September 5, 2010


I’ve just returned from a series of four performances in St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) Russia.

I had always assumed that Russia would be a place of grey buildings, grey people and grey potatoes as a staple diet. I couldn’t have been more wrong – well, not in that particular corner of the former Soviet Union, anyway.

Honestly, this gorgeous city overshadows even Paris for drop-jaw beauty. It has the most striking and ornate architecture, fountains and parks. Then there are the palaces, canals and churches. There is nowhere to compare.

But the thing that really struck me – in terms of the difference between there and here – is the attention to the little things. Little things like the perfectly-tended flower beds. The lack of litter. And the road surfaces.

This is a place that during World War ll, was bombed and shelled incessantly day and night for 900 days. That would make a bit of a mess. But now there are perfectly kept parklands, and roads so smooth you could run a golf ball down them and watch go until it vanishes over the horizon.

Manual labourers are out each day, clearing litter, scraping away weeds and planting flowers. Every historical site is promoted and marketed in such a way that you feel compelled to visit them.

But in West Lothian? Untended hedgerows, roads that would put a jungle track to shame, and as for historical sites… Did you know that Chopin once visited Polbeth? David Livingstone was a regular visitor, too. In fact Paraffin Young built a scale model of the Victoria Falls in the stream that runs through the village.

In St Petersburg it would be a major tourist attraction; here the only thing it attracts is car tyres and shopping trolleys.

Moreover, in St Petersburg the roads are so smooth that many youngsters get around using in-line skates. Can you imagine how far you would get trying THAT in Bathgate or Whitburn before you hit a pothole and ended up in A&E? Not far, I reckon.

Of course, we are often told by our Road Department that the potholes are caused by the icy winters we get here. Oh, really? Well, just for your information, in St Petersburg a winter temperature of – 20 Co is not unusual.

No, I wouldn’t want to live there: the massive blocks of apartments on the city outskirts are home to the majority. And tower blocks are never pretty.

But, honestly? When you see how their administration has taken a war-torn rubble-pile and produced something of which they are rightfully proud, you realise that if they can do it, then there is no reason why our administration couldn’t do it, too – if they had the drive, determination and ability.

Actually, given the advantages that we have, Oor Cooncil administrators should hang their heads in shame.

Drew McAdam



February 1, 2010


Do you know what a VMS is? No? Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s a Variable Message Sign. In other words, those electronic message signs on motorway gantries that give motorists up-to-date traffic information.

I was approaching one in almost white-out blizzard conditions recently and could hardly make out what it said through the swirling snowstorm. Only when almost underneath it was I able to read: “Caution. Heavy Snow”

Sheeesh. Really?

And it got me thinking. Would it be possible to hack into the system and leave your own messages?

I asked some of my friends what message they would put up there, and I have to tell you there were some belters. Suggestions included “Remember To Buy Milk And Bread” and “He’s Behind You! :o”.

I thought that “Look Up!” was pretty good, too.

Other contributors offered such gems as: “There’s Someone In Your Boot”, “You’re Going The Wrong Way” and “Zombie Area”.

Another favourite was “Sign Out Of Order”.

 Wouldn’t it be great if instead of the usual patronising, pointless messages – about checking your fuel, tiredness and not to take drugs – the person who types the messages at Motorway Command Centre decided to get creative. Or drunk.

The operator could flash up things like: “Ignore This Message” or “Aircraft On Hard Shoulder Ahead”.

If his keyboard has punctuation marks he could even flash ” (.)(.) “. Think about it.

Motorway driving would become so much more fun! Me? If I could hijack one of these VMS thingys on the M8 I’d type in “Whitburn Closed. Plague”.

However, my absolute favourite, suggested by one particularly warped mind, was the message “”REMEMBER: UK SWITCHES TO DRIVING ON RIGHT AT NOON TOMORROW. £400 NON-COMPLIANCE PENALTY – HIGHWAYS AGENCY.”

Come to think of it, maybe the Highways Agency should employ this contributor to come up with some new slogans.

Give control of the motorway gantry messages to those who have a sense of humour and imagination, I say.

Drew McAdam


January 17, 2009


TECHNOLOGY is a wonderful thing – no, really.


It all started with the briefest snatch of music and one line from a song. It was the soundtrack to a TV commercial for a computer game entitled “Gears of War 2”. Now, it’s not my sort of game, but the 30-seconds of backing music to the trailer really caught my attention. Unfortunately, all I had to go on was one line from the song: “….You already know how this will end.” and a few notes of the melody that stuck in my head. I HAD to know what it was.     Read the rest of this entry »