COLD READING IN JUNE – Part 5 (ABERDEEN)

ABERDEEN (FRIDAY 5TH OF JULY)

My Satnav takes me straight into the heart of Aberdeen City Centre which is a lot more built up and confusing than I’d anticipated. At 6pm the streets are not busy so I’m able to traverse the tight roads and follow the baffling street signs with only a couple of beeped horns from impatient taxi drivers in reply. I park outside the church in the Bon Accord area of Aberdeen and enter the small industrial looking building. I ensure I have a reserved ticket from an older woman at the entrance. She’s friendly enough in that gruff, Aberdonian way and passes me my ticket in a white envelope. On her recommendation I walk to a chip shop down road to get my tea and ignore the Chinese restaurant she slated for being dirty and expensive. Having an hour to spare, I walk around the neighbouring streets before sitting outside a high-rise block of flats to eat my disappointing fish supper. With still half an hour to spare I nip into a barber for a quick haircut then walk back into the Bon Accord Church of Spiritualism.

The church is a simple, small room of about 10 by 30 metres. The walls are bright yellow with the supporting beams painted light blue. 8 large, strip lights hang from the ceiling to illuminate the room and a deep, royal blue carpet covers the floor. On the walls are a painting of a fallen angel, what looks like a Dali picture, a drawing of a native American warrior and a purple tablet which lists the Seven principles of Spiritualism. Up front there is a wooden pulpit behind which are a couple of pot plants, an old CD player and a small bronze statue of another Native American chief. The room exudes a churchy feel but without the dowdiness of a Kirk or the pageantry of a chapel. There are around 10 rows of blue, metal chairs, so I choose one at the back of the room beside a man who’s loudly talking to his wife (after a couple of minutes, I notice he is wearing a hearing aid). There are a few women working the crowd and offering raffle tickets at £2 a strip so I buy 3 then then settle down.  The room soon fills up and extra chairs are called for from the adjacent room then positioned in any available space down the aisle. There’s the usual mix of 90% woman, 70% of which are middle aged to elderly and 50% of them are like me overweight. There’s no fantastic, hairstyles tonight but many homemade dyed jobs of pink or peroxide. Overall, it’s a similar size and makeup of crowd to the previous Hotel events but without the booze. Despite this there is a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere with everybody excited and chatty.

The older woman from the reception addresses the audience with little pomp, stopping to playfully, scold one of the still chattering woman sitting in a front seat. Although there seems to be no obvious minister or pastor in this church, this woman is clearly the boss. She welcomes us all to the event then turns to introduce tonight’s performer who emerges from a wooden door in the corner of the room. Gordon Smith is a psychic/medium who used to be a hairdresser so is known as the ‘Psychic barber’. He achieved celebrity in 2005 after replacing the psychic fraud Dereck Acorah on the popular TV Programme ‘Most Haunted’, he’s also a regular guest on UK chat shows and comments in tabloid newspapers. He is wearing a light, blue shirt, dark, dress trousers and a purple suit jacket which alters its colour in the light. He looks a bit more bedraggled than his TV heyday, sporting a half a week’s salt and pepper stubble and short, grey hair. He informs the audience in a broad Glaswegian twang of his belief that ‘nobody dies but just passes on to the spirit world,’ and stresses that he ‘knows rather than thinks’ there is a spirit world full of friends and relatives ready to connect. Predictably, he asks the audience not to simply sit and nod their head but instead answer in a loud and clear voice. Then he jumps straight into his show first telling the audience that all day he has been hearing an old man sing ‘The Everly Brothers, All I Have To Do Is Dream’ (an old 60’a ballad that everybody knows) and that this is repeating in the room tonight. Nobody takes the bait and volunteers recognition contributing to a clumsy kick off. Luckily, the old receptionist steps in to smooth over the initial, bumpy proceedings claiming that her long, dead husband used to sing this tune. Smith then describes seeing this man with lots of children and grandchildren around him and tells the old receptionist that her husband is always looking over her.

Smith then concentrates upon the people at the front, probably because, like the layout of a school classroom, they are the keenest to participate and please their tutor. He uses the standard method of mediumship to an audience; peering into the spirit world, accepting messages from the spirits, then sharing these to the gathered loved ones. He informs the audience that legally he is not allowed to advise anybody about health matters which although understandable is not a caution that any of the other previous mediums advised. He identifies the name of Emma, present or in spirit, which surprisingly, being a common name, is not recognised nor seized upon. Smith then moves on to identify a child with Leukaemia which is offered to the room to which a woman raises her hand to accept. The medium uses considered questioning to gather information from the woman, adding his own related generalities then returning to more questions. There seems to be some genuine harmony in the exchange, but this soon dissipates when the woman admits that it was not her child that died of Leukaemia but in fact a neighbour’s. There’s a slew of following misses but as usual these are ignored by the pace of his delivery and regardless the audience is keen to communicate and fill in the many voids of comprehension. The wife of the deaf man sitting beside me also seems to be a keen Spiritualist. When Smith intimates that he is ‘feeling a link towards Hamilton’ she responds by informing him that she used to stay on Hamilton Road. Smith identifies the surname of Aitken coming through from beyond but again nobody claims recognition. He moves on to another spirit and offers the audience the number 19. A middle aged mystical looking woman with long, blonde hair sitting in the aisle recognises the number as her dead son’s ‘Spirit Birthday’ a term which means the day someone died rather than the day they were born. Naturally, she then helps to successfully manoeuvre the following conversation and connect the dots to all Smith’s guesses.

Then a younger woman in the middle of the room raises her hand and offers that she is Emma Aitken which ignites a choral gasp around the room. The medium acknowledges his bullseye with the nonchalance of a grandad solving a long-stuck crossword clue. The woman has pulled the two misses together straight to her name, without bias it appears to be simple coincidence but to this crowd it’s a clear example of the strength of Smith’s psychic powers. It’s a strong finish and Smith wraps up his show with the usual guff about remembering connections days or even weeks later. He gets an enthusiastic round of applause and leaves the room through the corner doorway he immerged from. My backside is aching and my legs are on the verge of falling into cramp, so I rise to leave but before I can sneak out the receptionist reminds everybody that Smith’s signed books can be bought at a special event price at the back of the room. Then of course there’s the raffle.

A plastic bin filled with the raffle ticket duplicates is passed around the audience and invited to pick a ticket out. The older, deaf man beside me picks out his own duplicate from the raffle bin of which on the face of it is very lucky in a crowd of hundred or so. However, as the tickets are divided into 5 different colours, and he of course picked his colour, the odds are slashed. At least 5 other people including couple of the raffle organisers are cognisant of this little cheat and pull their colour of ticket from the bin. If it wasn’t carried out in such a jovial manner, there would have been screams of ‘fix’ from the few losers. Suffice to say I win nothing. About 30 prizes ranging from bathroom and beauty products to living room ornaments and bottles of booze are passed around to ecstatic raffle winners. The total raffle prize sum must be over £200 which makes me think that this church isn’t as profit concerned as the previous events. The cost of engaging Smith for the night offset against the low admission price means that any profit must be very minimal if anything at all. Unlike the hard sell attitude of Williams and the Conon Doyle Centre there was no pressure to buy related events or courses and tonight’s raffle prizes are far better than Docherty’s or Lindsay’s paltry offerings. Although I haven’t believed one word coming from Gordon Smith’s mouth, for once I don’t feel like I’ve been totally scammed.

QUESTIONS

One of the main criticisms I have of these Spiritualism events is the repeated prohibition of any questions from the audience. At each show the medium asks a massive amount of questions to a chosen audience member but there is none received in return.  Personally, if I believed that I could converse with a dead pal or once cherished relative I would have a long list of questions to ask. What’s it like over there? Where is over there? What’s the weather like? What’s the food like? These would the opening questions much like the queries you receive when you phone back home from a holiday. Then there would be the more existential questions like Do you age in the afterlife? What age are you? Who else is over there? Are you watching me all the time? I can only assume that there are never any questions asked because they are impossible to answer.

GHOSTS

I’m down visiting a pal in Glasgow. He rents a bottom floor flat of a large Victorian townhouse and as I’m waiting for him in the shared hallway, I start to peruse the many books in the large bookshelf that spans the hallway’s wall. There’s many Barbara Cartland, Sven Hassel and Stephen King paperbacks jammed together with European city guidebooks, celebrity biographies and fishing handbooks. I’m about to open the front door when I can just make out the word ‘ghost’ on the spine of a thin paperback so as always, I pull it from its shelf for a look. I recognise the castle on the cover immediately. It’s the book my Uncle gave me all those years before. For years I had been searching for ‘Scottish Ghost Stories’ without any specific author whereas I should have been searching for ‘Gazetteer of Scottish Ghosts’ by Peter Underwood (Underwood, 1974). Flicking through the pages I instantly recognise the black and white photographs of eerie mansions and dilapidated castles plus the large section on Glamis Castle. I contemplate shoving the book in my pocket fearing I might never see the book again but during a rare moment of inspiration, I remember I can buy on Amazon through my phone. A quick search and there’s an exact match available for £1.49 including postage so I order the book and place the copy back in its position. Three days later and the book is waiting for me on my doormat. I rip open it’s wrapping and start to leaf through all the old stories instantly recalling the ‘Big Grey Man of Ben MacDui’, ‘The Empty house of Fettercairn’ and ‘The Wicked Earl of Ethie Castle’. However, when I reach the section on Glasgow there’s no mention of a woman being buried alive, a séance or even Glasgow University. I’m confused so rake through the remaining stories but I’m still unable find the story not even a similar plot or characters. This type of conundrum often bothers me till I find a solution, so I spend the next few hours down a google rabbit hole searching for an answer. It’s only when I abandon search queries related to Glasgow and Scotland that I finally find a tale with similar elements to my supernatural origin tale.

ROSA SPANDONI          

Rosa Spandoni was an Italian woman who died in town called Camerino in 1950’s Italy. She was not murdered by her husband but fell into a coma after an illness, was wrongly pronounced dead then buried alive. There was no Society of Parapsychology and no séance but a demonstration of mediumship to a psychology class in the Camerino University. A medium did channel the unsettled spirit of Rosa who complained about her cruel death which in turn inspired the exhumation of her coffin and when her coffin was opened there were scratches on the coffin lid and her fingers were thrust down her throat. These last two facets are the only parts I recalled correctly, the other differences were totally invented, by me.

