Nicola Barry

Joan Rivers


The wonderful Joan Rivers who died yesterday.

I am so sorry and sad to hear of the death of Joan Rivers. As a journalist, so often, you are forced to listen to people who imagine they and their lives are enthralling when they are not. But Joan Rivers was fascinating: outrageous beyond belief and wonderful to interview. We had the strangest of conversations, not so much a case of what she said but where she said it. Joan was sitting in her New York bathroom, which, she said, she used as an office. The apartment used to be a ballroom but now it is a beautiful home overlooking Central Park. In many respects Joan was whatever you wanted her to be: a comedienne first and foremost, but also an award-winning television talk-show host, a best-selling author, a jewellery designer, a business guru, and a real family woman. She absolutely adored her daughter, Melissa and grandson, Edgar Cooper.


When we spoke, Joan was heading for Scotland to give an annual farewell tour. She said she loved “the Scaats”, as she called us, and, above all, she loved Edinburgh, especially the Castle. In real life Ms Rivers had the gruff, husky New York voice which came to define her. Her words were punctuated every so often with snorts, usually at her own jokes. She was extremely funny, but endearingly so.  When I asked her about her reputation for being one of the hardest working women in the world, she quipped, “Yeah, if you don’t count the hooker on the corner.” Doesn’t she ever feel exhausted? “Gaad, no,” she rasped, “We’re all pals on the tour bus. We make a point of visiting historical sights or of having a great lunch. It’s so much fun. Last time we visited the home of the Brontes. Fascinating, and had lunch in an adorable English country pub.”


This delightfully dotty woman was born to Russian immigrants, in Brooklyn, “on June 8.  If you need the year, go find it yourself,” she famously added, probably with her trademark smirk. She was direct to the point of being rude, but you just knew by the humorous undercurrent that she wasn’t being nasty. Her age was and wasn’t a sensitive subject. Unlike many Hollywood stars, she didn’t lie about it.  A frequent and unapologetic user of cosmetic surgery, Joan became a popular guest on the series, Nip/Tuck. In one episode, she asked the doctors to let her see how she would have looked without all the surgery. When they showed her on a computer, she all but threw up. When we talked, Joan was preparing to leave for the UK to appear on the Jonathan Ross show and to make one more episode of Nip/Tuck. “I have always told the truth about my surgery,” she said. “It really annoys me when women lie about it. I’ve watched so many female actresses of my age grow steadily younger. They always swear they haven’t had surgery. For God’s sake, everyone has Botox. Even my dog has Botox.” When I asked her what she thought of women, she said, “On their own, they are wonderful. I love them. But the minute you bring a man into the equation, a lot of women can be treacherous.” She could have any man she wanted, surely? “Oh yeah, right,” she scoffed, letting out a vintage Joan guffaw. She has had her fair share of men, devoted ones at that. At 21, Joan married the owner of a big department store and the marriage lasted six months. “Six months longer than it should have done,” she mumbled. Her second marriage was to Edgar Rosenberg. It lasted 22 years and he was her manager. After Edgar, there was millionaire Orin Lehman but that, too, ended after nine years. One of the world’s funniest women, she has had her fair share of tragedies, most notably the suicide of Edgar, her second husband. “Edgar and I had agreed on a trial separation,” Joan explained. “Three years later, he took his own life. He just wasn’t coping.” These days, Joan lectures all over the world on suicide prevention and survival. When I told her a high number of young people took their own lives in this country, she said the States had the same problem. “Why?” she said. “Do you know someone once said that suicide was a permanent solution to a temporary problem? And that is exactly right. People who feel so bad need help to realise that things do get better. If only I had known how ill Edgar was, I might have been able to help him give life and living a chance.  The trouble with suicide is that the aftermath is never over. The guilt. I still feel it. Families and friends are left reeling when someone takes their own life. I will never know what Edgar’s suicide did to our daughter, Melissa, but it was bad. I know that much.” She and her daughter were close. They spoke every day. She also adored her grandson, Edgar Cooper. “I am the granny from hell,” she confessed. “I’m the one who always lets him have dessert first. I just figure it’s what a granny is supposed to do.”


