Republicans Want to Turn the Entire Country into Oklahoma

By Paul Waldman  February 8, 2018   © Washington Post

We have in this country an essentially unchanging disagreement about what model of governance will produce the best economic and social results. Democrats advocate what we might call weak social democracy: relatively high taxes (though lower than those of our peer countries), combined with a relatively strong safety net (though again, not as strong as other countries), spending on needs like education and health care, and economic regulation to protect workers, consumers and the environment. Read more…

 

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To the Shores of Tripoli

One thing you have to give Film 4 is that it does ring the changes. Almost back to back, it ran the 1957 black & white classic “The Yangtze Incident” with 2016’s “13 Hours“. Other than being takes of derring-do in foreign climes, they seem worlds apart, certainly more than the half century that actually separates them. Yet, closer examination reveals them not only close to a remake but a study in how little the western world has learned from its domination of the last two centuries.

The Yangtze Incident“is pure post-war, stiff-upper-lip morality, complete with patriotic soundtrack and populated by unflappable officers leading phlegmatic salts-of-the-earth to glory against impossible odds. It dates from a time when a bankrupt British Empire was about to implode and the UK film industry saw itself as the cheerleaders trying to shore up the belief this was not the case. The plucky crew on HMS Amethyst save their ship from the clutches of uniformly fiendish Chinese Communists and their shore batteries. Why any British servicemen, let alone a Royal Navy frigate, two destroyers and a cruiser have any business in Chinese waters—let alone 100 miles up the Yangtze River in the middle of a civil war is never explained. At the time, the British had served 150 years as the world’s policeman, so the Admiralty having its fingers stuck in someone else’s pie would have needed no justification to British audiences. None of the British crew spoke Chinese. It was “Zulu” with ships.

Seen from a similar—if updated—perspective, “13 Hours” actually appears rich in parallels. The half dozen tough, bearded mercenaries protecting the secret CIA compound in Benghazi circa 2012 are as indistinguishable by their looks, cammies or terse special forces slang as the BBC English of the officers aboard HMS Amethyst. As far from a chick flick as it is possible to get, “13 Hours” doesn’t disappoint shoot-’em-up aficionados. Unfortunately, ever since The Governator hit Hollywood, they a kill ratio for the good guys over 100:1 is part of any such script. These heroes charge all over a blazing compound with no confusion, wasting “tangos” as they go. Ignoring basic infantry defensive tactics costs only one casualty. An early effort to distinguish friendly Libyans from hostile soon vanishes in the firefight to save the US ambassador, making any peaceful settlement impossible; none of the mercenaries or CIA staff speak Arabic. Despite interference from the CIA station chief, the delay before F– 18s can pave-bomb the baddies, and the delay before Chinook-fuls of US marines can descend from the nearest MAF, our plucky boyz have it under control.

Both films really tell the same story. What is tragic is the latter reflects current US public and political thinking: that there is nothing strange about having covert CIA compounds in war torn hellholes like post-Gaddafi Libya and then justify significant military presenve in the region and the right to use it in support. At no point does anyone see the need to justify the presence of any Americans in such a chaotic, dysfunctional country in the first place.

Which pretty much says we are now 50 years into the USA’s stint as self-appointed World Policeman and that the Imperial drive on Victorian Britain that led to the Indian Mutiny, Omdurman and Isandlwana has outgrown the hemispheric reach on the Monro Doctrine and is now globally alive and well in Washington.

If America’s military and intelligence diaspora spoke the local language and understood the local culture (as the Inca Empire or the French in 8th century Canada did), this might not be all bad. But when, in the late 1950s, a US embassy was established in the new Republic of South Vietnam, nobody there spoke Vietnamese.

And then look what happened.

One thing you have to give Film 4 is that it does ring the changes. Almost back to back, it ran the 1957 black & white classic “The Yangtze Incident” with 2016’s “13 Hours“. Other than being takes of derring-do in foreign climes, they seem worlds apart, certainly more than the half century that actually separates them. Yet, closer examination reveals them not only close to a remake but a study in how little the western world has learned from its domination of the last two centuries.