The story was not collated in ‘The Gazetteer of Scottish Ghosts’ but described in half a page of a ghost story collection called ‘The World’s Greatest Ghosts’ by Roger Boar (Boar,1983). My mum bought me this cheap paperback to read when I was taking the bus to and from Glasgow during my first year at University. I did not attend the ancient and gothic looking Glasgow University, but I used to walk past the building daily, on the way to my lower status University down the street.  As I read the story, I must have associated the Italian University with the more familiar Glasgow building, this false memory was then fossilised as I repeated the story to friends. As a teenager I truly believed in the supernatural or paranormal, so I was eager to connect the dots or even create the dots of the many dubious stories and strange tales.

There is no recorded proof of Rosa Spandoni’s death only a few apocryphal retellings and passed on tales. However, you don’t need hard evidence when you have the desire to believe and an overactive imagination. I, like the audience members of the four medium’s shows altered the facts to better suit my preferred reality. I reworked the storyline, bent the plot and even added characters to fit a more desirable narrative. I wanted the story to be more believable, so I created elements to make it sound true. I also misremembered my discovery of the story, relating it to a totally different reminiscence.

I don’t want to be a sceptic. I don’t want to be so cynical. I want to believe. But in general, there’s precious few concrete examples of the afterlife and spirits to believe in and there’s been even less evidence at any of the medium shows that have attended. In the end, I hoped to discover some sort of clever ruse or a method of deception, some planted audience actors, a hidden microphone or covert earpieces but the reality is far basic and prosaic. These mediums need only be amateur actors to convince their pliable audience of their abilities.  It’s all show. And it’s a show that many want to believe in. Most of the time, that is all you need.

Cold Reading in June – Part 3 (Perth)

PERTH (FRIDAY 7th OF JUNE)

My next night of mediumship on Saturday night in Stirling had been cancelled at short notice so I had to scramble for another within the next week. Luckily, there was small show at the Salutation Hotel in Perth which is only half an hour down the road from my hometown. I called up the Hotel and found that you could pay at the door so drove down after work.

Tonight’s medium is called Andrew Lindsay. I recognise him from his website when I enter the small events room. He looks about 30-35 and is small, thin and wiry with a curly mop of ginger hair. He’s wearing a smart suit and polished shoes and cheerily welcomes everybody into the room, calling the majority by their first name. There is another raffle tonight but at a pound for five tickets it’s not as shameless a ruse as Docherty’s draw in Dundee. The prizes: a bottle of pink gin, a bottle of wine, a bag of chocolates and an envelope marked ‘from Andrew’ are displayed on a table that doubles as a reception desk. I buy 10 tickets, pay admittance and take a seat in an empty row at the back of the room. There would be better view of the medium and audience interaction at the front but as I’m a 6’4’ lump, I’m always paranoid about obscuring people’s view.

The small events room is clean, tidy and mundane with around 30 chairs lined in several rows. Again, the audience mostly consists of middle-aged housewives, some with their daughters. Everyone is relaxed and chatty with around half slurping long vodkas or gin and tonics.  There’s a few splendid hairstyles on show, the best of which is a distinctive mullet style like an 80’s Austrian footballer: curly on top but straight down the back and sides, a bit like Elvira’s but blonde. I also recognise a couple of other psychic/mediums as they walk into the room, they embrace and chat with each other before taking their seat. There seems to be a lot of cross pollination between different mediums and their audiences. I remove my jacket and settle into my chair instantly feeling like an outsider in this small but dedicated gathering.

The woman who was selling raffle tickets doubles as compere and steps up to address the audience, there’s no need for a microphone in such a small space. She gives the normal warnings about mobile phones, asks permission to take some photos then welcomes the medium to the front. Lindsay reintroduces himself then asks the audience of this is anybody’s first time at this type of event. A middle aged, bald man two rows directly in front of me tentatively raises his hand. Lindsay jokes at the newcomer’s expense then with the audience, easing them into his performance. He stresses the importance of the people responding with a clear and loud voice and not mumbling or simply nodding affirmation then adds that he is conscious of his rapid talking style explaining that he has just returned from a tour of America and had to slow his speech down as a result.

Unlike Docherty or Francis, this medium first picks a member of the audience, then designates a waiting spirit to them. It’s a daring approach with a greater chance of failing however I soon get the impression that the first woman chosen is well known to Lindsay and his unusual method. She is middle-aged, tubby and has long white hair and cheerily welcomes Lindsay’s invitation like a Granny cooperating with a child’s magic trick. He explains that he is in contact with a father figure then immediately changes this to a grandfather named John to which the woman replies with a single yes. He then describes John as a private man who loved his large family and lived in a small tenement building, to which the woman also replies yes. Lindsay then jumps spirits to the woman’s sister who he feels is very concerned about her, he then claims to be seeing a birthday in November, to which the woman also replies yes. Lindsay informs the woman that both her sister and grandfather like to visit her house regularly then says that her sister was alone when she died, and that her family was not around at the point she crossed unto the spirit world. The woman recoils at this statement replying ‘not really’ while shaking her head, clearly upset. I’m confused why he would risk offending an eager audience member with such a loaded comment, condemning his opening connection to a premature and awkward conclusion.

Lindsay then moves around the room, picking several more eager participants and questioning them in his strong Perthshire brogue. Each time he follows his method and uses the same awkward technique: assign a spirit to a person, bombard them with questions or general statements, demand immediate answers, then question again. There’s guesses of months, dates and Birthdays, some statements about photographs, ornaments on a mantlepiece, a motorbike accident and a vision of a ‘medic or nurse’. Nearly all these speculations fail to hit a direct bullseye of recognition but are vague enough to have some resonance to the chosen person. Any complete misses are quickly ignored by the pace of interrogation and whenever he appears to be faltering, Lindsay interjects a little joke or daft comment to recoup the rapport and trigger uproarious laughter from the audience. At times I feel like I’m lugging into private conversation between people waiting at a bus stop or to a blathering hairdresser entertaining a customer. There’s no substance in his statements, holding no more resonance than idle chit chat. He reminds me of a gobshite school friend you knew talked absolute nonsense, but you tolerated him because of his entertaining, storytelling style.

Then Lindsay suddenly points to a woman in the row in front of me and tells her ‘I know you are here to get in touch with your son who’s passed to the other side, but he is here beside me tonight’. The woman nods her head but doesn’t answer. She is part of a trio of women who have been giggling with each other laughing along with all tonight’s proceedings. Lindsay tells her that her son was with them during their journey to tonight’s event and had been listening to them ‘carrying on’ in the car. He communicates that her son is ‘’always watching over her and she should not stress and worry about things so much’. On the face of it’s an impressive hit but her quiet response makes me feel that this isn’t the first time both have conversed on this subject, as if she has been preheated or prepared.

His method of interrogation starts to bother me, and I begin to feel uncomfortable, dreading the possibility that he may choose me next. There have been some wild opportunist casts of which the majority caught nothing. Each miss contributes to an awkward aura in the room which is only punctured with a whimsical joke or remark. His devotees however are quick to pick up on these remarks and respond with roaring laughter and overenthusiastic applause like parents watching their kids in a school play. Inevitably, Lindsay gets around to the bald man in front of me who is attending his first event. The man answers quietly in an English accent and appears confused and uneasy at being put on the spot. He half acknowledges some of the guesses and accepts the diagnosis of a gum ailment but is generally manoeuvred around the conversation by Lindsay. The medium ends the connection by assuring the man that he will be going on a journey ‘down south’ very soon which given the man’s obvious accent it’s not as much of marvel of prognostication as others in the room believe. Half time comes as a relief and I’ve had enough. Tired and unimpressed I decide to leave before I am picked out, interrogated then manipulated into Lindsay’s act. On the way out I give my raffle tickets to the trio of women who were sitting in front of me then exit the hotel into a bright, summer evening.

Overall, I found Andrew Lindsay’s performance to be underwhelming and amateurish, closer in style to David Francis’s unrefined and scattergun approach. Both chuck out random but commonly shared information into the audience, receive an enthusiastic response then run with it until they hit a brick wall and destroy the connection. There’s been no convincing evidence of spirits and even less proof that the mediums can contact these spirits. I can remember being similarly disappointed when I first watched a full baseball match as a kid. Before live TV coverage I’d only seen baseball during its greatest moments via highlights and the movies, and each time those clips made you feel that home runs were a regular occurrence. However, in general you’d be lucky to see one homerun per match as they are all short taps and runs between bases with lots of swings and misses in between.  Similarly, the two medium shows have been the same: lots of swings and misses and precious few homeruns.

FOLKLORE

I work with my brother which can range from hilarious to dreadful on any single day. On the Wednesday afternoon following the Perth event, as we drove to a customer’s garden, a black crow clipped the top of our works van. We stopped the van to see if the bird was okay but there was no sign of it anywhere. It must have flown on, bruised no doubt, but uninjured. It was strange as neither of us had ever hit a crow before them being smart and agile birds. Pheasants are usually hit as they seem to be heavier and unable to dodge in time. The next morning while in a different garden a large black raven suddenly fell from the sky and crashed into a wall beside me. The poor beast seemed stunned and crawled under a parked car to recover. After finishing my job, I looked under the car then searched the garden, but the bird had disappeared. Again, hopefully it gathered its senses and flew away unharmed. When I told my younger brother about the second crow, he was shocked.

‘What does it all mean?’ he asked.

He then explained the importance of crows in Norse mythology and Celtic folklore. For him these events had to have some sort of mystical resonance, perhaps a forewarning or even a portent of doom. I put it down to coincidence. Some people who look for connections will eventually find them or invent something to that ends. The sceptics however look at the supernatural from a less imaginative an unromantic viewpoint, preferring to use cold logic, evidence and facts to find an explanation. I’m not sure if I’m convinced by either side.

HOT READING

Hot Reading is simply prior research by the psychic or medium, but it can take many forms and is evolving with new technology. Previously Hot Reading could be attained by mediums scouring local newspapers in the Library, by covertly listening into pre-show conversations or by the audience filling in pre-show Spirit cards which indicated who you were trying to connect with and why (what other information does a medium need?). In the most callous of example several mediums were caught writing down local gravestone details especially those of young children, expectant of grieving mothers to be attending their events. Nowadays, the internet has rendered these archaic methods as pointless, superseded by tools such as google search and social media archaeology. The internet-especially Facebook- provides all the details needed to provide a convincing report of every aspect of an audience member’s life. Your past trauma and existing grief lie open for everyone to peruse. Everything is widely accessible and thus susceptible to opportunists, lying exposed like an open wound.  A psychic or medium need only your name and address, both of which you usually provide when buying tickets over the net. The creation of false social media accounts called sock puppet accounts by sceptics regularly entrap mediums as fictional information is repeated verbatim during their shows. Added to this, it would be fair to assume that many of the event audience also elect for private readings from mediums. Private readings are a ‘one on one’ form of mediumship like a psychiatrist’s treatment of patient, with the same exposure of personal information. So, when a medium faces his or her quarry they will be loaded with a wealth of previous information on a healthy percentage of their audience.