Joan began her comedy career by doing the rounds of sleazy agents, tawdry clubs and hostile audiences. “Custer did better at Little Big Horn,” she said. In 1965, a booking on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson finally turned her dream into a reality. Four months later, Joan met and married producer Edgar Rosenberg, and on January 10, 1968 their daughter Melissa was born. That year, Joan got one of the first syndicated talk shows on daytime TV. Subsequent guest hosting on Carson and appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show rapidly earned her an international reputation. In 1983, Joan became the permanent guest host on The Tonight Show and her star rose meteorically. She sold out concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall, comedy albums, two best-selling books. Then, for some reason, she hit a rocky patch but managed to claw her way back up the greasy pole, proof of the gutsy woman she is, until she got her own syndicated daytime talk show in 1989 and won an Emmy and a much prized star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I asked her about her friendship with Prince Charles and Camilla. Joan was one of four Americans to attend their wedding. “I have never seen such a happy wedding party,” she said. “Usually, at weddings, there’s always somebody moaning. But theirs was glorious. I think the British public will end up loving Camilla the same way they did the Queen Mum.”


But that’s too serious for Joan Rivers. Back to business, does she have a funniest sketch?  “You always think your latest joke is your funniest,” she said. “We’ve been working on something for Jonathan Ross, about how incredibly stupid Americans are. For example, when you British had the London bombings, the police were out there straight away, tracking down the perpetrators. Yet, here we are, STILL looking for Osama Bin Laden. It’s unbelievable.” How about 9/11? Was she there? I could actually hear her shudder. “It changed the face of New York,” she replied. “It was so weird to see all these people coming out of the subways with white all over their faces. I remember,” she said quietly, “we went, immediately, to donate blood, but there was no need, because everybody was dead.” A grim silence. The question is was Joan Rivers as outrageous in real life as her stage persona suggested? Did she crack jokes about vibrators to people she met at a bus-stop? “With my close friends, yes, I probably am outrageous,” she agreed. “But the less I know someone, the more reserved I tend to be.” She and her daughter have become feared for their performance on the red carpet at major award shows like the Emmies. The scathing comments they make on the live pre-show, to some of the world’s top celebrities have sent viewing figures through the roof. Joan memorably told Bjork her dress made her look like a swan and Lara Flynn Boyle that hers resembled a tutu. “The Red Carpet is just a bit of fun,” Joan said. “Melissa and I are never going to upset real stars like Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts. The people who lack self confidence, they may get upset sometimes. But, honey, you can’t please everybody.”

I can hardly believe this really is her final farewell.








Farewell to my Faithful Friend


DSC00066Many years ago, a young journalist cut me to the quick when he said: “I don’t know how you could waste an entire column writing about your dog.” He was talking about the love of my life, my child and my faithful friend. I don’t know what it is about pets. Why it hurts so much when they die or suffer or are neglected. Is it because your dog or cat is quite happy to be your best pal for nothing more than the odd tasty morsel or treat. He or she accepts you unquestioningly. It is unconditional love, in its finest form. Not for nothing did George Bernard Shaw say: “Animals bear more than their natural burden of human love.” Therefore, when a pet dies, our whole world collapses.


Brilliant vet

Our Westie, Coll, had Cushing’s Disease. Four years ago, we were told he had between six months and four years to live, so, every symptom, real or imagined, was viewed by us with hyper-vigilant suspicion. He lasted four years and died on May 28th at the age of 12. We spent a lot of time with the amazing Donald Mactaggart at Thistle Vets at Clovenstone, here in Edinburgh. Despite his illness, Coll was never afraid of the vet. He always jumped out of the car and trotted to the front door, without the slightest hint of trepidation. After we moved through to the east from the west in 2004, he developed his first major problem – inter-digital cysts on his front paws. Whenever we left the surgery – usually after having a cyst burst under anaesthetic, Coll would ignore us. He would attempt to sustain a massive huff, while stumbling into furniture – making a sulk difficult to maintain with any degree of dignity. The last time I left that surgery, it was without Coll. I left him dead on the table. Despite the terrible pain of losing him, I could not have left him to go through that alone. The day before he died, he seemed to be fading away in front of our eyes. He lay on the chair and barely seemed to be breathing. The following day, he was the same. He could still eat but… Coll could always eat. My friend Anne-Marie Birch came with me to the vet and Donald Mactaggart took X rays which showed that Coll’s heart was double the size it should have been. He said kindly: “I’m afraid we may have reached the end.”

