Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Nineteen Eighty-Four at 70

1984 has come and gone with little in the way of Big Brother (although I suppose that depends on whom you ask), but George Orwell’s novel is still a key component of education and culture.

A point made by this stencilled sign I spotted stapled to a wooden pole not very long ago.



I’m not sure how those I’ll refer to as normal/ordinary people view the novel, but I can’t ignore it as it was one of ‘set texts’ I had to read and study in detail during the years of my secondary education, so it’s inevitably engraved in my memory.

One aspect I remember wondering about was if I would live long enough to see 1984 (which was a bit silly in some respects, as it wasn’t that far in my future, but kids don’t have much perception of time).

Another was my growing knowledge of electronics around the same time, when I concluded (rightly at the time, wrongly in the future) that the level of surveillance was, if not impossible, at least not practical. While I suppose a wholly dystopian state could have ordered and implemented it, the technology of the time would have seen the world immersed in a sea of connection wires (for all the cameras and microphones).

If you’re unfamiliar with communication wiring of the past (something almost invisible today), just look at this telephone wiring (and this is only 5,000 lines):

5000 telephone lines in Stockholm

5000 telephone lines in Stockholm

See more examples like this in the source: Photos from the Days When Thousands of Cables Crowded the Skies

They’re still there today, but in a different form since they are more likely to be carrying many (digital) signals: Bucharest: Cables

There would have been another problem – the power needed to run all that hardware, which would have been huge using the technology of the time (mostly valve based, transistors were still to become widely used). There would have been so many power station, and all coal powered, that we’d have been immersed in constant smog – and climate change would have arrived with a vengeance.

In fact, there would probably have been such a great demand for manufacturing the hardware, building power stations, installing the wiring, and mining the coal, that the wars described in the novel couldn’t have happened as everyone would have been too busy installing the surveillance system.

Of course, the arrival of the transistor, the death of the valve, and birth of the Internet around 1970 (but spawned just after the novel was published) meant that the technology to permit billions of point-to-point connections could be made was available, and just needed some software, and hardware, to be developed.

This seems to be the first British edition cover I found online.

nineteen eighty-four First British Edition Secker and Warburg 1949

nineteen eighty-four First British Edition Secker and Warburg 1949

It’s a bit of a long read, but this article saves me from rambling on further, as its consideration of the novel as a warning, rather than the more usual prophecy, makes a lot more sense.

Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House in January 2017 created, among other things, a golden opportunity for enterprising protesters. One designer created a version of the Trump campaign’s red baseball cap, replacing his slogan “Make America Great Again” with “Make Orwell Fiction Again”.

It’s a good, dark joke but it raises the question of whether Nineteen Eighty-Four, which turns 70 this weekend, was really fiction in the first place.

George Orwell first outlined his idea for a novel about the future, originally called “The Last Man in Europe”, around the end of 1943, and it would be another five years before he typed the final words. In the intervening period, he road-tested many of the book’s most important ideas, images and phrases in hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers.

In fact, virtually everything he wrote as a journalist during that time had some relevance to his novel. By 1948, he was so determined to finish the book that he refused to retreat to a sanatorium to seek sorely needed treatment for his tuberculosis, a decision which probably doomed his chances of recovery.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on 8 June 1949, to instant acclaim and alarm. Its author died less than eight months later at the age of 46. For Orwell, the book was nothing less than an obsession.

Orwell would not have gone to such punishing lengths to finish Nineteen Eighty-Four if it had been merely fiction. From the very start, it was his way of making sense of the totalitarian regimes that were tormenting Europe: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

How did these tyrannies take root and could something similar – or even worse – emerge elsewhere, in countries that assumed their institutions and liberties were safe?

It was the first dystopian novel written with the full knowledge that dystopia was real. The phrases that Orwell invented were brilliantly, unforgettably new – Big Brother, doublethink, Newspeak, the Thought Police – but they were all satirical exaggerations of existing totalitarianism.

Readers behind the Iron Curtain – where the book was banned and possession of a smuggled copy could lead to a prison sentence – certainly didn’t categorise it as fiction. They found that Orwell’s concepts were all too relevant to their own restricted lives.

Nineteen Eighty-Four at 70: Orwell’s novel wasn’t a prophecy, it was a warning and a reminder

Interestingly, in 1984…

Apple advertised what they didn’t want to become, but they did.