Cold Reading in June – Part 2 (Dundee)

DUNDEE (FRIDAY 31ST of MAY 2019)

I arrive at the Queens Hotel around 6.30 pm with an hour to spare so I park up around the back. It’s a balmy night and the concrete buildings and tar of the road are drying in the evening sun. Pedestrians and commuters file up down the streets making their way home or into the few bars.  I leave my car and check its locked three times then I turn to recognise tonight’s main medium, Karen Docherty, step out of the back of a five-year-old Toyota Yaris (a small, boxy run-around favoured by old people and city dwellers). I’m surprised by the unostentatious choice of transport, I expected her to be transported in a new, BMW or top of the range 4×4. Her basic website and social media channels detail frequent tours of the United States and UK while fans leave gushing testimonials giving the impression of accomplishment in her trade.

The hotel lobby is clean and spacious with an art deco design. A plaque on the wall tells you that ‘Winston S Churchill stayed in this hotel on many occasions between 1908- 1922’, an historical piece of trivia which probably means nothing to most of its clientele. I order a pint of coke, take a seat in the bar and scan the room for an indication on possible show attendees. Strangely, there’s no music playing and the TV’S are off so I can easily lug into the surrounding conversations. A pair of Irish women are cheerily discussing their coming travel plans in the corner and there’s groups of office workers gossiping over their drinks near the bar. A couple of single men stare into their phones and sip at pints while an older couple pick at their fish teas. I try to interpret if the bar patrons are attending tonight’s show but every time I decide they are, they rise, leave the bar and pour into the street. At 7.15 I decide to go up to the events room upstairs. I stop in the toilet and click on my audio recorder and slot it into my chest pocket of my jacket. On every step up the wide, carpeted stairway the nerves jangle in my stomach, I’m not sure what to expect, or if I’ll be welcome as an outsider. I’d heard that some mediums and their devotees can be overly protective of their faith in Spiritualism. There’s a long queue for the foyer bar so I walk straight into an adjacent room that’s buzzing with chatting people. I realise that by switching my phone off I’ve hidden my e-ticket from use so have to hang around the reception table until a seated man ushers me into ‘any seat’ which means any seat up at the back, as the room is already three quarters full. The room’s walls are covered by plain, cream wallpaper and a trio of large chandeliers hang from the white ceiling. On two sides of the room are large Victorian windows which invite the evening sun into the room. It’s a big room, elegant and well-maintained, perfect for a large meeting but not grand enough for a wedding. There are six rows of around twenty comfortable chairs which are facing two further chairs and a table that form a makeshift stage. The first five rows are already crammed full of middle aged, round women who natter like birds and sip on their drinks. I feel like I’ve walked into an aviary. The remaining chairs are quickly filled so extra chairs are pulled from next door and positioned in any available space. I count around 200 people sitting with me tonight, of around ten are men and half of them seem to have been brought against their will.

A pair of excited women sit beside me and chatter like chipmunks. I overhear mentions of previous visits to Docherty’s shows. When one of the women leaves, I turn to her friend.

‘Excuse me, do you go to many of these things?’ I ask.

‘Oh aye, I’ve been to see Karen 5 or 6 times, she’s very good, has a good way with the audience,’ she answers.

‘This is my first time to any psychic event, I’m not sure what to expect’.

The woman mistakes my inquisitive question for apprehension and says ‘Ach, it’s not that bad’.

She then turns to her pal who’s returned.

‘This is this guy’s first time,’ she says with a chuckle.

Before I can ask another question, Karen Docherty rises from her chair and addresses the audience through a microphone which hushes the many nattering conversations to silence. Docherty is around 45, small and chunky. She has should length dirty blonde hair and is wearing a simple black blouse and pair of plain black trousers. She doesn’t look like a psychic, more like your typical Scottish Mum or Aunty. I immediately consider that she must be confident to stand up in front of 200 people and hold court. She welcomes everybody with a simple ‘Hello,’ pauses to let all the stragglers return from the bar then says:

‘We were supposed to be welcoming another medium from Denmark tonight but unfortunately, we just found out she has an illness which means she couldn’t fly, so instead we have David Francis, a fantastic medium from Ireland who’s based in Glasgow.’

Her local accent intrigues me as I’ve only ever heard the American or English accents of TV psychics. Foreigners would likely categorise her accent as broad while Scots would instantly recognise the Dundonian drawl. Docherty asks everybody to switch off their phones which ignites a chain reaction of rustling, murmuring and many beeps of handsets powering off. She then asks if this is anybody’s first time to a medium show. I reply by raising my hand and scan the room to see very few doing the same.

‘What you’re here for …’ she stops to acknowledge the noise of a busker well below who’s rendition of Wonderwall is seeping through the gap of an open window. She jokes that the wailing isn’t the sound of the spirits, but she would be delighted if it was. The audience laughs as she silences the intrusion by closing the window.

 ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time, doesn’t matter if you’re not sure, it doesn’t really matter if you decide this is not for you. Whatever happens, the spirits are her because they love you,’ she says.

‘Obviously, by the time you leave we have given you something to think about, if you’re on the fence about it, enjoy the experience, the spirits don’t want to come in and make us sad or upset. They don’t want to embarrass you. Don’t be sacred to talk back. Don’t be like a rabbit in the headlights. Nothing you don’t want mentioned in public will be said. As a medium I speak from the spirit world to you. They know you’re coming before you know you’re coming. It’s them that have brought you here. Keep an open mind no matter what. Some people are dragged long and get frightened, don’t be. If any chairs start floating about, if people start levitating don’t be jealous.’

I’m comforted by her local accent. It’s like listening to a local nurse or primary school teacher. She holds the microphone with her right hand but is very expressive with the left and she seems to be aware of the importance of hand and body gestures.

‘I’m going to get started now. I can feel the spirit world building up. When I come and talk to you please talk back and take the microphone. Don’t just hold the microphone like an ice cream, it’s important that you answer back in loud, clear voice. The spirits know your mind and your thoughts,’ she says.

Then she jumps right in.

‘Okay, I have an older lady and feel this lady had a bleed on the brain, or injury to the head or a brain tumour. I feel the symptoms. She was not elderly. 50, too young to pass into the spirit world, maybe a bit younger than that. Over this side, not entirely sure, I’m getting a three of a family connected to her or a three. Anyone up the back?’ she says.

An older woman sitting five seats along from me raises her hand.

‘Does that mean someone to you?’ asks Docherty.

 ‘My sister, and her mother’ answers the older woman while motioning to a younger woman sitting next to her.

‘So, brain tumour and three?’ She had symptoms, not instantaneous? Did I get the age correct?’ asks the psychic.

The woman next to me also puts her hand and identifies a brain tumour and mother but she is ignored in favour of the pair of women.

‘Okay, can we get the microphone along,’ orders Docherty to the man from reception table. The microphone is passed hand to hand like an athlete’s baton along our row.

‘Sometimes we get people with similar stories. Now, you would understand she wasn’t worrying about things, but she kept somethings to herself. Not make a big fuss or deal, does that make sense? asks Docherty.

The woman now holding the microphone nods.

‘She was quiet, private lady. With a great personality?’ asks Docherty.

‘Yes’ answers the woman.

I’m torn between watching Docherty and the reactions of the woman.

‘I feel that’s she’s very strong and she wants to boost you up. Very strong, confident. It’s okay if you disagree,’ says Docherty.

‘She was, but she was also quite shy at times,’ answers the older woman.

‘I am getting that she is confident, very strong but whether she’s giving you that to give you piece of mind. I mentioned there’s three of a family but there’s a boy she was really close to, one boy?’ asks Docherty.

‘No’ answers the woman.

‘But your saying there’s no three or there’s no boys? There are no boys, no grandchildren?’ presses the medium.

‘No. Oh yes, there’s a boy, a grandson,’ answers the woman.

‘I just feel she has to talk about a boy and there’s three of a family? She wants to be around her family, but she feels she hadn’t done everything she could of while she was alive. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, yes’ answers the woman.

Docherty then directs her attention to the nervy looking woman next to the older woman, so the microphone is passed on.  I quickly evaluate the situation: the spirit that Docherty is channelling is both the older woman’s sister and this younger woman’s mother, so these two women are aunty and niece. Before I can bathe in my outstanding method of deduction, I’m back into the spirit world.

‘Now she definitely wants to acknowledge you’re here. She didn’t say things or do things that she should’ve. I’m not saying that because she’s ashamed but feels she should say that just. Do you understand this?’ asks the medium.

‘Yes’ croaks the younger woman.

I also understand there’s alcohol connected to her. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, yes.’

‘I can smell the alcohol now. Now she’s saying she is comfortable to talk about the alcohol now as a part of healing. She’s bringing an apology. She’s well aware that you’ve been very strong, and that you’ve been keeping the family together?’

The daughter nods her head in reply.

‘I know you have a couple bits of her jewellery. She’s also mentioning a butterfly and Christmas, or some birthday around Christmas?’

The daughter acknowledges the remarks although she is not assured.

‘She wishes things could’ve been better or she had been better. Don’t worry if I’m wrong, I’m getting a Christmas that was not good and she wishes things hadn’t gone so wrong?’

The daughter converses with her aunty then says, ‘Could’ve been just before she passed.’

‘She has really come through tonight to provide healing. She sees her child name linked. She sees that child?’

‘Yes.’

‘This isn’t about what she brought in. She is in peace where she is now. Did you miss her passing? Don’t worry about that. That last 5 minutes means nothing.’

Suddenly Docherty rises her intonation and calls out ‘I’m getting Jemma or Jenna or Jem or Jen. Does that mean anything?’

‘No, nothing’ replies the daughter.

‘Okay, let me hold it. Okay, I think the ladies gone but I leave you with her love,’ says Docherty.

The daughter squeaks ‘thank you,’ while snivelling back some tears. The audience sense an ending to the spirit connection and enthusiastic applause fills the room.

