Archive: Kirkcaldy

I recently learned about a Twitter account that campaigns against Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee’s excellent culture hub in the centre of the city.

Typical tweets include:

[blackbirdpie id=”124581248428548096″]

[blackbirdpie id=”124933453421617152″]

I went to see Friends with Benefits a few weeks ago, and it was pretty awful. The highlight is one funny joke about iPads in the middle. The rest is just mush. No harm in that of course. But the great thing is that I saw it in Dundee, at the Odeon, which is about a ten minute drive away from the DCA.

It’s funny because I was only just thinking about how extraordinarily well-served by cinemas Dundee is. I live about a 40 minute walk away from three cinemas. Two are “mainstream”, and the other is the DCA, which usually shows films that the others wouldn’t. The DCA shows some films that I really like. While the two mainstream ones may not be in the “town centre”, at least they are there.

Where I used to live, in Kirkcaldy, no such luck. There is the Adam Smith Theatre, which shows a small selection of films that were on general release six months ago. Besides that, you had to go to Dunfermline, a half hour drive away, then drive to the outskirts of that to get to the nearest cinema.

Off the top of my head, I think I have seen six films at the cinema this year. Three of them were at the DCA; the other three were at the Odeon (one of these films was also shown at the DCA). Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or maybe I’m just a snob. But the three I saw at the DCA were by far and away the better three.

I understand the arguments against the public subsidy for the DCA. But the idea that, if the DCA wasn’t there, a multiplex Odeon would magically sprout up in the city centre, is a tad fanciful.

Cinemas are rare beasts these days. It’s no conspiracy. It’s because commercially it doesn’t add up the way it used to because of changes in society (for the positive) over the past few decades. With this in mind, I have felt lucky to live somewhere with as many as three cinemas nearby.

After moving to Dundee a year ago, the DCA quickly became one of my favourite things about the city and I celebrate its existence. The great thing is that, for those who do not like what is shown at the DCA, there are two other cinemas that are just a stone’s throw away (even if they are not in the “town centre”).

I would hate for the most unique cinema of the three to go.

I was pretty excited to learn this week about Domesday Reloaded. The Domesday project aimed to take a snapshot of British life in 1986. 25 years on, the BBC are looking to update it to document the changes that have taken place since then.

I have been interested in the Domesday project for a while. The idea that a snapshot of Britain was taken, in the form of maps, photographs and text. Yet, the data was unavailable to most people.

The Domesday project was as much an ambitious experiment with technology as anything else. The technology was just about available, but a lot of pioneering work had to be done, and the hardware required for it was prohibitively expensive, leaving many of the contributors somewhat miffed.

Since then, it has become one of the most famous examples of digital obsolesence. This was due to a combination of the technology required to read the discs becoming increasingly rare, and idiosyncratic code.

The Domesday project came at a time when the technology was available, but the standards were not yet there to make it stable enough for long-term preservation, or even easy access in the short term. It’s a reminder that digital technologies are hugely enabling, yet frighteningly fragile.

Then there are the copyright issues surrounding both the content and the technology.

Joys of browsing Domesday Reloaded

The BBC should be applauded for finally managing to open up some of the data to the public on the web. The Domesday project was created before the web was invented. This isn’t how the content was designed to be viewed, so navigation is a bit cumbersome.

But aside from this gripe, the Domesday Reloaded website is turning out to be a fascinating resource.

I was born in 1986, the same year in which the Domesday project disc was published. So the Britain described here is a place that I don’t remember. But enough of it is familiar for it to feel incredibly relevant to me. It’s almost like being given a little upgrade to my memory, so that I can have snippets of knowledge from just before I was born.

Take the photographs for D-block GB-328000-690000 — the centre of Kirkcaldy, my hometown (D-block being one of the 4km by 3km areas the UK was divided into). It took me a little while to recognise “Kirkcaldy’s busy High Street”. But once I spotted British Home Stores, I was right there.

Yet, despite the familiarity, it is almost a completely different world. My memory of the High Street before it was pedestrianised is very limited. But it is just within touching distance of my memory for me to feel a strong connection with it.

The text entries are also fascinating. Most of the contributions were provided by primary schools. A decision was taken by the Domesday project not to edit the contributions, so the quality and style of writing varies from area to area.

As such, what strikes me the most is that it informs you as much about the prejudices of the school pupils and their teachers as it does about the area. It also retains their poor spelling and strange grammar.