A peaceful death

Donald was so dignified and caring. He was upset as well. He let me say goodbye. I held Coll in my arms while Donald administered the injection. One minute, my dog was there. The next he had gone. It was so peaceful. My guilt was assuaged by Donald saying I had done the kindest thing I had ever done for Coll. He said if I had taken him home, he might have had a massive heart attack during the night and we wouldn’t have known what to do. I also felt bad that my husband, Alastair, wasn’t there but he had to work and told me to follow Donald’s advice. There is something about Westies. No other breed can compete with that cheeky upturned face, the tiny black, damp button nose and those huge brown eyes. We miss so many things : the way his paws would hit the floor exactly the same time as I got out of bed in the mornings. I miss those ecstatic greetings whenever I come home – to have this fluffy, white ball hurl itself at me, whining, gasping, wagging its tail so hard you expect it to spin into the ether and disappear, is wonderful beyond belief. No human being could even begin to emulate the sheer, undisguised enthusiasm of such a welcome. I miss the way Coll loved opening parcels. The more paper there was to unravel, the more intense the experience. His brand new squeaky toys lasted all of three seconds before the squeak was chewed up and spat out. I miss the walks in the dell, the way he would never give up on trying to catch squirrels outside. I miss his contented grunts, his snoring, the way he ran to fetch toys and his many neuroses – particularly the look of panic whenever he passed his water bowl – because once a tennis ball landed in it and splashed him. I miss looking after him when he was ill. Pets bring so much joy to a household and to life. Once we took Coll to the Old Course Hotel where the manager was a dog lover. I was there to write a travel piece. Every evening we received a special call. A polite voice asked: ‘Is Coll ready for his tuna?’ Even though Coll was used to being spoiled, not even he expected room service – a decent-sized serving of tuna, brought by a charming flunkie, on a white china dish. Our dog was able to dine in his own suite without having to bother dressing for dinner.

Farewell my faithful friend

It has taken me three months to write this. I apologise to those who do not understand. I often wonder whether I loved my dog too much. So many of us do.  Many vets, like doctors, are on call at night and at the weekend. At three in the morning, the poor souls can be found on the telephone, listening patiently to some neurotic owner describing his guinea pig’s stool consistency in gruesome detail. We will get another dog in the autumn. Meanwhile we look after other people’s pets when we can but none will ever take Coll’s place in my heart. My Coll, I feel nothing but gratitude for the joy and love you brought us and which we returned every minute of every day. Finally, you are free from pain and the anxiety for us is over. We are slowly but surely coming to terms with the dreadful hole you have left behind.

Mark Shand dies


Asian elephant at the zoo in Hamburg, Germany

Mark Shand founded Elephant Family, the sole charitable organisation dedicated to Asian Elephants.


Mark Shand: Elephant Man

In the somewhat stuffy world of the royals, Mark Shand was a hidden gem, a man of a thousand contradictions – which makes his tragic death in New York at the age of 62 so sad. He was a travel writer and conservationist as well as being brother to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. We met a few years ago when he was in Edinburgh to launch Jungle City, a collection of animal sculptures which were displayed around the capital during the Fringe to raise money and awareness for the conservation of endangered species. Companies, charities and private individuals could sponsor an animal for £4,000 then the exhibits were auctioned off in aid of Mark’s charity, Elephant Family.


His passion for the Asian elephant (rather than the more traditional royal obsession with horses and corgis) began when he met Tara, one of four begging elephants, in Orissa, on India’s east coast.

He said, “In India, people own elephants, often a lot of them, and the animals work during what they call the “marriage season”, from September to March. Then, disreputable people blackmail farmers by telling them the elephants will eat their crops. Sadly, in India, there is always a way to make money.” When Mark first saw Tara, he said he fell in love with her. His description was somewhat graphic, “Maybe it was her eyes- dark, gentle, brown pools of kindness … or, maybe, it was the way she stretched out her trunk and, with the utmost delicacy, explored my pockets searching for hidden goodies, or the way she squeaked with excitement, flapping her huge ears, when I tentatively offered her a banana for the first time.” But poor Tara was in a pitiful condition, scrawny and starved, her ribcage clearly visible and her skin hanging in folds. She looked exactly what she was, a beggar – a beggar with a pronounced limp due to a deep-rooted ulcer caused by metal-spiked shackles used to hobble her.


Known affectionately as the Elephant Man, Mark would visit Tara regularly at her home in Kipling Camp in Madhya Pradesh, “Tara is spoilt,” he would tell people, “She eats about 250 kilos of roughage a day as well as various treats such as chapatis.” Mark also revealed that elephants love alcohol, “They can smell it a mile away. It could be the sugar.”

His love of elephants was all consuming. In the past 100 years, the elephant population has shrunk by a massive 90 per cent. Once there were 250,000 elephants roaming Asia now there are only about 25,000 left. In the early Eighties, Mark undertook a 1,000-kilometre journey through India on Tara’s back; a story told in his bestselling book, Travels on my Elephant, which he undertook with photographer and friend, Aditya Patankar. He also wrote Queen of the Elephants, the account of a 300 mile trek across East Benghal and Assam on the back of an elephant, with Parbati Barua, one of India’s greatest elephant experts and the only female mahout (elephant driver) in the world. Eventually, in 2002, Mark became so enamoured with his subject, he gave up a lucrative business selling Cartier jewellery to write books and found The Elephant Family – the sole charitable organisation dedicated to Asian elephants.

