Friday, December 29, 2006

The Festive Season Has Become A Scrummage Over A Cheap Vest, And Is Best Avoided

I do not believe in December, a month blighted by Christmas. In the days of my childhood it was dark and cold, and nature was dormant. Nothing happened, save the frost, and the mist, and the general sense of drear. In Scotland, Christmas was noted quietly, without fuss, but the Bacchanalian excesses were saved for the ominous cacophony of the bells on Hogmanay,after which there were whisky and kisses and tears, though not always in that order. My mother, Mrs Elder, (or Ma'am) used to refer to the chimes of midnight as Hell's Bells, but she averted any ill-consequences by hosing the house with bleach and removing to the bunker any item which might have been construed as decadent. My father, Mr Elder, often came into this category, not least because of his habit of filling "The Mecca" (an earthenware hot water bottle made by Grimwades Ltd, of England) with advocaat in order to fend off the cold.
In recent years, however, the devils of commerce have hijacked the whole festive business. Christmas begins in September and only stops with the opening of the Jenners sale, though that is less of an event than it used to be; being reduced - since the takeover by Frasers - to a scrummage over a cheap vest.
As it is now all-but impossible to ignore the siren call of shopping, I have taken to hibernating during the Christmas period. Generally, I take to my bed at the first sighting of an advertisement for Terry's unpleasant Chocolate Oranges, and re-emerge when the scrabbling of urban foxes at the door grows insistent - a sure sign that the streets are littered with the discarded carcasses of force-fed bubblyjock.
I am awake now, but not yet awakened. To nurse myself back to sentience, I have been reading the poems of Mr Edwin Muir. Today, I read Scotland's Winter, and was reminded, for some reason, of the Senior Retainer, Mr Jack McConnell, and his colleagues in that Council of Despair, the Holyrood parliament.
But they, the powerless dead,
Listening can hear no more
Than a hard tapping on the floor
A little overhead
Of common heels that do not know
Whence they come or where they go
And are content
With their poor frozen life and shallow banishment.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In The Heat Of War, The Cliche Is The Enemy, So It Is Time To Disarm Those Who Talk Of Silver Bullets

Once, when I was employed in an advisory capacity at Scotland's Notional Newspaper, The Scotsman, I happened to mention to a young reporter that her story was full of cliches. It was, to coin a phrase, jam-packed with prefabricated language. The wastepaper bin at the Hallmark card factory would have contained less weary verbiage.
But the reporter was unabashed. "Cliches become cliches," she reprimanded me, "because they're true."
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I fear she was hitting the nail on the head, and - as if to prove it - she went on to enjoy a glittering career.
Perhaps she was right to be unapologetic. Journalism is an ecological industry concerned with the recycling of old words. But the use of cliches still rankles. This afternoon, on BBC Radio 4's The World at One, I heard one of the most annoying examples, when someone - it does not matter who - noted that: "There is no silver bullet to end the violence in Iraq."
What is this "silver bullet", and how does it have the capacity to end war? Is it fired from a silver gun by the Lone Ranger? Or is it related the "magic bullet" often mentioned by whey-faced apologists for chaos, but which is actually derived from the conspiracy theories about the assassination of President John F Kennedy?
The two terms are used interchangeably, their purpose being to avoid the less poetic statement: "I don't know". But really, all they do is add confusion, particularly when the subject is war. I am told that American tank crews in the first Gulf War used the nickname "silver bullet" for sabot cannon shells, due to their ability to destroy Iraqi tanks with a single shot. So the sentence, "there is no silver bullet to end the violence in Iraq" may be true, but in a different way than would be assumed by a casual listener.
I realise, of course, that the silver bullet has a long history, and is invaluable when one is attacked by werewolves or vampires, though some would say that a wooden stake is a more reliable implement in the latter case. When in doubt, one should merely avoid Midlothian.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Further Evidence That The BBC Is Broadcasting In An Open-Necked Shirt

This morning on BBC Radio Four's Desert Island Discs, I heard Ms Kirsty Young use the word "chavs" without irony or apology. Moments later, a news announcer read a report which included the phrase "economic no-brainer"; a term which should never be used, unless in connection with Lord (Norman) Lamont.
Another two daisies on the grave of Lord Reith.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Voluntary Holiday On St Andrew's Day Is A Triumph For The Politics Of The Daft Patriotic Gesture

As a Senior Citizen, I take a dim view of public holidays. In general, I side with the late Mr Mick McGahey, who I once observed at close quarters in Larry's barbershop, in the basement of 10 Montgomery Street, Leith. The gruff miners' leader - though it should be noted that Mr McGahey led all Scottish miners, and not just the gruff ones - was having a pensioners' short-back-and-sides at the hands of Mr Larry's son, Mr Paul. Mr Paul's hairdressing skills were impaired by his partial deafness, which inhibited his ability to chat; a slight handicap in a barber, but a bearable one, as long as one does not greet every misheard reply with a sudden ejaculation of "Eh!" - as Mr Paul often did.
However, aware as he was of his father's ability to converse on such disparate topics as the weather, the phrasing of Mr Frank Sinatra, and the surprising banality of naked ladies on the beach of Benalmadena, Mr Paul was not deterred, and on this occasion he asked Mr McGahey the usually routine question: "Have you any holidays planned?" Without looking up from his knitting, Mr McGahey let out a terrible grunt, and coughed out the following words: "I'm done wi' all that." His point, as I surmised it, was that we pensioners are always on holiday, even if we do not always denote this by wearing a Kiss-Me-Quick hat.
All of which brings me to the Scottish parliament's decision to implement a voluntary public holiday on St Andrew's day. This, according to Mr Dennis Canavan, whose briliant idea it was, will allow us to celebrate our national identity, albeit in a way that does not alienate the minority populations of Pakistan and the like, who will presumably be required to do their national duty and keep their shops open late so that everyone else can buy crates of fortified wine.
A voluntary holiday is, I think, a very Scottish solution. The only thing more Scottish would be a national day of half-day closing in which the cafes and tearooms refused to serve lunch because "the kitchen closed five minutes ago".
Incidentally, on watching Reporting Scotland, I couldn't help noticing two things. Firstly, the Senior Retainer, Mr McConnell, has developed a new style of public address, with a poetic metre somewhere between that of the Prime Minister and a speak-your-weight machine. He talks as. If he is. Receiving Messages From. The Littlegreenmen In His. Invisible Earpiece.
It is very disturbing.
Secondly, the report on the St Andrew's Day holiday was delivered by a Mr John Knox. A small comfort.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Farewell to The Great Entertainer, Mr Michael Grade. (You Can Stop Spinning In Your Grave Now, Lord Reith)

My relationship with television is, I admit, unusual. My mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am), came from Brethren stock, and thus harboured a suspicion of all electrical appliances, with the exception of her Kenwood Chef, which was employed to make all manner of cakes (fairy, angel), puddings (butterscotch Instant Whip, mostly)and a surprising array of savoury dishes which did not usually require the intervention of a powered whisk (omelette, baked mince, and Beef Wellington, which, improbably, took its flavour from a tenderised gumboot).
For many years, she resisted television's sultry advances, and lectured nightly on the dangers inherent in what she called "blue-light" homes, these being houses in which the living room light was turned off, leaving the inhabitants bathed in the afterglow of the cathode ray tube. This blue light was, I understood, every bit as pornographic in its symbolism as a red bulb, and far more common, even in the town, where dens of iniquity were plentiful.
But, as the years went by, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) softened. The invention of interior design - whilst otherwise regrettable - led to the production of television sets disguised as antique furniture, thereby allowing Brethren families, and those of us whose pursuit of joylessness was merely Presbyterian, to exist in a happy state of deception and self-delusion. When visitors came round - which was not often - the doors of the front of the television swung shut with the ominous finality of Mr Auguste Rodin's Gates of Hell, thus creating the innocent illusion that the Elder family was in the habit of staring at the tallboy of a winter's evening. (This was not entirely untrue).
As is the way with sin, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am)'s attitude softened. Eventually, the doors of the television were replaced with a net curtain drawn across the screen. This was not helpful when trying to read the words on Call My Bluff, but it did lend an implication of voyeurism to The Duchess of Duke Street.
But some rules remained. Commercial television was not encouraged, and Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) could sometimes be heard complaining about "ITV people"; these being uncouth individuals with a brash disregard for good manners. Her contention was that ITV's audience, being by definition weak-willed, was unfit to endure the bombardment by advertisements which was, and is, accepted as the norm on commercial television.
In this, she was, and remains, ahead of her time, and I doubt whether she would be mourning the decision of Mr Michael Grade to abandon public service at the BBC for the gay diversions of the independent sector. It is a fact unreported in the hours of broadcasting devoted to Mr Grade's career that, having already attracted the nickname Pornographer-in-Chief during his stint at Channel 4, Mr Grade has turned the BBC into a republic of mediocrity. Under his watch, Mr Jonathan Ross was awarded £18m of licence payers' money to compensate for his imperfect diction. The schedules are full of minor celebrities pretending to be ballroom dancers. News reporters no longer wear ties. Even the programmes of the admirable Sir David Attenborough have been given a musical soundtrack, on the assumption that the viewer will be unable to appreciate unaided the majesty of nature.
I am aware that time does not stand still and we may never again enjoy programming of the standard of Softly, Softly, Tomorrow's World (with Mr Raymond Baxter presenting) or Call My Bluff. But we should not mourn the Great Entertainer. He will, I trust, be very happy under the blue lights of ITV.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In The Autumn, My Doorstep Becomes A Springy Mat Of Red Elastic