For instance, an entry from Dundee (D-block GB-336000-732000) called ‘Traffic in and out’ is a basic survey of vehicles travelling on a road, with guesses as to where the vehicles are going and why. It lacks the academic rigour you would ideally want from a historical document.

But while some of the entries may seem banal, it was designed to be this way. The aim was to genuinely document society by capturing childrens’ curiosity with everything. This way it wouldn’t leave out what adults perceive as being obvious, when it wouldn’t necessarily be so obvious to someone in 1,000 years.

Missing D-blocks in Dundee on Domesday Reloaded

The really big shame is that not every part of Britain was documented. I could understand remote rural areas not being included. But sadly some highly populated areas have also been missed out. For instance, two D-blocks that cover the centre and east of Dundee lie blank, as does much of London.

But what exists is a joy. Even in the little amount of scanning I have done, I have already learned new information about the area I live in, which has set my mind racing and inspired me to investigate further.

Challenges for the modern day equivalents

What also struck me is how we actually already have readily-accessible modern-day equivalents of the Domesday project, almost by accident. The BBC is asking for users to update the content for D-blocks that were documented in 1986, to take an equivalent snapshot of 2011. I may go out and take some photographs for that.

But this sort of local information is staggeringly well documented already. We have Wikipedia, which can be edited by anyone but retains an academic approach that the Domesday project lacked. As such, it is a treasure trove of local information that can probably be relied on more.

Meanwhile, Google Earth and Google Maps provide masses of images of all corners of the country. It absolutely dwarfs what’s on Domesday Reloaded.

But the big question, which can’t be answered at the moment, is whether the wealth of information available on the web can be packaged up into a Domesday-style snapshot and preserved forever. The challenges of web preservation are massive.

Like the Domesday project, we could find the digital information almost slipping through our hands. The BBC know that themselves. With a stroke of a pen, it was decided that a significant chunk of British web heritage will be removed when the BBC removes some of its archived pages from the web.

What qualifications do you need to become a bouncer? I think it helps to be big, although I once witnessed a great spectacle in Kirkcaldy when a tiny woman strong-armed someone out the door when a fight was about to break out.

Beyond that, I am not sure. I only ask because so often they seem not to be very bright to say the least.

When I tried to enter a pub a few weeks ago, I was stopped and asked for my ID. There is nothing terribly unusual about that. But in this instance, the bouncer was strangely reluctant to let me in.

He peered at my driving license. He inspected my face.

“The guy on your ID isn’t wearing glasses — but you are.”

Err, correct.

“You’ve got a beard. The guy on your ID doesn’t have one.”

Err, yeah. That’s because I’ve grown a beard.

“The guy on your ID looks quite a bit younger than you.”

By now, I was exasperated. I said quite pointedly, “Well yes, that’s because it was taken when I was 17.”

And let’s not even start on the curious idea that I should not be allowed into a pub because I look older than the photograph on my perfectly valid ID.

I am writing to you direct from my new flat. It has been a hectic week, trying to move up here at the same time as a particularly nasty cold snap has hit the UK, and the east of Scotland in particular.

I was hoping to get the whole thing pretty much finished this week – I had even booked the week off work in order to get as much done as possible. Instead I am sitting here having not done very much, and even feel like it is a major achievement just to be sitting here.

I got the keys last Friday, and travelled up with some bits and pieces. There was loads of kitchen stuff that I bought two years ago at the Woolworths closing down sale! I had my staff discount on top of all the discounts that were going on anyway, so I got plenty of bargains.

Over the weekend, the snow worsened. A trip to Ikea was planned for Monday, but I decided to postpone it until Tuesday as the weather was looking like it was due to be a bit better. But the trip down was pretty hairy. I am pretty glad that my dad decided he would drive the van that we had hired. The conditions would probably have got the better of me – as they got the better of dad a few times.

We hadn’t been in Ikea for more than perhaps 15 minutes when an announcement was made that they would be closing the store in 60 minutes! That is not enough time to do Ikea properly, so the whole rest of the time was a completely mad stress-rush.

Considering the time constraints, I think I did a pretty good job, but there are still glaring gaps. I don’t have shelves for all my CDs. I don’t have a bed for the second bedroom. And most of all, I still don’t have a sofa. All there is to sit on is one office-type chair that I bought for the computer desk.

After taking it all up to Dundee, we had real trouble getting the van out of the snow. Luckily, the main roads between Kirkcaldy and Dundee have been largely okay whenever I have made the journey. But as soon as you turn off onto a side-street, the snow gets pretty bad.