The massive ‘Jemma or Jenna or Jem or Jen’ guess has just fallen flat, like a boxer’s haymaker that misses completely and leaves the puncher clawing the air before tumbling to the ring canvas. Docherty, however, has expertly, dodged any embarrassment by ignoring the miss and continuing forward. I’m also struck by the amount of questions that come from the medium. It’s not so much inquisitorial as cross-examination by relentless bombardment of questions. After each enquiry there’s an acknowledgement of a positive or negative answer then a related question straight after. The audience member doesn’t have much time to think and must answer on the spot. This pressure must be multiplied tenfold when in front of a crowded room of 200 people that are watching intently and hanging on every word.

Docherty intimates that a new spirit is attempting to connect then crosses over to the other side of the room to involve that side of the audience.

‘I have a new man, a road traffic accident. A motorbike. And I still have John or Jem. He seems like quite a cheeky chap and impatient. He’s a younger man that has passed to the spirit world. Not a car but feels more like a bike but if you don’t recognise a John or Jem don’t worry about that part?’ asks Docherty to the room.

A woman at the at the far part of the room puts up her hand and acknowledges all the details. The microphone is passed along.

‘Has there been an anniversary or birthday recently? He feels people have been talking about him recently. He is bringing in a lady related to you. Its wasn’t a sudden passing. Somebody maternal but not necessarily your mother. Do you understand this sweetheart? The lady is well missed. She is talking about two children or two grandchildren. Problems in the abdomen? If it’s no I’m fine with that.’

‘No’ answers the new audience member.

‘I’m sensing a link down south. She is listening to this conversation. I think that there is a link to a man with body problems?’ asks Docherty.

‘No, not really,’ answers the woman.

The conversation peters out with a selection of missed queries until Docherty offers:

‘Okay, I’ll leave you with this lady’s love,’ which is the trigger for applause and the end of the connection.

I’m baffled by this last conversation and scan the room to gauge other people’s reactions. Everybody is transfixed by the medium’s display and staring at her captivated. Before I can properly process the scene Docherty quickly moves on to another spirit and possible connection with a waiting audience member. There are several of these types of conversations: questions to the room, which are answered by the flimsiest of associations. Any weak linkage is seized upon by the medium, relayed back to the audience member until the conversation pitters out to nothing.

‘I don’t know I’m getting a Grandad or Dad. I feel a strong sense of using hands. A mechanic or fixing engines or cars. John or James?’ asks Docherty to the audience.

I think to myself that my Grandad and was a mechanic, loved his cars and my Dad’s middle name is John although he is alive.

‘Anybody?’ asks Docherty to the room.

About twenty people put their hands up which brings a ripple of laughter around the audience. It’s not surprising that many recognise this plea as many people’s male relatives work with their hands and more specifically cars.  Psychologists call this ‘The Barnum effect’ which ‘is a common psychological phenomenon whereby individuals give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them, that are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.’ (Wikipedia, 2019). Docherty picks a young man at the back of the room. He seems overdressed for tonight with grey suit and purple tie and is sporting a black cockatiel style quiff. There’s a tattoo crawling up his neck and many studs and rings in his facial features. He looks like a pirate going to an office job interview. Docherty waits until the microphone is passed along the room like a church collection bag.

‘You were close to you Grandad, weren’t you? He was like a father?’ she asks.

‘Yes.’ replies the man.

‘Your Grandad didn’t like being in hospital but had a great sense of humour. He says he knew what he had but it kept coming back, is that right?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Who was James?’

The young man pauses to think then answers, ‘He was my Grandad’s best friend.’

‘And has he passed onto the spirit world?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Oh, okay well we won’t send him there.’ (A joke is made to cover a big miss and the audience respond with a choral chortle) ‘He says he left some sort of writing. Also, I feel like he was the man that has shown you through life?’

‘Yes.’

‘He wants you to do the all the things you want and to do the things he didn’t get to do. He was worldly wise. Are you married? Are you getting married?’

‘No.’

‘He is talking about someone getting married.’

‘My sister was going to get married.’

‘Not anymore?’

‘I hope not,’ answers the man sparking another burst of collective laughter.

‘Now, I can sense someone in the family is having a baby?’ asks Docherty.

‘I don’t think so,’ answers the man.

‘Anne?’

‘Ehhm, Oh yes. My friend’s wife.’

‘I don’t know, I think it’s somebody closer.’

‘I was trying for a baby.’

The audience let out a collective ‘Awww,’ as if a big, furry kitten has entered the room.

‘Your Grandad knows all this. He is a funny man and a good man, and he is right by your side.’ With that Docherty accepts the rooms applause and hands her microphone to the next medium.

David Francis is a small man of about 30 and is nattily dressed in three-piece suit with tweed waistcoat. He’s been sitting on a chair out front, cross legged watching the audience intently until being introduced.

‘Good evening everybody,’ says Francis in a thick Irish accent which he jokes about.

‘I’ve got a lot of images tonight. In my mind’s eye, I’m getting an older lady maybe 60 or 70?’

There’s little response to this initial spirit connection so he jumps ages and gender.

‘And also, I’m feeling a connection to a young man. A man overwhelmed by life. He was brought down the wrong path by others. He is fully responsibly for his actions bringing his death. He damaged his physical body but had a beautiful soul. Taking his life by his own hand. Does anybody understand this?’

A middle-aged woman with long, blonde hair woman in the front row raises her hand and claims recognition.

 ‘He was in his low 20’s when he passed, and an older woman has brought this young man tonight. A lost child?’ asks the Irishman.

‘Yes,’ replies the woman while accepting the microphone.

‘I’m getting a patchwork blanket. He is a very loving guy who is sorry for the last years of his life. He wasn’t connected to his family in these last years?’

‘Yes, yeah’ replies the woman.

‘Now, he had a temper and would lose the rag easier than others?’

‘Sometimes, but not very often,’ replies the woman.

‘I’m also a getting dark haired man, not a track suited lad but wearing jeans and t-shirt. I’m getting problems with depression and anxiety. I don’t mean to be personal but he’s showing me these memories, mirroring them. Would you understand? I see a connection to divorce. Lifestyle habits led him to be the way he was. Interaction with the Police. Do understand this?’ asks the medium.

The medium seems to confuse the woman with his bizarre statements and relentless questioning. The conversation stumbles into an awkward finish but before anyone in the room can digest the strangeness of this connection, he immediately jumps on to another dead person in the spirit world. There’s no applause from audience. I trace the room and see many bemused and unimpressed faces. Francis is beginning to take the form of a man that’s walked into a swamp and while he may only be waist height in the mire, he’s sinking, fast with every awry pronouncement. He’s less skilled in judging the audience and lures audience members in before destroying the connection with needlessly, personal and negative statements. I also get the feeling that he doesn’t appreciate that many of his negative, personal assertions reflect badly not only upon the dead person but also relatives. The audience has become more hesitant and distrustful as a result.

‘Now I’ll open up the room,’ says Francis while making a screwed-up face of concentration. ‘I’m starting to see a hospital or red cross. Normally this means a nurse or carer. Also, a problem in the torso?’

 Francis seems to identify the ailments of the spirits by physically feeling them himself. This psychosomatic diagnosis is referred to as clairsentinence or clear feeling and is as scientifically verifiable as the tooth fairy. He rubs his chest and stomach in circular motion to highlight the area of pain, pinpointing every single vital human organ in the process.

‘It could be a nurse or a carer or somebody who was in hospital? I don’t want to say cancer outright. Margaret or Mary. Anybody? Asks the medium to the crowd.

There’s no response at all. It’s a big miss and quite startling considering he’s targeted a massive chunk of Scotland’s population in one singular sentence. People start exchanging bewildered looks and shakes of the head. A woman volunteers that her mother was a nurse, but the linkage soon dissolves into the wallpaper. He continues in this same way, criss-crossing the audience with general statements that everyone in the room can possibly identify with. However, there’s a no rapport, no humour and when a connection is made Francis gives little opportunity for audience members to interact properly. Unlike Docherty, he has no information to work on. He is saying too much. Sensing that he is struggling Docherty jumps in to give a half time break. She informs us that there is raffle at the desk at £5 a ticket which wins a personal reading from herself as the sole prize. It seems like an extortionate piece of business yet there is long queue to buy the tickets within seconds.

Everybody rises from their chairs and either begin to file out to the toilets, slope to the bar or crawl downstairs for a smoke.

‘What do you think, so far?’ asks the woman sitting next to me.

‘Yeah, it’s quite interesting, not as weird as I’d thought.  I think she was better than the Irish guy,’ I answer.

‘Oh, yeah, he’s terrible isn’t he. We’re not impressed by him at all.’

After twenty minutes and when everyone has settled back into their seats with fresh drinks, the second half of tonight’s show begins with Francis again who wastes no time in working the room.

‘Now, I’m drawn to a lady over here,’ says Francis while pointing towards a group of four women sitting in the middle of the second row.

‘Now, I’m getting a strong person, authoritative. In the forces, may I say the RAF?’

‘Yes, yes, that was my brother’ answers a woman in a thick, Texan accent. She is quite large, in her 60s and has a streak of dark purple running through a short, grey haircut.

 ‘I’m getting an aeroplane and maybe an ejector seat. He’s a very strong person, an energetic person but very stern. Do you understand being mean or stern?’

‘Well, not really’ answers the woman.

‘Okay, but he was in the RAF and he gives me the impression that he saw action, he wasn’t just flying over mountains?’

‘Yes, he was a rear gunner.’

‘Well, he’s very concerned about you and he knows you will be going on a long journey very soon’. (If she had turned around and asked me, I could have also predicted this and probably even the airport she was flying into).

The medium then scours the room for his next target until an older woman in front of me claims recognition of her mother.

‘I feel like this lady was lonely before she passed over. Had she recently lost someone close and felt alone, very alone?’ asks Francis.

The woman is offended by his guess and immediately cuts him off with a terse ‘No, nope, not her.’ Francis tries to rescue the faltering connection, but to her credit this woman is having none of it and waves off the conversation off with outstretched palm and shake of her head. It takes all my willpower not to roar in laughter. The Irishman has pushed his luck and annoyed someone with his brash, unrefined style and is now floundering. 

‘Now, I’m going to the back of the room and somebody in line with where I’m standing’ says Francis.