The Yangtze Incident“is pure post-war, stiff-upper-lip morality, complete with patriotic soundtrack and populated by unflappable officers leading phlegmatic salts-of-the-earth to glory against impossible odds. It dates from a time when a bankrupt British Empire was about to implode and the UK film industry saw itself as the cheerleaders trying to shore up the belief this was not the case. The plucky crew on HMS Amethyst save their shit from the clutches of uniformly fiendish Chinese Communists and their shore batteries. Why any British servicemen, let alone a Royal Navy frigate, two destroyers and a cruiser have any business in Chinese waters—let alone 100 miles up the Yangtze River in the middle of a civil war is never explained. At the time, the British had served 150 years as the world’s policeman, so the Admiralty having its fingers stuck in someone else’s pie would have needed no justification to British audiences. None of the British crew spoke Chinese. It was “Zulu” with ships.

Seen from a similar—if updated—perspective, “13 Hours” actually appears rich in parallels. The half dozen tough, bearded mercenaries protecting the secret CIA compound in Benghazi circa 2012 are as indistinguishable by their looks, cammies or terse special forces slang as the BBC English of the officers aboard HMS Amethyst. As far from a chick flick as it is possible to get, “13 Hours” doesn’t disappoint shoot-’em-up aficionados. Unfortunately, ever since The Governator hit Hollywood, they a kill ratio for the good guys over 100:1 is part of any such script. These heroes charge all over a blazing compound with no confusion, wasting “tangos” as they go. Ignoring basic infantry defensive tactics costs only one casualty. An early effort to distinguish friendly Libyans from hostile soon vanishes in the firefight to save the US ambassador, making any peaceful settlement impossible; none of the mercenaries or CIA staff speak Arabic. Despite interference from the CIA station chief, the delay before F– 18s can pave-bomb the baddies, and the delay before Chinook-fuls of US marines can descend from the nearest MAF, our plucky boyz have it under control.

Both films really tell the same story. What is tragic is the latter reflects current US public and political thinking: that there is nothing strange about having covert CIA compounds in war torn hellholes like post-Gaddafi Libya and then justify significant military presenve in the region and the right to use it in support. At no point does anyone see the need to justify the presence of any Americans in such a chaotic, dysfunctional country in the first place.

Which pretty much says we are now 50 years into the USA’s stint as self-appointed World Policeman and that the Imperial drive on Victorian Britain that led to the Indian Mutiny, Omdurman and Isandlwana has outgrown the hemispheric reach on the Monro Doctrine and is now globally alive and well in Washington.

If America’s military and intelligence diaspora spoke the local language and understood the local culture (as the Inca Empire or the French in 8th century Canada did), this might not be all bad. But when, in the late 1950s, a US embassy was established in the new Republic of South Vietnam, nobody there spoke Vietnamese.

And then look what happened.

domination of the last  c.

The Yangtze Incident” is pure post-war, stiff-upper-lip morality, complete with patriotic soundtrack and populated by unflappable officers leading phlegmatic salts-of-the-earth to glory against impossible odds. It dates from a time when a bankrupt British Empire was about to implode and the UK film industry saw itself as the cheerleaders trying to shore up the belief this was not the case. The plucky crew on HMS Amethyst save their shit from the clutches of uniformly fiendish Chinese Communists and their shore batteries. Why any British servicemen, let alone a Royal Navy frigate, two destroyers and a cruiser have any business in Chinese waters—let alone 100 miles up the Yangtze River in the middle of a civil war is never explained. At the time, the British had served 150 years as the world’s policeman, so the Admiralty having its fingers stuck in someone else’s pie would have needed no justification to British audiences. None of the British crew spoke Chinese. It was “Zulu” with ships.

Seen from a similar—if updated—perspective, “13 Hours” actually appears rich in parallels. The half dozen tough, bearded mercenaries protecting the secret CIA compound in Benghazi circa 2012 are as indistinguishable by their looks, cammies or terse special forces slang as the BBC English of the officers aboard HMS Amethyst. As far from a chick flick as it is possible to get, “13 Hours” doesn’t disappoint shoot-’em-up aficionados. Unfortunately, ever since The Governator hit Hollywood, they a kill ratio for the good guys over 100:1 is part of any such script. These heroes charge all over a blazing compound with no confusion, wasting “tangos” as they go. Ignoring basic infantry defensive tactics costs only one casualty. An early effort to distinguish friendly Libyans from hostile soon vanishes in the firefight to save the US ambassador, making any peaceful settlement impossible; none of the mercenaries or CIA staff speak Arabic. Despite interference from the CIA station chief, the delay before F– 18s can pave-bomb the baddies, and the delay before Chinook-fuls of US marines can descend from the nearest MAF, our plucky boyz have it under control.

