Sunday, December 30, 2007

In An Unnatural Experiment, The Senior Retainer Mr Alex Salmond Gifted Optimism To The Nation in 2007. Surely It Will Not Last


By any measure, 2007 has been an extraordinary year in which to be Scottish. Indeed, if it were possible to resign one's nationhood, I might do it, as I fear I will be unable to stand the excitement for very much longer. In this morning's newspapers, I read that the Senior Retainer, Mr Alex Salmond, has been voted Scot of the Year, which seems inevitable, even if Mr Tony Blair recently owned up to his nationality in a video in which he played a supporting role to Barney, the First Terrier of the Free World. Arguably, Mr Blair has done more than Mr Salmond to promote the cause of Scottish independence, and Barney, too, has an impressive CV, starring in a number of feature films, and entertaining the president, Mr George Bush, by playing with a golf ball on the lawn of the White House.
Oddly, becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is no longer seen as a valued contribution to public life, so Mr Gordon Brown has been left to glower in his North Queensferry manse over the festive season, apparently unappreciated, and welcoming the New Year with a warning of grim times ahead. Such is the idiocy of political commentary that the comparison, by Mr Vince Cable, of Mr Brown and Mr Bean, has been mistaken for a perceptive remark, when it is plain to all that the PM is quickly turning into the Rev IM Jolly, and aims to keep his flock in line by scaring the joy out of them. (Actually, there have been worse ideas).
But what, really, has Mr Salmond achieved? Well, he has given Scotland the gift of optimism, an idea last floated by the late football manager Mr Ally MacLeod, who rationalised the embarrassment of the 1978 World Cup campaign by suggesting that he had failed by "generating too much excitement". These days, the nation is awash with too much excitement, though Peebles, thankfully has remained immune to the infection. Mr Salmond, a gambler as much as a politician, is exciting when compared to his predecessor, Mr Jack McConnell, a fellow with such a dearth of charisma that he was rumoured to have worn bandages when observing his reflection in a mirror, in the manner of Mr Claude Rains in The Invisible Man.
Of course, the irony of Mr Salmond's success is that his natural authority comes from having served time in the Big School, at Westminster, as well as his twice-daily injections of ebullience, but his position in the Dumbiedykes parliament seems unassailable precisely because of the limited powers granted to the institution. Mr Salmond stands for Scottishness while his opponents, by definition, stand for something else, if they remember to stand at all. He has also displayed some grasp of strategy. To some, his courtship of the hirsute millionaire Mr Donald Trump would be an embarrassment, because the leader of a proud nation should not allow himself to appear so grateful for a sniff of the crumbs of dubious commerce. Never mind the effect on the wildlife of the dunes: cynics might question the viability of a golf course on a spit of land which is blasted so often by the chill winds of Siberia. But the Scot of the Year is a man of vision. He knows that the slogan "It's Scotland's Oil" will not be feasible for much longer, and is preparing the country for a more sustainable, serviceable acquiescence to American capital.
It's Scotland's Golf, and it will take a brave politician with a bag full of mashie niblicks to suggest otherwise.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Well, Toss My Caber And Baste Me In Porridge Oats, Glasgow Has Won The Contest To Pay For The 2014 Commonwealth Games!


