I was idly scanning messages in Facebook, as usual avoiding doing something useful, like writing this, when an advert popped up from a rather expensive local electrician, informing me that I had until February to get smoke alarms that communicated with each other. For a not-so-small fee, he would install them for me. Having never heard of the requirement for communicating smoke alarms, I did some research in the only news-'paper' I subscribe to, The National
online (its editor must be so disappointed that The Independent
got in there first with that title). Sure enough, there was an article about this new requirement which had been apparently introduced by the Scottish Government, giving people a two year window to comply with it.
Usually in The National
online the only unpleasant commentators are those who seem to dislike our own dear First Minister, but on this occasion the trolls seemed to be rather arrogant DIY experts who were berating those of us who hadn't picked up the new regulations. To those like me, who expressed some surprise at the new requirement, the rude response was: 'Well, you have had two years to get it done', 'You must have been living on Mars all this time' (which readers of the SR can confirm is untrue) or, 'If you were a DIY expert like me, you could fit them yourself in 10 minutes'. One senior gent quickly picked up on this suggestion and informed the arrogant one that he had all the bits of wire, etc, but as he was disabled he couldn't climb on a chair to fit the alarms, so could Mr DIY please nip round and do the job for him, since he had already fixed his? Comment was there none.
Luckily, I know a brilliant and saintly local electrician – I will not mention his name in case he gets too popular – and he quickly came and assessed what was needed. I have to admit, I have smoke alarms of a sort but not communicating ones, especially as the late Mr B disliked the noise they made if he burned the toast and he kept switching them off. But my electrician friend assures me that Nicola does not have a significant task force travelling up and down Scotland checking the status of smoke alarms so I should be safe until he gets the job done.
Although she may not yet like school-type learning, my granddaughter is unusually politically aware for her age. At three, she had already met Nicola Sturgeon, on that lady's state visit to West Aberdeenshire, but refused to sit on her knee because of Olivia's mistaken belief that Nicola wanted to kidnap her. 'I didn't want to go to that lady's house!' she complained later.
Now she is already able to recognise that the saltire means 'SNP: Good!' and she realised that the postal communication from the local Tories meant that these dreadful individuals might be trying to invade the Broon stronghold.
Luckily, she had been learning about superheroes and believed she also possessed superhero powers. 'Don't worry, Granny, I will save you from the Bad Tories!' she announced. 'I will roar loudly and frighten them away!' This sounds like a good tactic to remember for the council elections as for a five year old, Olivia has inherited the family loud voice and would surely strike terror into the hearts of any would-be canvasser.
The only concern is that growing up in a family of left-wing nationalists, Olivia will later rebel and become more right of centre than Genghis Khan. My own political development was confusing because initially my father always voted Labour (rather surprisingly for someone who had been an admirer of Hitler!) and my mother Conservative, so they effectively cancelled out each other's votes. Latterly, my dad decided he was a communist, and subscribed to a journal called Russia Today
. This was at the time of the Cold War and Russian spies, and I was always anxious in case the postie denounced us to the authorities. Eventually, dad got bored with the communists and became an admirer of Margaret Thatcher – I suppose she was a reasonable alternative to Stalin – but this was rather confusing for the rest of the family.
Personally, I would rather cut off my hand than vote Conservative, as I once informed Michael Gove in an email exchange some years ago when he was responsible for education. He was writing for The Times
in those far off days when they provided email addresses for their columnists and surprisingly in our subsequent exchange of views we had much in common on the decline of educational standards. I remember thinking that for a Tory he seemed a 'really nice man' – which just goes to show how careful one has to be in judging politicians.
As I write this, the anti-virus 'thingy' on my PC is going round in circles and yesterday the internet connection did the same, almost causing me to lose this journalistic masterpiece. But the answer is obvious for all these communications problems: Mercury is retrograde!
As all good astrologers know, Mercury is the planet responsible for communication in all its forms. It also looks after the astrological sign of Virgo, which is why Virgos like me often get involved with journalism. At certain times, Earth overtakes Mercury in its orbit around the sun, so it looks as though Mercury is going backwards, and at such times communications issues are subject to error, delay and confusion. You sceptics might scoff, but at this time I've had several internet problems, two friends have had major issues with their mobile phones, and my son, who works in radio and telecommunications, has reported several communication problems on ships or North Sea oil platforms.
Unfortunately, there are several times this year when Mercury will be retrograde, but the good news is that at such times there is opportunity to revisit old problems and discover new and better solutions to them. This may well be useful to know when it's time to vote in the council elections!
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant