Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Gender Balance Mechanisms

I AM A MAN and I have to admit that we live in a world designed by men, run by men mainly for the benefit of men. In a world like that, when opportunities arise, men are, in general, seen as the best person for the job. Far too many believe it, women as well as men, and when there is some sort of mixed-gender selection most people automatically think the guy would be “the best person for the job”. They think that because most of us were brought up believe that men are better than women; and many men believe (even if only subconsciously) they have some sense of entitlement. If it were not so boardrooms the world over would not be filled with men; Parliaments the world over would not be filled by men. Leaders of nations, states, cities, communities would not be mostly men.
Yet, we see this today, we have always seen this and can we honestly say they are all best person for the job? While I am not rich or anything like that, I have done not too badly from that kind of thinking.

I am speaking in a general sense here when I say women are seen as inferior in our world. Any reasonable person knows women are not inferior. However, it can appear to be so simply because women do not have the same opportunities open to them as men do. For that reason alone far too many women do not have the confidence to take on tasks they have, or could easily develop, the skills for. At the same time far too many men are over-confident in their abilities. It is my experience that women are as capable in ANY job as their male counterparts, they simply have fewer opportunities to express themselves. When the braver among them do, the "male-safe" machinery kicks into action to ridicule and demean them. Opportunities for women to advance are much less than they are for men – there is no doubt about that. Even when women show they can compete, and be even better than their male colleagues, the male-safe kicks in again to ensure opportunities are limited and HE gets paid more. It is all so REASONABLE, but then, men have had thousands of years to perfect it, and the seriously discriminatory "male-safe" has most certainly been perfected.

A very few women do manage to get to the top these days, but glass ceilings don’t just appear out of thin air, they are put there deliberately. A woman having to behave like a man to get on in a man’s world is not gender equality, or anything like it.
So, how do we, as fair-minded people with a desire for equality, overcome this – how do we make a fair and equal society?

Well, we could simply say to society: “stop it!” and, yes, that will happen, right? Or, we positively discriminate for a period of time so that women can at least have a chance of competing with their male colleagues; and develop their skills and competencies, of which they have plenty. As it happens, when we put a Gender Balance Mechanism (GBM) in place the first thing you will hear is: “no, we want the 'best person' for the job!” Replacing the word ‘man' with ‘person’ does absolutely nothing to make what we think and do fair or equal in a gender sense. What they are really saying is that the guy is most likely to be best so we can’t exclude him. This is a spurious argument at the very least. I ask this: how can you ever know who the best person for the job is when for millennia we have favoured only one gender as leaders and decision-makers? That makes around 6 billion individuals discriminated against and excluded throughout ancient and modern civilisations! I must ask, how has that worked out for the world?

Gender Balance Mechanisms can help redress this bias. Yes, in the first instance some good guys might miss out (and I have personally fallen foul of it a couple of times), but ALL women have been missing out for thousands of years! A GBM is only a tool, the real way to redress the balance is to think differently, to want equality and to reach out and grab it, for only then will equality and fairness be sustainable and not just a passing fad.

Has GBM given us a numpty woman in a job they just couldn’t do? Of course it has, but how many numpties in suits were chosen as best person for the job? Think on how many women have we seen given the chance who, at the outset struggled, but grew into the task and have, ultimately, done very well? That would be most of them, in my estimation.

We must give GBM a chance. Women have the right to this; women have the right to become best person for the job, because many of them are – even if they don’t know it yet. If it is done right then eventually we won’t need GBM anymore and we will truly be choosing the 'best person' for the job.

I say this as a member of the Scottish National Party. I support Scottish independence and during the last referendum we all had the same clarion call, not just the SNP but all the other independence campaigners: “we want a more equal and fair country!” we cried. Fairness and equality were, and are, the watchwords of Scottish independence – to be inclusive and look after the weak and the vulnerable in our society. All this was in the face of rising misogyny, racism and religious intolerance. These are no longer rising; they have reached a peak.