There will, I'm sure, be dancing in the streets of Springburn tonight in response to the news that Glasgow has won the contest to stage the Commonwealth Games in 2014. It is, of course, a great honour for the city and perhaps for the country, which - as I write - is flushed with the thrill of spending £288m on an event which few people follow, and fewer understand. Not many of us know what the Commonwealth is for. The Commonwealth Games are the Olympics without the good athletes: excellent news for Britain, which has not had many good athletes since the retirements to the running track in the sky of Mr David Coleman and Mr Ron Pickering. (I am not sure if there is a link between exciteable commentators and sporting success, but the joint careers of Mr Archie Macpherson and Rangers FC might make an interesting case study).
The Games are also an occasion of parochial nationalism, in that the British Isles are represented by the Home Countries. This means that several Scottish athletes will be allowed to participate, especially if video games and underage drinking are included in the programme. No doubt the Senior Retainer, the racing tipster Mr Alex Salmond, has the date on the calendar ringed in Magic Marker as a good time for a nationalist jamboree. Somewhere in the Far East, the factory from which See You Jimmy wigs are produced will be advertising for casual workers, (age or experience no object).
But, as my mother Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) used to say, let's not start pedalling until we have located our bicycle clips. Does no one in the Executive (aka "the Scottish Government") remember the 1986 Games, which were "rescued" by the inflatable tycoon Mr Robert Maxwell? One of the most vivid memories of my long career in newspapers occurred in a tent at Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh, where Mr Maxwell descended from a helicopter to introduce the musical theme for the Games, which was sung by a terrified Edinburgh schoolgirl, who he trapped in a fleshy embrace under one of his orang utang bosoms while declaring that the song would soon be Number One.
The song is forgotten, but the image of Mr Maxwell is not. He had broken his leg, and performed his descent from a helicopter, and his run into the tent, with scant attention to the giant stookie which protruded from his expensively-tailored trouser leg. Observing this one-legged giant hop-skip and wobble towards the cameras was like watching a Zeppelin full of jelly bouncing on an exhausted trampoline (which gives me an idea for a sport at which Glaswegians might realistically hope to excel by 2014).
But I am being facetious. Clearly, if London is allowed to waste vast fortunes on the Olympics, the taxpayers of Scotland should be allowed a sporting riot of their own. But look again at the figures for the Maxwell Games. The budget was £14. The deficit when Mr Maxwell arrived was £3m. When he left, it was £4.3m. Scotland won three gold medals in 1986.
The 2014 Games are budgeted at £288m. Given Scotland's Dickensian appetite as a consumer of public money - always asking for more - and its recent record in the construction of white elephants, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the Games will actually cost £500m. You could buy a lot of sherbet dip-dabs for that.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Scandals At The BBC And ITV Are Evidence Of Greed, Corruption And Corporate Idiocy. So Why Is There Nothing Good On The Telly?


On doctor's orders, I am forbidden from referring in detail to the several life sentences I spent as an employee of Scotland's Notional Newspaper, The Scotsman. However, the recent crises in television brought to mind an episode which now seems oddly prescient.
It was several years ago, and took place in the editor's walnut-panelled den, a setting which might have graced a production of The Mousetrap, were it not for the horse-racing on the television. I had been invited to a meeting on how to raise the newspaper's circulation, and proposed - as I often did - the addition of news to the paper's contents, and more puzzles, preferably on a different page. My advice was absorbed and ignored, and the editor decided instead to introduce features which would appeal to the illiterate and the disinterested. (This was, at least, slightly more progressive than the former executive of Scotsman Publications who was in the habit of greeting the sales successes of Scotland on Sunday with the true, but unsettling observation: "I'll tell you one group of people who aren't reading the paper - the blind!")
At this point, the meeting was joined by one of the most senior of senior executives, who - for reasons of public decency - must remain anonymous, even though he bore no resemblance to any person, living or dead. The senior senior executive was in an exuberant mood, possibly because he was drunk on his own cologne. But this disability did not hinder his creativity. "Look at this!" he exclaimed, waving a copy of that morning's paper. "It makes no sense." An awkward silence followed, in which we waited for details, as it was hard to guess which aspect of that morning's nonsense had excited him so. His face flushed puce, as he tore the television listings page from the paper. "Why are we printing this for free?" he demanded. "It's advertising. We should charge these people for advertising their programmes."
It was, in its way, a logical suggestion, albeit an impractical one. But you could see the idea's appeal. If the television companies could be persuaded to pay for the listings, then so could the cinemas. Perhaps the Scottish Football Association would care to make a contribution to the sports pages. After all, the tourism industry goes out of its way to subsidise the travel pages, and the business coverage is afloat on free wine and corporate hospitality.
Naturally, nothing happened, and the senior senior executive decided to concentrate on more practical matters, ordering himself a fitted carpet and a new conservatory.
Which brings me to today's stories about the BBC and ITV. The BBC is making 1800 redundancies, in an effort to save the £2bn it didn't receive in its recent government hand-out. The Corporation will also allow advertising on its websites, though not in Britain (yet). Fewer new programmes will be made, and more repeats will be shown. In Scotland, 210 jobs will go, though some may be created if the campaign against the unisex toilets at the new Pacific Quay HQ is successful. The rumour in the Ubiquitous Chip is that an advertisement has already been drafted for a wee wifey to sit at the door of the ladies with a saucer full of 10p pieces (though whether this will be reinvested in programme-making remains unclear).
Meanwhile, on what my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) used to refer to as "the other side", ITV has announced that it stole £7.8m from viewers in fraudulent phone-ins. Oddly, the "zero tolerance" approach of the ITV chairman Sir Michael Grade means that none of the thieves will lose their jobs, but some monies will be refunded to the poor oafs who spent their benefits voting on premium-rate phone lines for the location of a pig full of money on the Ant and Dec programme Saturday Night Takeaway. The symbolism of this deceit is exquisite, as Mr Ant and Mr Dec are said to be in receipt of a joint salary of £40m, though there is as yet no confirmation that the cash is delivered in a porcine wrapper.
So, a suggestion. The BBC, which currently pays Mr Jonathan Ross a rumoured £2m a year, and Mr Jeremy Paxman £1.04m, is said to be fearful that its top stars will defect to ITV. They should oil the revolving door and push them through it, though ITV may be in a less generous mood now that the flow of free money from idiot-phone lines has been dammed.
Actually, the BBC should go further. Let them charge the likes of Mr Ross for the privilege of working for the BBC. This need not be a selfless act by the presenters: they could be paid by direct donations from the viewers, by phone, text message or collecting can. That way, these jumped-up bingo callers might develop an understanding of the true meaning of public subsidy. Alternatively, since the market must decide, perhaps a high-minded philanthropist could pay the jabbering wretches to go away.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Post Office, One Of The Great Institutions Of State, Is Being Ruined By The Spivs And Weasels Of Commercial Greed