Both films really tell the same story. What is tragic is the latter reflects current US public and political thinking: that there is nothing strange about having covert CIA compounds in war torn hellholes like post-Gaddafi Libya and then justify significant military presenve in the region and the right to use it in support. At no point does anyone see the need to justify the presence of any Americans in such a chaotic, dysfunctional country in the first place.

Which pretty much says we are now 50 years into the USA’s stint as self-appointed World Policeman and that the Imperial drive on Victorian Britain that led to the Indian Mutiny, Omdurman and Isandlwana has outgrown the hemispheric reach on the Monroe Doctrine and is now globally alive and well in Washington.

If America’s military and intelligence diaspora spoke the local language and understood the local culture (as the Inca Empire or the French in 8th century Canada did), this might not be all bad. But when, in the late 1950s, a US embassy was established in the new Republic of South Vietnam, nobody there spoke Vietnamese.

And then look what happened.

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Ich Bin Ein Amerikaner

This week, Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address was countered by a rebuttal from the Democrats in the form of  Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts, who made an eloquent and passionate speech, made more symbolic coming from the scion of a family that is Democratic royalty. Its contents and underlying principles are those that most Americans I know would identify with and support. And that probably goals for half of the country, especially those on the coasts.

But I believe that, because it is so transparently partisan, that it compounds the political mess currently dominating America. I have no time for Trump, all the self-serving republicans who support him in Congress. But his”Base” is a significant chunk of the population from surging Arizona to rust-belt Michigan  like a rash. However shortsighted and mitigated we might consider them, they think Trump speaks for them and is the best thing since sliced bread; he is an iconoclast; he speaks his mind; he is a living example of the American dream; he is a celebrity, exuding a kind of charisma and is seen by rust belt America as a kind of saviour, especially as he claims to take on in the media and beltway establishments.

So, when he delivers a State of the Union Address that is uncharacteristically conciliatory, this is not the time doe his opponents to dig Democratic trenches deeper and lob more handwringing liberal grenades in his direction. In the 20th century, America’s great strength was too weld amazing diversity together into a common American dream in which all believed. In the 21st Century, the institutionalised two party system has fractured society into haves and have-nots. As the latter has grown, the temptation to seek out the kind of the simplistic (but delusional) that Trump peddles has grown. Adhererents to such delusions are deaf to those trying to burst their bubble, as Kennedy’s speech is trying to do.

With both camps so far apart, spitting invactive with a blinkered partisanship that makes the Hatfields and McCoys seem like reasonable people, there is scant hope of avoiding the Mexican stand-off, such as shut down the government or stymied most of Trump’s executive orders. The last time America was this divided was during the Civil War. I would have hoped someone of Kennedys standing and genealogies could realise this and start to find common ground to heall this deepening rift that is doing the country—and the world—no good whatsoever. Because this is no” faraway country, of which we know little”. America’s future affects us all so we must all engage an international awareness that Joe’s great uncle demonstrated so powerfully half a century ago.

To quote another German phrase: “Der Weg nach Hölle ist mit guten Vorsätze gepflastert” (The road to Hell is paved with good intentions).

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Third Degree Burns

It’s that time of year when function suites and community halls from Annan to Zetland are packed out with revellers tucking into their haggis and looking forward to a dram or three to accompany witty speakers. And why not? Late January can be a bleak time and having some convivual means of celebrating our common culture gives Scots something to look forward to in the dreich days that stretch out beyond Hogmanay. And, just as the Irish have exported St Paddy’s day to an international audience, so you may attend Burns suppers from Auckland to Zaparozhe (where?? 15 admlirals of the Russian Navy were Scottish; their patron saint is St Andrew). Even apart from all this guys for whiskey exports, such widespread homage to Burns’ humanity must be a good thing in this otherwise fractious World.

Yet it seems the greater the distance furth of Scotland or the higher these social rank of attendees, the more formal and the more rigid the proceedings of a Supper become. Each of us should be free to imbibe the arts as we see fit. Poetry in general and Burns\ work in particular should be no exception and taken many ways. But the manner in which both dress and proceedings have become formulaic runs almost counter to both the culture and character of the man and what he himself might have preferred.