This morning, on stepping oustide my front door, I was catapulted into the earth's atmosphere. In the moments which followed, I saw various kinds of flotsam and jetsam - discarded rayguns, wrappers from astronaut ice cream, a Hillman Imp being driven by Laika, the space dog - before performing a quarter-front somersault with two-and-a-half twists, and landing perfectly on the cushioned soles of my Polyveldts. (I learned this move - known as a "Ball Out: Randy" - during the summer of 1971, when I worked the trampolines in the Lodge Grounds, North Berwick).
On landing, I inspected the step and discovered the cause of this "trampoline" effect. In recent months, and for reasons that remain obscure, the postie has been leaving elastic offerings on my front step. These come in the form of red rubber bands. There are now hundreds of them, and over time, with the soft caressing of the autumn wind, they have tangled together, into a mat of red elastic tumbleweed. Ordinarily, this would be untidy, but not dangerous. However, the addition of the everlasting sole of the Polyveldt shoe had a dramatic effect, transforming this gentle, if lithe, senior citizen into Spring-Heeled Jack.
The odd thing is, I never receive any letters. No cards, or letters from the lost or the loved, no bills, no credit card offers or complimentary charity Biros.
Only elastic.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Mr Idi Amin May Have Been A Genocidal Maniac, But He Was No Fan Of The See You Jimmy Wig, And For That He Must Be Praised

As well as being Honorary President (Acting) of the Peebles Showboaters' Amateur Dramatic Society, it is my great pleasure to be Creative Director of the Peebles Stargazers' International Film Festival, which is Scotland's longest-running festival devoted to the films of Mr Burt Lancaster. This year, we have been screening a double bill of Elmer Gantry and The Swimmer, and I was happy to give the festival's annual lecture, The Politics of Zeal, which sought parallels between the "big tent" evangelism of Elmer Gantry and the Colgate Corporatism of Mr Tony Blair, and his eager apprentice, Mr David Cameron.
But as well as the films of Mr Lancaster, the Stargazers' festival has a "surprise movie". This year, it was the British premiere of The Last King of Scotland, which has its official premiere in London tonight. Without wishing to spoil the fun, I can confirm that it is a film in the modern style, with shaky camerawork and very loud drums in the places where actors might once have been asked to provide dramatic tension. The performances are good, with Mr Forrest Whittaker giving a decent impression of the charismatic despot, Mr Idi Amin.
Paraphrasing slightly, the message of the film seems to be that the hero, played by Mr James MacAvoy, should have stayed at home in Scotland and worked as a country doctor in Tannochbrae rather than fleeing to Africa to have Ugandan relations with the wife of Mr Amin, whilst also supporting a genocidal regime. This is hardly a moral with universal application, but it is not without merit.
My favourite scene was the one where Mr MacAvoy's peely-wally medic meets the Ugandan president for the first time. Mr MacAvoy, called upon to deal with Mr Amin's sprained wrist, steals the president's gun and shoots a cow in the head. Unsurprisingly, Mr Amin is a little peeved. Not being from Dalkeith, he is unused to people borrowing his firearms to murder cattle. A moment of tension ensues, until Mr Amin realises that the doctor is not just an idiot - he is a Scottish idiot. "Scottish?" says Mr Amin. "Why didn't you say? If I could be anything except Ugandan, I would be a Scot." There is a small pause. Then Mr Amin adds: "Except for the red hair."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Impossible Dream of Mrs Alice Sheridan

I hesitate to share this knowledge, but there is a truly frightening video of Mrs Alice Sheridan, mother of Mr Tommy of that ilk, singing. You can see it by clicking here. Before doing this, you should be warned that watching it is rather like attending the wedding of a stranger in Glasgow; or possibly the funeral...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Mr Alastair Campbell Is Not A Crocodile, But That Does Not Make His Tears Any Less Intimidating

Without wishing to cast asparagus on the motives of Mr Alastair Campbell and Mr David Blunkett - fine former public servants both - I am a little disturbed that both of them have gone on record as recovering depressives. A cynic, which I am not, might find a link between their "confessions" and the success, in the opinion polls, of Mr David Cameron's Sunshine Party. In the twisted morality of the times, saying sorry is bettter than being right, and weakness is seen as a form of strength.
Of the two men, Mr Blunkett is the most deserving of sympathy. He was played for a chump by an unscrupulous lady, and then had to suffer the indignity of being the subject of a play by Mr Toby Young, a writer whose success is built on his ability to fail consistently.
Mr Campbell's confession was less expected, and hence more startling. Mr Campbell confessed that he had sometimes been unable to carry out his duties, which comprised mostly of intimidating the journalists who inhabit the Lobby. If they noticed these lapses, the Lobbyists failed to mention it, perhaps because they were feeling a little browbeaten themselves.
One trusts that those poor souls who suffer from mental disquiet will have been cheered by the entry to their number of Messrs Blunkett and Campbell. But, however ungracious it may be, I harbour a doubt. Is it not the case that depression is becoming a fashionable condition? It is hardly possible to open a newspaper these days without reading of a pop singer or a politician whose brilliant life has been clouded by a murky sense of self-doubt.
Such behaviour is a modern aberration. There have always been "dafties", of course, and one must wish them the best whilst measuring them for soft shoes to help them tiptoe unnoticed through life. But this recent fashion for depression is not an illness at all, but a cry for attention. My mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) took a North Korean approach to "blue moods". She carried on regardless, laying waste to everything in her path, harvesting good cheer from her ability to turn her sense of adversity into the submission and compliance of others. It's true, she often cried herself to sleep, but - as she often said - "warm tears are cheaper than Ovaltine".
Incidentally, am I the only person to have observed a link between Mr David Cameron and the situation comedy, The Fall And Rise Of Mr Reginald Perrin? Mr Perrin, as played by Mr Leonard Rossiter, worked for Sunshine Desserts, a metaphor for pointless toil. I imagine, CJ, the fearsome MD whose office furniture was designed to break wind whenever an underling sat in it, would have approved of Master Cameron's rallying call: "Let the sunshine win!"

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mr Sheridan, The Astronaut, And The True Meaning Of "Swinging"

I try, if I can, to avoid thinking about Mr Tommy Sheridan. But, like his ideological soul-mate, Mr George Galloway, he is a magnet for controversy. Mr Sheridan would have us believe that this is due to the efforts of MI5 to blacken his name, but I find this an unconvincing argument. I have seen The Ipcress File, and I understand it to be an accurate reflection of the activities of The Service. Rather than exposing subversives to trial by media, they would - I'm sure - be subjected to a sophisticated torture technique involving flashing lights and "psychedelic" music. In addition, I am reliably informed that the Service does not work in the manner described by Mr John Le Carre - possibly because such behaviour would be expected of them. Instead, our spooks tend to operate from the backrooms of golf outlet stores in metropolitan shopping centres. That is why, when applying for a job as a spy, it is now more important to have a working knowledge of mashie niblicks than it is to speak a foreign language.
But, like Mr Ronnie Corbett, trapped in a Radio 4 studio with Mr Gordon Ramsay, and talking on the subject of his father's bakery, I digress. My point is Mr Sheridan, and his continuing disagreement with the News of the World. I must stress that I have no first-hand knowledge of this affair. Indeed, until Mr Sheridan's activities were reported or (if you insist, M'Lud) invented, I was of the happy opinion that "swinging" was something that was best achieved with the assistance of Mr Nelson Riddle's orchestra. But I am, I confess, baffled by the latest turn of events. According to the News of the World, Mr Sheridan was videotaped by his best man, Mr George McNeilage, from behind some tiles which he (the best man) was putting up in the living room. Is it, I wonder, common for living rooms in the West to be decorated with tiles? Do they also have jacuzzis and plunge pools? And, given the News of the World's reliance on journalistic fancy dress, usually involving a "fake sheikh", could Mr McNeilage not have been better schooled with his camerawork?
It is, though, peculiar that Mr Sheridan's alleged confession came so soon after Mr Peter Shann Ford used audio analysis software to show that the distant son of Langholm, Mr Neil Armstrong, was grammatically correct when he made a small step onto the moon's surface. The missing "a" in the sentence "one small step for (a) man" was obscured by static. Oddly, even with the latest techonology, Mr Armstrong says nothing about visiting a club called Cupid's.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Which Doctor? Theatrical Impressions Of The People's Party At Play In Manchester

The Prime Minister, Mr Blair, has received many plaudits for his speech at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, and rightly so. Theatrically speaking, it was splendid. I have not seen such easy command of the public stage since Mr David Rintoul played Baron Hardup in Cinderella.
Generally, Mr Blair is a terrible ham, and he is at his best when he is asked to deliver news that is optimistic, sentimental, or sad. It took a degree of artistry to utter Mr Alastair Campbell's phrase, "the people's Princess" after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, without it sounding mawkish, but Mr Blair succeeded, not least because the phrase included an implied snub to the rest of the royal family, whose grief was perceived by the jackalopes of the popular press to be insufficiently public. It is not enough to feel pain these days - one must be seen to do so.
This, and the fact that he has clearly not slept for 500 years, is a problem for Mr Brown. He is, as he said in his conference speech, a private man. He is also a man whose oratory is perfect for funerals, which is a problem in a society which is permanently drunk on perverted hedonism.
All of which makes the sudden emergence as a leadership contender of Dr John Reid seem especially odd. Mr Brown is a little like a country doctor who is convinced he knows what is best, but would rather than get on with sorting the problem than try to explain it to an electorate which is too stupid to understand. The other doctor, Dr Reid, offers a well-dressed brand of thuggery - a size 9 shoe from Church's, stamping forever on the human face.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Women Of Dalkeith Are An Anthropologist's Delight, But We Should Be Wary Of Popular Science

