March 27, 2011

Surveillance cameras in West Lothian school toilets? You just know that was dreamt up by a group of beardy blokes with a lot of pens in their top pockets.

Some of the head teachers said the cameras deterred violent behaviour, vandalism and smoking, and gave the children an increased sense of security. Hang on a moment, cameras deter nothing. They simply help identify the culprit after the event – if they happened to do what they did in an area covered by the lens.

The cameras aren’t protecting your kids, it’s just identifying who did what to whom once it’s all over. And, anyway, preventing unacceptable behaviour is the job of teaching staff and prefects, not the cameras.

When I was at school there was a rota of regular patrols by everybody from the headmaster to the janitor. They didn’t just sit quaffing coffee and sticky buns in the staffroom. They did their job and would glide silently around the corridors, quadrangle and toilet areas – you never knew where or when one of them would creep up behind you. A camera can’t do that.

And as for smoking; a teacher sniffing the air would soon be alerted to the fact that somebody nearby was having a puff on a Woodbine. A camera can’t do that either.

But not to worry; the cameras will only be pointing at the sink area, right? But what right-minded thug is going to give somebody a slap there? Who wants to vandalise a tap? And what tobacco addict would use the washbasin as an ashtray? All that goes on in the cubicle area – where we are assured the cameras won’t be pointing. Yet.

The executive councillor for education said, and I quote: (the cameras) “…are popular with the majority of pupils.” Popular? Hands up all those who believe for one minute that the majority of youngsters are happy to be filmed in the toilets. Must have been an interesting, in-depth survey, that one.

But here’s the fun part. When the instigators of this lazy lunacy came up with the idea, did they not research what had happened in other schools? At Lipsom School in Plymouth the cameras were taken out following “a furious protest from parents” in which they kept their kids away from school, and hundreds of the youngsters signed a petition.

Another school in Norwich found themselves the subject of a BBC radio enquiry. Grace Academy in Birmingham ended up trying to defend their thinking on Sky News for the same thing.

Even the then education secretary was brought into the fight when parents at Westhoughton High, near Bolton, discovered the school had CCTV cameras in the toilets. What’s more, over half the members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) admit the cameras were not just used to deter antisocial behaviour, but were used to monitor students.

So, if we tolerate this, where will it all end? Well, in 2007 it was revealed that schools had fingerprinted thousands of primary school children without their parent’s consent. The Department for Children, Schools and Families ruled that schools need not obtain consent from parents should they wish to obtain and store biometric data from children. Bet you didn’t know that.

Equally worrying, not happy with CCTV in just the toilets, police were called to a school in Salford when parents discovered that children had been filmed changing into their PE kit. The police seized the film after having to negotiate with the school.

CCTV cameras in children’s toilets? Does that, in any way SOUND right to you? No, the solution is simple. Go back to the old system where the teachers get off their backsides and take regular forays around their school to keep an eye on what’s going on.

Cheaper, too, I would wager.

Drew McAdam



March 21, 2011


I believe in angels… There, I said it. In fact much of the time I wear a little angel pendant as a reminder.

Now, believe it or not, you can go on a “Guardian Angel Retreat” at a famous, swanky hotel. The claim is that angels are all around us and can help with health, relationships, protection and abundance… angels help us be greedy and gather wealth?

Anyway, at this retreat you can meet your guardian angel and be told what their name is. How embarrassing if your angel turns out to be something like “Alec” or “Boab”.

 You can receive angel colour healing, learn how to get messages using angel oracle cards – whatever they are – and receive personal channelled messages. You can also experience “Guardian Angel Attunement”. Oh, and you even get a complimentary crystal and magazine.

Wouzah! What a bargain at only – get this – almost £500.

Okay, so it’s not my job to interfere with the beliefs of others. If you have a spare wad of cash, and too much time on your hands, then maybe it’s for you. But let me tell you this: there really are angels all around us. But I’m not talking of the winged beings in white aprons; no, I’m talking about real angels.

These are individuals who give up their time to care for the elderly, the sick and the vulnerable with care and compassion. These are the caring doctors and nurses. These are the people who work in counter-terrorism agencies and put their own lives on the line to protect us and keep us safe.