I can’t get anywhere near my proper parking space, and it looks like all of my neighbours have their cars properly stranded. We made the mistake of being a bit too ambitious coming in, instead of parking on the street before (as I have done today!). Luckily, the neighbours seem really good and helped us get out!

There is still an awful lot to do. My bed has been built, so I am sleeping here tonight. Tomorrow, an engineer from Virgin Media is due to arrive to install my broadband, television and telephone line. Unfortunately, I still  haven’t got an HD television to test out the new HD Virgin Media box! I ordered it a week ago but it hasn’t arrived here yet – not that I’m surprised due to the snow. Hopefully it won’t be too much of a problem for Mr Virgin Media.

Meanwhile, I am kicking myself for some of the things I have forgotten to bring with me! Despite owning two phone chargers, I have neglected to bring either of them – so I have to keep remembering to go easy on my phone usage. That means that this little stay at my flat will be short-lived. I will go back to “old home” tomorrow afternoon, and I probably won’t return here until Monday evening.

I will get moved in one day…

A little milestone was passed this week when I bought my first car. I learnt to drive five years ago. I wasn’t the sort of person that started lessons as soon as I turned 17. I saw no need, and waited until I was 20. After passing my test, I don’t think I drove for about another two years.

Driving has never particularly appealed to me. A lot of people find it strange that I am so fanatical about motorsport, but have little interest in driving on the road. But for me the pursuits are unrelated. I don’t see the fun in driving on public roads. I find it more stressful and frightening than anything else.

I was lucky because my home town of Kirkcaldy has pretty good public transport connections, so it was easy to see the car as a non-essential luxury. Almost anywhere I needed to go was an easy train or bus journey away.

The current commute

But the past year or so has stretched that idea to breaking point. I now work in St Andrews. Many assume I get there by taking the train to Leuchars then a bus from Leuchars to St Andrews. But I can’t be bothered with the fuss — plus it would be pretty expensive.

Instead, I have generally gone by bus. The plus side is that it is very cheap. You can get a ticket that can be used multiple times across seven days on any journey within Fife. This costs £23 a week. That’s what I used to pay to go to Dunfermline, but the journey to St Andrews is much longer, so is better value for money.

That brings us to the very problem with the journey — its length. The bus journey itself takes 65 minutes. The walk from my house to Kirkcaldy bus station is roughly ten minutes. The walk from St Andrews bus station to my work is roughly ten minutes.

So basically I spend around three hours every day travelling to and from work. That is 15 hours a week. As far as I’m concerned, those 15 hours constitute a full day minus sleep.

I don’t mind the journey so much in the mornings. Even though I am not a morning person, getting up at 6.45am has not been as bad as I had feared. To my amazement, I have never once missed the bus — even if it has involved some Olympic walking in order to catch it. The journey itself is quite a relaxing way to start the day. I could have a wee snooze, listen to podcasts, and generally ease myself into the day.

But the journey on the way home was never so good. At that time of day, you just want to get home as soon as possible. But all of the biggest bus problems have happened on the way home.

There is a bus that leaves St Andrews at 17.10, which is normally fine. But what if that bus doesn’t turn up, or I have to stay behind a bit at work, or someone wants a stop-and-chat? I basically won’t be getting home for at least two hours. For some reason, the bus that leaves at 17.40 only goes as far as Leven, and I have to wait 10 or 15 minutes at Leven to hop on a bus that will get to Kirkcaldy.

The bus is seldom comfortable either, and it can be incredibly stuffy, even in winter. Less fuss by bus? Really?

The decision to buy a car

I became used to the lengthy bus journeys after a while. But it was a real drain on my spare time. The plan has always been to try and move closer to St Andrews, and somewhere that had a good bus connection. But that has taken far longer than I had anticipated.

The final straw came this week when I was trying to work out how I can get to Alloa to visit my brother. When the least fuss-free option was a bus journey that lasts well over an hour and involves changing at Kincardine, that was when I decided: it’s probably time to bite the bullet and buy a car.

It all happened quite quickly. It was not in my mind on Thursday. But I had more or less made the decision to buy a car on Friday. On Sunday, I bought one.

Choosing a Fiat

Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco

I opted to buy a Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco. I had experienced it as a passenger as my dad has recently bought one too. So I kind of knew what I was getting.

I find it quite an impressive car in terms of bang for your buck. I couldn’t find many cars cheaper that weren’t six-year-old French cars with a million miles on the clock. It’s nice to know also that the Panda’s fuel consumption is pretty good, and its low emissions mean that vehicle tax is £30.