I was disturbed, this morning, to open my newspaper and find an image of myself staring back. For a moment I assumed that my tireless work for the community had been recognised, and I was being ennobled. But then I remembered that I had never met Lord Levy, and have never been in a position to lend a political party several million pounds. Nor, I regret to say, have I ever been offered a "bung", though I suspect these are less common in the world of competitive amateur theatrics than they appear to be in Association Football.
It's true, my eyesight is not what it was, and I may soon be forced to pay a visit to the Penny Arcade for a pair of reading glasses. On closer inspection, the picture in the paper was not my reflection. It was an artist's impression of an ape-girl from three million years ago, whose skeleton has been uncovered in Ethiopia. The "ape girl" features on the cover of National Geographic magazine, and provides a useful corrective to the airbrushed models one finds on less thoughtful publications. Australopithecus afarensis is not bonny, but she has pluck.
But, still, I am cautious about the veracity of this remarkable story. A few months ago, the remains of a "Hobbit" were found, but these have now been discredited, both on scientific grounds, and on the basis that - whatever one may think about Mr Charles Darwin and the evolution of species - it is unlikely that it occurred in a manner which could be explained with precise reference to the popular cinema of the early 21st century.
In truth, now that I look more closely, the ape girl seems less remarkable. I have come across many such anthropological oddities without digging a hole in the barren sands of Ethiopia. Indeed, a bus through Dalkeith usually does the trick.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

If The Chancellor's Unmentionables Must Be Mentioned, We Should Be Thankful That They Come From Marks and Spencer

Much has been written about the Chancellor, Mr Brown, over this past week, and most of it would benefit from being unwritten, if such a thing were possible. Mr Brown has been castigated for not smiling, and cremated for smiling too much. He is condemned when he does not act and mocked when he does. With disturbing frequency, he is described as "too Scottish"; a criticism one might make of Sir Harry Lauder, but not, surely, of the Chancellor, even if his nickname in the unpopular (that is to say, the former broadsheet) press, is Irn Broon.
Without venturing into the politics of the matter, I am rather fond of Mr Brown. He has what my mother Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) liked to call gravadlax, and - unlike, say, Mr Tommy Sheridan - is aware of the value of a nine bob note.
It is, of course, a symptom of the times that our politicians are judged on their appearances rather than their policies. Thus, while I find it distasteful that Mr Brown feels the need to invoke fatherhood as a symbol of his late entry to the human race, and I regret his decision to have his teeth improved with cosmetic caps, I find myself cheered by the news that, in the matter of unmentionables, he still worships at the altar of St Michael. This is no trivial matter. The premiership of Mr John Major was undone not by his incompetence, or the fact that he had all the charisma of a speak-your-weight machine, but by Mr Alastair Campbell's suggestion that he tucked his shirt into his unmentionables; a reasonable habit, but a profoundly unfashionable one.
There are, of course, hazards in the umentionable department at Marks and Spencer - not least that monstrous regiment of women who spend their days tugging testily at the joists of the smalls they are buying for their defeated and downcast husbands - but there is something reassuring about the Chancellor's choice. To put things in context: I was told recently by a political correspondent that Dr John Reid is in the habit of "going commando". I trust and pray that this description refers to his temper.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mr Blair Is A Sick Whale Or A Fading King, And The Courtiers Are Growing Restless

Much as I enjoy pointless cruelty, the sight of the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, struggling to resist retirement, has been a painful one. When he doesn't resemble the bronchial Thames whale, being coaxed into open water by a caravanserai of insincere well-wishers, he is like King Lear pondering his departure from the stage. I picture him at breakfastin Number 10 Downing Street, tormented by his diminishing power, and seeking solace in the company of a Fool, or Mr David Miliband. "O, let me not be mad," he will be telling Mr Miliband (dressed, as usual in jester's hat), "not mad, sweet heaven. Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!"
At which point, from stage left, enter Mr Brown. "How now!" Mr Blair exclaims wanly, smashing the top of his boiled egg. "Are the horses ready?"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Sad Decline Of Scotland Can Be Measured in Pan Drops

Over the years, we Scots have grown used to the decline of manufacturing industry. We no longer make ships, or cars, or watches, or anything very much. But I fear that the decline of the country has gone too far with the news that production of McOwan's toffee and Millar's pan drops is to cease. In my childhood, the "penny chew" was a currency greater than money, and if it was to blame for a great many of my dental problems in later life, I can at least comfort myself with the thought that my gums had a good time along the way. The end of the pan drop, however, is even more worrying. My adult life has been measured in the sucking of these peppermint ovals. The average church service is two and a half pan drops long, if you suck. A committee meeting of the Peebles Showboaters can require as many as six. I cannot conceive of a life without pan drops. They are the perfect Calvinist treat, more bitter than sweet, and deceptively smooth, with great benefits for the digestive system.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

World Champions Are Made Of Marmalade, And Other Uplifting Thoughts

I am not, by habit, often to be found at film premieres, but I was happy to attend the screening of The Flying Scotsman at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I must say, I found it to be a most peculiar event, not least because it was my first visit to a "multiplex" cinema, Cineworld in Fountainbridge.
The multiplex is every bit as ugly as its name would suggest. As architecture, it is roughly comparable with a cowshed at the Royal Highland Show; an effect which is compounded by the inclusion, near the foyer, of a brightly-lit trough selling luminous candies and sugar string by the hundred-weight. I have always been suspicious of foodstuffs which are served in a bucket, and I saw no reason to tarry here.
There were speeches by various worthies before the film, and I enjoyed them to the point where I found myself drifting into a fine sleep. When I awoke, the film festival director, an Australian, had taken to the stage in a leather kilt, which was worrying, because the Senior Retainer, Mr Jack McConnell, was in the audience, and he might have got ideas.
The film was quite decent. There was no fighting or amorous behaviour, and a good deal of cycling. One detail particularly impressed me. The cyclist, Mr Graeme Obree, whose story this was, apparently became the fastest cyclist in the world by eating marmalade sandwiches. Insofar as I am capable of being uplifted, I was.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mr Tommy Sheridan And The Ethics Of Decimalisation

Many aspects of Mr Tommy Sheridan's theatrical triumph continue to puzzle me, but above all I am baffled his use of the phrase "as dodgy as a ten bob note" to describe the minute of the meeting at which he did, or did not, admit to visiting what my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) would have called "a den of iniquity" in Manchester.
Mr Sheridan is old enough to remember decimalisation, and will thus be aware that until its withdrawal in 1969 the ten bob note (pictured here, with the Ugandan president Idi Amin) was a perfectly respectable item of currency, with a value of fifty of your new pence.
True, in the matter of money, as in law, everything is interpretation, and it is my understanding that no banknote of any denomination is legal tender in Scotland. There is also, in history, a seven-bob note - the seven shilling bills which were issued by the Ballindalloch Cotton Works in 1830, three of which were redeemable for a guinea.
But this is pedantry. In the language of cliche - a currency in which Mr Sheridan may be considered a millionaire - a nine-bob note is "dodgy", while ten-bob is bankable, sound, and reliable in every way.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mr Fear Of Onions, Lord Olivier, And That Torquemada Of The Tanning Booth, Mr Tommy Sheridan

  Posted by Picasa I am officially dumfoonert. A few days ago, I was reading about the hypnotist and "motivational speaker" Mr Paul McKenna, who sued a newspaper over scurillous reports that he had purchased a "bogus degree" from La Salle University, Louisiana. Mr Victor Lewis-Smith wrote in The Mirror: "Anyone could be fully doctored by La Salle within months (no previous qualifications needed), just so long as they could answer the following question correctly: 'Do you have $2,615, sir?'."
While the university was accredited to a fraudulent body called The Council For Post-Secondary Christian Education, the court found in favour of Mr McKenna, because it could not be shown that he was aware that he had purchased a bogus qualification.
About Mr McKenna, I know little, except to say that I run screaming from the room every time he, or any other hypnotist, appears on the television. This is a matter of faith as much as superstition, as I was once humiliated by a touring hypnotist at the Harbour Pavilion, North Berwick, who convinced me to eat an onion in the belief that it was a clootie dumpling. Having accomplished this task for the entertainment of the assembled, I was snapped back to reality by a slippery click of the hypnotist's cold fingers, yet still I am troubled by flashbacks and bilious attacks every time I see a jar of pickled shallots. I am also convinced that the hypnotism was to blame for the return of the night terrors - a complaint I endured in childhood - and my subsequent arrest, in the grounds of the Peebles Hydro, wearing only Polyveldt shoes and a "kiss me quick" hat.
But, like Ronnie Corbett, trapped in a supermarket trolley with a wonky wheel, I digress. I had intended to write about the courtroom shenanigans involving that Torquemada of the tanning booth, Mr Tommy Sheridan.
I have spent several days in the court observing this peculiar case, and I am unable to suppress the suspicion that, due to a mix-up in his Filofax, Mr Sheridan believes he is performing on the festival Fringe. If he was, I am in no doubt he would win an award, for the world of drama would struggle to invent a character as overstated or ridiculous. It is as if Mr Burt Lancaster had taken on the role played by Mr Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men and played it with the animal confidence of an acrobat.
Of course, Mr Fonda was on the jury. Mr Sheridan is in front of them, defending his own reputation in an ever more baroque manner.
Without wishing to challenge the laws of sub judice, I am reminded of an anecdote once told about Lord (then plain "Sir Larry") Olivier, an actor whose reputation and self-confidence made direction impossible. Sir Larry was cast as the lead in a play, the story of which turned on the revelation that his character was homosexual. Yet in rehearsals, the great man was flouncing and mincing so much that his colleagues were driven to despair. None of their lines made sense if Sir Larry was so obviously scented with lavender. The play was redundant. Eventually, the director summoned the courage to tackle his leading man,while the rest of the cast cowered behind a curtain, awaiting the explosion. But Sir Larry was unabashed. "Dear boy," he exclaimed with a heavy lisp. "I like to start it big, and then I rrrrr-rein it in."
Far be it from me to give advice to a man such as Mr Sheridan, but I think he might, in the interests of plausibility, like to rein it in.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