Since the above didn’t actually include the full Apple commercial…

NOTE: the Apple 1984 piece starts at 0:09 – we wanted to show it in context of Super Bowl XVIII. This video was recorded on our CEO’s parents’ VCR on January 22, 1984, the 30th anniversary of Apple’s iconic MacIntosh 1984 ad, directed by Ridley Scott, and aired during Super Bowl XVIII. Midway through the 3rd quarter, the broadcast cut to a commercial, the screen momentarily went dark, and what aired next became part of marketing and tech history.


More articles appeared later, and I liked this short review of how the novel has different relevancies at different times.

Why 1984 still matters

I’ll include the embedded video link from the BBC, but WordPress is now unreliable as regards playing embeds. Some days it like them, some days it doesn’t.

If there’s no embedded video below, then you can assume it was there when I wrote and reviewed this update, but then disappeared when I hit the ‘Publish’ button – in which case, Thanks a Lot, WordPress!

06/06/2019 Posted by | Civilian, Cold War, photography, Surveillance, World War II | , , | Leave a comment

Another coincidence – just a few doors away from St Simon’s in Partick

I try to avoid the ‘Spooky Coincidence’ theme I seem to attract, but this one deserves a mention, if only to add to the calls for the dross responsible to be ‘Dropped in it’.

Reading the report about the vandalism carried out within St Simon’s church in Partick, it was depressing to note I was just a few doors away from the church when the vandalism took place, as I’d spent a while rummaging around in the goodies in the Salvation Army’s Dumbarton Road shop.

I even picked up a little bargain too, a pair of brand-new tyres (half price) for a ‘beater bike’ I’m slowly putting together from parts. I might even finish it one day.

But the subject is the attack that tool place on the church, which I have to confess I was unaware, and was surprised not to have come across references to, as it is known as ‘The Polish Church’, due to connection with Polish person who stayed nearby during World War II.

Polish services are still held there today.

Archdiocese condemns ‘shameful’ attack on Catholic church

St Simon's vandalism

30/04/2019 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

Paying attention… can bring surprises

After yesterday’s post on paying attention, particularly in places where you may think you have been doing so (but really haven’t), I recalled grabbing a chance pic a few days ago, taken as I noticed something I had not been aware of before, despite looking closely at the source during 2018.

In yesterday’s post I mentioned combing the ‘new’ Kelvingrove when it reopened after refurbishment in 2006, and had many addition spaces opened up which allowed a number of small displays to be added in corners. I’ve mentioned a few of them, including The Lafaruk Madonna in ‘How many Italian Chapels‘, which I won’t repeat here. I also mention it briefly in the Wiki, here: Italian Chapel Orkney

Back at the time I wrote those pieces, I was surprised not to have any pics of the triptych itself.

Today, I have no idea if I was simply not paying attention, diverted, too busy thinking about the number of Italian chapels I had come across, and failed to notice the triptych on the wall adjacent to the pics I took telling the story behind the chapel built at Lafaruk.

Or if it was not on display at the time. A possibility if it was yet to be installed, or removed for maintenance.

The one thing I do remember was thinking it was odd, and wonder if I really just didn’t see something that was in plain sight.

I really don’t know, but I did grab the shot below to remind me the paintings are there, and are very obvious, being mounted on the wall facing the visitor as they approach the small side room where this display appears.

They really CAN’T be missed.

Lafaruk chapel religious paintings

Lafaruk chapel religious paintings

I’ve made a mental note to go back for a proper pic, with the low light camera. The lighting is low and varied in this room (compare the mushy sides to the better lit centre), and the walls give a colour cast that had to be corrected. Even so, I’m surprised at how well the compact did – even if I didn’t notice that nasty reflection!

07/04/2019 Posted by | World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

Nice follow-up to Rose Street Foundry mural (mosaic) story from 2013

I first came across this mosaic (inaccurately referred to as a mural back then) when looking at some info relating to PLUTO, World War II’s famous ‘pipeline under the ocean’ which allowed fuel to be pumped across the Channel from England to France to support D-Day invasion operations.

Surprising connection to PLUTO revealed in Inverness

What I didn’t spot in the intervening years was any mention of a project to restore those mosaics, which were noted to be decaying in the original post.

Mosaics returned to former Inverness foundry building

That project is now complete.

A set of mosaics celebrating Inverness’ industrial past have been reinstalled following restoration work.