The big thing I felt was the pride in owning a car. I hadn’t expected to feel anything particularly. But I realised that I have placed a lot of responsibility on myself. It is a vote of confidence in myself. The car is easily the largest purchase I have ever made. I think car insurance is almost the second largest!

It feels right to go for a Fiat. There was a big niggle in the back of my brain that somehow buying a Fiat would lead to me indirectly funding Scuderia Ferrari! But beyond that, I quite like Fiats and always have done. The first two cars I remember my dad driving were both Fiat Unos.

After that he bought a Daewoo Matiz, which is the car I drove whenever I ventured out before. But it did not seem like a robust car. Its screeching fan belt was notorious among my friends (it continued to screech even after it was ‘fixed’ two or three times), and it did not feel particularly confident going round corners.

That is not at all ideal if you are trying to drive on one of the windy, hilly roads on the journey towards St Andrews. I have a feeling that the Panda will be better to commute with.

The inevitable downsides

All except for one thing. I will not be able to listen to podcasts while driving. The car comes with an FM / MW radio and a CD player. As far as I’m concerned, that is like buying a PC that still has a floppy drive. At least with a cassette player you can use a cassette adapter to play your iPod through. A CD player is useless.

I love radio. I am also a big fan of DAB radio, which this car will not give me. I will survive sticking to bog standard FM / MW radio stations, but it will be a pain nonetheless. The Panda may be a great value car — but you still get what you pay for.

Who says I always manage to find the negatives?…

This week Ferrari caused a ripple when it published a provocative article on its blog, The Horse Whisperer. The final paragraph is worth quoting in full, not only because it makes an interesting point, but because it elegantly quotes Adam Smith. (Motorsport, economics and my home town of Kirkcaldy all in one little paragraph!)

This is the legacy of the holy war waged by the former FIA president. The cause in question was to allow smaller teams to get into Formula 1. This is the outcome: two teams will limp into the start of the championship, a third is being pushed into the ring by an invisible hand – you can be sure it is not the hand of Adam Smith – and, as for the fourth, well, you would do better to call on Missing Persons to locate it. In the meantime, we have lost two constructors along the way, in the shape of BMW and Toyota, while at Renault, there’s not much left other than the name. Was it all worth it?

As fans have watched the progress (and non-progress) of the new teams over winter, many will have been wondering just how much of a success the FIA’s initiative to introduce new teams have been. A lot of political turmoil was caused last year when the FIA all of a sudden decided that ten teams on the grid is not enough.

Never mind the fact that there were just ten teams on the grid for the majority of the past decade, and it was never viewed as a problem before. And never mind that it was Max Mosley who originally said that the existence of teams like Williams was not how he envisaged the future of Formula 1.

Just like that — to prove some kind of political point, or maybe just for a bit of a scrap — he changed his mind. New privateers were now essential for the future of the sport. Manufacturers were driven out, to the point where basically only Mercedes are left (and Ferrari remain, but clearly unhappy with the way the sport is run).

Quantity over quality?

Formula 1 2010 brings yet another radical new look to the sport. There is no doubt that the greatly shaken-up grid has generated a large amount of interest. But there is a distinctly different style to the grid. This brings us to ask: is the new way better than the old way?

In recent years, the emphasis has been on the quality of the participants. Yes, there were relatively few entrants. Costs were sky-high. But viewers were guaranteed to be watching the best of the best.

It is probably no exaggeration to say that the 20 drivers in F1 were among the 25-or-so most capable people for the job. Pay drivers, who have been a fixture of motorsport since its earliest days, had all but vanished. Even the very worst of recent F1 drivers — the likes of Romain Grosjean or Nelsinho Piquet — would put drivers like Jean-Denis Délétraz or Ricardo Rosset in the shade.

I am all for new and privateer teams coming into F1. But it should be a proper process, and not rushed and contrived like the situation this year.

Although the history of the F1 Rejects — the remarkable drivers who ploughed on with their F1 careers despite not ever having a hope of achieving anything — is long and proud, the pinnacle of motorsport ought to be the pinnacle of motorsport. Right now, F1 is going through a process of artificial watering down. This is thanks to the FIA.

The FIA’s fundamental misunderstanding of motorsport

I have been genuinely worried by the FIA in recent years. They seem to have genuinely no idea what makes motorsport great. Witness the continued decline of the World Rally Championship. While it is currently undergoing a slight boost thanks to Kimi Räikkönen, it is otherwise a shadow of its former self. Meanwhile, the relatively new Intercontinental Rally Challenge, just a few years old and more or less invented by a television company, continues to gain admirers.