Francis stands directly in front of me only 5 rows down. I like to think as myself as unremarkable but at 6’4 and 19 stone, in this crowd I’m about as inconspicuous as Tony the Tiger at a panda party

 ‘I’m getting an old man with facial hair and I’m trying to be polite, but he has a receding hair line, not completely bald but short, short hair. I’m seeing a figure like this in my mind’s eye. A father or grandfather figure. I’m drawn to somebody that looks likes this man. A big man who’s a bit overweight?’ says the medium.

He is describing me: a big lump who’s long lost a battle to retain his once curly locks. Naturally, he’s assumed that I look like my long dead Grandad or my very much alive Father and tried his luck. I refuse to make eye contact or respond to his advances as I do not want to be badgered in front of a room full of strangers. Luckily, there’s one of the few men of the audience sitting directly in front of me and he accepts the connection as his father.

‘Now, do you recognise the description of this man?’ asks Francis.

‘Yes, although my father was always clean shaven,’ answers the man.

‘Ok, now did he have heart problems near the end?’

‘Well, not really. He died of an aneurism.’

‘Well, maybe I’m getting mixed messages from the spirits.’

The swamp water is now up to the medium’s nostrils, so he grasps for help and returns to the quartet of eager participants in the second row, he’s on safe ground with one of this crew.

‘Now, I’m getting drawn back to this part of the room and I’m getting an older woman coming through,’ says the medium while motioning to the four women in the second row. Every time either of tonight’s mediums have linked with a spirit at least one of this quartet has shot up their hand like a teacher’s pet. The woman who accepts the microphone is smaller than her chunkier pals, with greying black hair and appears timid and mousey. She squeaks an affirmative answer back to the Irish medium’s relentless questioning. The audience watch with a mix of deep, fascination and creeping, embarrassment as the medium goes about emotionally, dismantling the woman.

‘Yes’, replies the woman whimpering.

‘She is trying to highlight the things that are bothering you. Your mind is at a million miles per hour and you have hundreds of thoughts. Take a step back and stop worrying about others. You have no idea how you are affecting others. The lady is reiterating that. Be selfish,’ says the Irishman.

‘I cannot be selfish,’ squeals the woman.

‘Take time for you’

Her final humiliation is complete with the wail, ‘Why didn’t she tell me that she loved me when she was alive?’

‘That’s unfortunately something I can’t answer’ replies Francis.  ‘However, I do believe this lady has seen the ripple effect of her actions. I assure you of that. We have a beautiful journey to take in crossing over, but she realises how she acted. She has a hell of a lot of love in her heart’ continues the Irishman.

The wailing woman appears broken and is weeping into her hands. The audience however bursts into a round of applause in joyful appreciation of the medium’s public evisceration of the woman. This is what they’ve come to see. Francis has just dragged himself out of the quagmire at the very point of drowning and now takes his leave amid rapturous applause. I half expect him to take a bow before he takes his seat. Karen Docherty meanwhile has been sitting stony faced throughout Francis’s performance, and probably feeling upstaged by his finale, decides to jump back in and round up the night.

‘Now, I’m still getting the names or Jem, Jen or Jemma coming through but also Ellen or Helen, I’d like to offer this up to the whole room?’ says Docherty.

Another middle-aged woman at the far end of the room raises her hand and the microphone is passed along again.

‘Do these names mean anything to you?’ asks Docherty.

‘My best friend’s Aunty was called Helen, but she was like a grandmother to me,’ replies the woman with yet another tenuous link.

Probably sensing that she cannot top Francis’s performance ending she rounds up the night with advice on how to book her personal readings then thanks everybody for attending.

As I get up to the leave the room, the woman beside me asks me, ‘Well, what did you think?’

‘Aye, it was quite good, and he pulled it out of the bag in the end,’ I answer while trying to hide my disappointment.

It always takes me a day or two to process an event and I’m never able to properly evaluate something as it happens. Fortunately, as a gardener I’m afforded the opportunity of deep reflection especially during June when I’m trawling up and down lush lawns every day. Overall, I was underwhelmed by my first medium show. The mediums appear little more than comperes who coax and cajole their audience into believing that their general suppositions have more profound meaning. I was prepared to be astounded and expected much more than the disappointing exhibition of fluky conjecture combined with an audiences’ eager desire to link details and please the medium. I hoped to witness some sort of compelling evidence for spiritualism or mediumship but saw nothing. Despite this, apart from Francis’s cruel exposure of the emotionally vulnerable woman the event is also not as malign or malevolent as I’d previously assumed. By and large, the audience are enthusiastic participants and willing to be used as part of the performance. Also given they are only spending £20 on each ticket there doesn’t seem to be much greedy deception on display (apart from the raffle).  I hoped to witness some devious examples of underhand tactics or audience subterfuge, but the reality is far more banal and unsupernatural. However, with a bit of research I was able to untangle some of the methods and sly tricks used by mediums to deceive the impressionable.

COLD READING

Cold Reading is the ability to gather information from an audience member without that individual realizing that they are providing the information themselves. It is referred to as ‘cold’ as the medium needs no previous knowledge of the audience member. By carefully observing an audience member’s characteristics and behaviour through a series of deductive or general guesses together with the general ‘Barnum statements’ a medium can give the impression of having supernatural abilities. Everybody uses cold reading in their daily life, sometimes to build understanding, often to create prejudice. We judge people by their choice of clothing, the newspapers they read, cars they drive and even their race, sex or age. Mediums finetune this ability to a science, enabling them to identify characteristics and psychological hang ups from a few choice questions and reactions.

James Underdown from Centre for Inquiry and Independent Investigations Group says, ‘In the context of a studio audience full of people, cold reading is not very impressive.’ and explains cold reading from a mathematical perspective. ‘A typical audience (alike the Docherty event) consists of about 200 people and a conservative estimate assumes each attendee knows around 150 people’ (Wikipedia,2019). So, when Karen Docherty suddenly asks, ‘Who’s Jenna or Jemma?’ she is hoping there is a Jenna or Jemma related to the chosen audience member. However, when she reoffers this to the room the chances are multiplied by the 200 people in the audience and the 150 people known to them, creating a pool of 30,000. Would it be surprising for there to be a dozen Jenna’s or Jemma’s in such a large sample, especially both being a common name? The only surprise to me was, nobody took the bait.

One of the most crucial elements of a convincing cold reading is a subject eager to make connections or reinterpret vague statements in any way that will help the reader appear to make specific predictions or intuitions. While the reader will do most of the talking, it is the subject who provides the meaning.

SHOTGUNNING

Shotgunning is one of most used cold reading techniques and is named after the way a shotgun fires a wide spread of small missiles so that there is a better chance of finding a target. Docherty and Francis both depended on this ploy in choosing the general subject of health. Health can be expanded to mean hospitals or pharmacies and all the professions therein (the NHS for example is Scotland’s and the UK’s biggest workforce at over 1,500,000 people). Everybody has either worked for the NHS or is related or knows someone who is or has worked in the NHS or health industry. Also, this subject could also be expanded to a hospital or doctor visit, treatment received in a hospital or even an illness someone has suffered or even perished as a result of. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody that does not connect in some way to the universal subject of health. It’s neither supernatural nor scientific more common sense and simple maths.

PIGGYBACKING

When a psychic makes a pronouncement to an audience member and it’s a miss, they will sometimes claim the information was meant for someone else in the crowd and that the spirit messages are being muddled. This technique allows the medium/ psychic to fish the rest of the audience for a match. So, when Docherty insisted that she was still receiving messages from or about a ‘Jenna or Jemma’ near the end of show she is not only saving face from the previous miss but reinstating her apparent psychic abilities to the audience. You could say that she is feeling her way to the truth, even hedging her bets but in truth it’s straightforward cheating and about as supernatural as predicting the football pools two hours after the games have finished.

Mind of a monster

On Thursday 1st of February 1829, Andrew Longair was three days shy of his twenty second birthday and living in Scotland’s capital city. As he set about completing the last of his long list of daily duties there was little to indicate that today would prove to be the most important day of a long and interesting life. A day when he would finally conjure the courage to invite the love of his life out on their first day together; initially converse with his lifelong mentor and before sunset be invited to stare into the mind of the devil himself.

The city of Edinburgh had been described as the “Athens of the North”, a title that was as ill-deserved as it was false as the ancient capital of Greece had never been this cold nor ever smelled this abysmal. True, the Scottish city was recognised as a church of ‘Enlightenment thought’ and mecca of medical learning but for most of the cities dwellers this was only a pretentious veneer. Many of city’s inhabitants lived in desperate poverty and had to endure the type of squalid living conditions usually only suffered by livestock. The poorest of all were confined to the West Port and Cowgate areas just below castle, the bulk of those were Irish immigrants and exiled Highlanders. To further preserve the chasm between the classes the city authorities had recently implemented the construction of a New Town complete with beautiful new Georgian townhouses, ornate buildings and connecting cobbled roads. The affluent then abandoned the crammed Old Town areas, leaving the deprived to their tenement slums.

The gaze of the civilised world however was not trained upon Edinburgh for benign reasons on this winter’s day. The recent West Port murders had horrified the city’s many inhabitants and word of the heinous crimes had rapidly spread down to England then abroad. The city’s reputation was besmirched and tipped into the polluted river the city sat upon. And while the Irishmen that had slain sixteen souls then sold the bodies had been caught, the real scandal was that it was an educated man and member of the plutocracy that had rewarded the murderer’s acts.  Unbeknownst to Andrew he was just about to be pulled into the very belly of all this horror.

It taken the Andrew near to a year to adjust to living in the city. The farm boy had tired of his rural surroundings and escaped down to Edinburgh just after his twenty first birthday. At first, he had gotten lost in the warrens and burrows of the city streets and the sheer scale of the city had terrified him to the bones forcing him to scurry back into his bedroom at night. However, he had gradually built up his courage through the hard work and routine of the local brewery. All day he swept floors, cleaned equipment, fed the horses, rolled barrels around the warehouse, loaded them into the waiting carriages then delivered the beer around the hostelries and bars of the Old Town. The work was arduous but provided him with an invaluable insight into a growing industry. His employer: Mr MacLaren, was a kind old industrialist who had recognised Andrew’s spirit of curiosity and encouraged him to he read and learn about the new ideas that had recently washed across Europe. His real education however came from his older co-workers who had adopted him as kin and provided him with the more important schooling he needed to survive in the city. They had advised him where to drink, where and how to dance, how to behave with women, who to trust, who to fear and which areas of the city to avoid. Every day he ate up all their guidance and heaped the wisdom in the back of his skull.