Camilla’s brother believed that if these elephants were not preserved, they would become extinct within 30 years; tigers within six years. “I am passionate about this. The Elephant Parade in London last summer made £4million, double our target. I want Edinburgh’s Jungle City to be the biggest possible success.” Marks revealed the disturbing fact that, every single day, an elephant kills a human being and a human kills an elephant. He said: “It is our fault because we humans have driven them away from their natural habitat. To cut the risk of human-elephant conflict and casualties, we are securing habitat all over Asia and purchasing corridors of land for elephants and helping local people relocate. We do this with the overwhelming support of the communities – some of whom have been plagued for years by bewildered, hungry elephants. These people have often lost crops, property – even loved ones – in human-elephant conflict.

“We make sure indigenous communities are settled safely elsewhere with good-quality housing and agricultural land. Then, we work with the State Wildlife Department to grant the corridors protected status.” I remember at that point Mark smiled and added: “Only then can we elephant-lovers breathe a sigh of relief.”


Born and brought up in a beautiful country house in Plumpton, on the Sussex Downs, Mark lived happily as younger brother to sisters, Camilla and Annabel: “We had the best upbringing in the world and I have always loved country life. I still think of that house as home, even now, long after I left.” Despite his royal connections, Mark was an adventurer at heart. He once rode a horse through the Andes then completed the London to Sydney motor race and was shipwrecked in the Western Pacific while attempting to sail round the world. He has worked with Goldie Hawn and Julia Roberts on documentaries about life in the wild. He has also written and travelled with internationally renowned photo journalist Don McCullin.

When we met, Mark was preparing to attend the wedding of Prince William and Kate with his 16-year-old daughter, Ayesha who had just told him she didn’t want any elephants, fluffy or otherwise, in her bedroom. No doubt she was duly taken to tusk.


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Margo MacDonald

Margo MacDonald 1943-2014

The death of Margo MacDonald today will affect every Scot of a certain age. Whatever you thought of her controversial views, we will always remember her as the blonde bombshell of Scottish politics. When she stormed to victory in the astonishing Govan by-election in 1970, she was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise boring political landscape – a force to be reckoned with. Having plied her trade as an MSP at the Scottish Parliament, there are those who have continued to refer to her as the blonde bombshell, if a bit older and a hell of a lot wiser. Margo had Parkinson’s Disease – something we have known for a few years now. She campaigned for the law to be changed to allow her to end her life if the disease became too painful and debilitating – to the extent where she might become a burden on the family she adored. It was typical Margo. The fact that she suffered from Parkinson’s is not the point. The point is that she always took her experience, whether good or bad, and used it to articulate for those whose voice was neither as loud nor as clear as her own. Margo was not asking just for herself but for everyone in unbearable pain. Assisted suicide or euthanasia means hastening the death of a person with a terminal illness. The term comes from the Greek word for ‘easy death’. As far as I am concerned, the vicious debate over euthanasia is galling to say the least – because it is about playing with words. For example, saying a doctor is playing God or committing murder is distorting the truth to a ridiculous degree. Such terms make a mockery of the truth which is allowing death to occur for nothing other than compassionate reasons. People should be allowed to die with dignity and that there is no one better to decide when the pain becomes too much than the person themselves. It would shock you to know that thousands of people out there want to die. They want to end it all because they have some disease or disability which means they themselves are unable to end their lives in a dignified manner. To spell it out, they cannot commit suicide. Maybe paralysis prevents them from reaching for the bottle, who knows? They may be in agonising pain and they may be incapable of functioning in any dignified human fashion. All they can do is see the future unfolding – with a lot more suffering, deterioration and humiliation.