Would Rabbie have got himself into a fankle—as some Caledonian societies do—over Montrose versus Prince Charlie jacket or the clan sett of tartan? Given that such things were the (very profitable) creation of tailors milking the fiction created by Sir Walter Scott’s obeisance to George IV two decades after Birns lay beneath the sod he once tilled, I rather doubt it. And, amusing though the ritual poems and speeches can be, I suspect he would rather be found “bousing at the nappy” wi’ Tam than listen to some Company of Archers QC mangling Lallans in his mildly risque Toast to the Lasses. Though he could move in high circles, Burns was a man of the people. And the people of Scotland do not generally stand on ceremony.

Were he with us today, Burns would have gravitated to the kind of celebration North Berwick drama club put on, mixing play acting with conviviality. Or the completely ad hoc one held in Tyninghame Village Hall with spontaneous speeches before a roaring fire, prior to tables being dragged aside to permit a hoolie to go on into the wee hours. I eightsomed and stripped the willow with many partners that night. None of them was Rabbie. But I know he was there in spirit.

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A Year in Trumptopia

We call Scotland a “small” country. But it is diverse: a Borders farmer; a Buchan fisherman, a Bara crofter, a Glesca bauchle differ ;ile chalk and cheese, even as they are are Scots. No wonder, then, that the USA—at some 65 times our size—displays even wider diversity. And leading this amazing fusion of cultures and races for exactly one year has been Donald J. Trump.

Retirement last year let me spend four months of it in the country where I lived for 16 years. I found it no longer the country of the 80s and 90s I once knew. The many changes are not all due to the Trump presidency. Changes can be traced to Vietnam, the ending of the Cold War and the 2008 recession But the last year has seen change accelerate and Trump has been the catalyst for most.

During the 20th century, America was the rich leader of the rich Western world. In that period, a tenet of faith among Americans was, not only did they lead that world but they did so from the best, most democratic Government man could devise. Given a continent to exploit, millions of eager immigrants to exploit it and very few external threats to their system (barring nuclear annihilation) their economy roared, their people prospered and their system appeared ideal.

But it relied on a unique American ability to hammer diverse peoples into one nation sharing common culture and cause. The fact that two political parties were given and arm-lock on politics and both were right wing bothered few. Like the noblesse oblige that once drove Victorian Tory and Liberal parties in Britain, congressmen, senators and evn presidents found common ground on which all could prosper.

After World War 2, America bestrode he world economy like a Titan. It produced everything for its own huge internal market. But the rise of Asia as an economic force changed that. It started with Korean steel, then Japanese cars and electronics, then Australian coal, Taiwanese computers etc. But these were small countries. Nnow, in the 21st century, another Titan has come of age: China. It even threatens the USA as the world’s biggest economy.

Starting with oil shocks in the 1970s, America has been losing jobs and relative wealth. As creative and innovative people they have countered with inventive alternative: semiconductors, the Internet, mobile phones, social media. But this new wealth did not spread coast to coast, before, Smaller numbers of people got much richer; bigger numbers got poorer. For a while, the American dream survived. Because of the money required to be elected, politicians fell ever more into the former while your average “Joel Sixpack” blue-collar worker fell into the latter.

When he was elected in 2008, Barack Obama might have found an antidote to this. But the recession spurred the (more conservative) Republican party opposed his every move, preparing the ground for a Republican president to restoore economic nirvana. Had they selected one of their perfect-hair be-suited mannequins own, another Reagan or Bush might have resulted. But dark-horse Trump blind-sided, first the Republican establishment to get selected, then the Democrat establishment, who thought minority and women’s votes would torpedo a xenophobic, misogynistic braggart.

Neither party—and most media commentators—pickrd up that heartland America had fallen out of love with the once revered system, once foubt of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Unlike the mealy mouthed mannequins, Trump boasted and blagged his way into their hearts, using language no Senator would use. He was the right man with the right message at the right moment. The fact that he never intended to win, having entered only as another ego trips may be regarded by history with some irony.

After a year, his core support is holding steady at 30%. That he has achieved little from his manifesto That he has upset a wide spectrum of groups, is ignored. That political pundits claim he tweets like a spoilted 8-year-old is ignored. But all get media coverage—on which he thrives. His immigrant ban is tied up in courts—but it gets media coverage. His cabinet is packed with unqualified sycophants—but it gets media coverage.