There was no post today, which was a blessed relief. There will be no post tomorrow, or for several days after that.
This, I understand, will be a hardship to some, but not to me. It merely means that my doormat will not be smothered in invitations to plunge myself into debt, recycle my clothes, or join the Conservative and Unionist Party: these being three versions of the same thing.
At some unnoticed point - my guess is that it was around the time of the Beatles' first LP - the nature of the mail changed. In 1936, Mr WH Auden was able to write in his poem Night Mail of how the whole of Scotland waited, "in the dark glens, beside the pale green sea lochs" for:
Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from the girl and the boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers' declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Notes from overseas to Hebrides
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong."

Oddly, he made no mention of Nectar card statements or charity pleas, or pizza shop menus with free Coke and cheese, for those ordering 14 inchers on Tuesdays or paying by cheque. But then, nobody writes letters anymore. A hand-written note is a matter of alarm in a time of emails and mobile telephones, when everybody is available 24-7 or eight days a week, whichever is the longer, but it remains impossible to speak to a human to discuss why the Dormobile has received a parking ticket despite being dry-docked in a residents' zone, with permit displayed, as advised, in the left hand corner of the windscreen.
This does not make the decline of the Post Office any more palatable. One does not need to be a glue-tongued philatelist to understand that the postal service is one of the great symbolic institutions of the state, as important as a flag, and better yet than marching bands or crown jewels in a bulletproof vault. The post is, or should be, democratic: it delivers without fear or favour to one and all, to crofter or king. Why, then, is the Post Office in such a state? Even when the workers are not on strike, the junk mail no longer arrives before breakfast, and sometimes comes after tea, if the post is not lost, or misdelivered, or kept in a nest by a rogue postman collecting postal orders and CDs and urine samples out of some weird magpie urge because he wasn't loved enough when young, or suffered abuse, or dyslexia or peanut intolerance, or some other fictional modern ailment which made it acceptable for him to behave like a fiend and be excused and released back into the community on a technicality.
Remember Consignia? For a few months in 2001, at great expense, the Post Office "rebranded" itself, because the words "post" and "office" did not adequately explain its function in a competitive world. No matter that Consignia sounded like an upmarket launderette specialising in the dry cleaning of ermine robes and rabbit fur coats, with three shirts for a fiver on early-bird Tuesdays; the modern curse of rebranding had struck, meaning - as it always does - that a few spivs and designers were suddenly much richer while the rest of us were ill-served and bemused.
Shall I spell it out in green ink? The Post Office does not need competition. It needs postmen, or ladies, in smart uniforms, with hats, not jumpers, and pillar boxes painted pillar box red, and sub-post offices in villages staffed by matrons and spidery wee wifies who know everybody's business and everybody's name, and are nosy enough to notice when Wee Davy doesn't pop in for his pension and his bag of aniseed twists. That is what a Post Office is. It is not about business mail or verbal gymnastics or even logistics. Leave that to Mr Eddie Stobart, and his urgent fleet of lorries.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mr David Cameron Wore Vitalis And Talked For Over An Hour, And The Conservative Party Rejoiced. But What Did He Say?