Margo was trying to tell us something. And when someone as tough as Margo McDonald is reduced to asking for a merciful end to her worsening pain sometime in the future, it galls me that anybody in their right mind could think of saying no. She insisted that no legal sanctions be visited on anybody who might assist her in the act of dying. Those who support legalizing assisted suicide claim that we all have a moral right to choose. Opponents argue that society has a moral duty to protect and preserve all life. The religious say God gave us life and God, therefore, is the only one who has the right to take it away. Some people also believe that legalising assisted suicide would violate the rights of others. For example, doctors and nurses might find themselves “compromised” – having to cooperate with a patient’s suicide. In some cases, very few, there must be a fine line between euthanasia and murder. I’m talking about the unscrupulous few who, through resentment, love, whatever, would kill a relative for the wrong reasons and against that person’s free will but such rogues are few and far between. We need controls to ensure that doesn’t happen. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t have sensible legislation in place, with medical and psychiatric provisos making absolutely sure assistance will only be given to those who have reached the end of their tether. By that, I mean people whose lives are so wretched they have to carry on in misery, knowing there is nothing they can do about it. I am sure that is what Margo McDonald envisaged. What we forget is that euthanasia goes on all the time. The fact is that doctors are used to making life-and-death decisions. In some respects, euthanasia is one of this country’s best kept secrets, the ultimate act of love that dare not speak its name; only as far as the medical profession is concerned, though. Mere human beings like us, who are not doctors, have no such options available. We are supposed to stand back and watch while our loved ones die in agony. In this country, an individual who helps another person to die will face legal consequences. Yet, every single day decisions are made about people’s lives such as: should we treat this patient with expensive life-saving drugs? Should that patient with learning disabilities be resuscitated if he or she suffers a heart attack? Is this old man worth treating, or should food and water be withdrawn because he is so near the end anyway? Yes, it goes on, but very quietly. In Parliament, The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill (ADTI, which covers England and Wales) was blocked in the House of Lords, but Lord Joffe, the sponsor of the Bill, has said he is committed to bringing it back before Parliament. In Scotland, MSP Jeremy Purvis’ (Now Baron Purvis of Tweed) Physician Assisted Suicide Bill never garnered enough support in Parliament. Both Bills propose allowing assisted dying for mentally competent, terminally ill adults at their own request, providing they meet certain safeguards. We must acknowledge that the law in relation to assisted dying as it stands is terrible – because it drives the practice underground. There is evidence that assisted dying takes place now, without regulation or safeguards. Every year we hear of more and more people going to Switzerland for an assisted death.


It would be far better, far safer, for terminally ill people to have the option of a safe, legal, medically assisted death here. We do not choose to be born but I believe we should respect a person’s desire – if they are sick and in unbearable pain – to die if that is what they choose. Our own Margo MacDonald has gone with all the majestic dignity she possessed in life.



Smoking and drinking during pregnancy

Drinking during pregnancy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Drinking in Pregnancy

At times, it seems as if our society is obsessed with keeping children safe – from unsuitable adults, from paedophiles and from child abductors. Yet, in the case of women who drink while pregnant, there are very few people out there keen to protect those unborn babies. At long last, campaigners who want to make it a crime to drink excessively during pregnancy may be a step closer with a landmark case on the issue due to be heard by the Court of Appeal, in London. It will be argued that a six-year-old girl is the victim of a crime because she suffered brain damage when she was exposed to alcohol in the womb. Her mother was well aware of the risk involved. The case comes at the same time as 50 per cent rise in Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) over three years.

Hell is a drunk pregnant woman

Unfortunately, I know what I’m talking about. I was born drunk. My mother tippled her way right through pregnancy. She couldn’t face life without vodka, sherry, wine, you name it and her drinking devastated my childhood. My mother drank for as long as I can remember and everything that happened in our household was either a direct or indirect result of her drinking. Anything was allowed to happen. I was sexually assaulted by a joiner who worked in our house while my mother lay drunk in the next room. We were too ashamed to tell anyone. At the age of ten, I was confined to a wheelchair and had about 15 operations on each hip over the next nine years. It was then that I realised there was something wrong with my mother. She was told that her drinking during pregnancy was responsible for my disability and I think that only made her drink more. Whenever she leaned over me, to give me a bedpan or help me wash, I could smell alcohol. Occasionally, she’d swig from a bottle in the pantry; saying she couldn’t face any nursing tasks without her “wee cocktail”.

My poor mother spent her days drunk or drugged, or both. This was our secret as a family; the secret everybody around us shared but refused to acknowledge. That is why I believe shame is a far bigger sickness than alcoholism, especially here in respectable Scotland. Everything is hidden. The harm adults, parents, who drink to excess do to babies, children and young people is hidden as well. Hidden harm. My mother was also a doctor. She should have known better. She only practised briefly before she had children. She had been a brilliant, compassionate, witty woman who happened to fall under alcohol’s spell. Whenever she emerged from our house in Edinburgh, her bag bulging with empties, our neighbours looked away in disgust, as they did when she returned with a respectable purchase like a tin of soup on top of six clinking bottles of vodka. There were bottles everywhere in our house: in the wardrobe, in the cistern, inside boots and shoes. We didn’t dare have friends round: she was far too unpredictable. We lived in a bubble, cut off from the world by our own strangeness and unpredictability. It may not sound like it, but I loved my mother. It was just that I wanted her to be normal like other mothers, to bake scones, cook us meals when we came home. I could never understand why my father, also a doctor, didn’t stop her drinking. It took me years to understand that nobody stops anyone drinking. Years later, she fell downstairs and lay at the front door. When I got home from school, I thought she was dead. But she was just dead drunk. I was forever fishing her out of the bath when she couldn’t stand up, clearing up the vomit from her bed, watering down her secret supplies of drink when I thought she wasn’t looking. Her promises drove me mad. I wanted to strangle her because she kept swearing – on the Bible incidentally – she’d stop drinking and taking prescription drugs, yet she always started again.