For me the marked difference between both camps was this:
Unionist Better Together Groups: ME, MY PENSION, MY JOB, MY COUNTRY, MY POUND!
Equality is about US/WE, not about ME. You either have equality or you don’t. You either have fairness or you don’t. There is no halfway house, no sort of equality, and no partial fairness. Equality and fairness exist or they don’t.

So I ask my friends who oppose GBMs: is the current way we do things fair and equal for both genders? If you think that it is you must explain to me why there are so many incompetent men in powerful jobs – men who are so wrong for the positions they hold – men who had been chosen “best person for the job” in our current system of selection. It is an emotive argument, but it is the way I see it.

To be fair, things are slightly better for some women in some areas of society, but with a hard won and fragile equality so easily lost in the face of a fast growing misogyny. I think if we want a permanently fair and more equal society I believe we need to choose between WE and ME.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Scotland’s Future: where is the popular debate?

It has been more than 300 years since Scotland lost its autonomy through a small band of self-seeking “rogues” – where no other Scot had a say in the matter. The progeny of these rogues are those who are demanding the SNP hold their referendum now! I believe the argument about whether or not Scotland has a referendum on independence in 2011 is actually irrelevant at this time; as irrelevant as the pockled 1979 referendum on the Scotland Act 1978 which can be dismissed as the farce it was.
Politicians talk as if they have their fingers on the pulse of Scottish opinion; if they do it would be a first. Polls over time on the subject ebb and flow highlighting opinion in flux, therefore, I believe that no generation should decide the fate of their nation on what may be fashionable or simply convenient at the time – that is not to say that they should not ever make such a decision.
In 1707, no-one of power in Scotland cared what the majority of Scots opinions were on the matter and in 2011 the situation remains pretty much the same, public opinion is to be manipulated to whatever end each political party wants – recent European referendums are testimony to that. In Scotland there is a growing belief among some that a referendum will settle the matter of union or independence; that Scots will have made their thoughts and feeling known; that a manufactured short-term debate will convince the unsure one way or the other. As things stand it cannot, for the true feelings and thoughts of Scots cannot be known by such a short debate ending with yea or nay answers to questions which will contain only choices created by small groups of people, and which will be coloured by their personal agendas – these are no choices at all.
Never at any time have we, the Scottish people, been truly asked what it is we want for Scotland, what future we see for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. These are questions we must ask of ourselves and discuss. The broad open questions on the future of Scotland have never really been discussed in a long-term popular debate. Where were the cultural stories in previous referendums in Scotland, Great Britain and in Europe? They were not there, for there is no place for such things in ephemeral political debate, yet they are crucial to the popular decision-making process especially when national and cultural identities are at stake.
There are times when we need to remind ourselves who we are and where we come from especially when making decisions that will affect the future of ourselves, our families, friends and neighbours, and of all who will come after us. Reviewing and re-interpreting our personal and community narratives is vital as it helps us to grow as individuals and as members of our communities.
It is important to understand that our cultural stories, and personal narratives, though they may shape how we think and behave, are not static. We live in a world that is constantly changing and, therefore, we need to revisit them and make honest and critical reviews in order to create important change within ourselves so that we do not surrender to expediency at times of crucial personal or community decision-making.
As individuals we may know what we want for ourselves, but do we truly know what our family, friends or neighbours want and need; if we came to understand what they wanted, and the reasons why, would it affect or change our own view? Until proper debate is held we may never know, but a well-informed populace is anathema to vested, short-term, interest, and that is the major point of this argument. If cultural stories and narratives are missing in major public decision-making, how can the decision come to be correct for the long-term benefit of any community or society?
As far as independence for Scotland is concerned, it appears that there is no absolute desire one way or the other; no huge popular demonstrations of demand for autonomy such as we have seen in other countries. I say referendums should be put aside for now and that we begin a real debate on the future of Scotland; one where all the people of Scotland own the debate and where they set the agenda and, consequently, the questions for any referendum. The debate should be in our homes, schools, offices/workplaces, on the streets and in community halls across the country. This process could take a while, but it has been over 300 years since Scotland was sold off, so we can wait a little longer.
When it is over then we, the Scottish electorate, will be much better placed to decide our own future; to set the agenda for change and not simply to react to choices provided by someone else. The future of our Nation is far too important for it to be finally and irrevocably set by self-serving powers sitting in offices in Edinburgh and London, or by the influence of foreign media moguls.
I am in favour of an independent Scotland, but for the sake of future generations of Scots whatever is decided must be the true settled will of the people, and not simply what was expedient at the time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