With Global Warming, The End Of The World Is Nigh, But That Is No Reason To Go Shopping In Your Unmentionables, Sir

These days, barely a day goes by without a warning about global warming, and its dire effects. As a matter of temperament, I am rather in favour of this: the end, if not exactly nigh, is undoubtedly lurking around the corner with a baseball bat. But I do wonder why - if catastrophe is so obviously imminent - we do nothing about it. There is no moratorium on sales of motor cars, cheap air travel is promoted and airports extended, supermarket food is transported around the planet in refrigerated containers, air-conditioning in the summer is followed by outdoor heaters in the autumn, central heating is the norm, and shop windows and public buildings are illuminated at night, as if to mock the shortage of energy which has left the western world indebted to the Middle East, thus necessitating American intervention in areas of politics about which it knows nothing and cares less.
But, like Ronnie Corbett after an unsucessful experiment with gestalt therapy, I digress. My point is temperatures: like hemlines, they are creeping up. Am I the only person to have noticed that this has happened since our weatherpersons started using Celsius, which I still prefer to call Centigrade, if only because the word sounds like a brand of refrigerator coolant?
I am old enough to remember the effects of decimalisation. In the days of pounds, shillings and pence, things were cheaper, and the population was required to have a working grasp of arithmetic. Decimalisation, and the subsequent introduction of pocket calculators, ended all that. Prices were rounded up, and the British housewife - so used to weighing apples and pears in multiples of twelve - found herself weighed down with halfpenny pieces which were useful only for fraying the pockets of her husband's moleskins. Rampant inflation followed, like children after the gala day pipe band.
The same had happened with temperatures. Centigrade has been with us for 30 years, but most of still like to hear heat expressed in the old money, Fahrenheit. Yesterday, parts of Britain were so hot that there was a shortage of electricity, presumably because of the energy required to refrigerate the nation's beer. The roads in some areas were salted, to stop them melting. Today is hotter yet.
Certainly, this is worrying, but it is not the end of the planet which perturbs me most. In some parts of Midlothian - Dalkeith - the men already wear little more than their underpants during the summer months. I do not care to imagine what will happen if the mercury keeps rising.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

This is Peebles

Peeblesshire News
Originally uploaded by Herschell Hershey.
My friend, Mr Hershey, has captured this image of Peebles at its most dynamic. I am not technically-minded, but I am assured that he used a very fast shutter speed to capture the hurly-burly. Even so, I detect a slight blurring around the lady's feet.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mr Jeremy Paxman, That Irksome Scunner Of The Scots, Drives A Battered Vauxhall Astra Into The War On Neds

  Posted by Picasa Further evidence - as if any were needed - of the ineffectiveness of the War on Neds has been provided by BBC2's Newsnight. The programme drove a Vauxhall Astra around Scotland festooned with the flag of St George, as part of a serious investigation into the problem of anti-English racism. (Translation for readers in Caledonia: In an attempt to have some knockabout fun with the Jocks, a reporter was sent North with a mission to be abused).
The experiment was successful. Somewhere in the East End of Glasgow, a gang of neds set upon the parked Astra, tearing its flags off, jumping on the bonnet, and smashing the windscreen.
Last night, in Newsnight's second report into this incident, that Scunner of the Scots, Mr Jeremy Paxman, asked one of the people in the SNP who is not Mr Alex Salmond whether the car would have been vandalised if it had been decorated with the flag of Trinidad and Tobago. I would like to be able to report the reply of the SNP chump, but I decided that my life would be more fulfilled if I turned off the television and took an overdose of Lithium instead.
But what, really, did the report prove? At most, it showed that if a television crew drives past a colony of neds in a ridiculous vehicle and then leaves said vehicle abandoned in the street, it will be attacked. One does not need to be Sir David Attenborough to predict this; a similar effect could be observed by leaving a banana wagon untended in the middle of Blair Drummond safari park, if the park has gibbons, which I suspect it does not. But the link with racism is tenuous. The violence is territorial.
I had a similar experience several years ago, when working on a community drama Mr James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner. The dress-rehearsal was almost complete - we were working our way through the final scene, in which Mr Hogg's death by hiccups was rendered as a honky tonk anthem, complete with yodeling and pedal steel guitar - when I became aware of a commotion in the street. Naturally, I waited until the final chorus was sung before venturing outside the Pilton Triangle to investigate. At first I could see nothing wrong. The scheme was dark and quiet, apart from the pack of dogs running round a burning police car. I drove home relieved, allowing myself a small yodel of satisfaction as I motored past the Rizla Garage at Crewe Toll. But in the morning, as I clambered into my vehicle, I noticed that someone had drawn on the bonnet a cartoon of an erect male member in the moment of ejaculation.
It is difficult to say what was more embarrassing: ignoring the graffito, or trying to scrub it off. But I do know that I got some funny looks at the traffic lights, and that if I had parked my obscenely-decorated Morris Minor anywhere in the New Town it would have towed away, crushed, and sold to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art as a symbol of moral depravity.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Neds Have Taken Over The Executive, And Mr McConnell Is Being Measured For A Burberry Mini-Kilt

Scottish Culture
Originally uploaded by Herschell Hershey.
Often in life, I have the feeling that I have missed a meeting. This sensation comes from my inbuilt punctiliousness, and is rarely based on fact. Far from missing meetings, I chair them, take minutes, and sometimes attend them, even when they have been cancelled. But still the eerie sensation persists that there are mysterious forces at work, changing the landscape when no one is looking.
How, for example, did I miss the official opening of the Scottish Executive's "War on Neds"? It is an event I would have enjoyed, as the Senior Retainer, Mr McConnell, would surely have dressed appropriately, in a Burberry mini-kilt. Perhaps there was a reception, sponsored by the Monks of Buckfast.
Do not misunderstand: I am not against this initiative. For years I have been of the opinion that if neds cannot be drafted into the armed forces to do their national service, then national service should be done unto them.
It is a simple enough idea. Neds are a self-defining group, with their peaked caps, their "shell suits" and their fighting dogs on strings. If there is any doubt about whether someone belongs to this objectionable clan, they could be held in captivity until neddish tendencies are observed. Only if they manage to go for, say, six months without spitting, cursing, or removing their t-shirts at the first hint of sunshine, should they be released back into the community. As a "halfway house" these un-neds might be encouraged to stay in Haddington for a while, with the other ex-Glaswegians.
But now the bad news. The war is being lost. True, our elected officials, with Mr McConnell at the head, have used the FIFA World Cup as an excuse to demonstrate an affinity for the mindless xenophobia of the Provisional wing of the Tartan Army, which has been supporting the "Anyone But England" team at the tournament. In doing so, they have reflected Scottishness at its most small-minded and pathetic - the very definition of Neddish behaviour.
The Herald is right: the neds have taken over the asylum. When they come, we will hear them first by the clanking of their cheap golden chains.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

When Looking For A Deerstalker, It Pays To Know The Difference Between A Stoat And A Weasel

For many years now I have been in the habit of travelling into Edinburgh to do my shopping; for vests, mostly. It has been a matter of habit, rather than convenience, and has continued against the growing realisation that something terrible has happened to the shops in the capital. Without wishing to betray my age by waxing nostalgic for Binns, Patrick Thomson's, and the C&A carrier bag that resembled a Rorschach blot, I am surely not the only person to have noticed that Princes Street has become a tacky arcade selling only cheap shoes and remaindered books.
In days of yore, I could have spent a day in Woolworth's at the East End, contemplating the Pick'n'mix, before relaxing with a game of putting in Princes Street Gardens, emboldened by the skirl from the bagpiping minister, who was - if memory serves - a high heid yin in the Orange Lodge. Now there is no respite from hideous commerce, and the only note of curiosity on the street is the man holding the sign which reads "Golf Sale". At one time, Princes Street was patrolled by sallow-faced individuals prophesying the end of the universe; now it tempts the damned with checked trousers and lemon v-necks.
I have written before about the decline of Jenners. The rot set in with the establishment of a fashion boutique at the back of the shop, run by the feckless for the effete, with a spectators' gallery serving "cappcuccino" and overpriced biscuits. Since Frasers took over, things have not improved. A man could die looking for ordinary unmentionables in 100% cotton.
Why, though, did I bother? In the Men's Dept of Veitch's, Peebles has all the modern styles a gentleman of substance could ever want. Most of them are hardwearing, and the majority will give off an odd odour in the rain. But the man who shops at Veitch's will never go in, or out, of fashion.
Also, as this photograph from Mr Hershey shows, it is one of the few shops to utilise woodlands creatures in its window displays.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The New Editor Of The Scotsman Is That Saucy Wee Bauchle, Lulu (Slight Exaggeration)

