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Iain Maciver: Our hi-tech age means out-of-this-world achievements are no longer such a blast

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Back in the early 1980s, I plodded around South London for a firm I worked for and, one day, ended up in Brixton.

The bustling commercial area, under the railway bridge and in the streets off that, was a wonderful sight, lanes teeming with people and cultures from around the world and constant music. Rock, funk and reggae streamed from every doorway as well as performers boogieing on down.

Going down there on the bus, someone had a large shoulder-borne radio-cassette player, a ghetto blaster, with the sounds of Eddy Grant, an emerging young reggae singer from Guyana – formerly British Guiana – who had settled in London. It boomed out Electric Avenue, then riding high in the charts.

Minutes later, I stepped off the bus at the bridge to drop off documents with a law firm and found myself walking along, yep, Electric Avenue. Wow. Yeah, man.

It was like being on the Portnaguran-to-town bus during the Royal National Mod with everybody singing Bha Mi Latha Samhraidh An Steòrnabhagh (One Summer’s Day I Was in Stornoway) and then alighting right there. OK, Gaelic festivals are more chaotic with more substance abuse, I mean drams, but you felt part of something special.

It’s not possible to walk down that avenue in London without at least humming those famous lyrics.

Oh no. We gonna rock down to Electric


And then we’ll take it higher.

Years later, and back in Stornoway, I found youngsters in the islands had embraced other cultures. They adored the likes of reggae.

We don’t have many avenues in Stornoway but everyone knows Smith Avenue, an upmarket thoroughfare running alongside the playing fields beside the secondary school, the Nicolson Institute. An innovative young band avoided the barber, trying to get dreadlocks, and rewrote the words of Eddy Grant to:

Oh no. We’re going to walk down to

Smi-ith Avenue

Then we’ll take our highers.

That was aeons ago but, despite such prodigious talent, those guys were never heard of again. Aw.

Technology has changed schoolkids. Tablets, iPhones, earphones, rudeness, grumpiness. We had technology too. Youngsters today don’t understand how thrilling it was when someone would wheel in a trolley with an overhead projector on it. Yay.

Why scrawny line drawings on a transparency would be exciting beats me. It was always out of focus and the broken floorboards in the Springfield South classrooms put the maths teachers’ fractions on a slippery slope.

I recall a Springfield South maths class in which we watched a blurry moonwalk. The teacher, being a space fanatic, justified the telly by making us calculate the distance to the sun by the length of the astronaut’s shadow. Geometry, innit?

It wouldn’t have been the first moonwalk with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin because the Apollo 11 mission was in July, during the school holidays. Apollo 12 maybe.

Did you watch the Mars landing? Good times. Did anyone watch the Mars landing in a classroom? Not many, eh? Sad times. The subsequent video of the descent on to a curiously-rusty Luskentyre Beach-like terrain was amazing. But no Major Tom or Rocket Man soundtrack. Major Tom by David Bowie was played ad nauseum with the Apollo moon landings, but not Rocket Man. Ah, it hadn’t been released then. Good excuse, I suppose, Elton.

On the bright side, that Mars technology is staggering. It is making us humans seem quite redundant. Perseverance, the Mars Rover, actually tweeted from the surface of the Red Planet to say everything was in good order and still working properly as it should. That’s more than Donald Trump can do.

Music is the backdrop to our lives. A character in a play by that writer cove William Shakespeare thought music always inspired people to love things and also to fall in love. That was why Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, who was head over heels in love with Countess Olivia, came out with the great line “If music be the food of love, play on”.

Lockdown has been challenging and many sectors, like musicians, have had to get financial help packages. Food producers too.

I know a farmer, he’s a large-scale crofter I suppose, who says he wouldn’t have survived without help. He tells me he just had to fill in a form for his grant. He is diversifying so he used it to buy pullets, which are young hens.

He describes the grant system as: “Money for nothing, and the chicks for free.”

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