It was, I believe, the great comedian, Mr George Burns, who noted that "if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made". Mr David Cameron, in what could be his last speech to the Conservative Party conference, did not attempt to fake sincerity. He left that to his audience, a quite terrifying assembly of matrons and car salespersons, who showed every sign of being bored out of their bath chairs, while greeting his every utterance with feverish applause.
It's true, Mr Cameron's biggest ovation came before he had said anything. Certainly, in the moments before he spoke, he looked very presentable and full of confidence. He had the natural radiance of a photocopier salesman on the verge of winning a year's supply of Vitalis. It has been said, too, that Mr Cameron showed great skill by being able to talk without an autocue. In this, he will have gained the sympathy and admiration of Best Men everywhere, although he forgot, in his desire to dazzle, to make his speech entertaining.
As theatre, it was an empty gesture, rather like an audition in which the actor is not sure whether the casting director is working on a tragedy or a comedy. Mr Cameron compromised between the two, which meant that he displayed almost no emotion, whilst bordering on farce. There was one rhetorical flourish, and no poetry. At times, he resembled the host of a television game show - Mr Ted Rogers, perhaps, on 3-2-1 (he lacked the warmth of Mr Bob Monkhouse) - falling back on favourite "riffs" while trying to work out how to proceed. Praising the Conservative party, he said repeatedly: "I didn't do that. You did that, and you should be proud of yourself." The audience greeted this praise the way a rat might observe a mousetrap, with suspicion, and a hint of suicidal hunger. At times, Mr Cameron abandoned grammar altogether: "New world, old politics failing, change required." After praising the internet with the extraordinary observation that "if MySpace was a country, it would be the 10th biggest country in the world" - akin to saying that if the moon was made of cheese, it would need a very large refrigerator - the suspicion grew that the next Conservative manifesto might be written in the form of a text message. In which case, it would read (with due deference to the Home Counties accents of prospective Tory voters)"UR GR8. V8 4US"
But let us not be fatuous. Mr Cameron, who last year came out in favour of sunshine, is now on the side of optimism. He wants to tear up the rulebooks, and promote common sense. He is not in favour of drunk schoolchildren, but he likes soldiers. He is not a fan of scrap-heaps; he favours choice, diversity and innovation. The new politics, he said, do not involve lurching. He wants more police, and a kind of national service for teenagers, in which they can learn to be world championship boxers rather than claiming benefits fraudulently or arriving late for their exams with the smell of Buckfast on their breath.
I am, I release, paraphrasing slightly, as the language of Modern Conservative Change is quite hard to memorise.
At the end, in a popular passage, he refused to apologise for being posh. Indeed, he said, it was only by being posh that a fellow could help others aspire to that admirable position. "We will fight," he said. "Britain will win."
But who are we? And what will Britain win? Over to you, Mr Rogers.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Singular Vision Of The Prime Minister, Mr Brown: Respect Is A Two Way Street, With Restricted Parking Between 8.30am-6.30pm