Recently, the pop singer Mr Bono of U2 was allowed to edit The Independent, and commissioned the artist Mr Damien Hirst to design a front page publicising the fact that there was no news in the paper. This was a radical step, but quite in keeping with the idiosyncratic approach of that newspaper.
Inspired by this, and by the continued editorial vacancy at the Scotsman, this site has been running a poll asking which pop star should be allowed to edit that paper.
The results were surprising. Ms Marie Lawrie, otherwise known as Lulu, topped the poll, which may be worrying for Scotsman journalists of a certain vintage, who have an irrational fear of diminutive women. However, I think Ms Lawrie has the best voice of the contestants, and a newspaper needs a strong voice. The results were:
Lulu - 28%
Sheena Easton - 26%
Alex Kapranos - 24%
Johnny Beattie - 21%
Pat Kane - 2%

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

They Tuck You Up, Your Mum And Dad: Swearing On The BBC - Part 57

Yesterday, on Radio 4's The World at One, the BBC broadcast the "f-word". They repeated the trick on the television news at 10pm. At 7pm, Channel 4 News broadcast the same clip, but chose to bleep the word, which was, nevertheless, identifiable.
The context of this lunge into industrial language was the press conference given by Mr Mohammed Abdul Kahar and his brother Mr Abul Koyair, who were arrested in Forest Gate, after police suspected their home of being a terrorist bomb factory. Mr Kahar, who was shot in the raid, was quoting the abuse he claims to have suffered from a policeman.
The plight of Mr Kahar is unenviable, but did the BBC need to broadcast his words without modification? This occurred on the same day that Mr Chris Moyles, a "disc jockey", was condemned for describing his female listeners as "dirty whores" on the Radio 1 breakfast show, after an item in which he asked them to admit to urinating in the shower. (Radio 1 has now introduced a system of fines for its presenters, and not before time. If Mr Tony Blackburn had been fined for Arnold the dog, we might not be in this mess.)
On Desert Island Discs last week, Ms Sue Lawley urged Mr Armando Iannucci to repeat the catchprase uttered by Mr Peter Capaldi in his political comedy, The Thick of It. Mr Iannucci duly did, and the airwaves were filled with bleeps, causing Mr Iannucci to joke that the listeners would imagine they had just heard the pips. (For the record, the catchphrase is: "Come the **** in, or shut the **** up.") I recall an earlier incident on Desert Island Discs, where Ms Lawley frightened the actor, Mr Richard Griffiths, by repeatedly urging him to repeat on air the line of dialogue which is often shouted at him by fans of the film Withnail and I. Fortunately, Mr Griffiths was composed enough to avoid regurgitating the famous line, "Uncle Monty, you terrible ****."
We have come a long way since Mr Kenneth Tynan first uttered the f-word on British television in 1965, and was rebuked by Mrs Mary Whitehouse (pictured, with Mr Mick Jagger). In a letter to HM, The Queen, Mrs Whitehouse suggested that Mr Tynan "ought to have his bottom spanked."
These days, Mrs Whitehouse's remark would prompt a spin-off series on Channel 4.

Monday, June 12, 2006

England Pants: Official (NB: Not suitable for children. Or, indeed, adults)

England pants
Originally uploaded by Herschell Hershey.
In the spirit of international co-operation and tolerance (plus a sweet tooth), I was prepared to embrace the England doughnuts, described below, as a welcome side-effect of this FIFA World Cup. I am less sure about these unmentionables, photographed by my friend, Mr Hershey.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Glazed Doughnut Of English Nationalism - A World Cup Symbol Of Cross-border Co-operation?

As the FIFA World Cup approaches with all the charm of a locust storm, there will, I am sure, remain a hardcore of fanatics who imagine that the tournament has something to do with sport and the Corinthian spirit, when it is actually a commercial enterprise in which the shallow hopes of the world's downtrodden are inflated (and then deflated) in a choreographed conspiracy of commerce.
Not that all commerce is bad. On a recent reconnaissance mission to England, I came across those iced delights in the window of Greggs the baker's, a shop I had mistakenly imagined to be Scottish, so perfectly do its cheese and onion pasties fit into the national cuisine. (The "cheese" - a kind of thermonuclear paste of uncertain constitution - has a particularly Caledonian bouquet.)
I suspect the First First Minister, the late Mr Donald Dewar (nickname "Gannet"), would have appreciated these cakes, despite their national allegiance. Perhaps the Chancellor already does. My contacts at the Treasury canteen insist that, while Mr Brown often selects a lunch plate with salad, he can be relied upon to return to the serving hatch for chips and a bun.
Memo to the Foreign Office: if national identity was expressed in cakes, there would be fewer wars (or fatter soldiers).

Monday, June 05, 2006

World Cup Apathy Approaches Fever Pitch: An Englishman Argues For His Country's Defeat

The debates about the merits of Mr John Prescott have prompted many commentators to compare him to that late son of Nairn, Mr (later Viscount) Willie Whitelaw, who was memorialised by Mrs (later Lady) Thatcher with the worrying remark "everyone needs a Willie".
Mr Whitelaw made his own contribution to the gaiety of the nation during the 1974 General Election, when he accused the Labour Party of "going around the country, stirring up apathy". Logically, this was impossible, but sentimentally, it was undeniable. (Sir Menzies Campbell is, as I write, demonstrating that apathy can be induced).
My own apathy has been stirred by the ludicrous attention which is being given to the FIFA World Cup, and as the kick-off approaches, it is at fever pitch. The interventions of the Senior Retainer, Mr Jack McConnell, who has attempted to make himself both newsworthy and nationalistic (in a way that has no consequences) by declaring his support for Trinidad and Tobago, have only served to increase my ire.
In this context, I was amused to read the entry on the journal Stumbling and Mumbling, in which an Englishman argues in favour of his country's failure at the tournament.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Prime of Mr Ronald Neame, Director Of Jean Brodie And The Poseidon Adventure

I have written before of my admiration for the film director and cameraman, Mr Ronald Neame, whose work included contributions to Great Expectations, Brief Encounter, Tunes of Glory and (his least favourite, but most successful picture), The Poseidon Adventure. He deserves to be remembered fondly in Scotland for directing Ms Muriel Spark's novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. An agreeable interview with Mr Neame can be heard for a limited time by clicking here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Mr John Prescott May Resemble The Club Steward On A Cross-Channel Ferry, But That Is A Useful Role In A Cabinet Presided Over By Mr Bobby Crush

Public life has been a procession of dafties for so long now that it is hard to remember a time when it was anything else. There were a few good moments in 1961, I believe, but everything went wrong when Mr Philip Larkin discovered sexual intercourse. I have not been able to relax in a public library since.
However, I find myself oddly sympathetic to the plight of Mr John Prescott, who has maintained a place in Mr Blair's cabinet precisely because of his resemblance to the club steward on a cross-channel ferry. Insofar as it exists at all, cabinet government is a bit like a karaoke competition in the bar on a boat on choppy waters, and, as such, Mr Prescott's skills are invaluable.
He has also made history by being the first man to be forced out of public housing for playing croquet. And it is in this regard that he earns my sympathy. At a time when politics has been reduced by the newspapers to a kind of Opportunity Knocks game-show, in which the audience is encouraged to embrace new contestants, whatever their talents, Mr Prescott has performed an interesting reversal of fortunes. We are all used to Big Brother, the game in which familiarity is rewarded with eviction. Recognising that political journalism has embraced the manners of the Endemol game, Mr Prescott has elected to expel the house [Dorneywood] so that he might live on to play another day.
In the meantime, the absent Mr Blair is beginning to resemble Mr Bobby Crush, endlessly playing Forgotten Dreams.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mr Michael Powell, The Scotsman Editor, And A Beautiful Premonition Of Doom

I spent a grand afternoon at the Athenian Hall watching Mr Michael Powell's splendid 1937 film, The Edge of the World. The film is a beautiful work of cinematography, made more colourful by being shot in black-and-white, and concerns the slow death of the fictional Hebridean island of Hirta (based on the evacuation of St Kilda, but filmed on Foula). There is much to commend about it, including several outbreaks of poetic pipe-smoking, but my favourite moment occurs when the mist clears and one of the characters exclaims: "the hills of Scotland!" It is always bad luck when the hills of Scotland come into view, and so it proves for Mr John Laurie, doomed, long before Dad's Army.
The screening was organised by the cinema wing of the Peebles Showboaters, and included a lecture by our resident cineaste, Mr Arthur Gout-Hardy, whose 1954 film of life in Drem, One Horse, One Post Office, was said by the critic of the Peebles Times-Picayune to have influenced the free-flowing style adopted much later by Mr Martin Scorsese in the agricultural drama Mean Streets.
Mr Gout-Hardy gave a talk, followed by some of Mr Powell's "home-movies", shot long after The End of the World, on one of the director's frequent walks in the Scottish highlands.
These short films were every bit as evocative as the films of Mr Claude Friese-Greene (recently presented on the BBC by Mr Dan Cruickshank). The hills of Scotland looked far from ominous. More remarkable still, Mr Powell's kilted companion on those walks was Sir Alastair Dunnett, the editor of the Scotsman from 1952-72, who can be seen enjoying the dramatic views. Mr Powell's love of Scotland is obvious, as is that of his friend. So why did I feel so melancholy when presented with this image?