And here we come to the perfect storm of sound bite over substance. While many civic groups beside the Democrats wail and gnash teeth at his behaviour, his shattering of shibboleths remains popular. This is, in large part, due to American media entering the debate with both feet. While Auntie Beeb may still strive for objectivity, in the land of the free that barely exists. The once pure System has been bypassed. There is no national print media; the myriad local papers make Citizen Kane look objective. Television is worse. Fox News is indistinguishable from Tump’s own Press Office, while ABC and NBC networks follow his every move, driven by ratings, not principle. PBS, trying to balance this out, leans too much the anti-Trump way. Worst of all is Radio, the hundreds of stations are fragmented over six time zones. Most play music; the many evangelical stations are all pro-Trump; a few purport to be news stations but varying from mildly supportive to rabid “shock jocks” who use freedom of speech to court libel actions on a daily basis.

As a result, around 90% of all Americans are exposed to media supportive of Trump and his policies, however scatterbrained. On the anniversary on his inauguration, he attended are pro-life rally with his vice president Mike Pence; this was reported favourably. Whether his sole achievement— a tax break favouring corporations and the rich—will revive the economy and bring jobs home remains to be seen. Foreign Affairs get short shrift. Upsetting the North Koreans with insults or pulling out of the Paris climate accord or recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital rate little coverage. So far, such dangerously disjointed foreign policy has not started any wars. But this does not auger well for any future eyeball-to-eyeball.

If the economy does move into high near, if his daily pratfalls do not hinder America standkng tall again, he might even secure a second term, especially if the Democrats (the only choice the American system offers voters) continue to suck teeth while doing the headless chicken. Chance would be a fine thing. More likely is some international mishap drags America into recession and thenrest of the world with it. But the worst legacy may be unbridgeable divide in American Society that confounds all that two centuries of cultural integration had achieved.

Then an old witticism may prove to be true: that America is the only Great Nation to have gone from barbarism to decadence without any intervening civilisation.

 

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Galloway’s Pier

A hundred years ago an era came to an end in the Forth when was forced the Admiralty to declare the Firth of Forth a Controlled Area and a highly successful 1914 steamer season was brought to an abrupt end.

Paddle steamer excursions had blossomed in the Clyde from the mid-19th century. Whole families grown richer from plentiful well paid work in the booming shipyards and workshops of Empire would take a tram to the Broomielaw for a cruise to a whole variety of Clyde pier destinations as far away as Millport.

Seeing a similar opportunity for Edinburgh families on the Forth, the Galloway Saloon Steam Packet Company of Leith augmented their existing ferry service to Aberdour by running summer excursions further down the Forth in the 1870s. Initially these only included Leven and Elie because East Lothian harbours are all restricted in size and dry out at low tide.

But, after the railway arrived in 1850, North Berwick developed rapidly; first as a fishing port and then as a fashionable Victorian summer resort. Galloway’s decided to capitalise on this in 1877 by building a wooden pier with a concrete base projecting north from Platcock Rocks into the Fairway and extending their excursions to there.

All ships used were paddle steamers, starting with the 130-ton Lord Aberdour and 200-ton Lord Elgin (which survived into the 1950s as an Isle of Wight ferry). These were augmented on the growing trade during the 1880’s by the Lord Morton, Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle, Tantallon Castle and Wemyss Castle.

So good was the trade that the North British Steam Packet Company made a successful takeover in 1891. Though Galloways continued to operate under its own name, it effectively became a subsidiary of the North British Railway. By this time, service criss-crossed the Forth and reached up-river as far as Stirling. Travel was highly flexible through NBR offering combination tickets with train services.

The heyday was the Edwardian era—the time when North Berwick was at its height as a fashionable resort The NBR transferred their 277-ton Redgauntlet from the Clyde to cope. So the Admiralty brought a brutally abrupt end to a stellar 1914 season and with many ships casualties in Admiralty service ‘Doon the Forth’ trips never resumed.

The wooden upper deck of the pier was demolished in 1940 but the base soldiered on as an unsatisfactory low-water landing place until 2012’s storm. The damage suffered triggered ELC to organise a proper rebuild—the first serious work since abandonedment 100 years ago—and completed on the centebary of the last Galloway’s sailing from the pier.

(First published in East Lothian Courier, September 2014)

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Not Such a Capital Idea

I have always been a booster for Edinburgh as a city: a walkable, architecturally inspired romp across panoramic hill and architectural dale that encourages exploration. City fathers of yore discharged their duty of care well, although some choices— as when they ripped out all their trams in 1956—have been less than far-sighted. In the half-century since, Edinburgh City Council has had an office-full of time-served civil engineers whose job it was to improve city road. Yet—discounting the Gyle and Sir Harry Lauder—they have built squat.

