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



February 28, 2011


West Calder is not a big place. You can walk the length of it in about three minutes. Which is exactly what I did recently. And by the time I reached the far end of the street I was struck by the fact that it’s a place obsessed by food.

Whatever you want in the way of grub you can get easily and quickly in the small town main street. And I don’t just mean groceries. I’m talking about takeaway outlets, restaurants, cafes, and pubs that serve full meals and snacks.

I was so astonished by the overwhelming number of food outlets that I walked back the way I had come and started counting. In the main Street, there are 24 shops, including florists and an ironmonger. There’s one bank and one Post Office.

But from the moment you enter the main street, there is a restaurant that serves full meals, and a pub that serves snacks. A little way on you’ll come across a chippy and a row of restaurants including Italian, Chinese and Indian – you can step straight from one to the other without getting wet on a rainy evening.

A little further on there’s another pub that can provide lunches, suppers and snacks. Then there are two cafes, one directly across the road from the other, before you reach another Chinese takeaway and an outlet that does everything from pizza to burgers and kebabs.

Within burger-throwing distance there’s another pub that supplies meals. And if you leave the town by train, you’ll find another Chinese restaurant at the station.

Wow! For the mathematicians amongst you, that’s over 50% of the outlets providing food in one form or another. And that’s not including a couple of pubs that don’t advertise the fact they offer food… but I bet they do. Oh, and a couple of the retail outlets sell sandwiches, but we won’t include them.

Surely, this has to be some sort of record? One short main street, in a small town, and you can buy meals, snacks and takeaway from more than half of them.

Right, I’m off for something to eat.

Drew McAdam


February 20, 2011


Amidst the swarm of cuts heading this way, our libraries are under threat. Mind you, I would have to admit that it’s been a while since I visited the local library – I have the Internet now.

But like most people I can still recall many special moments. Like the time I happened across a very special book… But before that, we have to start with an advert.

Have you seen the recent TV commercial for YELL.com? It’s advertising an online Yellow Pages service. The commercial tells the story of a gloomy fellow who treks round a number of independent record shops to find a copy of the trance mix track ‘Pulse and Thunder’ by Day V Lately.

Eventually, his daughter tries the online service and finds a copy. He asks the record shop to put it aside for him. “My name?” he gives a little laugh. “It’s Day V Lately.”

Now, older readers will remember a similar commercial for Yellow Pages that ran in 1983. It had a lovely old gentleman trying to track down a book called “Fly Fishing” by JR Hartley. Wasn’t that a wonderful commercial? The old fella’s delight when a bookstore told them they had a copy in stock and he revealed that he was actually J R Hartley was a fabulous TV moment.

It was certainly a good deal better than the new advert with Day V Lately, I think you’ll agree. The new commercial isn’t a patch on the original.

So, what has this to do with libraries? Well – and I swear this is true – when browsing in the West Calder library one day I happened across a book entitled “Fly Fishing” by J R Hartley. Can you imagine my surprise and delight?

Ah, but such moments could be lost forever if we stand silently by and let politicians who didn’t understand basic financial budgeting try to recoup lost billions by cutting back the library service. If that happened, all we would have left is a shadow of the original – a book repository equivalent of Dave wotsisname.

And that’s not right.

Drew McAdam


February 7, 2011

Maybe it’s just my twisted sense of humour. But I love funny signs.

As a kid I remember seeing a road sign that stated “Heavy Plant Crossing”. I half expected to see a giant, potted aspidistra crossing the road.

Other signs that have caught my attention over the years include one which said nothing other than: “Warning: this sign has sharp edges.” Eh?

One that particularly appealed to me was: “Warning: Children left unattended will be sold to the circus” And at Table Mountain National Park there is a sign that states “Please look under your vehicles for penguins.”

When I was in my teens we had a family shop in my old hometown. One of the first things my father did when we got the shop was to hang a sign that said “Warning. Shoplifting makes your nose bleed”. It certainly gave a fair indication of what to expect.

But as a student of The Human Condition, I’ve discovered that the signs found in shops, hotels and offices reveal a great deal about the people who work there. Do they take themselves too seriously? Do they have a sense of humour? Signs and notices on the walls of the workplace will giver you a fair indication.

But sometimes the signs tell us about ourselves and our society. For example, I was recently on the train to Glasgow, and I noticed that every window had a sign that sported a big smiley face and the words: “Please do not put your feet on our seats”. Have we become such a feckless society that we actually have to be TOLD that putting your feet up on public transport seats is impolite behaviour?

And then I realised that we must be getting better, because I cannot remember the last time I saw a “No Spitting” notice. It seems we no longer need to be informed that hacking up a grolly and spreading it around is not really acceptable behaviour in polite company.

I guess it really IS a sign of the times.

Drew McAdam


December 19, 2010


It’s been a strange lead-up to the Festive Period. The country ground to a halt due to weather conditions more normally experienced in Siberia, and the result was the collapse of every delivery service known to man.

I heard a perfect example of just how crazy things have become when a friend of mine went to post a parcel at the Post Office. We’ll call him Dave, because that’s his name.

 Dave: “I have a Parcel for posting.”