The panels are now back in place at Rose Street Foundry, also known as AI Welders, in Academy Street.

Inverness Townscape Heritage Project has been leading the efforts to revamp the vacant site.

Owner Cairngorm Taverns Limited was awarded a grant of £960,000 by the project last year to bring the building back into use.

Piece of history restored as mosaics return to foundry



29/03/2019 Posted by | Transport, World War II | , , | Leave a comment

Today is Smoke and Mirrors Day

29 March is Smoke and Mirrors Day.

Deceit, deception, illusion, even fraudulent cunning and those we’d better not mention, plus all other types of trickery are celebrated on Smoke And Mirrors Day.

The phrase “It’s all smoke and mirrors” refers to the way magicians use distraction to make sure their audience fails to see what’s really going on. The more complex the illusion, the more successful the magician.

The technique played its part in World War II, with many examples, the simplest being inflatable vehicles. A Boeing aircraft factory in America was concealed beneath a decoy town laid over the top, the D-Day invasion was hidden behind false radio messages from a few trucks driving around (including some in Scotland, to keep the enemy from discounting the west coast as an invasion departure point), the forces to be deployed were transported under cover so the build-up would not be observed, and in more technical efforts CDL (canal defence lights) were tanks fitted with strobe lights operating around 6 Hz which could confuse enemy observers. Famous magician Jasper Maskelyne tested a system of rotating mirrors and lights intended to be deployed to protect the Suez Canal, but it seems that only a prototype was ever completed, and it was not used. Most of these can be found with more detailed accounts given online.

But it’s not just magicians that have learned and perfected this art, as we see with ‘legalese’’ an incredibly convoluted language that lawyers use to make sure no-one but them understands what’s going on.

It’s nice to see there are now those who oppose that practice, and just use plain English to say what they mean, so the client (and everyone) can understand what’s happening.

Some say… it’s even been rumoured that politicians do the same.

Smoke and Mirrors

One of my favourite examples of Smoke and Mirrors can be seen in the vintage TV series – Mission: Impossible, which ran from 1966 to 1973.

Trying to pick just one? Nope.

This montage is a better reminder.

29/03/2019 Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , | Leave a comment

Wojtek surprises still keep turning up

I still find mentions of Wojtek the bear come as something of a surprise, and wish I had got around to writing about his story before he became so well known.

Like the Great Polish Map of Scotland, his story was one I came across in the early days of the Internet, while digging around for Polish history in Scotland arising from the events f World War II.

With so little to go on initially (the Great Map was a ruin and almost lost when I first learnt of its existence – now it has been fully restored), these were things I just kept collecting little pieces of info about, intending to add Wiki pages once I knew enough about them to make them worthwhile. But, events overtook me, and while I was ambling along, the ‘real world’ passed me by and they became mainstream and well-known stories, with Wojtek gaining statues in Edinburgh (and Duns) and Poland.

So, there’s not really much need, or point, in my going over the scant details I once dug up as the story of both of these subject has now been well covered in the media, and by people with access to more information than I ever managed to find.

However, that doesn’t mean new or less well known stories aren’t still to be found, as in this example of a Polish war veteran’s memories.

When Polish veteran Ludwik Jaszczur paid his respects to his wartime comrade Jozef Urbanski’s widow Zofia Urbanska at his funeral 40 years ago, little did he know it would be the next chapter in a remarkable life.

The pair, grieving from the death of a true friend and husband, found solace in each other, and vowed to carry on the late Jozef Urbanski’s legacy with their leather goods shop on Lauriston Street.

Now, at 92 years of age, Mr Jaszczur has finally decided to call it a day, and close up the shop for good.

Speaking to the Evening News, Ludwik recounted a life that involved capture at the hands of the Nazis while still a child, a daring escape, and an unlikely lifelong friendship with Wojtek, the bear whom he fought beside in the hellhole of Monte Cassino and visited regularly in Edinburgh Zoo.

Wojtek the bear was adopted by a group of Polish soldiers who had recently been released from Siberian Gulags.

The soldiers found the allegedly orphaned bear in Iran on their way to the Middle East from Siberia.

They quickly formed a close bond with the bear, which was said to behave more like a dog or a small child than a wild animal, and Wojtek eventually become the mascot of the Polish II Corps 22nd Artillery.

The bear joined the soldiers as they campaigned alongside allied forces in Iraq and Egypt and on to Italy where he carried artillery shells from supply vehicles to the company artillery positions during the 1944 Battle of Monte Cassino.