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Verbal Tics Of Mr Blair And Mr Cameron: A Translation For The Politically Bamboozled

As a seasoned thespian and judge of amateur theatrics, I am familiar with vocal tics and verbal hiccoughs. In recent years, I have grown to admire the performances of the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, who employs the persuasive pleading of a promenade preacher from a Summer Mission, ordering his congregation into submission with a sudden descent from high-flown rhetoric into the demotic prompting of a propelling pencil salesman. Most often, he will use impatience, pressing the word "look" into service, when what he really means is "listen".
On listening to Mr David Cameron's performance on Desert Island Discs, it became clear that the Conservative leader has appropriated Mr Blair's style, venturing even further into chattiness. Instead of "look", he uses the phrase "you know", implying that what is saying is no more than common sense, when frequently it is neither common, nor sense. A useful corrective to this approach is to insert a different phrase every time the verbal hiccough is employed. A substitute for Mr Blair's "listen" is "I am losing the argument and am now about to patronise you into submission". For Mr Cameron's "you know", try "I am irredeemably posh, and am assuming that this is persuasive".

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mr David Cameron's Infatuation With Kamikaze Milkmen Is A Worry And A Danger, And Is Made No Better By Its Association With Mr Benny Hill

I have long been suspicious of the musical choices made by politicians on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. With the possible exception of Lady Thatcher, and her peculiar insistence on the merits of Mr Rolf Harris's childish parable, Two Little Boys, these musical selections most often arrive with the whiff of the focus group about them. (In this category, we may place the Chancellor, Mr Brown's claim that he awakes to the Arctic Monkeys on his "i-Pod".)
But I confess I am quite befuddled by the revelation that the former PR man and Conservative leader, Mr David Cameron, considers Mr Benny Hill's novelty hit Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) to be worthy of a slot on his imaginary desert island jukebox. Mr Cameron has claimed that the ditty reminds him of his childhood - a revelation that will alert many in the psychology profession to a future "earner" - and that it is the only song he knows all the words of.
Certainly, one cannot choose the lyrics which affix themselves to memory: I can recite the second verse of Mr Edward Lear's The Quangle Wangle's Hat, and sometimes do so, quite involuntarily. But I am not convinced that Mr Cameron made himself more electable by intoning the line, "You could hear the hoof beats pound, as they raced across the ground", from this comedic tale of lawless milkmen. Indeed, as the hero of the song, Ernie, departs this mortal coil for the "milkround in the sky" after a battle with "two ton Ted from Teddington", is Mr Cameron not in danger of giving encouragement to suicidal fanatics?
I am in favour of milkmen, and milkfloats. Dawn shoot-outs over the gold top are less endearing.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Ms Ruth Wishart, The Scottish Question, And The Role Of Ethnic Vegetables In This Summer's FIFA World Cup

In Peebles, thankfully, one is insulated from the worst aspects of football fanaticism. The local team, Peebles Rovers, held Hibernian to a goalless draw in 1923, but their efforts in recent years have been less spectacular.
None of which explains why the FIFA World Cup should be allowed to blight the summer, but there is every sign that it will.
Already in The Herald, the indomitable Ms Ruth Wishart has exercised the arguments in favour of the Scots being able, and indeed encouraged, to disaparage the efforts of the English, on the grounds that Scotland is a daft wee country comprised of prejudice and self-loathing in equal quantities, which - like some antithetical Brigadoon - only exists when it is indulging in choreographed displays of national masochism. (I may have paraphrased her argument a little).
And today, in The Independent, the Commons diarist and wag, Mr Simon Carr, used his column to disparage the parliamentary efforts of Mr Des Browne MP, Mr Adam Ingram MP, and - with less force - Mr Alistair Darling MP.
Mr Carr's chauvinism was not conducted undercover of the fog of football analysis, so it seemed more offensive. The parliamentary answers of Messrs Browne and Ingram made one want to throw "ethnic vegetables" at them, he quipped, adding; "do they have vegetables in Scotland?" Mr Browne's answers to various questions were, said Mr Carr, so piffling "you'd be better off quizzing your haggis". In conclusion, the diarist offered that Mr Browne's continued high office was part of the Prime Minister's cunning plan "to get us sick of being governed by Scotsmen."
It would not do to take Mr Carr any more seriously than he takes himself, but there is something offensive about his belief that racism against the Scots is a valid form of humour. I would write to his editor and complain, but I am reminded by Ms Wishart that the racing tipster and leader of the Scottish National Party, Mr Alex Salmond MP, (pictured, in silly hat) has pledged his support in the World Cup to Trinidad and Tobago, on the grounds that they are not England. In this case, Mr Salmond is the ethnic vegetable.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rosslyn Chapel, The Da Vinci Cod, And A Wheelbarrow Full Of Manure (Not Neccessarily Involving Mr Tom Hanks)

Originally uploaded by Herschell Hershey.

The film of Mr Dan Brown's terrible novel The Da Vinci Code opens in cinemas today, and is sure to bring thousands of conspiracy theorists to Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian, in search of the Holy Grail. Instead, they will find mugs in the souvenir shop with a picture of a fish on the side, and the legend, "the Da Vinci cod".
Hopefully, the ballyhoo will soon die down. In the meantime, to spare you the effort of going there - and there is a danger that one will get lost on those Midlothian roads and find oneself trapped in a village full of shirtless ex-miners - click on the photo (above) to see some pictures from my recent visit to this rather spooky little chapel.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Paradise Lost In The Observer: Take A Train To Haddington And A Taxi To Never-Never Land

Journalism is an abject trade, and travel journalism is its most corrupt chapter. It existence has nothing to do with the interests of the reader, and everything to do with advertising. You might expect journalists to complain about this, as they are never slow to accuse others of hypocrisy or corruption. But they do not. Complaining would mean that they were no longer able to embark on free holidays, luxury hotel and spa breaks, and discounted cruises. It might also go some way towards stemming the global warming caused by the dismal business of world tourism, in which poor people traverse the globe in the Sardine Class compartment of unsafe aeroplanes searching for paradise islands which only existed in the limited imaginations of hacks whose definition of a good time is a free dinner and a key to the mini bar.
But this is not the worst form of travel journalism. The lowest form is the "reader's recommendation" in which a newspaper fills its columns with the views of the public, on the understanding that these opinions are somehow unbiased, despite the obvious danger that those same readers may be related to the hoteliers, inn-keepers and restaurauteurs whose establishments are being praised. Nevertheless, this form is increasingly popular, as it allows editors to fill their pages without paying for journalism.
Yesterday, The Observer excelled itself with a page of readers' recommendations of "cool campsites". I particularly enjoyed the reveries of a Ms Corra Boushel, of Edinburgh, on a place called: "The Beach, East Lothian."
"The spot is hard to find," she wrote, "but well worth the trouble. Take a train from Edinburgh to Haddington, then a taxi to the beach car park, about two and a half miles before North Berwick. From there walk a little over the dunes and pick your pitch, sheltered by dry stone walls and pine trees. From the top of the dunes you can look over to Fife, with industrial Kirkcaldy glinting back across the River Forth. To the west is Bass Rock, covered in a creamy white duvet of sea birds. There is firewood with pine scented logs, an exfoliating wash in the icy firth and the occasional dog walker to offer a smile. There's no fresh water, no mobile phone reception and no one to hear you singing to the trees and stars at night. Heaven."
Frankly, I am very worried about Ms Boushel, and the geographical improbability of her Nirvana.
There is, of course, no railway station in Haddington, which would make her journey problematic to begin with. Haddington is not on the coast at all, but several miles inland. Rather than taking a taxi from a non-existent station to North Berwick, would it not be simpler to try to hail one from the station at North Berwick itself? But what to tell the taxi driver? If the beach is two and a half miles out of North Berwick, it could be Yellowcraig, if it is to the west, or Seacliff, if it is to the east. The existence of dunes, and the view across the Forth estuary to Fife, suggests it is the former. But if so, how does the Bass Rock (pictured) appear in the west, when it is actually in the east?
I am baffled and intrigued. I would attempt the journey, but I fear I might have to hire the Tardis.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Mr Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson MP Versus Germany. Where Are You When We Need You, Mr Eddie Waring?

As a politician, Mr Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson MP has always treated public affairs as if he were appearing on an edition of It's A Knockout. In this video clip, he appears to be taking this approach to a new level.

Modern Dentistry Offers The Smile Of Mr Cary Grant To The Wealthy And A Toffee Hammer To The Rest Of Us. And Go Easy On The Courgettes!