IRC is attracting attention because it gives the fans what they want. Meanwhile, the FIA continue to do mad things with the WRC, such as messing around with the calendar unnecessarily.

Up until recently, the idea that the FIA were totally clueless was just a hunch of mine. Sure, it has appeared that way for a long time. But maybe they saw the bigger picture. Perhaps the crazy “world engine” concept — whereby Formula 1, World Rally and World Touring cars would all share the same engine — really was needed in order to save the environment.

Well, no. It simply derives from a fundamental misunderstanding about what makes motorsport exciting to so many people.

The January edition of the excellent Motor Sport magazine podcast contained a truly shocking revelation that I’m surprised more hasn’t been made of. I urge you to listen to it. The relevant section is 35 minutes and 50 seconds in.

Motorsport journalist Nigel Roebuck recounts a meeting with Max Mosley:

He did actually say at one point — and he meant it, he wasn’t being facetious — we were talking about the spectators and he said, “Would they miss the noise, Nigel, do you think?”

I couldn’t believe he was asking the question. I said, “Max, the noise is half of it.”

And then he said, “I always find when I’m watching the race on television, the engine noise is such a distraction. I can’t hear what the commentator’s saying sometimes.”

And he wasn’t being facetious. It did strike me then — it does worry me. You know, “you and Bernie are the most powerful people in motor racing, and you’re not actually sure of the answer to that question. In which case, you’ve missed the point entirely.”

Thanks to the FIA’s recent moves, we are now in a situation where Formula 1 is no longer the elite sport that it was. I have recently been asked if the 107% rule — whereby excessively slow cars are weeded out during qualifying — is still in force. It hasn’t been for years, but it’s telling that some people haven’t even noticed that the rule was ditched long ago, but are now interested to find out if it still exists.

For the past few years, it didn’t matter whether the 107% rule existed or not. Every team was capable of producing a competitive car. Not this year.

Incidentally, the quotes from Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone about the introduction of the 107% rule are very interesting in relation to their recent policy of encouraging more small teams, regardless of their quality:

Max Mosley: “Any small team which is properly organised will be able to get within the the 107 per cent margin.”

Bernie Ecclestone: “Formula 1 is the best. And we don’t need anything in it that isn’t the best.”

Snow on bridgeI would like to wish everyone who still reads this a very merry Christmas.

As time has gone on, my updates have become increasingly sporadic. I am surprised and touched that people keep coming back to read and comment on what I have written. Looking back, I have actually written almost a hundred articles for this website in the past year (I am surprised it is that many). But at times it has been at the rate of just a few a month.

My year in brief

It has been quite a strange year. It started with me losing my part-time job at Woolworths. The closure of the store was itself quite an odd experience.

But losing that job didn’t hit me so hard. My long term future was never going to be with Woolworths. I graduated in summer 2008 and was hoping to find a job that could have reflected this. But it wasn’t happening.

I spent several months visiting the Jobcentre while experimenting with being self employed. While the bits and bobs of freelance work I was doing was good in the sense that I made an amount of money that was greater than zero, it didn’t provide anything like the security I needed in order to make plans for the long term.

Over the summer things slowed down quite alarmingly. I took a break after I was amazingly invited to a tour around the Williams F1 factory and museum.

It was the first time I had gone on anything resembling a holiday for a long while. I hung around in Oxford for a day or so then on the way back went via London to briefly visit friends. But because of the last-minute nature of the trip it was very hectic and felt rushed. It is the only time I have ever felt what I would call being intensely tired.

I arrived back to bad news on the work front. After another month or so of inactivity, it had felt like things had hit rock bottom.

Luckily, it was rock bottom. Since then, the news has all been good. Having decided that doing anything was better than rotting at home, I applied for an internship in the office of an MP. Unlike the freelance work, I did not earn more than zero by doing this. However, I can safely say that nothing has been more valuable to me in terms of gaining confidence in my abilities, which had been totally shot.

I only had to spend a couple of months there before — finally — finding a good job. My first month working at the University of St Andrews has been great. The only problem is the journey from Kirkcaldy, which is a bit on the long side. But apart from that, things are going well. In complete contrast to earlier on this year, I now feel lucky in so many ways.

The future of my online activities

Now that I am settling down to some kind of routine, I am hoping to be able to update this website more regularly. Certainly, once I move closer to St Andrews I will hopefully have more spare time in the evenings.

