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.