‘Aff to join the crowds in the New Toon are you Andrew? See if you can catch a glimpse of the West Port monster?’ asked Robert (the old barrel maker) while crossing his eyes and lolling his tongue from the side of his mouth.

‘Maybe so Robert, see whit all the fuss is about’ replied Andrew.

‘Nah, it’s no monster he’s planning to see this morning Robert. He’s aff to see his wee Irish sweetheart at the Atholl Arms’ teased Patrick the cart driver.

Andrew felt his cheeks flush but did not submit to his playful tormentors. He dove his hand into an open sack of oats and held a straight handful below the nose of the cart horse. The mare snuffled up the food while spraying cold, wet air from her snout.

‘Well Andrew, don’t being taking her anywhere near here if you aim to impress’ said Robert.

‘Aye, you should take her to the Meadows’ added Patrick.

‘Wheest Patrick, they’ll be chased from the Meadows. The rich don’t the likes of us in their parks. No son you should take her up to Arthur’s seat and take in the city view’ advised Robert.

‘Aye right enough, right enough, Arthur’s seat would be better, but mind take something to eat and a bottle o’ water, no’ beer, she has enough of that in her nostrils all week’ added Patrick.

‘As always gentlemen your advice is invaluable. I think I’ll do just that’ replied Andrew.

The older men mocked Andrew’s polite tone and bade him cheery farewell. He wrapped his thick, woollen scarf around his face and neck twice before tucking it into the front of his tatty waistcoat. He had initially abandoned this scarf, being embarrassed by his mother’s knitting, but as the temperature plummeted it had become invaluable protecting him from the bracing gales and shielding his nose from the Cowgate’s dreadful smells. He pushed open the thick wooden doors of the warehouse and marched into the bracing wind of early afternoon. The frozen soil of the thorough fare crunched below his boots as he crossed the streets and weaved through the lanes of the Old Town. Horse drawn wagons trundled up through the middle of the streets  rutting the mud into lines while a constant flow of hawkers, shoppers, maids and delivery boys zipped down the frozen pavements. Everyone seemed determined to make their frostbitten commute as brief as possible.

Andrew saw Bridget on the door step of the Pub long before she recognised him. He watched her screw up her face and turn from the smell of a bucket of slops that she was emptying into the street. Even during this moment of horridness, he thought her more beautiful than Helen of Troy. The effluent from the bucket spilled onto the cobbles then oozed into the stinking mess that always collected outside the local hostelries. The brown mess seemed to creep up the walls like a gangrenous stain, living but rotting everything in its path. Bridget’s expression lightened upon recognizing Andrew slip, stumble and scramble up the rutted road.

‘Coming to see me, are ye? Asked Bridget in her mellifluous Irish brogue.

‘Just passing by’ replied Andrew with a smile.

‘Jest passing by he says, passing by to where exactly?’

‘Ahh you’ve got me Biddy. I’ve come to try and convince you to come out with me tomorrow’

Andrew adored the rhythmic poetry of Bridget’s speech, as if each word that flowed effortlessly from her rosy red lips were tied together in some sort of predetermined sonnet. She was twenty-one and like Andrew only recently moved to Edinburgh, only she had escaped from the confines of Strabane on the North West coast of Ireland. Her long black curly was collected in a bun under a white, maid’s hat but one wisp always seemed to escape down across her forehead. Andrew gazed into her blue eyes and marvelled at her little bunny teeth which crossed her bottom lip when she smiled.

‘Where would you be taking me tomorrow then Andrew?’ asked Bridget.

‘I can’t tell you, it’s a surprise’

‘A surprise he says… Well Then, I’ll make you a deal, I’ll accept your invitation but only if ye do me a little favour in return’

‘Anything for you Biddy’

Bridget slipped through the doorway of the pub and returned with a bundle of three books tied together with twine.

‘One of the doctors from up at South Bridge left these in the pub last night, in a right old state he was, I’ll agree to accompany you tomorrow if you deliver these to their owner’ said Bridget.

She held the books out towards Andrew chest. He unfastened the string’s bow and opened the first book and read out the hand written first page.

‘Doctor Lizar, Surgeon’s Hall, South Bridge, Edinburgh’

‘You never know he might know one of those Frenchmen you’re always rabbiting on about’ teased Bridget.

Andrew drew the twine from under the books and looped it around Bridget’s neck, tied it at her chest then pulled Bridget close and kissed on her on the forehead. She giggled at his little, romantic gesture and pushed the books into his chest. He put the books into the pockets of his jacket and stepped back from the doorway and back into the frozen mud of the road.

‘I’ll see you on the way back Biddy’ said Andrew before turning towards the New Town.

‘I hope so Andrew’ called Bridget before disappearing back through the door.

To reach Surgeon’s Square Andrew had to traverse some of the most treacherous parts of the city where even during daytime there were still enough shadowed closes and darkened lanes for predators to hide in. As a result, he kept to the safety of the middle of street also avoiding the frosty pavements and chamber pots that were always being tipped from above. Hunkered up in one of the doorways a Policeman was waiting for victims like a large dark jungle cat. His long black jacket was held together with a line of brass buttons reaching from neck to groin and his velvet top hat sat askew upon on his mammoth cranium. The officer spotted Andrew and crossed the road to block his path by placing his wooden baton upon Andrew’s chest.

‘Where do you think you’re going Paddy’ asked the officer in a distinctive Highland drawl.

‘My name’s not Paddy’ replied Andrew. ‘And I have an important delivery for Doctor Lizars at Surgeon’s Square’ answered Andrew while showing the Policeman the books in his pockets.

The Policeman chuckled at the young man’s quick temper also noting his shared accent.

‘An educated man, I’m guessing you’re not from Inverness then?’ asked the Policeman.

‘No, Nairn’ replied Andrew.

‘Close enough … Surgeon’s square? Off to join the crowds, are you?’ pried the Policeman.

‘No Sir, I had enough of all that on Wednesday at the hanging’

‘Aye well, I wouldn’t be lingering around the square today, there’s a fair-sized mob gathering, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be leaving until they see yon dead Irishman from the Mill Port’

‘I don’t intend to stay there any longer than necessary’ said Andrew.

The Policeman motioned to Andrew to carry on and slunk back into the cover of the doorway.

At the top of the steep hill that plateaued onto the South Bridge Andrew climbed upon a wall to get a better view of the mass of people that had gathered. He had never seen so many souls gather in one place. The horde was massed around the newly built Surgeon’s Hall; a massive building that dominated the line of newly erected libraries, University buildings and legal offices of Edinburgh’s New Town. Several sets of large stone stairs led to the Grecian pillars at the entrance, its ostentatious design designed to reflect the institutions stature and self-reverence. A phalanx of uniformed Policemen stood between the throng of protestors and the dark suited students and doctors, sporadically the uniformed men beat the throng back, cracking skulls and whacking limbs with swings of their heavy batons. Andrew stepped down from the wall, eased into the crowd and sidled into earshot of the nattering demonstrators. Each man- and the occasional woman- were trading gossip and rumour like currency and there were various thoughtless ideas being passed around. Many thought the body had disappeared or risen from the grave. Some that the private dissection had revealed some hideous fact; that the murderer had the innards of a demon, dragon or worse. A few that the corpse had turned to stone after being pulled down from the gallows. Regardless, everyone was demanding for some sort of viewing of the murderer’s corpse to prove otherwise.

A couple of zealots were standing upon wooden boxes each espousing their beliefs and damning all with contrary opinions, a small group of sycophants surrounded each nodding and parroting their guru’s bile. Andrew crept up to beside one gang that encircled a dog collared minister whose fat seemed to squeeze out of every vent of his ill-fitting tunic. Andrew inhaled deeply in full expectation of the religious nonsense that would follow.

‘And what are we to expect of the increasing hordes of Hibernians that have washed upon our shores. These heathens have no respect for humankind and answer only to their Pope in Rome’ bellowed the bloated holy man.

The gang murmured their approval and encouraged the minister further.

‘And it was written that it is sacrilege to deface a human body. We demand to see the body of the heathen resurrectionist and that his humanly remains be interred on holy ground’. cried the minister while holding a small bible high above his head.

The hypocrisy burned within Andrew like the core of a bonfire. How could these religious fools have so much sway with the masses?

Before realising, he blurted out the words of Voltaire, a philosopher his employer instructed him to read.

‘Are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same god?’ cried Andrew.

Andrew’s voice cut through the religious fervour like soldier’s bugle horn.  The minister’s bootlickers immediately about turned to face him and the minister ceased his sermon to scowl down at Andrew from his makeshift pulpit.

‘And Lo, we have a non-believer in our midst, come to tell us how to behave’ said the minister.

The preacher’s sycophants began to circle Andrew like jackals stalking an antelope. The swollen hypocrite seized his chance to exact divine retribution directing his flock to attack.

‘Smite the heathen with all the fury of the lord’ cried the preacher.

The mob responded and began to jostle and hassle Andrew. Before he could muster any type of response he was rabbit punched in the back of the head sending him sprawling to the ground. A torrent of catcalls and abuse poured upon him together with a hail of kicks and punches. He tried to cover himself from the assaults but felt himself slide into unconsciousness. Above all the din a clipped tone ordered ‘Grab him, grab him, before they do him a serious injury’. Then he felt himself being lifted high into the air and planted on his backside onto the cold, sandstone stairway.

‘I’m not sure if your mad or stupid but that was no place to advocate your enlightened beliefs young Sir’ said a voice.

A young man barely older than himself was studying Andrew’s injuries from above. He pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket and held it to Andrew’s bleeding nose. One of the Policemen dropped his cap on his knee.

‘Come with me’ ordered the young man.

Andrew rose from his seated position feeling the effects of the many strikes on his body. The young man pulled Andrew’s arm around his neck and lifted him through the main doors of the hall and onto a chair in the building’s hallway.

‘Thank you, Sir, I thought I was a goner’ squeaked Andrew.

‘I noticed your books and together with your opinions I thought you a fellow student, but you hardly seemed dressed as such’ replied the student.

‘No Sir, I’m not a student, I’ve only come to deliver these books to a Dr Lizars’

‘Lizars eh? Left them in the Pub again did he?’ asked the young man with a chuckle.