If your head buttons up the back don't read this

Here we go again, Tories saving the world by catching benefit frauds. Few would deny that there are those on benefits who do not deserve much of what they get, but organised criminals aside most people even with “extra benefit” still have a relatively poor lifestyle; any job they may qualify for could even reduce that poor quality of life – the system is rotten.

Anyway, that aside we have now been introduced to new headline capturing measures, more business for the private sector. They will be paid by result so the incentive to heap misery on even the perfectly innocent will be great. So all of us who may find ourselves on the dole (and it is coming to many, many thousands of us) you will have these guys to put up with to add to you misery.

“We need to cut the budget”, says prime minister Cameron, “ we need to save £1billion lost to fraudsters”. He then goes on to outline what £1billion could pay for.

First of all quite a lot of that money is lost by mistakes made by civil servants, but it is easy to victimise the vulnerable; it’s what the Tories have always done.

Now, let us ask two questions:

1) Why do we need to slash the national budget by so much money?

2) Why are so many about to lose their jobs?

Well, the hundreds of billions of pounds Britain has had to underwrite due to greedy and fraudulent bankers stealing or losing it is the reason. Now, part of that greed was selling loans to people they knew fine can’t pay for them and then selling those loans on to other banks disguised inside what look like lucrative deals. Now forgive me if I am wrong, but that is fraud, isn’t it? How many investigators were employed to investigate these guys? How many of those greedy fraudulent bankers have been arrested and thrown in jail? Answer: none and eh, none.

Let’s put this in perspective. In relative terms the benefit fraudsters are an insignificant blip in the economy. The greedy fraudulent bankers have caused more devastation to British society than any number of political terrorists – I do not say this lightly.

Aw come on, terrorists kill people. Yes, they do, but go back and read you newspapers over the last two and a half years and put together all those who lives have been devastated by this criminal debacle. Last week a man killed himself and his family in a fit of despair. If you found that your life is destroyed or ended would it matter to you if the person who brought you to that juncture wore fatigues, a kaftan or a suit? I think not. We have spent billions destroying two other countries to "protect" us from the first two, and gave billions of pounds to the suits and allowed them to carry on as before.

So if you find yourself out of a job and try to get a wee bit more so you family don’t starve, Cameron’s Commandos will come and get you. If you bring the country to its knees through greed, fraud or just incompetence the British government will reward you. Mind you, successive British governments, not just the Tories, have been complicit in all of this, but then so have all of us, for we have never demanded that these banking fraudsters be brought to book. Oh well, that's the global economy for you!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Been a strange time

