Simon Pia's diary

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How ‘Boots’ became a Hush Puppy

WE HAVE discovered why Gordon Brewer eschews Paxo’s Arnold Schwarzenegger approach on Newsnight and treads more softly, softly instead.

Especially as Gordon was a bit gobby in his revolutionary youth.

A comrade tells us of the incident that changed Gordon’s attitude. "He was a bit of a glamour puss in Socialist Organiser with his flowing, golden locks. At a Young Socialist conference in Glasgow City Hall, he was heckling from the back until Bruce Wallace in the chair had had enough. He got up, charged down the hall and told Gordon to ‘Shut the **** up’. It’s about 100 yards long and Bruce is a big lad, so you could say it made some impression on Gordon." Last spotted, Wallace, a Dundonian, was being arrested on the Timex picket line. As for Comrade Brewer, he is indulging in a far milder form of heckling these days.

Before his brush with Bruce, "Boots" Brewer made his bones as a hack in Shetland, a former colleague tells us. "The Boots nickname stuck after he interviewed the local polis for the Shetland Times and the militant Marxist was pictured in the feature with his infamous boots poking out through the bars of a cell." The name stuck, but when he left the Shetland Times, Boots abandoned three pairs of his industrial footwear on a shelf in the typesetting room.

"While he was in Shetland he was known for having the most bizarre stereo system in the islands, housed in a crofthouse room lined entirely with egg boxes, where he played air guitar. Oh, how he loved the Grateful Dead."

Smash-hit Gagarin

JOHN Erickson was the world’s leading authority on the Soviet Union military and he did it all from an attic in Buccleuch Place at Edinburgh University. Once, at a NATO meeting on the fringe of the Iron Curtain, a general was holding forth on the scale of the Warsaw Pact forces facing them. Erickson begged to differ.

"And, pray, where do you get your figures from, Mr Erickson?"

"Oh, the Russians told me."

Such were his contacts that on one visit to Moscow, Yuri Gagarin took him for a drive in his sports car. "He may have flown a rocket into space," John recalled, "but he couldn’t drive a car." Gagarin crashed into a tram, but when the furious driver and passengers saw who it was, they mobbed him.

Another time, when he was getting shown round the KGB archive, he was handed a shoebox. Inside was Hitler’s jawbone.

As for The Road to Stalingrad, AJP Taylor described it as the best book there was on the Second World War.

Rent rant

THE West Lothian question was rewritten in Bathgate last week. Around 200 people squeezed into the community centre over the council’s decision to impose a 15 per cent rent rise for a modernisation programme.

"Why should we pay an extra 5 per week for something our rent over decades ought to have covered?" someone asked.

Unlike the politicos, who still cannot find a solution to the original question, the ordinary citizenry found their answer in an instant.

Steve Nimmo, from Torphichen, had it. "We shouldn’t!" he answered, to great applause. "But if the extra 5 over the next five years is to pay for fitted kitchens and bathrooms, then what on earth was the other 40 for over all these years?"

Good question? Well, it’s of more import than its predecessor around the houses in the vicinity of the House of Binns.

Putting on the beef

NOT quite ten lords a-leaping, but Scottish peers are holding their annual bash at the House of Lords tonight. Baroness Linklater of Butterstone was telling us it was a good opportunity for them to get together - "government ministers, Tories and Liberal Democrats like myself". Veronica added: "On the menu is Orkney beef, which has never been tainted by anything." Could it be because it comes from a rock-solid Liberal constituency?

Guests include Graham Davis, principal of Glasgow University, Sir Fraser Morrison, singer Sheena Wellington and Jimmy Boyle - not the Champagne-importing sculptor but chairman of Scottish Arts Council.

OUR woman at the Foreign Office assures us Princess Margaret will be missed in our embassies abroad.

They are always on red alert to stock up on Malvern mineral water (and nothing but Malvern) when the Queen is visiting.

However, with Princess Margaret they had to ensure the ice cubes were made with Malvern ... and nothing but Malvern.

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