfortunately, the 150,000 Scots who died in The Great War and the 50,000 who died in the Second World War - according to what those arguing for the union are saying - did so for nothing because none of what they saved was actually theirs to begin with.

The temerity, the cheek, the sheer brass neck of it. Scotland is and has been an integral part of the UK; adding to it, paying for our share of it - sometimes more sometimes less - and now, finally seeing the inequity of it; we are seeing the truth of Scotland's position through the eyes of British Unionists.

Its not yours. But, it could be - completely and totally with all its advantages and challenges - if you put a cross in the correct box on the 18th of September 2014.

Take a leaf out of Thatcher's book: why rent when you can buy.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Ruth Davidson

Back to politics with a bump.

So who exactly is Ruth Davidson then? I'll tell you.

You see now, I'm being unoriginal; I've already done this gag - I'm being puerile all over again. Although, since making comparisons between Alex Salmond and North Korean dictators is OK, I'm going to let myself off.

This is she:

Any likeness is purely coincidental, although you can't say the same thing about political doctrine. You see Ruth and Kim have something in common - an extremely cavalier attitude to the workings of democracy.

Kim Jong-Un, son of Kim Jong-il among other things is the hereditary Supreme Ruler of North Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, First Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army and has been First Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea. He has two degrees, one in physics and another in making war and being a bit of a nutter.

Ruth Davidson on the other hand is Glasgow Regional List MSP and the current leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party, she enjoys kickboxing (I hope she doesn't read this,) dog walking (apparently) and has a degree in English Lit from Edinburgh University.. In 2009 she was encouraged to stand for the Glasgow North East seat vacated by Labour MP and ex-Speaker of the House Michael Martin (who left under a cloud created by the expenses scandal.) Embarrassingly, she was beaten by Labour's Willie Bain, he of the 'Bain Principle' which states, all SNP policy must be opposed even if its also Labour policy - he's also a bit of a gonk.

Before becoming an MSP Ruth worked mainly for the BBC, having one more thing in common with Kim Jong-il insofar as - neither have had a job in the real world.

Anyway, I digress, the cavalier attitude to democracy - well - Kim wears his on his sleeve; its a bit obvious. Ruth on the other hand makes her feelings known during interviews and in speeches hidden within management consultancy hyperbole. Not wishing to bog folks down with detail, she started her leadership with a 'line in the sand'; there would be no more powers for Holyrood but more recently, has changed her tune. (Both links are from the Telegraph, a Tory newspaper if ever there was one...)

More recently (on Sunday Politics Scotland - last 20 minutes,) she has vowed to prevent any further referenda on independence should Scotland vote no in September 2014, she went on to say that Holyrood was broken because the SNP managed to get a majority in a voting system designed to disallow majorities, (Westminster on the other hand, where a party can win on a minority vote is working perfectly fine.) I think its safe to say, if any other party - say, a unionist one - got that majority; she'd be less vocal.

So, if uber-tory Ruth gets into power, she'll do her best to limit the democratic will of the people living in Scotland. She's starting with referenda on the constitution, what might be next?

Independence is a party policy, a pretty big one; but a policy never-the-less. Is it OK for a politician representing the party currently in power at Westminster to openly stifle democracy to the benefit of her own party and its expressed wishes? More-over, what will the Conservatives at Westminster do if Scotland rejects Independence this time round? It won't be pretty and if Ruth gets her way, there will be nothing you can do about it.

She has zero chance of getting into power at Holyrood, but the party which gives her her orders are already in the driving seat at Westminster, it can and most probably will neuter Holyrood after a no vote so that we'd be forever tethered to a failing Westminster system of government.

In her speech at the Tory conference in Stirling at the weekend there, Ruth wrapped up to a capacity crowd with the following words (among others):

"...And we will work for a Scotland that enjoys success everyone can share in...." (Not my emphasis.)

Ruth Davidson enjoying a well earned cup of tea after her speech to conference.

Friday, 7 June 2013

More international frontiers.

I didn't want to sully yesterday's blog with politics but I did want to make a point about a frequently mentioned reason-for-voting-no-that-isn't-a-reason-for-voting-no; namely - border checkpoints and the threat there-of if you vote yes in the referendum.

Firstly, here are some pictures of other international frontiers, a real hodge-podge with borders between EU countries, borders between non-EU and EU countries and borders between non-EU countries around the globe.

I was also at a border recently (as you might know from the last blog) although I could be forgiven for not realising. I looked for signs which said I'd left the UK but there wasn't any, nor was I accosted and searched beneath machine guns and search lights - we just rode on through to the pub.