The young student checked over his new patient before delivering a consultation: ‘No broken bones but you’ll have a few minor war wounds and bruises to impress the ladies with tonight. Now then, let’s see if we can find you Old Lizars’

Andrew was led down a long, carpeted hallway past sniggering students and curious Doctors. All the students sported the same uniform of black tunic and white shirt with collars that reached up to the lobes of their ears while the doctors wore tight fitting suits with black stockings. The student knocked three times on a large, wooden door prompting an officious ‘Enter’ from beyond. He pushed open the door and stepped into a brightly lit study.

‘Well Robertson, as if I don’t have to tolerate your appearance all morning, why are you bothering me this afternoon?’ spat an older man from behind a heavy, wooden desk.

‘Sir, I have a young man with a delivery for you’ piped the student.

‘It’d better not be another corpse Robertson’ replied the older man.

The young man smirked at the dry wit of the older man before beckoning Andrew forward.

The doctor was an older gentleman of around sixty and had a worn, crumpled face with large front teeth giving him the uncanniness of an old mountain hare. His white mane was slicked back like a horse and his piercing blue eyes sat behind a pair of bone, rimmed spectacles. He was on sitting a wooden throne like chair in front of a wide wooden desk that had open books, diagrams of animals and what looked like ledgers of names scattered upon it.

‘Well, what is it laddie?’ asked the older man.

‘I brought you your books Sir, they were found in a carriage at the bottom of South Bridge’ replied Andrew.

‘Fine, Robertson, you can leave us now’, ordered the old man to his student.

Andrew shook the student by the hand and thanked him for his help. The student then slipped through the door and pulled it shut with a clack.

‘Carriage you say? That’s queer, I can’t remember leaving these books in a carriage. I’d swear blind I left them in the Atholl Arms near Cowgate’ said the doctor.

Andrew squirmed under the glare of the older man but did not respond.

‘Well, how should I address you? What’s your name laddie?’ ask the doctor before rising from the desk and stepping forward towards Andrew.

‘My name’s Andrew Longair Sir, once of Nairn but now a trainee at MacLaren’s Brewery on Candlemakers Row’.

‘Pleasure to meet you’ said the Doctor while exchanging a handshake. ‘My name is Doctor John Lizars, Professor of Surgery and Senior Operating Surgeon of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’.

‘Pleasure to meet you Sir’ replied Andrew.

‘Well, young Longair it seems we share a taste for fine ale and a raucous atmosphere, and there’s little wrong with that, but I appreciate your discretion in front of my students. It would not do for a Doctor to be rumoured to frequent the hostelries of the Cowgate’.

‘Your secret’s safe with me Sir’

‘Glad to hear it’, said the Doctor with a smile.

The Doctor studied Andrew like he was some sort of strange animal in a zoo.

‘Now… let me see if I can repay your favour and in a small way apologise for your troubles outside… Follow me’.

The Doctor took his books, opened the door and led Andrew into a long, carpeted hallway that’s walls were covered with large portraits of Lairds and Dukes with ornate furniture and glass cabinets containing skulls and bones lying beneath. The Doctor paused at a door signed ‘Operating Theatre’ then turned to address Andrew.

‘As you would have noticed outside, we are very popular these days what with our important guest. We’ve just finished with him. Unfortunately, most of the medical students demanded an audience and now half of the damned city are demanding a viewing too’

The Doctor then pushed open the door and ushered Andrew into a huge round room of wood which on first impression looked like a courtroom. There were around one hundred stalls banked in circled levels like inside a small coliseum. At the bottom a table was covered by a white blanket until the doctor pulled the blanket away to reveal a dead male body below.

The cadaver lay back at an angle and was naked save a cloth to hide preserve the man’s decency. The skin was the pallor of grim grey and appeared to Andrew like the meat of some great fish. His eyes were closed as if in deep prayer and without prior knowledge you would have thought he was dozing or drunk. The skull was shaved bald and there was a deep red cut that ringed the forehead like he had just removed an extremely tight top hat. It looked like the cadaver had begun to harden as the skin was pulled taught over the bones and face.  Most unsettling to Andrew was the man’s lips that had begun to curl creating a hideous grimace.

‘Is this I the West Port murderer Sir?’ asked Andrew.

‘No Andrew, this is Rob Roy’ answered the Doctor with a shake of his head.

Andrew edged towards the corpse feeling a rivulet of seat drip down his spine and muscles of his legs begin to twitch.

“He’ll do you no harm now young Longair’ said the Doctor.

Andrew walked forward until he saw the stubble on the corpses chin. The blood had drained from the face, but a dark blue bruised crease had collected around the neck. There was a deep, chemical smell emanating from the body both unnatural and unnerving. Without warning the Doctor laid his hand upon the corpse’s head then pulled the scalp clean away like it was the top of a turnip. Andrew’s eyes widened in fascination propelling him further forward for a better view.

‘And behold, Master Longair, look upon the mind of murderer’ exclaimed the Doctor.

Andrew inched forward and peered down into the skull. Crimson, dark blood and bone were ringed around the skull like a cross section of a tree’s trunk. In the middle was the veiny sliced cauliflower of the brain.

‘So Longair, on first impressions what can you deduce about this man?’ asked the Doctor.

Andrew took a moment to contemplate his answer.

‘Well, the marks around the neck were probably caused by the hangman’s noose’

‘Correct, well done, and what else can you tell me?’

‘Well by the calluses on his hand and the condition of his fingers he was a physical worker probably a navvy’

‘Excellent, Longair, you have an investigative eye’

The doctor replaced the top of the skull and stepped back from the corpse.

’They’ll sew the head back on for the public to view tomorrow. We are expecting thousands of the great unwashed to pass through the theatre, I suppose this is what passes for entertainment in these bleak times’ said the Doctor with a snort of laughter.

The Doctor reached into his waistcoat pocket and produced a small note which he passed to Andrew.

‘I confiscated this from a student not two hours ago’.

Andrew unfolded the note and involuntarily read out the words that were written in a dark red ink.

“This is written in the blood of William Burke, who was hanged at Edinburgh on 28 Jan 1829 for the murder of Mrs Campbell or Docherty. The blood was taken from his head on the 1 Feb 1829.”

Andrew was horrified at the callousness of the note. He turned to the Doctor and handed it back.

‘Hardly the behaviour of a civilised professional Sir’ said Andrew.

The Doctor bellowed a large laugh at Andrew’s disgust then answered: ‘No, it is not Master Longair but in these dark times blood calls for blood. And the criminal that you look upon now did not afford the same respect to his victims that you do to him’

Andrew took a second to deconstruct the full import of the Doctor’s words before finally appreciating their wisdom. The doctor re-covered the body with its sheet and turned back to Andrew.

‘Well Longair, I’m afraid I have work to do and can’t stand about all day talking to you, I trust you can see yourself out’

‘Yes Sir. Thank you for the lecture’

‘And thank you for the return of my books. In fact, take these and come back to me in a month and tell me your opinion’ said the Professor while passing the books to Andrew.

‘Thank you, Sir, although I’ll sooner read these in a week’ replied Andrew.

‘Maybe so, but you’ll not understand them in a week, so reread and reread again then report back’ said the Professor before exiting the theatre with a parting ‘Until next month’.

The abrupt exit left Andrew standing as stiff and awkward as Burke’s corpse below the sheet. He twisted around one last time to appreciate the theatre before climbing the wooden stairs, walking through the hallways and emerging back outside to where the mob was still spoiling for trouble. As he descended the sandstone steps he was spotted by the bloated minister that had directed his mob to attack fifteen minutes before.

‘Well boy, did you see the body of the Irish Devil?’ spat the fat fool.

Andrew nodded, not wanting to engage conversation with the brute.

‘And what did he look like? Did he have horns and hooves or red wings like a demon?’ asked the zealot while simultaneously addressing his congregation.

‘He looked very much the same as you.’ replied Andrew before merging back into the crowd and off to see Bridget.

English will never get the World Cup

It seems like the BBC and assorted British press are a dog with a bone in regards to FIFA and the World Cup. They still can’t believe that Qatar got awarded the tournament despite their questionable attitudes towards gay people, workers conditions and the unbearable heat in their desert location (nobody has really mentioned they aren’t even a football country either). In the end the bid executive committee said those Englanders were too arrogant and entitled in the process, which is clearly impossible from such a humble and fair minded organisation like the FA. Or maybe the old commonwealth countries were getting a little jab back at 200 years of colonialism? Typically Scottish made an arse of themselves and backed the English FA when the fight was already over.

FIFA seem to stumble through one controversy after another and bat off documentaries, investigative journalist pieces, newspaper headlines and TV news segments like Brian Lara on crystal meth . If it is not Sepp Blatter blabbing some archaic opinion, its stories about shady deals and back handers between confederations and presidents. In truth its hard to see what would actually topple the “blazers” in Switzerland.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/world-cup/2014/

And what to England or the English footballing fraternity set to gain from it??

The FA were keen enough to cosy up to FIFA during their bid for hosting the tournament. Quite happy to spend 20 million on the whole process and roll out a grinning David Beckham to give that extra razzmatazz . Maybe they feel scorned because they were promised a proper tilt at the bidding process or even assured of a victory (which in itself would be illegal).

Even if Qatar are proved to be corrupt in their successful election as 2022 hosts the World Cup will not go to another Euro country so close after Russia in 2018 (Russia are all right by the way, they have no problems with racism or homophobia).

2026 could be their next available slot but by that time an asteroid will probably plummet into the atmosphere filling the skies with noxious gasses which shall decimate the human population but leave the good animals like lions, tigers and bears (oh…my) to roam freely and eventually set up their own World Cup.

So as FIFA “step up” their investigation into “acts of wrong doing” don’t hold out for some startling findings. The beans will not be spilled and England will not the get the World Cup any time soon.

ps. If England invite Scotland to bid as some kind of dual “we invented the game and gave it to you lot” special anniversary World Cup i retract everything above.

The FIFA rankings don’t lie, much.

The FIFA rankings are notoriously confusing and sometimes spurious however what they show is current form in the World game. Croatia have moved into 5th position and although impressive in UEFA qualification Group B can hardly be merited as the 5th best team in the World. Similarly a faltering Portugal do not deserve their 6th position (they currently lie 3rd in Group F behind Russia and Israel.

The top ten is made up of the usual faces with England even placed at 7th despite trailing Montenegro in Group H. Ecuador have been boosted into 10th position but this probably a fair reflection given the Andean nations recent form.

1 Spain
2  Germany
3  Argentina
4  Croatia
5  Portugal
6  Colombia
7  England
8  Italy
9  Netherlands
  10 Ecuador

Brazil have plummeted to their worst ever ranking at 19th suffering from their lack of telling international games in the run up to their hosting of the World Cup in 2014.