Driving new roads through historic cities is difficult. Yet the 1995 manifesto for the new unitary council aimed “to help create a civilised, safe, inclusive and sustainable city (we must) improve alternatives to the car, reduce the need for car travel, restrain traffic and improve safety”.

Sounds good. So, if building more roads is too hard, why not conceptually overlap them? An ocean of paint to shame the Forth Bridge was splashed along major arteries creating bus lanes, bike lanes and more stripes than a US top sergeant. Together with the arrival of privatised ‘Blue Meany’ traffic wardens, all this did achieve rises—but only in gridlock, cross-city travel times and driver resentment.

Since Edinburgh has no post-Beeching suburban rail and since buses kept getting slower, despite all that paint, the idea was hatched in 2002 to build a 3-line tram system, paid for by congestion charging. The story of that debacle is seared into every ‘Burger’s psyche—especially those retailers along the route. Payback on the £1bn involved only started with the stump of that system carrying paying passengers three years ago.

Problem is that the new Gateway station or the 100 Airport bus get you between Waverley and the airport faster than the tram; the route appears to derive more from civic ego than green strategy. In the tram wreck that was TIE and the ludicrous overspends they left, funds for completing Edinburgh’s cycle network, single-ticketing and even reasonable fares (tram costs £8 return) have gone begging.

Despite three years of TFE claiming tram success, ah hae ma doots that any tram duplicating a major rail line can ever be viable (European cities never build such a thing). And I have no idea how civic and commercial culprits involved walked away from this without public humiliation. No TIE exec has ever had their knuckles rapped, let alone their six-figure salary pinded.

(First published in East Lothian Courier, May 2014)

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End of a Long Era

North Berwick has recently grown with new residents—in fact, such growth has been common down its thousand-year history. From ferrymen originally, down through sailors trading with Hanseatic ports in the Middle Ages to coastal barques taking wheat, potatoes and turnips to booming cities in Napoleonic times, the harbour has always been the driver for that, many new residents now being ELYC members.

But the harbour’s golden age came a century ago when the railway allowed fish easy reach to market and the ‘silver darling’ herring became king. This was the heyday of the Harbour Terrace, crammed with Millars and Thorburns, Browns and Sherburns, many come from further up the Forth as that era’s new residents. So many were there that the harbour overflowed, boats being dragged up onto Elcho Green and most Westgate residents showing occupation as ‘fisherman’.

However, one family was no such century-old ‘incomer’. Most towns have a name around which it was built. In North Berwick, the name is Marr. Deriving from the far reaches of the Cairngorms, it is first recorded in North Berwick when a Patricke Marr had a son in 1656—and followed that up with three more at two-yearly intervals.

Down the centuries for their next eleven generations, the Marrs were a harbour institution, peaking in the 1881 census when no fewer than 17 of them are recorded there. That year, James Marr (46) was living there with his wife Elizabeth (43, from Dirleton), three children and two in-laws.

James Marr went on to be Harbourmaster (a responsible post in such busy times) and a well-known, popular personality, universally known as ‘Daddy’. He still found time to furnish a string of rowing boats in the West Bay for hire to ‘trippers’ as a side-line. These passed on to Percy Pearson because, by 1931 and aged 95, ‘Daddy’ Marr had held the post so long he’d become the oldest harbourmaster in the British Isles.

But the last generations of this remarkable family made an impact far afield. ‘Fred’ Marr was born in 1923 and, by the sixties, fishing for lobster and crab in Girl Pat. But an entrepreneur spirit landed him the mail contract for local lighthouses and his Viking good looks won an appearance in the “View from the Bass” promotional film. By the seventies, launches that once took tourists out to Bass Rock were gone, so Fred brought Sula II up from Norfolk to fill the gap and inveigled his son Chris into crewing for him.

For the next thirty years, no visit to the town was complete without a trip on Sula II, spiced with Fred or Chris’s knowledgeable, if heavy-brogued, commentary. Over 100,000 people enjoyed that unique experience. As Fred passed 80, he finally let Chris and his sister Pat take over, dying peacefully at 85. Chris, having already dedicated much of his life to the business, decided on retirement and was only starting to enjoy it, pursuing the history he loved when an accident cut it all short in late 2012.