But now that I am in full time employment, I don’t have the time or energy to continue running three separate blogs, as I have been doing for the past couple of years. At the start of 2007, I decided to stop writing about motorsport here and set up a separate blog, vee8, to act as an outlet for my thoughts on Formula 1.

That worked really well at first. But over the past year or so, as I have had less and less time on my hands, it has meant that both doctorvee and vee8 have been neglected too much. It is so easy to concentrate on one blog and forget about the other. I feel that now both websites are suffering.

So I have taken the decision to close down vee8, and bring my writing on motorsport back onto this website. I know this won’t be popular with everyone, but it no longer makes sense to have these two separate websites when I no longer even have the time to properly maintain one. The change will happen some time in the new year.

In preparation for the change, I will remind those readers who are not in the least bit interested in F1 that the F1-free RSS feed still works. So if you want to subscribe to this website without being bombarded with opinion on motorsport, subscribe to the F1-free RSS feed.

Merry Christmas!

Until that happens, I hope you all have a relaxing Christmas period. I could certainly do with a wee break to recover from the hectic nature of the tail end of this year, and the extra time will come in handy for working on the changes I am making to this website.

It was revealed yesterday that Gordon Brown will spend part of his summer doing voluntary work in Kirkcaldy, the town where he grew up which forms the major part of his constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. It is also my home town.

Some uncharitable people have suggested that his job may involve digging holes, something he has done quite enough of as Prime Minister. More cutting might be the observation that voluntary work is the only sort of work you’ll be able to find in Kirkcaldy.

A couple of weeks ago, The Times ran a piece about the economic woes which have hit Kirkcaldy which was a talking point among some of my friends. Aside from apparently inventing the demonym “Kirkcaldians” (I personally prefer “Langtonian”, named after the town’s old nickname, the Lang Toun), I think the article is largely a fair and accurate reflection of the town.

I have written before about the sorry state of the Mercat, the town’s main shopping centre which used to house my former workplace, Woolworths. Over the difficult Christmas period the Mercat went from bad to worse. But it gets just a passing mention in the Times piece, with its mere eight or more empty units.

Apparently there are thirty empty units in the High Street. There is a particularly dire section in the middle of the pedestrianised zone, where three shops in a row — which used to be the Link, Adams and Icon Clothing — now lie empty. What remains has been criticised for exhibiting the characteristics of a clone town (PDF link). Beyond that, particularly in the west end, what isn’t a chain store is most likely a pawn shop or a charity shop.

Perhaps this is not particularly unusual. The death of the High Street has been widely advertised, so this is not a problem unique to Kirkcaldy. The Times article briefly touches on the retail park. It sits on the north-western edge of the town, well away from the centre. But it is currently being expanded, a development which feels like a desperately-needed shot in the arm for Kirkcaldy.

The problem is that it just is not enough. Indeed, the clamour over the few new jobs that are available serve to bring into focus just how dire the situation is. I have lost count of the number of people that I know of applying for the same few jobs.

A new B&Q has opened, although the old one closed. A number of my former colleagues at Woolworths have ended up working there. PC World is another new store at the retail park. But so many people I know applied for jobs there. A friend who got an interview there was told that they had been bombarded with over 700 applications.

If you got rejected by PC World, you could always try applying for a job at the new Toys R Us. The only problem is that they apparently had 3,000 applications. Only a lucky 350 got an interview, with just 40 places going.

An Argos Extra has also opened up. They held an assessment day at the Jobcentre a couple of months ago. I saw it with my own eyes as I walked past it. There were two queues coming out of the Jobcentre, one in each direction. I have been told that the larger of the two queues stretched all the way to the police station, which sits at the opposite end of a street which is the best part of 200 yards long.

The store has been open for just over a week now. The good news on that front is that my friend, who transferred to work there from the existing High Street store, reports that sales have been very encouraging. Whether that is simply down to the excitement of something new opening in Kirkcaldy remains to be seen.

As for the Jobcentre itself, that continues to hire new people, including one of my friends. What they’ll do with the new staff when demand for the Jobecentre’s services is not so strong is unclear. But at the moment that feels like a distant possibility anyway. Whenever I went there I was often told they were short staffed.

In the Times article, there is a quote about the Jobcentre by a man called Tam Collins: “they expect you to stack shelves at Asda.” I got exactly that when I visited the Jobcentre. Going there is a fruitless task which I have now given up.

The Asda is a new store which has opened up in neighbouring Glenrothes. It is probably the most exciting thing in terms of employment to happen in Glenrothes for years. That is another place where a few of my former Woolworths colleagues have ended up. In a way they were lucky — Asda received over 7,000 applications for that one store.