As a gentleman of a certain age, I have survived several different dental fashions, and I now find myself caught between them, with the defiant smile of a circus boxer.
As a young man, I was led to believe in progress. In dental terms, this meant aspiring to false teeth from the earliest possible age, and replacing them with teak incisors. These could be maintained by gargling with linseed oil, and bufffed with a squirt of French polish. By the time I was in my teens, the National Health Service offered the prospect of falsers for all, regardless of income.
Sadly, my dentist in those years was a gentleman whose resolve was not equal to his thirst for communion wine, so many of my teeth were left in place, albeit with crowns and caps fashioned from various alloys and household plastics. This did not add significantly to my good looks, but it did allow me to chew toffee with confidence, as long as I rinsed with a cocktail of Sqezy and Mr Sheen.
Later, my dentist was a Mr Jock Wallace, who seemed to have borrowed his techniques from his namesake, the former manager of Rangers Football Club. As such, he believed that dental pain could be cured by running over sand dunes, followed by a flick to the rear with a wet towel. If that failed, he would lift his patients up by the ears and shout at them until they cried or went away. It was a tough regime, but effective. You knew where you were with Mr Wallace.
Sadly, since his incarceration, the Surgery has been without a regular Dental Surgeon, and has been reorganised along the lines of a Labour Exchange from the 1970s. I presume this has been done to make the patients feel at home, as most of them look as if they have been unemployed since the Three Day Week.
All patients are given a raffle ticket on entering, and invited to wait until their number appears on a screen above the reception area. To add a level of intrigue, a system of Dental Bingo is enforced: the numbers are called randomly, and winners proceed to another room, where they are prodded and humiliated by students wearing white coats, fly-stained welding goggles, and rubber gloves. Rumour has it that they are trainees from the cheese counter at Galbraiths, which might explain the Ritz crackers.
From here, the patient ascends a narrow staircase, then a rope ladder and a tangled vine strung across a crowded car park. One must swing and aim for a trampoline at the edge of the car park, from which one is bounced into the actual waiting room and ordered to read copies of Golf Illustrated magazine for several hours. Only on completion of a written test, in which one must be able to distinguish between a cleek, a mashie niblick, and a packet of Refreshers, does one qualify for NHS care.
Here, too, chance intervenes. The Surgery employs six dentists, none of whom has a name. To discourage familiarity, one cannot choose which dentist to see, and each patient (though they are now known as "contestants") must be x-rayed several times, so that the dentist and the dental nurse may run playfully from the room, laughing like hyenas.
Thereafter, the dentist will explain that all manner of wonderful techniques could be employed to give one the smile of Mr Cary Grant, but only as a private patient. NHS treatment, by contrast, will involve a toffee hammer and a pelican bib, to catch the bits.
I read today that scientists at Dundee University have discovered that ratotouille - an accident involving courgettes - is as dangerous to the teeth as a carbonated soft drink. I note, also, that a legion of Poles has been employed by the Scottish Executive to solve the dental crisis. As I digested this news, one of my molars exploded on a clump of sultana bran. I have kept the fragments, in the hope that the tooth fairy will supply me with a more sympathetic approach to dental care.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Edinburgh's Floral Clock Used To Be A Riot Of Colour, Now It Is A Dismal Mossy Verge. Will The Summer Ever Bloom?

It is, I confess, a couple of weeks since I was in Edinburgh, but on reviewing the package of pictures I received this morning from Krappy Snaps, I was reminded of the disappointment I felt on visiting Princes Street Gardens. This, you must understand, was quite separate from my usual catalogue of disappointments, and was not even related to the act of corporate vandalism which has obliterated the putting green (putting greens, like public lavatories and water fountains, being a measure of civilisation) or allowed the construction of a carbuncle on the site of Castle.
This disappointment related to the floral clock. It is, I understand, the oldest floral clock in the world, and I have fond memories of being taken to see it whenever the Elder family visited Edinburgh to purchase new balaclavas. I loved its gaudiness, and the fact that it was possible to observe the mechanical advance of time. On my 14th birthday, my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am), explained to me that the clock was a symbol of the cycle of life, which I understood to be a Raleigh Sports model with an upholstered saddle and a dynamo for the dark winter mornings.
There was sadness, too, if we happened upon the clock during winter, when the hands were removed, in case anyone should get the idea that the bad weather might pass.
Imagine the dismay I felt on my recent visit: the hands of time were turning, but the floral display was muted to the point of dreariness. I hope this is not a foretaste of a dismal spring.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Mr David Cameron Is A Shakespearian Imp With A Chaffeur For His Shoes. He Should Spare Us His Emissions By Driving An Electric Bubble Car

Since Mr David Cameron rose without trace to become the peach-skinned leader of the Conservative Party, I have seen little to change my initial impression that he is a flibbertigibbet. I mean this in the Shakespearian sense of the word - as defined on the excellent World Wide Words site - meaning a demon or an imp. In King Lear, Edgar describes one such creature: “He gives the web and the pin, squints the eye, and makes the harelip; mildews the white wheat, and hurts the poor creature of earth.” If there has ever been a more succinct definition of public relations, I have yet to read it.
This morning on Radio Four's Today programme, the organic farmer Mr John Humphrys challenged Mr Cameron - not long returned from a journey to uncover his inner polar bear - on his “green” credentials. Mr Cameron, it seems, is in the habit of cycling to Westminster, followed by a car. The latter vehicle is required to carry Mr Cameron's papers, and his shoes.
Asked to justify this, the Conservative leader whimpered defensively. As it was radio, I could not say for certain that he squinted his eye or made the harelip, but it all sounded quite unpleasant.
Last week, Mr Cameron made another ecological gaffe, posing beside an electrical car - the Reva G-Wiz (pictured) - though he drives something far bigger and far uglier.
I have investigated the G-Wiz, and understand it has enough storage under the bonnet for a pair of Church shoes, and ample space in the back for several boxes of paperwork. It produces no noxious emissions, and costs around 1p per mile to run. But Mr Cameron knows that. He just chooses to ignore it.
Meanwhile, the white wheat is mildewed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

On Edinburgh's Royal Mile, A Pink Bouquet For A Chubby, Toga-Wearing Hero Of The Enlightenment (Clue: Not Mr John Prescott)

As if a vision of the Grim Reaper was not enough, my trip to Edinburgh involved a walk along the High Street, where I was able to inspect the tarmacadam which has been laid over the cobbles in order to make this historic highway a Formula One track for malevolent taxis and hormonal boys with "spoilers" on the tailfins of their Ford Escorts.
While I was there, two things happened. Both were reassuring in their way. First, I encountered the deceased highwayman, Mr Adam Lyall, leading a band of tourists through the closes of the Old Town. Many ghosts and ghouls walk these streets, and I feel cheated if I do not see one, if only to remind myself of the famous court case in which a man, enraged by the screams of the tourists on these haunted walks, emerged from his home waving a machete. The tourists, believing the man to be part of the tour, did nothing, until he gave chase, still waving his weapon. The poor fellow was jailed, but I trust that someone will write a folk song about him.
My second odd moment occurred at the statue of Mr David Hume, who stands guard outside the court at the top of the Mound. Mr Hume is a portly fellow, and somewhat under-dressed, which has led some to believe that enlightenment will be granted by rubbing his toenails as they pass.
But the other night, as this picture shows, Mr Hume was holding a bouquet of flowers. I could find no explanation for this, nor did any of the other passers-by find it remarkable.
I welcome suggestions as to why the flowers were there, but until I hear better, I will assume that they were a random act of beauty in an otherwise thankless world.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hell's Bells! The Grim Reaper Can Be Seen In The Shadow Of The Rev. John Knox

At my stage in life, it is wise to ignore portents, signs and symbols. They are, if one's mind is open to metaphor, everywhere. It is better, then, to carry on in the manner of the Roadrunner in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, not fearing cliffs, and running on into open air regardless.
Certainly, I was in a blue mood the other day, when I passed through Edinburgh on my way back from the funeral of the "King of the highlands" Mr Calum Kennedy. In order to add steel to my spirits I trudged up the mound to the Assembly Hall, where I hoped to pay tribute to the statue in the courtyard.
I had my Boots Beirette with me, and took a few pictures. It was a sunny day, and the statue looked appropriately forbidding. Then, gazing through the viewfinder, I found myself transfixed by the dark shape on the wall behind (see above).
I thought it then and I think it still. The Grim Reaper lurks in the shadow of the Rev John Knox.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code, The Holy Grail, And A Satirical Wheelbarrow At Rosslyn Chapel

I have, as you may have noticed, been away. I spent the best part of the last week attempting to work the Gaz stove whilst listening to the percussion of the rain on the rusting lid of the Dormobile. It was not a relaxing break, but my measure of a good holiday was best summed up by Mr Frank Sinatra, who famously observed that while it is nice to go a-travellin', it's so much nicer at home. (This is not strictly true, as my home is currently infested with clothes moths and Peruvian horny gollochs, but I cling to the sentiment).
I hope, over the next few days, to share the joys of my holiday.
On Easter Sunday, I ventured to Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian, in search of the Holy Grail. I was not alone. Mr Dan Brown's book, The Da Vinci Code, has led a stream of unlikely pilgrims to the place, looking for answers to a question that most of them seem to have forgotten.
I have not read this book, and do not intend to waste the flickering remnants of my eyesight in doing so, but I am assured that as a work of prose it makes Mr Jeffrey Archer look like Mr Marcel Proust. The book has obviously made on impact on the chapel, which charges visitors £7 to admire its crumbling masonry. Sadly, this means that it is no longer a place of contemplation. I would not be surprised to see "interactive" displays there soon.
I was, however, cheered by the subtle comment of a local farmer on the whole "Da Vinci" business (see photo).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Mr Elder Is Away, But Not With The Fairies