Don’t get pregnant if you have to drink

When she died, I found her. She was lying on the floor in our respectable Murrayfield home, a mouse wandering about behind her, nibbling on bits of food she’d discarded when drunk. I remember how awkward her head looked – as if it had been screwed onto her body back to front. She lay on her right side, facing the door. She was wearing an old dressing gown, her arms were outstretched, mouth wide open; saliva on her chin. She had vomited on the floor, near where her bedside lamp had fallen. The bulb had burned a big hole in the carpet. She had choked to death. For years, I was eaten up with guilt and misery. Even though I did all I could to help her – I was haunted by the feeling I could have done more.

Then, I remember how much pain her drinking caused me. It may sound harsh but mothers who drink have to be held responsible for the damage they inflict. If you can’t stop drinking, don’t get pregnant.

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Preventive Medicine

Preventive Medicine Beats Picking up Pieces When It is Too Late

Doctor Rob Lawson has, almost singlehandedly, begun a revolution in healthcare which puts prevention fairly and squarely before cure.  While not all his patients are walking miracles, one man who had terminal cancer might well qualify. Two-and-a-half years ago, the survivor – whose name is protected by doctor-patient confidentiality – and who is a member at Core Health Centre, near Drem, East Lothian , presented to Rob after his consultant oncologist had predicted he had just weeks to live.
After a consultation with Dr Lawson and fuelled by a strong will to survive, he acknowledged the necessary changes to diet and lifestyle and has now recovered to the point where he is believed to be cancer-free.
What makes Core Health unique is its insistence on prevention and survival rather than the customary palliative care.
As clinical director, Dr Lawson is a man for whom the word driven might have been coined – he even ploughed all of his savings into the project. While he worked in nearby Haddington as an NHS GP for more than 30 years, he was always aware that at least 70 per cent of his patients presenting with high blood pressure, heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes could have avoided their conditions by making simple changes to their lifestyle.
Now Core Health is all about preventing premature, avoidable disability – even death – and about nurturing a longer, life and taking control of your health destiny.

At his clinic at the peaceful sanctuary of Prora Farm, Dr Lawson said: “I am a medical man with a passion for healthy living and for facilitating an extended quality of life for anyone. My mission is to help people engage with their health aspirations, thus ensuring a long life.”
Why did he invest all his savings on such a project?
“I have always known that we have a big problem in this country,” Dr Lawson said. “A conservative estimate is that 100 people in the UK die prematurely every day from avoidable diseases. These include obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stress-related disorders, dementia and even iatrogenic disease (drug related deaths) caused by doctors like myself, however well intentioned they may be. These are diseases of the 21st century and are associated with unhealthy lifestyle behaviours which can be altered with just a bit of determination.”
At Core Health, which opened in the Autumn of 2012, patients are asked how they think their health will be in 10 years .
“Most people have never thought about it,” Dr Lawson said. “Nor have doctors thought about helping people take more control over their health.
“The results we can achieve are extraordinary. The difference here is not just in our approach but in our purpose. Being a doctor often means having to treat patients once it is too late. Instead, we are here to support and build health instead of just treating illness. Regardless of age or physical condition, we can help anyone find a healthier, happier life.”
And that is where I come in. Always a poor sleeper, I sampled 90 minutes at Core Health with one of Scotland’s top cognitive hypnotherapists, Tom Lawrence. The treatment he uses is designed to free patients from inhibiting thought patterns which have been accepted by the subconscious in the past and which now restrict current thinking and behaviour in some way.
Despite some initial scepticism, I was quickly impressed by Tom’s line of questioning, his insights and recommendations. He asked me about my self confidence and suggested ways to change a few negative ways of thinking. The first night, I slept like the proverbial log and have, slowly but surely, improved my sleep pattern ever since. I will be going back.
The 30 therapists at the centre examine three fundamental areas of each person’s health: nutrition, activity and previous medical care. They combine traditional and complementary medicine to deliver holistic health solutions. There are on tap physicians, registered dieticians, nutritionists, personal trainers, psychologists, a hypnotherapist-cum-acupuncturist, physiotherapists, a podiatrist as well as Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi instructors.
Dr Lawson said: “We recognise that sometimes even small changes can be difficult and that they have to be sustained.