I got into blogging by experimenting with it when a novelist pal of mine asked me to set one up for him. I maintain his website, but he wanted his many readers to have a sort of instant contact with him. I set this one up to try it out and found I actually enjoyed writing again. I have used it to sit and write about things that interest me or have annoyed my – it is my rant page. I was dumbfounded when someone left a comment; there have been others since. I had no idea anyone would ever read what I write; nor do I write for other people, it just seems more worthwhile if the chance exists that someone might. As it is, hardly anyone does read it, but it is pleasant when someone replies.
The day I wrote my last entry I was unemployed and on the dole. The season at Culzean had ended a month before and I had been turned down for a temporary job at Caldeonian University (the same job I had supervised for five years before I left to become a countryside ranger) – yes, I was a wee bit upset! So now I was on the dole (or the "buroo" as it is known in Glasgow) being paid pennies with christmas a few weeks away. Depressed, me? NAW!!! That same day I got a call from ASDA (which Americans will know as Wal-Mart), the local superstore, who offered me a temporary job for christmas at just above the national basic pay rate. Oh well, better than nothing. I need to say here that the folk I worked with there were excellent people and deserved to be managed by better people. I have thought long and hard, but I cannot think of ever working with worse line managers than some of those in ASDA. See, they talk all that corporate crap (we were colleagues not workers) which is meant to make you feel like part of a team and while they talk the talk their actions and attitudes are always very different. I only felt part of a team through the help of my workmates. I worked outside in the car park collecting trolleys. from 3rd December till the middle of March with a few shifts inside on the checkout. For those who live outside Britain, last winter was the longest frozen spell for fifty years and ASDA finally supplied me with an outside jacket the week before I left. Let me be honest: they talk like they care, but they care fuck all for people's wellbeing. If you were unfortunate to work on checkouts 1-through-10 and it was a sunny day you had the sun directly in your eyes for 2-3 hours (even though it was freezing outside we had a lot of those this winter – fire and ice). The reason you had the sun in your eyes is because some arsehole manager though the windows looked better without the blinds and had them removed. We Care? My arse!
The thing that kept me going through the misery that was ASDA was that I knew I had the option to go back to Culzean in the Spring. I also knew I could not spend another winter like that and swore to get a permanent job this year. I am 56 years old and my age was beginning to work against me in the jobs market. I had tried over the last six or seven years to get work with Scottish Natural Heritage (the largest environmental employer in Scotland), but in vain, even though I am well qualified to work there. Last year I made them give me a list of all the positions filled in the previous five years with age and gender of those appointed. It turns out you have little chance of being employed by SNH if you are over 45, and next to no chance if you are over 50. Women outnumber men at SNH 3-2. Funny thing is, the management group at SNH is the exact opposite, go figure!
I like working for the National Trust for Scotland so I applied for the education officer job at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. I had a good interview but didn't ge the job (someone with all sorts of awards got it so I wasn't upset).
I also applied for the same position at Pollok House in Glasgow's Pollok Countryside Park and blow me, I got the job.
So, I am now the Learning Officer for a large Georgian Country House. The challenge is great and I am looking forward to it. I am, though, sorry to have left Culzean. I made some great friends there and it is such a beautiful place to live and work, but I do not need to work at ASDA anymore, yippee!
Of course, working at Pollok House means I am back living at home and I get to sleep in my own bed and wake up with the love of my life next to me, isn't life great? Yes it is!
I will write more on Pollok soon



Friday, November 27, 2009

An Act of Poltical Cowardice

Today’s announcement by Alan Johnson that fellow Scot, Gary McKinnon, a man who suffers from mental health problems, is to be extradited to the USA to face a trial that could send him to prison for 60 years is an act of sheer political cowardice. Brutal murderers in Britain serve less time than that.

I am a socialist who has supported the Labour Party all my life, but I cannot wait to see the back of this shameless bunch. But then, they are not the Labour Party, they are impostors, and shame on us all for allowing them to get away with such a deception. It matters not a jot who follows them, contemporary British politicians are all a bunch of self-serving no-users.

What is it about the USA that has our politicians scrambling for scraps from their table? They keep banging on about this “special relationship" with the US, but why is it every time our sorry bunch of no-hopers deal with the US it feels like we’ve all been screwed with our pants on? This special relationship only works when the yanks want something from us, otherwise, it is no relationship at all. The extradition deal we have with them, for instance, is pretty much a one way street. The US will not extradite an American to Britain without absolute proof of guilt, but they demand we extradite Britons to America merely on suspicion of guilt.