Wojtek was officially made a Polish soldier, complete with his own papers when he needed to board the boat to get to Italy, made only possible by properly enlisting him and giving him a pay book.

Wojtek was said to enjoy beer and cigarettes and received double rations due to his size of around 30 stone.

After the end of hostilities Wojtek was demobbed to Winfield Camp for displaced soldiers in Berwickshire alongside the rest of his unit and was moved to Edinburgh Zoo where he lived until his death in 1963.

Polish war veteran and friend of Wojtek the bear shares his incredible life story

The Princes Street statue, as seen the day after it was unveiled back in 2015.

Wojtek Statue Princes Street MJ Richardson

Wojtek Statue Princes Street MJ Richardson

The relief behind shows a number of scenes where Wojtek is seen with the Polish troops he helped, by carrying shells.

25/03/2019 Posted by | military, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

Green Loony – Class: Expert – MSP Ross Greer

Ridiculous spouting from an insignificant little child who is so far removed from World War II he has no idea what he is talking about.

He’s probably come up this as a ‘Great Idea’ (or ‘Cunning Plan’) to get his ‘Five Minutes of Fame’ in the hope of lots of free publicity and hike in his career.

I’d like to read his political career was over soon, but I suspect we are too tolerant nowadays.

Green MSP Ross Greer has repeated his controversial claim that Sir Winston Churchill was a “white supremacist” and a “mass murderer.”

He told the BBC’s Politics Live that his view was indisputable and that “history records this”.

Mr Greer initially made the comment in response to a Conservative tweet on the anniversary of Churchill’s death.

Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly branded it the “most superficial and inaccurate assessment”.

The 24-year-old was among a number of people who questioned Churchill’s reputation in reply to a Tory tweet last week commemorating the wartime leader’s death in 1965.

The post described Churchill as a man regarded by many as the “greatest Briton to have ever lived”.

MSP Ross Greer brands Churchill ‘mass murderer’

And, NO, I don’t think Churchill was perfect, but that’s no reason for this sort of behaviour.

Why is that every time I raise some sort of daft story involving an MSP – they’re Green MSPs?

Are they really all so desparate to get publicity?

28/01/2019 Posted by | World War II | | Leave a comment

Intriguing report of World War II graffiti/sign found during building works

This sort of stuff has been found before, but more usually in building that were used for some war related purpose during World War II, if they had perhaps been requisitioned.

There’s no mention of anything like that in the story.

The writing was uncovered when wall panelling was removed, and offers advice on remaining safe during an air raid, reading…

“In the event of an air raid stay where you are, steps have been made to make this place safe from splinters and glass.”

There’s no hint at what the drawings represent, but they look a bit like workmen, so might have been done by the workers putting up the panelling referred to, and passed some time during a break.

World War II sketches like this tended to parody Hitler, or his more well-known and recognisable deputies, if they were being done by military personnel posted to an active building.

Glasgow nightclub uncovers fascinating piece of World War II history behind walls

Nice that it was noticed, caught, and recorded before being lost to the renovations.

Image: The Garage / facebook

Image: The Garage / facebook

(Sorry for mentioning facecrook, but I have to acknowledge the pic source.)

16/01/2019 Posted by | World War II | | Leave a comment

Skylark IX – The Little Ship that survived will become a floating museum on the Clyde

It’s a pity the place I had some long discussion over various wartime relics found in Scotland isn’t really available now, since the original find and recovery of this ‘Little Ship’ was quite extended.

The good news is that it is to be restored and turned into a floating museum.

It had been used for cruises on Loch Lomond, for something like 30 years, but eventually fell into disrepair, and sank.

A few years ago, it was raised by the Royal Navy after a campaign to rescue/recover it, by veterans supporting the Skylark IX Recovery Trust, and was moved to the Scottish Maritime Museum, Irvine.

A Dunkirk Little Ship, which rescued 600 Allied troops during World War Two, is to be restored and turned into a floating museum on the River Clyde.

Skylark IX will be saved thanks to £404,000 of funding from The National Lottery.

The work will be carried out by a specialist boatbuilding team working with recovering drug addicts.

The boat, built as a passenger cruiser in 1927, become part of the Dunkirk Little Ships fleet of 850 boats.