“Look,” he added and there was anger in his tone, “Scotland is a country with the lowest healthy life expectancy in Europe and the highest number of fat people. It is a country in which children develop diabetes then go on to have amputations in their twenties. It is a country in which some youngsters will not live to enjoy the healthy lifespan of their parents.
“Yet, politicians still prattle on about our so-called safe, effective, world class health care. Do they never ask themselves why no other country in the world has adopted our system of care?
“In fact, it is a curate’s egg of a service and the bit that matters – helping us when we are ill – is the bit we all value. The NHS should be re-named the NSS – the National Sickness Service.
“Generally, it is fair to say that if something is free it is undervalued or overused or both. My long experience as a servant in the NHS suggests both apply.”
Dr Lawson believes there has been a long-held expectation that the NHS will always cope: “It can’t and it won’t,” he said with emphasis.
“We need our citizens to take a long hard look at themselves and to then decide to avoid the need to use the service by taking responsibility for and managing better their own health.”
Like all pioneers, Dr Lawson is struggling to make potential investors see how crucial Core Health’s approach is to Scotland; to appreciate the disaster facing us.
“We need to eradicate the perception that the answer to all ills lies in a free pill,” he said. “As a matter of urgency, we need to embrace preventive and lifestyle medicine – the one proposed by Hippocrates 2,500 years ago.”
There are other attractions: the clinic plans to buy equipment such as a cancer mole scanner as well as re-open its shop and restaurant as an educational focus for healthy, enjoyable eating.
Dr Lawson said: “If we are innovative in this way, we might just slow the tsunami of 21st century diseases heading our way long enough to clamber up to the safety of higher, healthier ground. Now that really would be an achievement on anyone’s watch.”
Dr Lawson knows that the potential market is huge; that there is a definite shift in momentum towards self-managed health.
He added: “Some 60 per cent of those questioned in the latest Scottish Health Survey have at least three health risk behaviours and 98 per cent have at least one. It is painfully obvious where we are headed as a nation if we fail to take immediate action.”

























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Ian Hamilton – Stone of Destiny QC

Ian Hamilton – Stone of Destiny QC

With customary boldness, Ian Hamilton QC, has said that Westminster is “very, very frightened” at the prospect of an independent Scotland.

Hamilton is one of this nation’s treasures. In 1943, he volunteered for active service while still at school and went before a selection board.

English: Panorama of Westminster North Entrance

Panorama of Westminster North Entrance. Wikipedia)

Deemed suitable to be a commissioned pilot, he was put on deferred service until a vacancy arose. A few years ago, in an interview, he said: ““Not many people know that Bomber Command killed some 55,000 grammar schoolboys like myself. I spent nearly three years in a barrack hut, just lying about doing nothing. It made me so angry. Some 20,000 men were retained for aircrew training. We never saw any action at all while our contemporaries were being killed.  An officer told me he thought there could be another war against the Russians. I said if there was, I would be on the other side. It was the closest I ever came to mutiny.”

The mantel of being the most famous Scot in modern history still sits somewhat uneasily on the shoulders of retired QC Hamilton. His daring feat, on Christmas Day, 1950, with three fellow students, was not done for fame or fortune, but to make a point about Scotland’s true place in the brave new post-war world. And it was there in some lonely RAF base that the daring plan to steal The Stone of Destiny first took shape. A thoughtful, quiet man, obviously proud of his actions as a young man, he is unwilling to be defined by them. Neither is he the sort of person to be carried away by the rhetoric of others. Whether he likes it or not, Ian will always be known as the man who hatched a plot to steal the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey, bring it home thus reawakening the sleeping giant of Scottish Nationalism.

What led up to stealing the stone? “I was at university,” Ian said, “but had hatched the idea on deferred service. After a barrack room, university was an enormous freedom. Life suddenly exploded into meaning for me and the anger I felt gradually gathered a bit like a boil.” At that time the only guard on the stone was The British Empire. “No-one ever imagined anyone would break into the very heart of the British Empire, so, they didn’t bother guarding it.”