Gary McKinnon was not the only person ever to hack pentagon databases, but he was the only one daft enough to admit it; say what he was looking for and was willing to take responsibility for his actions. The others did not and it would have been difficult for prosecutors to prove guilt, as it would have been for Gary McKinnon if he’d kept his mouth shut. The fact he was daft enough to admit it meant that they will have an easy conviction and will parade him to the American public as an example of how the authorities are winning the war on terror. The only people terrorised in all of this has been McKinnon, and his family.

This whole nasty little saga amounts to acts of cowardice on both sides of the Atlantic. In the real world, McKinnon, a UFO nut, is guilty mainly of being stupid. If America wants to incarcerate stupid British people in their jails I recommend they start with Tony Blair followed by Gordon Brown and every member of the British cabinet since 1997. As it is, Tony BLiar, earns millions of dollars on the American lecture circuit while McKinnon will earn himself a life sentence for being daft but honest.

If McKinnon was tried in Britain, as he should have been, he would have received an appropriate sentence for what he did; decent fellow that he obviously is, he was willing to accept that. Instead, he will be sent to another country, vilified and used as a propaganda tool, and he will receive a prison sentence far beyond the intent of his crime. This is justice American style, and no British politician should ever have been party to it; neither should we as British citizens. it couild have been worse I suppose, because Britain has an extradition treaty with Zimbabwe who like the USA is a category 2 country in this respect – I suppose we should be thankful that McKinnon did not hack Mugbabe's computer, his fate may have been so much different.

All things considered, I am sick to death of craven, greedy, smug politicians treating Britons like fools when it suits them. But then, we continually allow them to do this so maybe we are fools. Maybe we are all to blame for allowing a British citizen to be extradited to another country for a crime he committed in Britain.
It is time we got out of this one-sided relationship with the USA. We can start by telling the yanks where to get off; that if they really want a social, economic and political relationship with Britain they need to actually reciprocate. Then, we should demand that British politicians actually do the job they were elected to do and put British people before political expediency and personal aggrandisement.

Gary McKinnon has my sympathy and support.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sunset at Home Farm

I SET MY CHAIR on the corner of my cottage flat, sit and sip at my final cup of tea of the day. The last of the dog walkers are making their way back to the car park at the visitor centre and heading for home.

The loud and lyrical song of a blackbird perched above his nest in a tree on the cliff edge tells all the others that this is his home and that they cannot come here. The chaffs and the robins become quiet, so too the tits and finches – high above, the occasional ka from a rosy gull heading back to roost on Arran.

As the sun slowly sizzles into Campbeltown Loch, an incandescent glow radiates from clouds high in the troposphere – a cooling breeze whispers through the budding branches of the trees – birds coorie deeper into their nests.

The quietness is soothing, the soft fizz of rippling tide on the shore below the cliff is soft on the ear; my tea is becoming cold, but I will drink it all as I normally do.

From the gloaming a flitter of silver becomes a moth caught in the blush of light from my window. In the wood behind me another blackbird has become raucous – it is likely something threatening is nearby – wood pigeons flap their wings forcefully. I remember a young cat a few days ago walking up the path, it is possible he is after a nocturnal nibble from a nest. Sudden and silent two pipistrelle bats whiz by my head, their masterful aeronautics so low to the ground takes me by surprise. My eyes try to follow them, but lose them against the dark of the wood. I find them once more above the trees silhouetted against the clear and darkening sky. Now there are others up there – hoovering up small insects taken to the night air. There must be a roost nearby, maybe in the loft space above the bookshop behind my cottage. Two more pipistrelles fly around my head and follow the same flight path to the trees; maybe these are the same two as the first? In a similar time span two pipistrelles come again swishing and swooping around the corner, surely the same ones? I watch the bats until it is too dark to see.