PO: “That’ll be £3.00.”

Dave: “Will that be delivered tomorrow?”

PO: “No. You’ll need to send it by Special Delivery if you want that.”

Dave: “How much is that, then?”

PO: “£7.00”

Dave: “OK, I’ll go for that then.”

PO: “Certainly… except, Royal Mail have retracted the next day guarantee because of the weather.”

Dave: “When will it get there then?”

PO (shrug) “A few days.”

Dave: “So, how much for that then?”

PO: “Still £7.00.”

Dave: “Eh?”

PO: “Oh, but it will still be treated as Special Delivery!”

Honestly, how nuts is that? Premium price: inferior service. What does “Special Delivery” mean in this case? Does the little parcel get to snuggle up to a radiator in the packed warehouse or something? Or when it eventually DOES get out on the road, does it get to ride up front with the driver?

However, despite the delivery fiasco, ice, snow and tumbling temperatures, I have it on very good authority that it will be yet another bumper year for the retailers. And I can assure everybody that none of this will stop Santa from making his regular rounds.

There will be smiling faces and friendships rekindled across the county – nothing can keep us down!

So, have a great Christmas as we look forward to the coming year… and a thaw.

Drew McAdam


December 11, 2010

Here’s a new word for you: “attendeeism”. Perhaps it is easiest to explain if you consider it the opposite of “absenteeism”.

Let me explain. During the recent bad weather the local authority took the decision to close the schools. That was their decision. Even if a teacher was willing and able to work, they couldn’t. They had, effectively, been laid off.

Clear? So why does Oor Cooncil then tell those on whom they padlocked the doors that they can either agree to make up the time, or treat the lost days as part of their annual leave? Seriously, that’s what they’re telling them!

So, even if a teacher trudged all the way to the school and then pounded on the locked door… tough. You lose a day’s holiday.

Does that seem reasonable or fair to you? No, nor to me either.

Even the LGE (Local Government Employers) website states that “By closing an office or a school or by instructing employees not to travel to work, the local authority is preventing the employee from working on that day and, as this is through no fault of their own…” Quite right.

And the TUC states that “Scrooge bosses” who… take away holidays are needlessly adding to their business woes by creating resentment amongst staff.” Doesn’t take a genius to work that out – which is why Oor Cooncil haven’t worked it out, presumably.

They go on: “Workers who have been prevented from getting to work… should not have to foot the bill for the bad weather conditions.”

Do Oor Cooncil think the teachers were on sun loungers sipping drinks at the side of a pool? No. They were not on holiday. They were digging their cars out of the snow and trying to clear streets so that if the weather eased they would have a better chance of reaching their place of work the next day. Some “holiday” that. And yet they are being penalised for a High Heid Yin decision to shut the schools.

If I was a teacher being robbed of my holidays I would be making an appointment with a solicitor. There are complicated rules surrounding lay-off clauses, including rules about statutory guarantee payments and so on, and in terms of the law and adverse publicity for their bonkers policy of attendeeism, these couldn’t-hold-down-a-real-job rulemakers wouldn’t stand a proverbial snowball’s chance…

It’s just another example of ill thought out, silly muddle-headedness by Corporate Services (yes, them again) numpties who couldn’t hold down a job in the real world.

Get a life, boys. And let the teachers have their life – and their holidays – too.

Drew McAdam


December 5, 2010


Hats off to them! Oor Cooncil has done a sterling job during the recent cold snap.

No, I’m not being sarcastic. The pen-pushing plonkers in Oor Cooncil have come in for a bashing on several occasions in this column. But, my goodness, the real workers among their number really got stuck into the problem of clearing the streets with a vengeance.

Last year, you may recall, West Lothian was more or less left untouched until the snow had all but gone. Other councils had conscientiously cleared up to our borders; so when you hit West Lothian you knew it, because instead of roads we had snow tracks.

As for theside streets and pavements, they didn’t see rock salt until Spring was about due. Then some wee workers came round in a yellow van and spread messy, gritty, ineffective whinsand. They would have been as well tossing out cheese and onion crisps for all the good that was – and as about aseffective. The A71 – along with other major thoroughfares – was left untouched for days, and everything simply ground to a halt.

But not this time. A foot of snow, on top of everything that had fallen before, fell in two hours. And straight away they were out there, dealing with the situation. Pavements were being cleared. Roads were being snowploughed and gritted. Men with high-viz jackets, with shovels and barrows of salt moved in.

I tell you, something has changed somewhere in the council policy. And whatever that change might be, it is to be applauded.

Mind you, it’s also hats off to the people of Langside Crescent in Polbeth. I had to walk to West Calder, and after a couple of hours I returned to find the snow cleared from the majority of the street. Snowplough? No. Kids with shovels – a squad of them – then the parents joined in, and before long there was a human snowplough working its way down the street.

And one kid I spoke to refused to take any money for his efforts.

So, to all of you who helped keep the county moving, council and communities alike, well done. In the face of one of the worst snowfalls and freeze-ups in living memory, you proved your salt.

And that’s heart-warming no matter what the weather might be outside.

Drew McAdam