The pub.

I'm not saying there weren't problems mind... We had to tempt the Irish barman away from the TV - he was watching Top Gear on Dave - and ask if his establishment accepted Sterling; he said; yes, it did.

We ordered drinks and were horrified to have to wait for two minutes while he worked out the exchange rate on a solar powered calculator (yes, foreign countries* have solar powered calculators.) Even my friend there in the picture, worried that they wouldn't accept Sterling (he's Scottish but living in NI) but I said why wouldn't they? Its just different coloured money, it spends the same way does it not?

Also, it cost £4.50 for two cokes which even by Edinburgh standards is steep. If I'm being honest, I wasn't entirely confident the barman was proficient at working out exchange rates but do you know? I was just thrilled to be there. Crossing a border is still a bit of a novelty, I've been back and forth to England more times than I can remember but only been abroad maybe a dozen times, its hard to see borders when you're flying high above them so riding across one on a motorbike is still new to me.

So, I was a wee bit disappointed when I couldn't get a photo of the border, the only notification was a sign welcoming us to Donegal - on the way back there was a sign welcoming us to Northern Ireland - that was it. No swarthy border guards gleefully snapping on rubber gloves, no towers bristling with weaponry or barbed wire (I think most folk in NI are pissed off with that kind of thing anyway.)

In the face of incontrovertible photographic proof, demonstrable fact and not a little common sense, why would border controls be thrust up between England and Scotland on independence?


It wouldn't because it makes no sense. We sell lots of stuff to England and they sell a ton of stuff to us, why would they or we mess with that? Why would Westminster (or Holyrood) throw up border controls between England and Scotland but have nothing between England & France or Scotland & Norway?

What would change? In terms of borders and how your money spends - precisely nothing. Now, some might say; why bother with it then? Because its not about borders and currency (well maybe a wee bit about currency,) its about policy and aspiration. Its about how much money you have in your pocket, how much of it government has a right to take and how much of it we allow them to piss up the wall - on that point, I would refer you to Mrs Howden.

* Although this has probably never occurred to you (and why would it,) Ireland as far as UK law is concerned, isn't a 'foreign' country - it's part of the UK CTA (Common Travel Area to us dafties) - you can come and go as you please. Given this is the case for Ireland and Scotland currently, why would that change exactly? Will Westminster, in a fit of pique, chuck a huff and throw up border controls?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

International Frontiers

The title of this sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is, the international frontier in question is that which exists between Northern Ireland and the Republic - specifically in a small town called Pettigo which straddles said frontier. So what is it about Pettigo that made me drag my pal who I was visiting in Northern Ireland to this small border town 130 miles away and to a point slightly beyond? Unfortunately I'm going to tell you.

It starts with a book called McCarthy's Bar by a man called Pete McCarthy, I read it a few years ago and have read it several times since. He wrote another book called The Road To McCarthy and I don't mind saying; its one of my most favourite reads - I've read it and McCarthy's Bar several times.

These are both humorous and informative travelogues about Ireland and the Irish diaspora. In McCarthy's Bar he sets out to discover what it is to be Irish and if you can somehow  be English and Irish at the same time. He does this - essentially - by travelling around Ireland and entering any bar that has his name above the door and having a drink.

In The Road to McCarthy, he starts in Tangiers hunting down the McCarthy Mor (the alleged descendant of an ancient Irish king) and ends in the tiny Alaskan town of McCarthy visiting Tasmania,  Montserrat, the United States and of course Ireland in between.

But it is McCarthy's Bar we're interested in, the climax takes place at St Patrick's Purgatory on - or perhaps in - Lough Derg; about 6 miles beyond the Irish town of Pettigo. Although not at all religious, he decided that in order to reconnect with his Irish roots, he might try participating in the ancient Lough Derg pilgrimage that people from across the world have been doing for over 1000 years.

Lasting three days, pilgrims must go with out food or drink (one Lough Derg meal is allowed each day consisting of dry toast and black tea.) They must also complete - in bare feet -  nine 'stations' (the remains of monastic cells or beds dedicated to the memory of mainly Irish Saints) over the three days, stations consist of kneeling at alters around the island and its buildings and saying certain prayers or liturgies - according to Pete's account - it didn't seem to matter what God or deity you directed your pleas at.

Since he spent the weeks leading up to his pilgrimage visiting a great many pubs around Ireland (many not necessarily having his name above the door,) the pilgrimage was more of a detox than a religious observance.

I love his books, the warmth and humour with which he tells his stories and shares his experiences is amiable yet deliciously dry. 