The last drops of my tea are sipped, and the air is now cold. I pick up my chair to go inside; a hundred or so yards away, the hoo of the tawny owl – it roosts near the shore above the Gas House. In the deep dark of the night, when I sometimes wake, I can hear it singing its one note song, a sound that softly reassures – everything in its place – sends me back to sleep.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Home Farm to Port Carrick Bay – The Cliff Walk

I SET OUT FROM my lower cottage flat, walk through the wooden gate onto the Castle path in front of the bookshop and follow it round and along the tree-lined path to Robert Adam’s Ruined Arch, the entrance to Culzean Castle. On the way, Chaffinches gush their song to all who will listen as the Robin and Blue Tit fight to be heard – a Blackbird darts to the undergrowth, cocks his head and watches me pass; the Song Thrush loudly aims to confuse. At my feet walking along the path: Campion, Alkanet, Mayflower and some late blooming Daffodils dance in the sun – Daisies, Speedwell and Dandelions make themselves known, but their scents are overpowered by the omni-present Wild Garlic, now a flowering blanket of white.
I arrive at the old Ranger Station, now a sweetie shop, a nice building in the wrong place – too close to the Ruined Arch. The Arch appears to be an older ruin, but it was designed in that manner and though it may seem to some a Folly, it is not. The Ruined Arch is a deliberate Adam design, fashioned for a specific purpose – to suggest to all who viewed it that it was much older than the new buildings he was creating and to lend a sense of history to Culzean Castle – his last, and arguably his finest, work in a long and distinguished career. The Arch also gave the Kennedy family, at the time headed by David, the 10th Earl of Cassillis, the look of “old money”. It was a great idea and fools people even today.
Culzean Castle is not actually a castle at all, it is a beautiful example of a Georgian Castilian mansion, built of Kirkoswald stone, and incorporating the remnants of the tower-house which had stood on the site for over 200 years before it – itself built of sandstone from nearby Segganwell. Adam’s design of Culzean Castle and its surrounding woodland and gardens is a tour de force. Planned and built in the last ten years of his life, Adam did not live to see its completion, but he knew his vision was manifest.
Passing over the serpentine entrance, designed so that visitors would get their first real view of the castle through the side window of their carriage (a sudden and inspiring sight), I come to the entrance to the Fountain Garden once a deep gully between the hill and the basalt outcrop on which the original tower-house was situated. Adam had the gully filled in to create the garden which is still well below the castle. Descending the stairs I come to the terrace above the lawn which has a subtropical feel to it with palms and exotic flowers. Looking down from the terrace, the fountain inhabits the very centre of the garden lawn – once fed by the fire-pond above the deer park, it is now plumbed to the watermain. Descending onto the lowest level I walk past the glass house that is the Orangery and out through the portal to the West Green, a simple lawn area, and on towards the West Green Battery. The Battery has nine cannon behind earth fortifications and was built in the early 19th century by the 12th Earl who was fearful that Napoleon might invade Britain through Scotland. The views across the Clyde from this point are spectacular.
Walking along the path from the Battery I look down on Dolphin House with its huge Tipi tent on the lawn. This building which was once the laundry, became derelict and was restored in the 1940s as a dwelling house, is now an outdoor centre mainly for young people. I leave Dolphin House behind and walk on along the path now enveloped in the branches of Sycamore and Beech, hardies planted to shelter the park from the oceanic elements of salt and wind. The Snowdrops which earlier carpeted these woodland floors are a faint memory, and the Daffodils and Dog Violets which replaced them are now also beginning to fade, giving way to Lady’s Smock/Cuckoo Flower, Cowslip, Bluebells, Campion, and Green Alkanet.