I am not sure whether the Prime Minister, Mr Brown, is familiar with the American rock'n'roll disc jockey, Mr Casem Kasem. I suspect not: he does not look like a man who has spent much time doing the hucklebuck. However, when watching Mr Brown's first Labour conference speech as Prime Minister, the catchphrase of Mr Kasem came to mind. It was, if memory serves: "Keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the stars."
Mr Brown didn't say that exactly. But there was much talk about the rising aspirations of the British people. From a medical standpoint, these aspirations sound slightly worrying, a little like bluetongue, but Mr Brown is in favour of them. He talked about men moving up ladders, and women hitting glass ceilings. He is in favour of the former, but not the latter - which is excellent news for window cleaners.
He also came out strongly in favour of people. Mostly, these were British people. The British, he noted, had a tendency to "pull on their boots and pull out their boats", unlike foreign people, who carried guns and sold drugs. It hardly needed to be said that he was more impressed by the boots and the boats.
He also stressed the need for education, and demonstrated it himself, with two mixed metaphors. He pledged to "turn the silent rising tide of global warming" - possibly with the aid of boots, boats and King Canute's copy of the tides timetable - and, in an unexpected tribute to glow-worm farmers, spoke of the "golden thread of humanity which binds us together and lights the darkest corners of the world".
It was, I confess, a curious oration - strategic rather than passionate, and devoid of jokes or poetry. Mr Brown made too much use of the suggestion that his views have been formed by his meetings with people up and down the country. One of these people was in the hall: Mr John Smeaton, who wrestled a burning terrorist to the ground at Glasgow airport, received an ovation, and was allowed to sit next to the Prime Minister's wife. Another hero was a small boy called Max, who had uncombed hair - Mr Brown was in favour - and insited on reading the Prime Minister The Gingerbread Man.
Mr Brown didn't mention it, but The Gingerbread Man is the story of an aspirational biscuit, who runs from the oven, and is aided in his escape by several animals until he is eaten by a fox. The fox, presumably, was unaware of Mr Brown's other odd metaphor, that "respect is a two-way street".

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Does The Chancellor, Mr Darling, Have A Darling In Every Port, Or Is He Just Unlucky Enough To Look Like A Banker?

It is often said that British people like to queue. This, I feel, is something of an exaggeration. The British like to feel as if they are part of the crowd, and filled with purpose. They will line-up to break crockery at the Harrods sale, or to place Esso flowers at the roadside of a fallen royal. They will even tolerate the lines at Post Offices, where they will be roped-in like calves awaiting slaughter, and serenaded by televisions offering cheap insurance. But they will do these things without excitement or pleasure.
There was, nevertheless, something terribly reassuring about the queues outside Northern Rock banks, as sensible people in waterproof jerkins stood in line for the right to withdraw their funds from a financial institution which had the misfortune to be caught behaving in the manner of a pier-end supercasino.
This morning, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, an American commentator noted that it was fortunate that this crisis occurred in Britain; in another country, those lines of angry savers might have been less orderly. But the savers, by and large, weren't angry; they seemed to be in a very British state: happy to be disappointed.
Still, it has been a peculiar affair, and an interesting test for the new Chancellor, Mr Alistair Darling, a lawyer who resembles a banker, and who is temperamentally incapable of excitement.
For a long time, the most interesting thing about Mr Darling - a story confirmed by Labour activists from his Edinburgh constituency - was the fact that he had bluebirds tattooed on his hands, in the crook between the thumb and forefinger. These tattoos were small and faded, and easy to miss, but they did suggest that Mr Darling had an interesting past. I imagined him Shanghaied in Shanghai, or drinking coconut liqueurs in British Guyana. Perhaps his wardrobe was full of two dollar suits from Hong Kong. Was there a darling in every port for Mr Darling?
Perhaps. But, try as I might, I have been unable to confirm the existence of the tattoos, or of anything interesting in the early life of the Chancellor. I am told that he smiled once, around 1984, and there are dark rumours that on one occasion he ate a Kit-Kat between meals.
I can offer no proof of these events. But in this crisis, his dullness seems to have done the trick. The blame for the crisis has migrated to the Bank of England, and Mr Darling remains in Number 11, with his wife, his cat, and a pair of eyebrows he won in a poker game in Singapore.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mr Alex Salmond Has Avoided Banana Skins In His First 100 Days: No Mean Feat In A Parliament Of Pygmies