With Chris’s death (all three of his children being daughters) over 350 years of continuous family history in one small town ended abruptly—without anyone recording the voluminous research Chris carried in his head. Now that Pat has moved to Stornoway, the absence of any Marrs around the harbour seems out of joint, fundamentally wrong as the keel of a boat being suddenly missing.

First published in the East Lothian Courier, April 2014

 

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The John Muir Line?

In Summer 2015 the Borders Railway will end the line’s unique existence as the sole local rail service coming East out of Waverley station. But while the line to Galasheils could open up the Central Borders the existing service into East Lothian has at least as much potential that could be tapped for a lot less than the Borders’ £300m.

From a skeletal two trains each way in 1970, our existing line was revived by steady patronage, resulting in two new stations, an hourly seven-day service and modern 4-car class 380 rolling stock. It’s a huge success story, carrying millions of passengers, with North Berwick recently exceeding 250,000 passengers for the first time. Having tourists and QMU students travel counter to our commuters and a steady number of shoppers filling daytime trains, the line is among ScotRail’s most profitable.

Recent community rail meetings have shown the industry appreciates this and focus is now on the undeveloped potential of the East Coast Main Line past Drem. Dunbar is an anomaly—a local station run by a long-distance operator: East Coast. ScotRail has already started serving Dunbar by filling in gaps in the East Coast/Virgin trains that stop. But the real secret to unlocking the other ‘half’ of East Lothian’s potential is to see Dunbar as the other ‘arm’ of a rail ‘Y’ and run a single half-hour service to Drem, then alternating trains to there and North Berwick, giving Dunbar a regular hourly service as well.

This would serve the huge growth in Dunbar’s population and make the re-building of an East Linton station logical to cater for planned growth there. Such a step is embedded in the new ScotRail franchise and would provide ELC a solid regular transport ‘backbone’ on which to re-base bus services, Rages and Relbus plus the just-formed Community Rail partnership already advocate.

This also forms the basis for further improvements—local services to Berwick; re-opened station at Reston; more passing loops to separate local and high-speed trains. Such coherence offers the chance to market our public transport as a seamless service covering the whole county.

Extending the present community involvement in station flowers and decoration to signage, information and other facilities like kiosks and toilets would give it character and identity. Since it would offer eight dispersed points to access the John Muir Trail I will be lobbying to market the whole thing as the ‘John Muir Line’.

 

First published in the East Lothian Courier, April 2014

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Putting Private to Shame

Council housing has come in for some social stick down the years—mostly coming from petty snobbery. Being a ‘schemie’ myself I liked how our dads could turn their hand to building a sledge or knowing where to catch mackerel. Dads of private school kids were helpless guys in suits who paid our dads to fix things—and we pitied their pasty-faced offspring who never got home before it was dark.

While such social distinctions have faded, the growth of commuter housing across East Lothian and rampant right-to-buy (RTB) saw a huge growth in private detached homes but little that was affordable to rent. Although I’m supportive of RTB, it must be balanced by new build. But ELC stopped building 30 years ago so barely 8,000 of their original 20,000 were still on their books. The pips began squeaking for young people not in ‘priority need’ seeking to rent locally.

ELC should have kept building, despite RTB. A house built for £35k in East Lothian and rented for ten years would then be valued much more; ELC would have received a sum comparable to their outlay—even with discount—they could then invest in another new house. Unfortunately, no such bold step was taken. The Homes For Life arms’-length registered social landlord alternative singularly failed to fill the gap—building 300 homes in five years when asked to deliver 500 homes in three years.

Fortunately for people waiting decades to rent a council house, six years ago ELC did grasp the thistle with an ambitious programme for 1,000 council homes across the county. From the first handful at Macbeth Moir Road in Musselburgh’s ‘Wimpeys’ snug and well designed homes in Dunbar’s Lochend and the 100-home site of Muirpark Wynd in Tranent, the long waiting list went down while standards went up.

As evidenced by the last of the 42 new homes in Law View, North Berwick that was handed over this week, modern council houses are not only more spacious, better built and better insulated than private estates but their layout and style are not only more child- and community-friendly. So much so they are being entered for architectural awards. In contrast the ‘desirable’ 5-bedroom Cala homes across town are seen as expensive ‘cookie cutter’ exemplars of what’s wrong with house design in Scotland.

 

First published in the East Lothian Courier, March 2014

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