Scotland (deep breath) continue their decent into oblivion and lie in 77th position between Congo and Canda. This doesn’t deserve a comment.

Out before everybody. Scotland have reached the bottom.

It’s impossible for Scotland to make Brazil. In truth we have known for a long time, maybe as soon as the draw was made, but we didn’t think it would end so poorly.

Winless and gutless the Scottish national team lie rooted to the bottom of Group A. A tally of 2 points from 6 games is pitiful in the extreme. We now lie alongside San Marino, Liechtenstein and Malta as International minnows.

 

Belgium 6 5 16
Croatia 6 5 16
Serbia 6 2 7
Wales 6 2 6
Macedonia 6 1 4
Scotland 6 0 2

 

This is as rotten as it comes for a supporter: out of the reckoning before things have even started. The remaining ties are meaningless and we are now playing for pride.

Many supporters will feel helpless and unsure of where we are going to end up. International wilderness is a real possibility. In fact a probability if not an actual current reality.

It’s all got too much to bare.

 

In truth it has been a long descent. Alike a horse stuck in quicksand, slowly sinking to the bottom. There have been small moments of resistance and defiance along the way but these have only delayed the inevitable and no one is going haul us out.

Against Serbia tonight, the farmer finally came along and unloaded two shells into our skull. A mercy killing.

Gordon Strachan has inherited a nightmare: a squad devoid of any real class and lacking any semblance of confidence. His is a long term project. But I do feel he is the right man to take us forward. At least he has enthusiasm and ideas.

Strachan blooded Liam Bridcutt and George Boyd against Serbia and this is where any hope of revival exists. Fresh and young talent. But it will be a long road to recovery. I doubt on the strength of the last few matches that France 2016 is even realisable.

 

That’s enough. This is too depressing.

Strachan starts against Estonia

 In 2014 football will truly return home and Scotland has about as much chance as the Vatican City of making it. An awful start to the qualifying campaign sees us languishing at the bottom of Group A, 2 points from 4 games and 8 points of the pace.

It has been a hideous start and about as salvageable as the Titanic. The more you think about it the more depressing it gets.

 Even if we win all our remaining games there is little chance of making one of the 8 play-off places.

New manager, Gordon Strachan will probably be in Brazil, as a pundit for ITV. His aim must be France 2016 and building a team at least capable of competing for one of the 24 places available.

New Scotland manager Gordon Strachan

It is not an insurmountable mountain to climb but it is Kilimanjaro rather than Ben Nevis. Scotland has an adequate first 11 who thus far have under-achieved but we do not have the riches of say Belgium or Croatia (Both of which are in Group A).

 

The current strongest 11 is probably as follows:

 

 

 scot

 

These players, barring Jordan Rhodes are the most experienced players available. The younger players such as Fraser Fyvie , Tony Watt, Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay Steven should  evolve through the under teams and B squads.

 Players such as Robert Snodgrass, Danny Fox, James Forrest, Barry Bannan, James McArthur, Christophe Berra and Graham Dorrans will be in the full squad and be drafted to cover injuries, suspension or loss of form.

Next month’s friendly against Estonia will be little more than a welcoming party for Strachan, it matters not.  The qualifiers start again next month with a double header against Wales (home) then Serbia (away).  An away fixture against Croatia follows in June before the remaining fixtures are played in August September: Belgium (home), Macedonia (away) then Croatia (home).

Strachan’s big test and chance to ingratiate him with the Scottish support will come on August 14th when the Tartan hordes travel down to Wembley. By that time the English will have qualified for Brazil but it will afford us the chance to get a rare win against the Auld Enemy.

Don Hutchison scores versus England in the last  derby.
Don Hutchison scores versus England in the last derby.

Long time ago in a galaxy far away, the winning of this fixture was of paramount importance nowadays however it will have little resonance and in Scotland’s case a consolation prize for not making Brazil.

Why the Ecuadorians have it so much better on match-days.

Every time I make a visit to the Atahaulpa Stadium I can’t help but make comparisons with back home. My usual judgement is that Ecuadorians have it so much better than in Scotland or the UK.

There is no doubt that British stadiums are safer but there over-sterilisation and sanitisation has ruined many aspects of the modern game. Many stadiums are glorified cow-sheds, little more than four banks of seats into which fans are herded like sheep.

No more apparent than this is Hampden Park where the famous Hampden roar has been replaced by the Hampden moan or muffled groan.

Hampden Park got a £20 millon re-fit a number of years ago. The end result was: a dissipation of the noise, an athletics track separating the fans from the pitch by at least 10 metres, 70,000 fans became 50,000 and a severely diluted atmosphere.

The Atahaulpa has not been touched for 50 years and the atmosphere is electric. The capacity has been reduced to 35,000 recently and you have the athletics track but it doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm.

the vantage point

On Friday my Dutch friend and I made our way through the fans, police and many touts. After a couple of aborted entries we finally managed to reach the general area of our seats but not before buying beers at the back of the stadium. As the game was already 5 minutes old and we didn’t want to annoy the other patrons in that dreadful cinema like shuffle through the crowds  we stayed-put, aside the beer stand.

Everyone in the back row of seats (which is really a long, concrete block) were standing for a better vantage point. Behind them was a line of Police, some with dogs, all with batons and behind the Police I stood with my friend.Both of us a good foot taller than the rest.

In the two hours we stood there sipping our beers not one Policeman or woman asked us to move, sit down or find our seats. We were causing no problem nor blocking access, simply watching the game so the authorities left us alone. (The only hairy moment was when one of the Police Alsatians started to attack an imaginary assailant. Many wide eyed fans turned and looked on fearing that it could cause some dreadful chain reaction of biting  hounds.In the end the mutt was shepherded away to safety).

Chileans go daft after taking the lead

And therein lies the biggest difference between the match experience in Latin America and the United Kingdom.

In Scotland you are constantly harassed by over-blown security guards and zealous quasi-authorities either wanting you to sit-down, pipe down or calm down. Some luminous jacketed dolt, who was too fat to become a real policeman or too dim to secure a respected job has to use his/her two hours of authority to dampen your match day experience.

And its only the proper fan who rises to remonstrate at the referee or roar his football song that gets reprimanded. If a burly troglodyte is shouting abuse or sectarian or racist bile the security guards are nowhere to be seen. The cowards only admonish the normal fan, knowing fine they won’t receive a smack in the mouth or verbal tirade in response.

On Friday, the Chilean supporters were situated right beside us, numbering about 2-3000 and they regularly intermingled on their way to the toilet or to get some food or more beer. There was no cordon of yellow nor line of Police, even when Chile took the lead there was little more than muffled insults and derogatory, hand signals.

In the end Ecuador won 3 – 1 to bolster their qualification chances for Brazil 2014. As the Ecuadorian fans shuffled out of the stadium many insults were traded with the glum looking Chileans. The usual cries of “chuta- madre” and “hijo de la chingada” were exchanged along with self-explanatory gestures that even a nun would understand.

In Scotland you would be probably hauled off to the Chateau D’If for such “anti-social” behaviour.

Ecuadorian football may have many flaws but I’d have their match-days, any day compared to the over-priced and over- bearing experience of home. Football in Ecuador maybe like football in Scotland 30 years ago.

Not such a bad thing considering where we are as a football nation now.

Scotland must go Dutch.

It was horrific to watch, not only because of Gareth Bale’s dolphin like dive but also the manner of Scotland’s late capitulation.

Not that it was a new experience. There has been a steady stream of dreadful, disappointments in the last 10-15 years for the Tartan Army. You would think the familiarity would lessen the effect, but it doesn’t.

I watched the game with a Dutch friend, who like his countrymen has been spoiled rotten with football for the last 30 years. Since the 1974 World Cup, Holland have regularly competed in the latter stages of International tournaments:  being beaten in 3 World Cup finals and winning the Euro’s in 1988.

The Netherlands have 4 times the population of Scotland but 20 times the football capability. The football academies of PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and Ajax have provided the Dutch national team (and other national teams) with an endless procession of quality players since 1980’s.

And the Eredivisie isn’t only about the big 3 with AZ Alkamaar and FC Twente recently winning titles.

Yet, the Dutch had to endure ten years of disaster before the success of the famous 1988 team of Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard began to emerge. From  1982 to 1986 Holland failed to qualify for the successive World Cups and the Euro Championships.

In the end they had to turn to their old master, Rinus Michels to steady the ship.

Not that he didn’t have great players to work with. In addition to the the trinity of Rijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten there was Koeman, Wouters and Van Breukelen in a classic side.

With the exception of this years poor Euro’s in Poland/Ukraine, Holland have consistently competed at the highest level internationally for the  last 25 years. In this time they have produced the De Boer brothers, Jaap Staam, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Patrick Kluivert, Edwin van der SarEdgar DavidsMichael ReizigerClarence Seedorf and the magical Denis Bergkamp.

If England’s underachieving generation of Terry, Lampard, Gerrard etc  is “Golden” I have no idea what precious metal this one has been.

The current national team are not lightweight either. With the majority of the squad starring for the major European clubs and combined transfer price of around 250,000 Euro’s their World Cup qualification will be a mere formality.

When they land in Rio in 2014 they will start as realistic favourites, (along with Brazil, Argentina and Spain)  for the World Cup.

Current Holland best 11:

Holland football formation

Currently, the Eredivsie is arguably the 7th best European League behind England, Spain, Germany,Italy, France and Portugal. Alike all the “smaller” Euro leagues the best players are cherry picked by the best clubs of the big 4 leagues.

While the big three: PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and Ajax can still attract a good level of player from Latin America or Eastern Europe their real strength lies in their youth development programs which have reared the likes of Robben,Van de Vaart and Huntellar for Holland and Vermaelen and Vertonghen for Belgium in recent years.

Current top 11 players in the Eredivisie:

Somewhat surprisingly the SFA have decided to go Dutch in their future plans for development of the national game and hired a top gun from the Netherlands. However in a typical measure of underwhelming bumbling they did not splash out on statesman alike Johan Cruyff, Guus Hiddink or Frank Arnesen.

Instead they opted for Mark Wotte, a journey man manager who’s greatest achievement so far was a one year stint for FC Utrect then Southampton.

To be fair he has made all the right noises so far and has identified the obvious weaknesses in our games development. His real success will be measured in 1o years time. Which is of no use to our ongoing current predicament.