Over coffee in his house with stunning views over Loch Na Beithe, beneath Ben Cruachan, he told me how he and three other young Scots, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson and Alan Stuart stole the stone of destiny from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1950 and brought it home to Scotland. The symbolism of what the trio did was not lost on Scots who took to the streets to celebrate, what they saw, effectively, as Scotland’s destiny released from English hands. “I suppose I was a Nationalist but I was always a Scot first. Every single political party these days is nationalist, every single party supports home rule. What is a nationalist but someone who wants extended power for their country? During the war the SNP was run by fascists Dr Robert Macintyre and Arthur Donaldson. They were dotty, completely. They continued to be dotty for about 20 years. The current official line is that we weren’t prosecuted because, to do so, they would first have to establish rightful ownership. Any lawyer knows that is nonsense. With theft you don’t have to prove ownership. Most stolen cars belong to an employer or a hire purchase company. The Lord Advocate does not make the searches to find out who owns the car. We weren’t prosecuted because the Scottish people made it clear by taking to the streets and cheering that there would be riots if we were.  It took them three months to find us. The Glasgow Police had no clues, the crime was unique so there was no modus operandi. My father gave me an alibi and because he was a strict Presbyterian, everybody believed him.”

As part of his research, Ian had withdrawn from the Mitchell Library as many books as he could find on Westminster Abbey
”The police concluded that the perpetrator must have had a deep inside knowledge of the Abbey,” he said, “They went to Glasgow University library but nobody had taken out books on the abbey. However, at the Mitchell Library, however, they discovered one person had taken out every single book.   The police arrived early one morning and asked me to go with them. I told them the law decreed they must arrest me first. But when they told me they had the other two men and that they would get all the grief, I went.  There were a lot of policemen and a chief inspector from Scotland Yard who interviewed me. He held my library slips in such a way that I could see them, whether to intimidate me or just carelessness, I’ll never know. I pre-empted him by saying my main interest was ecclesiastical architecture, true, that I had taken out all the books on Westminster Abbey I could find. It could have been a fraught morning but it wasn’t.”

When first admitted to the bar in 1954 as a young advocate, Ian took another stand and refused to swear the oath to Elizabeth 11. He was told if he refused, he couldn’t become an advocate. In the end, once again, popular opinion forced the authorities to capitulate. He said: “It was bad enough for a young person to defy the establishment,” Ian says, “but when he also forces them to climb down, he is not going to be popular.” Did his rebellion hold him back professionally? “Yes, it held me back for 2 years. Then, by chance, in 1956, someone put me into the appeal court where junior counsel opens for the appellant, with senior counsel only there to sweep up at the end. Within a week, I was offered work by the firm of solicitors who had been on the other side in the appeal court. I worked for insurance companies as well. It was challenging work and I soon built up a big practice. I should have been a writer, like, say, Alan Bennett, the award winning playwright.” In fact Ian is an award winning playwright. In 1957, he won the Foyle award for Tinkers of the World, for the best play in British repertory. The award was won the previous year by Sheila Delaney and John Osborne the following year.” Does he see himself as a writer? “Oh yes, absolutely,” he said, “I do not regard myself as a reasonably successful lawyer but as a failed writer.” In the Nineties, he also wrote his autobiography, A Touch of Treason as well as his republished and unputdownable Stone of Destiny. As an advocate, Ian had a formidable reputation

His biggest murder trials Bluebell woods, in 1986, and the murder of a prostitute, body found in exhibition centre car park, one of six or seven murders of women in the sex trade. “Because of that acquittal, Strathclyde Police became convinced there was no serial sex killer yet the modus operandi in each case was the same. The real evidence just didn’t fit my client. “I have probably done more murder trials than anyone else in Scottish criminal history. Murders tend to happen outside pubs, a phenomenon I call causing death by careless kicking. A young man goes out at night, particularly these days, armed with a knife. I tell you the same person ends up on the mortuary slab as in the High Court on a charge of murder, just because of a flurry of blows outside a pub.”

How does he think Scotland is doing?

“There is a buzz about Scotland because we are getting our self confidence back”, he said. “Nationalism is just another name for self confidence. I believe we will see independence in my time. And we will be able to solve problems like poverty here as well as abroad. In Scotland, you can discount the Tories, the Liberals will always go where there’s a little power and the only election Labour can be sure of winning is the election for a new leader.”

Does he rate politicians? “They are like anyone else although an SNP politician is more likely to be driven by ideals. People vote for two reasons, self interest and idealism. The Labour and Tory Parties have satisfied neither of these in Scotland for all these years. They are imploding on themselves.

“I have always believed independence would come. Becos when I was lying in my barrack hut and the Atlee Government was doing everything to support the British Empire’s hold over the weaker nations, I learned that people are very fond of their own country, and, as soon as you start to acknowledge your country exists, you immediately want a say in its government. Anyway, history is on our side.”

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