The deciduous trees have begun pulling on their crochet’d sun-hats and the paths are now becoming more shaded, dappled light dances from leaf to petal; photons absorbed into chlorophyll, becoming sucrose to feed insects and the element-fixing bacteria in the ground and on the roots of the trees surrounding me. I pass the Powder House on my right. There is a nice pathway to it, but I am not going there, I head for the next path which, turning right, will take me along the cliff.
The Finches and Tits are in good voice. The Chiff Chaff’s monotonous song is out-competed by the Great Tit’s squeaky wheelbarrow call. The Willow Warbler’s pretty, but slightly subdued, song echoes through the trees. Further away, a Treecreeper calls out, warning of danger – somewhere, deep in the wood, a cuckoo.
I am now on the Cliff Path with views north to Bute and Argyll. Arran and Kintyre rise out of the sea to the west and south where, I am told, on very clear days you can see Ireland beyond the imposing basalt rock that is Ailsa Craig. A short way along this path, before turning south, I stop at an outcrop on top of the cliff. A chaffinch above me calls out: "pink, pink", to warn others that I am around. I look back towards the castle; the sky is becoming leaden; reaching down it begins to swallow Arran. The sea is a herd of white tailed, slate-grey, mares galloping landwards, carrying gifts for a grumpy old shore – the rock pools below the castle will soon be seething and teaming again with life in all its beauty and savagery.
Above me the sky remains clear and blue as I turn to go on. Suddenly, there among the Bluebells next to the path is a nicely carved bench (though it is now rotting slightly); a memorial to “Rocky” – Lou’s lost love. I have no idea who Rocky was, but he was younger than me when he died – at my age it is sobering when those younger pass away. Rocky must have been a Pink Floyd fan because his epitaph signifies that he has gone: “…to the great gig in the sky”. He obviously enjoyed the view from this spot where the bench now sits. I think fancifully of a fellow rocker reclining here on a summer’s evening sooking on a spliff, earplugs in and listening to … ah yes … Echoes, while watching the sun slip to bed behind Arran. I salute a fellow Floydy (shine on you crazy diamond!) and move on.
The path twists and undulates on its way towards Port Carrick. The monotonous green at the path edge is broken by yellow leopard’s bane and cowslip, the cerise of Campion blazes the trail. On the left the woodland floor shimmers in a blue, or more correctly purple, haze as the Bluebells dance on the wisp of a breeze. Below me, to the right, on the rocky shore the Cormorants stand embracing the incoming tide. Two Swans take off with an awkward grace towards Maidens, heading for home in a looping flight which will bring them back to Swan Pond just over the hill from where I stand – so too the Shell Ducks, though, with a more direct flightpath. The Gulls and Fulmars remain, bouncing on the air like paper in the wind. Suddenly, among the white flashes, black as polished mudstone, Raven hunts a juicy morsel.
Further on the path edges a gully which runs out from the cliff to the sea. There is another smaller path which goes a short way out to the right from where I look down into the gully. I can see the Otter trail running from beneath the rock face to the shore. You need to be here late in the evening or very early in the morning to see the otters come down to the sea to hunt and play. I walk back to the main path and head onwards.
Soon after leaving the “otter” path, the main path rises then turns left and runs downhill. At the bottom of the hill the pathway opens out on to Swan Pond. Turning left would take me to the kiosk and aviary (which is now empty). I turn right back along the path towards the stepped boardwalk down to Port Carrick beach. Above me on another pathway is the refurbished Pagoda which used to, but no longer, house apes. Arriving above Port Carrick, at the top of the steps, the path continues on to the conifer woodland and then down on to Maidens Beach. My destination is Carrick so I descend the steps onto a small, but beautiful, sandy strip. The beach is approximately a hundred metres long, and sits between two rocky outcrops. It is arguably the prettiest beach in all of Ayrshire.

The sky above me is still blue though the distant clouds have now devoured Arran completely. The grey sea rumbles onto the sand as I stumble off the wooden steps on the landward side of the beach. I sit on the bottom step, open my bag, extract my lunch and relax.
Overhead, a gull lets out an excited cry – keee-yah, keee-yah, keee-yah!
I find it difficult to disagree.