Contains why it’s easier to slay a dragon than get rid of phone pests, what the new Avengers film is really about, Trump Awareness Month, Suzi Quatro’s last catsuit, & lessons in friendship

A version of this appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on April 4 2017

THINGS you don’t need: barbecue kits in Scotland, berets, another new biography of Marilyn Monroe and phone calls at 10pm to ask if you would like a new boiler.

Beret naff

Everyone has experienced telepestering. It’s the 21st century equivalent of nits, except there isn’t a shampoo that will rid you of robot phone calls offering a conservatory to someone who lives in a flat.

Xternal Property Renovations, a Glasgow company, was recently fined £80,000 for making nuisance calls to more than 100,000 people, even though they had registered to opt out of cold calls with the Telephone Preference Service.

I have a little sympathy for the people employed as cold callers: it’s a rubbish job phoning irritable people for minimum wage.

But I’ve no sympathy at all for those who service scams such as: ‘I’m phoning from Microsoft to tell you that your computer has a virus.’ These are cons designed to download and install malware, and the best response is to occupy as much of their time as possible with a conversation about how you came to buy your PC and the history of your screensaver.

Believe me, it’s all worthwhile when someone who has called you says angrily ‘you are wasting my time’ after a quarter of an hour.

DITTO anyone who tries to phish your bank details over the phone; if asked for security information by a caller who claims to be your bank, give incorrect information at first (‘my date of birth is October 5, 1990’). A legitimate caller would query this, but a phisher will accept it and try to use it to withdraw money from your account.

Why not just ban all unsolicited commercial calling? Companies may complain but if you ask anyone who pays for a landline, rather than the few who make money calling it, my guess is that this move would find overwhelming support.

And if the industry believes they are providing a valuable service, then perhaps they should get people to opt-in to receive their calls. Failing an outright ban, let’s introduce a tiered system of fines for all the things that sap our pleasure of being at home. Not just people phoning to offer us things we don’t want in the middle of Posh Pawn, but also whoever keeps scheduling Pirates of the Caribbean on BBC1, especially the third and fourth ones, which are less fun than scurvy.

So am I dead, both of us or neither? I’ve lost track

Then there are overexcited studio audiences sitting through The Voice or The X Factor, who whoop when the singer holds onto a bellowing vibrato . No one can be authentically enthusiastic about watching pub singers.

Off-screen, I suggest a £10 per wince for home visiting repairmen pulling faces at whatever requires their hourly rate, as if witnessing their family being eaten by the bear from The Revenant.

And let’s meter customer service hotlines that require you to pass a lengthy multiple-choice test (‘If you know your last name but NOT your first name, press…’) to prove your worthiness as a customer in the same codified manner that knights were tested before being allowed to lance a dragon.

Although, if we still had fire breathing dragons, no one would need to sell us a boiler.

Risky, but renewable

A new study has found that babies cry more in the UK, Canada and Italy. And any flight I’m on.

A scottish film studio troll, yesterday

Salt and sauce awaits you, Scarlett

Welcome to Edinburgh, Scarlett Johansson. From this week, the Hollywood star will be walking amongst us as the Avengers location shoot in Edinburgh cranks up a notch. The problem is that the Marvel gang may be hard to spot. After all, when Hibs are playing, who’s going to notice the Hulk amongst all those other big green men with their tops off?

Details about the new Avengers film are sketchy, aside from the title: Infinity War. So it’s about a long and exhausting problem, with a lot of filming in Leith. It’s probably about trams.

Off to the Meadows for a spot of sunbathing

THE internet can be an unpredictable, even cruel place, so props to those who took to Twitter at the weekend to offer insights for World Autism Day.

I was especially moved by Aberdeen MSP Mark McDonald, who wrote with pride about the progress made by his son, Malcolm, and Andrew Wilson, currently heading the SNP’s growth commission, who wrote candidly about the rewards and challenges of bringing up Harry.

Both were keen to dispel the myth that autistic children are detached and remote.

‘The opposite,’ wrote Mr McDonald. ‘He LOVES people playing with him. He LOVES pals.’ The difficulty lies in establishing friendships with children who do things a little differently.

Every parent wants their child to have friends but also everyone would like the world to be a little more tolerant and accepting. I have a friend whose autistic child was bullied out of his place at nursery, and received no support from her fellow parents. Maybe it’s time to reflect that friendship education in schools would be as valuable as reading, writing and arithmetic; learning that difference is not a barrier, to see the world in all its complexity and to respond to difference with compassion and kindness. It seems an excellent lesson when preparing for the outside world


DONALD Trump has announced that April will be National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Maybe it’s his version of Lent.


BREXIT has thrown up some pointless nostalgia for blue passports, even though they are much harder to find in a dark bag when jetlagged. But if someone on the Leave side is taking requests to restore imperial weights and measures, incandescent light bulbs and chip pan fires, I’d like to bid for Ice Magic ice cream topping, Bakelite and tinned ravioli.


IT only takes a quick trip away for me to get all sentimental about radio back here.

Sitting in a Barcelona bus listening to 12 types of Jota and overexcited ads for yogurt makes you yearn for Good Morning Scotland or Eddie Mair’s PM.

I must be unusually soppy because I’m even sorry that Radio 4’s Midweek has reached the end of its calendar — axed the same day as Theresa May triggered Article 50. Talk about kicking us when we’re down; now I will never find out how Midweek gets its guests, although I suspect it involves a blindfold and a pin.

Libby Purves’s final guests included Suzi Quatro, discussing her leather catsuits for the umpteenth time, Richard Curtis convinced that Red Nose Day is still a beloved institution and not a queasy mix of good intentions and emotional blackmail, a shy jockey called Declan Murphy and actress Dame Harriet Walter.

Eclecticism was one of the hallmarks of the show, even though sailors turned up on Midweek more often than you might expect — or need — to indulge Libb’s personal passion for boats.

Midweek’s ship has sailed but an enterprising station could relaunch an improved version: lash an able presenter such as Bill Whiteford to the mast and amp up its best feature — the randomness of having Paul McCartney on the same show as someone who looks after Edinburgh Zoo’s penguins, and getting them to contribute to a third conversation with the new female Doctor Who. Come on, Radio Scotland, you know I’m looking at you

Pictured right: the new Libby Purves
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