We didn't get to go out to the island itself, (you need to commit to a three day pilgrimage and frankly - my friend wasn't up for it.) We did get to stand on the dock where Pete left for his pilgrimage - or ordeal as I prefer to think of it. While I don't think my friend was overly enthused, I got a kick out of standing there knowing one of my favourite writers had been there years before while writing McCarthy's Bar.

Pete McCarthy died at the age of 52, he only managed two books before cancer took him down. While I would have preferred a third, fourth, fifth and at least sixth book, the two books he did write are a testament to his memory and an inspiration; I cannot recommend them enough.

St Patrick with St Patrick's Purgatory on Station Island in the background.

McCarthy's Bar - Pete McCarthy.

00.05 Day 2.

When I got to the dorm there were two fat guys getting layered up with fat clothes. They were discussing Chinese food with an intensity that bordered on sexual fantasy. They were clearly mad with hunger. The mention of Kung Po Prawns had one of them bent double, grimacing with lust. The sexiest Chinese and Malaysian food on the planet they reckoned was to be found in Tullamore. They're making elaborate plans to break their fast with a spectacular blow out of satay chicken, crispy duck, sweet & sour pork, beef in black bean sauce, and chilli crabs, to be delivered to their doors at midnight on Sunday. Perhaps they should consider skipping toast for the next couple of days, to make sure they've got an appetite.

I'm sitting in the night shelter at the back of the basilica where we can come between sessions of prayer of we don't fancy wandering outside barefoot in the pitch-black howling deluge. We're packed together on long benches, some smoking, some chatting and other sipping water. There's a woman over there reading Hello! magazine. I'd have thought that was against the rules. Perhaps there's some religious content though; exclusive shots of the ex-Bishop of Galway at home with his family, something like that.

Right opposite me, there's a bony woman who looks like she works in a fish shop. She's wearing leg warmers, which she's pulled down so that they cover her feet. That can't be allowed, can it? Surely she's cheating. It's not fair. I find myself wanting a priest to come and confiscate them. This thing is beginning to take on a momentum of its own. Even if you don't buy in to the philosophy, once you're here you find yourself playing by their rules. Something inside you takes over, and it becomes a matter of pride. You want to succeed, to score points, to finish the race, to accumulate the prayers. If they can do it, so can I.

I don't want to go on about it. I just think they should confiscate her leg warmers, that's all. I mean, it's not unreasonable is it?

It won't be light for another six hours.

I find myself thinking of something I did a couple of years ago in Australia, when I let an aging hippy called Graham bury me alive in the outback. The idea was that it was a kind of rebirthing, an initiation ceremony in which you'd break through your own barriers. of fear and discomfort and be born anew. You spend all day in a remote place in the New South Wales bush, digging what Graham comfortingly calls 'your own grave', then at sunset you get in it, while another hippy, who's just showed up in a van, plays the didgeridoo. Then Graham fills it in up to your neck, leaving just your head sticking out of the ground, like David Bowie in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, only not so badly made up. Then you're left to the mercy of the poisonous spiders you've been finding all day, the terrifying sounds of the Australian night, and the crushing weight of the soil. After covering my face with insect repellent,  Graham made a circle of salt on the ground around my neck. I asked him what it was for.

'To keep the leeches of your face.'

Up to this point, I hadn't considered the possibility of leeches on my face, which is what made this the worst moment of all. Anyway, the understanding was that I would stay in the ground as long as I could bear - all night if possible -  but that Graham was my buddy, so that when I asked to be released, he would comply. After a few hours I asked; and of course he refused, which is when the row began, with me just a ranting head sticking out the ground, like something from a Sam Beckett play.

But next day - even though I hated Graham, and never wanted to set eyes on the bastard again - I felt very good, at ease with myself and full of energy, and the feeling persisted for several days. Maybe it was just banging your head on the wall syndrome, and I was glad it had stopped; or maybe that the challenge of dealing with something i'd been dreading, and coming out the other side, had indeed done some good.

So perhaps being here tonight is like being buried alive in the Australian outback by a hippy. If I can somehow make myself see it through, maybe I'll reap the benefits of it - even if they're not the ones the priests might be intending. I did go into a kind of contemplative trance earlier, during some rather beautiful chanting in the basilica, and I came to one unexpected realisation. If I were them I'd order another seafood dish, and cancel the beef in black bean sauce.

Skinhead seems to be the enforcer round here, the bad priest in the old good-priest/bad-priest routine. He's just come in and told us time's up, back to our prayers. How did that old joke about hell go? 'All right lads, tea break over, back on your heads.'