Dunkirk Little Ship to be floating museum on River Clyde

See also:

The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships

As seen back in 2012. Not long after being raised

Skylark IX

Skylark IX

06/12/2018 Posted by | Maritime, Transport, World War II | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scottish pilot’s secret Spitfire found in peat bog

A remarkable story regarding one of the ‘Pink Spitfires’ of the PRU (Photographic Reconnaissance Unit), and its Scottish pilot, appeared in the news.

The remains of a Spitfire shot down while on a mission to photograph the WW2 German battleship Tirpitz have been recovered from a Norwegian peat bog.

Auchterarder-born pilot, Flt Lt Alastair “Sandy” Gunn, had flown the aircraft out of RAF Wick in Caithness on 5 March 1942.

Gunn was captured, interrogated, imprisoned and later executed after the Stalag Luft III “Great Escape”.

His plane, Spitfire AA810, is to be restored and flown again.

Finding the aircraft, which crashed on a mountainside near the village of Surnadal, south west of Trondheim, has involved months of research and days of painstaking recovery work.

Mr Hoskins paid tribute to Flt Lt Gunn, who was 22 and had flown 32 operational missions when was shot down.

He said the Scot, along with other pilots of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, faced huge odds on their missions from Scotland to Norway to find and photograph the Tirpitz.

The pilots chances of survival were extremely low, flying in aircraft stripped of guns and armour to make them lighter and also to carry additional fuel.

Mr Hoskins said: “The pilots’ only defence was evade and escape using the speed and agility of the aircraft.

Scot’s secret mission Spitfire found in Norwegian peat bog

I learned of the PRU many years ago, when looking for old aerial images at the National Museum of Scotland (before Google Earth!).

Quite a unit, as noted the aircraft were unarmed and lightened, and pics they came back with from sorties sometimes show them being chased by enemy aircraft, with following weapons fire splashing into the sea behind them.

Sadly, after being shot down and captured:

The pilot, who refused to give details of his missions, was later moved to Stalag Luft III in Poland and was a key figure in the prisoner of wars’ escape tunnel digging.

Flt Lt Gunn was among those to escape the camp, but he was captured after two days on the run and shot. He was 24.

The recovery of the aircraft will also feature in BBC Four’s Digging for Britain.

This image of a PRU aircraft shows the light colour (intended to aid concealment against the sky) and lack of weapons.

PRU Spitfire

PRU Spitfire

24/11/2018 Posted by | military, photography, Surveillance, Transport, World War II | , , | 1 Comment

I took an unusual pic of Glasgow’s Spitfire – then there was a coincidence!

Time for yet another spooky coincidence – they really do follow me around.

During one of my recent visits to Kelvingrove, I happened to look up as I walked through the gallery where Glasgow’s Spitfire (LA198) hangs from the roof. Like most, I probably spend more time looking at this exhibit from the upper gallery, where you are closer to, and looking down on the aircraft from slightly above.

It’s possibly a little less noticeable from the gallery below, as the colouring of its underside tends to blend with the roof space, I think.

But I noticed it this time, mainly because you get a better feel for just how close the fit of the wingspan is within the width of the gallery – it would not have taken a lot to make it just to wide to fit, and they’d have to have modelled it after version with the chopped wing tips! There really was such a mod, which altered the handling and stability.

The view from below is interesting, as the aircraft is posed with its undercarriage lowered.

I find there’s always a slightly disconcerting aspect to such views, from below – in war, if you were ‘the enemy’ and saw that view, you were in the wrong place. That thought first occurred to me at the opening of Cumbernauld Airport, marked by the arrival of a Harrier, which we were able to watch during its whole approach run, For some reason, as I watched it, I started thinking “If this approach was for real, I’d be dead soon, and probably couldn’t do anything about it, not against a Harrier”.

Forget that.

I took this shot specifically to catch that wing tip clearance.

It’s not really that close, but it’s still close.

Spitfire Wing tip clearance

Spitfire Wing tip clearance

So, where’s the coincidence?


I’ve gone back to having an automatic link to new Atlas Obscura entries, and just after I took this pic, what was featured in the atlas?


Glasgow’s Spitfire (LA198)

And, if you check the link, you’ll find they have some pics from below too!

I deliberately avoided the frontal view (for the reason given above), but they got a really good one.

I think I may have to go back and recreate that one soon.

19/11/2018 Posted by | Aviation, military, photography, Transport, World War II | , | Leave a comment

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