Meanwhile, the town’s largest employer, a call centre called MGt, has recently shed 65 jobs as a result of the closure of Setanta. 65 looks like a small number compared to the amount that are already looking for work. But MGt has provided a lifeline to Kirkcaldy in terms of employment since it set up around a decade ago. Today it has around 1,000 people on its books. I dread to think what Kirkcaldy would be like if it wasn’t for MGt. That even MGt is downsizing is ominous.

But that sums up Kirkcaldy. It lost its way after the industrial decline of the previous fifty years. Now if you want a job in Kirkcaldy you need to either work in a call centre or in the precarious retail sector. And even then, good luck to you. After my previous experience of working in retail, I am avoiding it if at all possible.

Seven months since losing my job at Woolworths, and over a year since I graduated, I still haven’t found a full time job (although I’m lucky to have found bits and pieces of freelance work). I have well and truly hit the buffers, and I am now starting with a blank sheet of paper to decide on my next move.

One of my biggest mistakes was to focus my search too narrowly on a small geographical area. I certainly didn’t bet on finding a job in Kirkcaldy — it was bad enough before and clearly getting worse. But I planned on finding something in the eastern part of the central belt — somewhere within an area encompassing Fife, Dundee, Perth, Stirling or of course Edinburgh. No luck yet. I will have to broaden my search further and hope that something comes up, or hope that I will be able to rely on freelance work in the long term. I wouldn’t like to bet on relying on getting a job at a call centre in Kirkcaldy.

It is sad that Kirkcaldy is like this. This is the town of Adam Smith, the father of modern economics who looked out onto the bustling Firth of Forth, full of trade ships, and was thereby inspired to investigate sources of wealth. Today he would only be inspired to investigate the weed growth in the derelict former workplaces.

Sadder is the role of Gordon Brown. Surely, some people say, if there was one man who could save Kirkcaldy, it would be the Prime Minister and former Chancellor, who grew up here and depends on the residents’ votes. Some are truly furious about it.

Others, as the Times article notes, inexplicably give him and the government the benefit of the doubt. Talking to people, it is genuinely true that there are people in Kirkcaldy who believe that Gordon Brown is a competent leader who has somehow been stitched up. Even for failed leaders, the halo effect is still in evidence.

That is the irony. The people of Kirkcaldy are probably the one set of voters in the country that Gordon Brown can afford to take for granted. Could it be that having the local man as Prime Minister has exacerbated Kirkcaldy’s problems?

It would indeed be harsh to lay the blame wholly at Gordon Brown’s door. Kirkcaldy had problems before, and most of what has happened in the past year can be put down to the global recession.

But the Labour Party is supposed to look after the interests of people who live and work in towns just like Kirkcaldy — a former industrial town that slips ever-further into the mire, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. On the evidence I see with my own eyes, the Labour Party have failed us.

I’m not a terribly big football fan. I used to be interested, but I went right off it early this decade. My theory is that this is down to the fact that the football team I was brought up to support is Dumbarton FC. Despite having been born in Kirkcaldy and lived here almost all my life, since my father is from Dumbarton that is who I was encouraged to support. My dad is a big Dumbarton supporter. That is why his blog, and indeed his book, are called A Son of the Rock.

But despite my dad’s fanaticism, I don’t think supporting Dumbarton was conducive to me becoming a football fan. It’s not easy to support a football team that is based at the opposite end of the country, especially when that team is — to be fair — crap.

There was also the experience of having sat for ages in what must be some of Scotland’s grubbiest football grounds. Most of my matches must have taken place at Dumbarton’s former home of Boghead Park. By the time it was vacated in 2000, it had been Dumbarton’s home ground for 121 years. At the time, it was the longest any senior football club had occupied a ground. It was a shitehole. Nice views though, which I enjoyed from the pitch on the invasion following the last-ever game played there.

I’ve been to Cowdenbeath’s ground a few too many times for my liking too. I once utterly lost the will to live, freezing my bollocks off standing at the railings there. Worst of all though was East Fife’s ground, Bayview Stadium. This place has one stand. This stand sits in the shade. It also directly faces the North Sea. I don’t think I have ever been so cold in my life.

This weekend, I decided on a whim to travel through with my dad to watch Dumbarton play. It must have been my first football match for six or seven years. It was possible for them to win the Division 3 Championship. I thought it would be interesting to watch Dumbarton achieve something, though I have since learned that I apparently watched Dumbarton get promoted before, and I have absolutely no recollection of it.