Lifeboatmen, Firemen, policemen, ambulance drivers, mountain rescue teams; when your life is in peril, you call for an angel. The angels I’m talking about are the organ donors and blood donors.

People who protect the children. People who protect the animals. People who protect the environment. And these angels do it because they feel moved to do it. Not for reward in terms of finance or praise. They do it because they are compelled to do it.

The original meaning of the word angel is “messenger”. Just think, how many people in your life have brought you a message of comfort when you needed it most? A message of hope when you were at your lowest? How many people have said exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment and made a huge difference in your life?

Yes, angels are all around us. One might be sitting next to you on the bus, or standing in the same queue at the supermarket. You might even be an angel yourself.

The angel is the perfect motif, reminding us to carry out random acts of kindness.

Like I said: I believe in angels. I know because I’ve met a few… and not at some posh hotel.

Drew McAdam


March 12, 2011


Funny how fashions change. When I was young it was platform shoes and ridiculously flared trousers that caught in the car door every time you shut it. (Sometimes you didn’t notice till you tried to step on the brake pedal – never a good thing.)

I still remember the first time I saw a Punk dressed in full regalia. The bondage trousers, boots, paint-daubed jacket, safety pins and a multi-coloured Mohican that looked like a dead parrot on his head.

And then the punks faded away to start families and find jobs in offices.

But the other evening I fell into conversation with a young man who looked as though he had just pogoed out of a Sex Pistols concert. It wasn’t something I expected to come across ever again. He looked as though he had travelled from thirty years in the past, his regalia authentic in every respect.

Now, you don’t really expect to get much sense out of somebody dressed like that. But, I tell you, his knowledge of the Seventies New Wave music scene was encyclopaedic. He was passionate about bands such as The Stranglers, the Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers and The Jam – were they, he wondered, more Mod than Punk? I don’t know – but he did, and backed up his point of view with a well-thought out line of reasoning.

He knew all about associated music styles such as Ska, now-defunct record labels, producers and writers. He also knew all about – not just the music – but the bands. And not just the bands, but the individual musicians; who played what and which band members were replaced by whom. It was remarkable. He knew far more than I did – and I lived through that era.

Punks used to be a social group you would dive behind a hedge to avoid. But this young fellow differed in a few respects. He was impeccably polite, charming, and is in the process of organising a charity event.

He asked if I would be interested in helping out… How could I refuse?

As he wandered off into the night I saw the slogan “Punk’s Not Dead” daubed across the back of his jacket. Well, with his knowledge and passion in a whole culture like that, he’s probably right – despite the excess of no-talent sing-along-to-backing tapes music that’s so prevalent today.

 Now, where did I put my razor blade earring?

Drew McAdam


March 6, 2011


Community spirit is dead, right? Everybody knows it.

Sure, there are times when small communities within West Lothian come together, like Gala Days and… eh, that’s about it. A recent survey by the Department of Communities and Local Government revealed that community spirit is dying out, with around a third of people saying neighbours do not respect each other.

We are all more mobile than a few years ago. There is more reliance on the motor car, and the changing nature of work has had an impact, all of which has killed off community spirit – according to the survey.

Proof positive. Case closed.

But that may not be the case; the survey could be wrong. And that was proved beyond all doubt recently by one small West Lothian village.

I can’t remember the lat time I was in a pub. But I took a notion last Friday and called in at my local. It was deserted. There was a singer in one corner performing to an audience that consisted of around five people, including the proprietors and the bar staff.

The atmosphere was gloomy; it perfectly illustrated the demise of community spirit. Or so I thought. But, no. I discovered that there had been a death; a young child of only a few weeks. And around the same time, a young man from the same village had been killed in a car crash.

As a result, the village residents felt this was not an appropriate time to go out seeking entertainment. It was a community in mourning. With one mind, they demonstrated empathy and sympathy with the families that had suffered such crushing losses.

Sure, I felt sorry for the entertainer, doing his best to create a party atmosphere to a non-audience. But, honestly? I had a new-found pride in the “family” that is my community, and their kinship with some of their own who are suffering terribly.

The Government statistics may suggest that community spirit is finished. But there is one village in this county that has demonstrated it has a long way to go yet.

And I bet it’s just one of many communities dotted across this county.

Drew McAdam