Mr Elder apologises for his recent absence. He has been away in the Dormobile; pictured here at Gullane Bents. He has now returned, and will resume normal service shortly.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I Am Justified And Ancient, This Is An Age Of Callowness And Youthful Idiocy, And That Is Why I Will Never Star In Doctor Who

As a child, I was warned about ambition. My mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am), was of the belief that ambition rode in on a dark horse called Disappointment. "Disappointment is your friend," she would tell me, rapping my nose with a percussive spurtle. "Welcome him, or he will ride you to Hell."
It was, and remains, good advice. When one anticipates disappointment, the pain is diminished, though even by recognising this fact I wonder whether I am letting myself in for a terrible surprise. There was, I noticed this morning, only one magpie on the cedar tree.
My latest disappointment is the casting of Mr David Tennant as the Doctor in the television drama Doctor Who. It is not that he is unqualified for the role: as an actor he has some charisma, and the glib self-confidence that currently passes for talent. My objection is his age. He is approximately sixteen. He wears sandshoes. He looks as if he should be revising for his Modern Studies prelim, and not indulging in the unpredictable science of time travel.
There is, I confess, an element of pique in my observation. As a thespian of a certain age, one's horizons tend to narrow. The death of Mr Mike Baldwin on Coronation Street - from bewilderment, after a long bout of over-acting - is a typical fate.
But Time Lords should be different. They have travelled the universe, and can take any human form. In previous incarnations - Mr Willian Hartnell and Mr Jon Pertwee - the Doctor, if not exactly ancient, was at least allowed to have grey hair (as in politics, baldness seems to disqualify one from holding the position of a Time Lord).
But - foolish ambition - I cherished the fantasy that a thin man in damp tweed and a drop-brim trilby might one day take charge of the Tardis. Previous Doctors have been English eccentrics, with cricket jumpers, long scarves and straw boaters. Why not make the Doctor a Scot? We are, after all, famed for our calm bedside manner.
The Daleks, I recall, battled with kilted teuchters in the 1960s, and now it is done. The Doctor is of a Caledonian bent, though his accent comes from a polluted corner of the Thames estuary.
This is the disappointment I never anticipated: the realisation that I will never be a Time Lord.
The next Doctor, I predict, will be a girl.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Bird Flu: Permission To Panic, Sir

When it comes to health panics, I have always been of the opinion that no reassurance should ever be offered to the public. This morning on Radio Four I heard a scientist explain that there really was no risk to the public from "bird flu". In the same breath, he cheerily advised against eating runny boiled eggs, and suggested that chicken be cooked with the assistance of something called a meat thermometer. I had not heard of this implement before, and the news of its existence was enough to make me nervous.
Then the scientist issued the most ominous sentence I have heard for some time. "I think," he said, "that common sense says that today we don't make fresh mayonnaise." It would have been less alarming if Lance Corporal Jones had shouted "Don't panic!"
Sadly, I didn't catch the scaremongering scientist's name. It was 5.55am, and I was frying a swan.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Mr Gene Pitney, 24 Hours Past Tulsa

Further to my item on newspaper billboards, below, Mr H Hershey of London submits this unfortunate juxtaposition, advertising Wednesday's Evening Standard.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tartan Week Poll Results: Oor Wullie Pips Penny Chew, While Mr Henry McLeish Proves More Popular Than An OAP In A Leather Kilt

The poll results are in. You were asked: Rather than spend £480,000 on Tartan Day, the Scottish Executive should have spent the money on what?
You replied:
34% - Angel of the North-style statue of Oor Wullie
30% - A McCowan's toffee chew for every child, plus free visit to Polish dentist
23% - The Henry McLeish Library and Museum
6% - Premium bonds
5% - Free leather kilts for all OAPs

This matter is now closed. Another poll will follow soon.

The Strange Case Of Mr George Galloway MP, And The Fake Sheikh

A note arrives in a manilla envelope, with a photograph attached. The picture is said to reveal the identity of the News of the World's "Fake Sheikh", Mr Mazher Mahmood. The note is signed, "Mr G Galloway, MP, Baghdad South".
Usually, when I am "being had" I don't notice. On this occasion, I do.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

As New York Eats Haggis Canapes, A Final Chance To Vote

As the great, the good, and several Scottish people gather to fight over haggis canapes in New York, the time has come to bring this site's opinion poll (see below, right) to a close. It offered alternative uses for the public money which has taken our leaders to their annual knees-up in New York and even prompted Mr Alex Salmond to wear a kilt against his better nature, and medical advice.
So far, public opinion appears to be behind a giant sculpture of Oor Wullie, but my own preference - a McCowan's toffee chew for every child, plus a free visit from a Polish dentist - is rising in the poll. The former Senior Retainer, Mr Henry McLeish is also performing creditably.
To give stragglers a final chance to affect this profoundly undemocratic exercise, the poll will remain open for another 24 hours. Note: the poll does not represent public opinion, and is therefore in keeping with British democratic traditions.

Monday, April 03, 2006

HM, The Queen And My Sex Abuse Shame

I was intrigued to read in The Guardian that the London Evening Standard recently attempted to lure readers with a bill which read; "Queen takes cab to the theatre". It is, I confess, an intriguing image, though I was left wondering how Her Majesty managed to manoeuvre the cab into the Royal Box. Perhaps it was able to ascend the stairway by means of a wheelchair ramp.
The Guardian's Mr Kim Fletcher concludes his piece by saying that the art of the billboard is contained in the phrase: "they lure you in and they let you down" - a maxim which has endless applications in modern life.
Thus, when I saw the attached billboard, I was curious, though not curious enough to purchase the Edinburgh Evening News. The dimensions of my various shames are too great to be addressed in a tabloid newspaper, but none of them, as far as I am aware, falls into the suggested category. Unless you count PE lessons in my pants. And the business with the history teacher during that summer of swimming lessons after which I received a certificate saying I had successfully swum for a total of four strokes (this being the maximum number of doggy paddles which an underweight boy can achieve before sinking).

Friday, March 31, 2006

If Mr Ronnie Corbett Was King, Would Charles Be Queen? A Gay Old Solution To The Crisis In The Monarchy

When it comes to popular music I am no Sir Jimmy Savile, which is a blessed relief. As such, I must confess that I am not aware of the singer, Mr Morrissey, though I am told by my informants in the tambourine-playing corner of the Youth Fellowship that he a cross between Mr Johnnie Ray, Mr Kenneth Williams, and Mr Joe Orton, which is worrying, to say the least.
Anyway, I understand also that Mr Morrissey recently observed that Mr Ronnie Corbett would make a better King than HRH the Prince of Wales.
It is, I think, an interesting thesis. Mr Corbett would certainly be good at public broadcasts, as he has spent half of his life talking rubbish from the comfort of an easy chair. True, he is prone to digression, and his Christmas address might include more references to Morningside ladies and golf club dinners than has traditionally been the case, but this would surely be welcome after several decades in which HM The Queen has been forced to feign an interest in Zimbabwean hatmakers, while also endeavouring to make politically-correct points designed to mask the truth about Britain's diminishing role in the world.
Prince Charles has made a late bid for the job of King by drawing attention to his peculiar journals, in which he compared Chinese dignitaries to waxworks, but in doing so he revealed himself only to be his father's son.
I wonder, then, if we might propose a compromise. In the 1970s, there was much talk about a modern monarchy, a concept which was always presented with reference to the bicycling monarchs of Scandinavia. As we now have a bicycling Leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, might I suggest a marriage of convenience between Mr Corbett and Prince Charles?
Over the years, the monarchy has been forced to embrace everything it was designed to suppress, while never admitting to its progressive attitudes towards homosexuality. Without wishing to imply anything about Mr Corbett or the Prince - both are rugged heterosexuals with never a stray thought between them - I think it is fair to say that it is not just in poker that two kings are better than one.
Mr Corbett could do the talking, Charles could bake the biscuits.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Pungent Message To Mr Blair From A Vandal With A Spelling Impediment

There are times, I confess, when I become downhearted about the level of political discourse in this country. But occasionally I have what my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am), used to call "a moment", in which things do not seem quite as bad. (Mrs Elder was no optimist, and believed sincerely that good cheer should be avoided, in the certain knowledge that it was always followed by disappointment.)
However, as a judge in the Peebles Peewits International Photography prize, I was encouraged by the above photograph of a graffito on a wall near the City of London. I assume it was painted by a young person, and while the message is not sophisticated, it does display some engagement with the wider world. I particularly like the way that the vandal has taken the time to correct his spelling of the word "capitalism", ridding it of a rogue second "i". I suspect, also, that the first "e" in poverty began life as an "o".
I am not surprised to read in today's newspaper that everyone in England under the age of 42 has been served with an Asbo. Perhaps it would be more productive to insist that they watch Countdown. How else, in this world of incomprehensible text messages and synthetic phonics, will anyone learn to spell?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Microwaveable Solution To Cold Hands, If Not Global Warming Or Bearded Ladies

I do not possess as a microwave oven, as I have always taken the view that if a pie is worth eating, it is worth waiting for, and I am sure it is only a matter of time before we discover that the habit of bombarding food with weird energy is unhealthy, if not directly to blame for the increased appearance of people with six toes, second heads, or bald, bearded ladies in the greater Borders region. However, I was encouraged by this device, a magical mitten warmer, and I intend to construct one and heat it in a conventional oven, taking care to do so while I am also warming a macaroni pie so as not to waste the earth's precious natural resources.