Saturday’s experience was a reminder of just how far away Dumbarton is. We left the house at 12:30pm, and didn’t return until the back of 8pm. And all we did was watch a football match.

The football wasn’t the sort of standard that would convert me back. Dumbarton were too dominant. Elgin City, bottom of the table, had nothing to play for and they certainly looked like a squad sapped of motivation.

Dumbarton ended up winning 6-0, breaking a couple of records in the process. Derek Carcary put four of them away, becoming the first Dumbarton player to do so since the 1970s. Dumbarton also surpassed their all-time record of not letting any goals in, currently standing at almost 700 minutes.

Dumbarton players celebrate I watched Dumbarton become Division 3 champions in all but name. The fans and players celebrated, but there was no trophy presentation. East Stirlingshire, just three points behind, still technically have a chance of winning. But with a goal difference, er, difference of 18, it is almost 100% certain that they will not. I felt it was a slightly surreal and empty way for Dumbarton to become champions. Nonetheless, champions they apparently are. It makes them the first team in Scotland to become Champions at four different levels!

Funnily enough, I was almost roped in to watching my local team Raith Rovers last week. In the end it didn’t happen. But congratulations to them as well. This weekend they became Division 2 champions. I didn’t see any dancing in the streets.

Yesterday, for the first time in a while, I took a trip into Kirkcaldy’s main shopping centre, the Mercat. I’m very familiar with the first set of shops that meet you from the entrance. I passed them all many, many times on my way to work at the late, great Woolworths.

This opening corridor is a very strange looking place now. The entrance to Woolworths lies at the end of the corridor, facing the entrance to the Mercat. It is the first thing you see as you enter. This alone makes the shopping centre feel dark and desolate. Instead of a bustling Woolies, there is now a large grey shutter, unflinchingly shut.

What is now striking about this section of the Mercat is the fact that so many other shops have shut since Woolies closed down. In fact, when you look at it, there is barely a shop between the entrance of the Mercat and Woolworths that hasn’t been badly affected by the recession.

At the entrance, on the left, is The Officers Club. This briefly went into administration just before Christmas. But a number of stores were saved, including Kirkcaldy’s. This is actually one of the few success stories of the Mercat’s recent past.

Opposite The Officers Club is The Works. This has been in the Mercat for a while. The only problem is, it used to occupy a much larger unit with two floors. The new Works is probably a third of the size. It occupies the slot that was vacated by Bookworld a couple of years ago.

The old home of The Works was filled over Christmas by Calendar Club, a makeshift shop that was only there for a couple of months. Today the unit lies empty.

Next to it lies the former home of Internacionale. This has become empty since Christmas. Presumably they have moved into the Mk One unit at the other end of the shopping centre.

Further along, we come to Passion for Perfume. This is another chain which unravelled in the run-up to Christmas. Today, it’s just another grey shutter left permanently down.

Opposite lies an empty space which is presumably a unit which has been vacant for as long as I can remember. This is next door to Card Factory which has also recently closed down. the Original Shoe Company, a JJB Sports subsidiary which was recently put into administration. Now the only thing on display there is the windolene smeared all over the entrance.

At the top of the corridor, next to the former Woolies unit lies the entrance to an actual JJB Sports. Ironically, this is actually a relatively new shop. It fills a unit that had been empty for a while. It was extensively renovated to accommodate JJB Sports. The shop itself is upstairs, residing directly above Woolworths. I reckon around 18 months was spent building just above our shop (and they were quite noisy about it at times too).

Then, mere days after JJB opened, rumours about its seriously poor health surfaced. I think it, just about, remains open. But I hear it is absolutely dead. I am not surprised given than you are presented with nothing but an escalator when you go through the entrance.

I have heard that JJB were actually reluctant to move in. I am told that the Mercat paid for all of the renovation work themselves. If that is true, they must really be kicking themselves. Not only did they build it for a shop that has been on its knees ever since it opened, they could now take their pick from about half a dozen empty units.

This is a stroke of bad luck really. Once you turn the corner past Woolies, the situation is not quite so bad. But the impression you get as you walk through the entrance is that the Mercat is half dead. Almost every store along the way has been affected by the credit crunch, the only exceptions being Greggs and HMV.

It may put people off proceeding further than Woolies. The whole place feels so dark and empty now. Instead of bright shop lights, you are presented with shutter after shutter. The contrast to twelve months ago could hardly be greater.

(With apologies to dad, from whom I nicked this post’s title.)