The other morning, when the Senior Retainer, Mr Alex Salmond, was celebrating his first 100 days in office, I rose early and checked my reflection in the mirror. Steadying myself from the disappointment, I washed my face, before mashing the tea to the sound of Mr Edward Stourton mashing his vowels on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. (Mr Stourton reminds me of Sgt Wilson in Dad's Army, while in his irascibility Mr John Humphrys [above, right] grows increasingly like Captain Mainwaring). The weather resembled a nuclear winter, as usual. I could hear sirens, and the distant bleat of a car alarm above the thrum of the commuter engines rolling insolently towards Edinburgh from the executive bantustans . There was milk in the fridge, but it tasted of water and industry, not cream. It did not feel like the early days of a better nation. It felt like another day with nothing to do.
By common consensus, Mr Salmond has had a good 100 days. He has avoided banana skins, and has looked more presidential than his predecessor, Mr McConnell. He was aided in this by the fact that Mr McConnell always resembled a town councillor who - on successfully organising a fete - found himself in receipt of the keys to the tuck shop, and was subsequently paralysed by the responsibility. My sources within the Executive tell me that on gaining office, Mr McConnell instructed his officials to dream up measures which would transform the country, but cost nothing. After a week of this dreaming, he amended his plan to something less ambitious: doing nothing which would transform the country.
Mr Salmond, by contrast, looks like a politician. He is, and remains, a graduate of the Big School, Westminster, and is thus an accomplished practitioner of wheezy rhetoric. Thus, even when he is doing nothing, he is able to look as if he is shaping the destiny of the nation (see the "national conversation").
The politician who defined the concept of "the first 100 days" was President Roosevelt, who came to power in the USA at a time of fear, panic and economic ruin. He avoided a collapse in the banking system by declaring a bank holiday, and told the electorate that the only thing it had to fear was fear itself. (This, palpably, was nonsense). Nevertheless, his confidence is credited with saving the capitalist system from oblivion, and he introduced the New Deal, was a big deal for some, and a smaller deal than it appeared for others.
Mr Salmond has made Scotland feel good about itself, and has launched another period of national self-examination. For this, he has been treated as a guru, when, by any rational examination, he is merely a good politician in a parliament of pygmies (with all due respect to the small people of Central Africa).

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Edinburgh Is A City Of Bankers, But It Is Surely Unwise To Advertise This Affliction

I will admit that, as a resident of Peebles, I am rarely in a position to take the pulse of the national polity. Peebles exists in a state that is like 1955, with slightly more traffic and heavier rain, and young people who advertise their ignorance by playing terrible music on their mobile telephones. But, apart from this, everything is fine. Until approximately 1979, Edinburgh was like this. But somehow, over the last three decades, the city has become a true European capital; which means that its streets are thronging with hen and stag parties, the bars never close, and the holes in the ground which once made the city centre such a metaphor for Scottish dentistry have been filled with glass incisors, run by banks. I never thought I would be nostalgic for the political winter of Mr Alex "Red Eck" Wood, who ran the place like a socialist outpost of Ruritania, even decorating Princes Street with hideous banners which read, with a reassuring lack of poetry, "Improving Services, Creating Jobs". This was at a time when services could not be said to be improving, and jobs were scarce.
However, while on festival duties in the High Street, I chanced upon the council's current slogan: "Inspiring Capital". I understand there is a pun involved - which is bad enough - but is it really the case that the best that can be said for the great city by the Forth is that is excites money?
I have more to say, but first I must lie down. In the meantime, here is a drummer.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Campaign For Scotch News Must Be Resisted, As Life Is Depressing Enough Already


This morning, I was canvassed by a "think tank" on the subject of the Scottish Six, which has been made a priority by the Senior Retainer, Mr Alex Salmond. Mr Salmond, I understand, is in favour of a national news bulletin, edited and produced in Scotland. One may speculate about his motives, and it would surely be too cynical to suggest that he is in favour of Scotch News because it would easier for him to get onto it, even though he remains a Westminster MP, and is thus in the happy position of decrying the institution which pays one of his salaries. (He doesn't much like the Scottish parliament either, though he seems to be getting used to it.)
I understand why the Scotch News is a matter of perennial debate: Scottish journalists would obviously be happy to have more comfortable swivel chairs, pens that light up in the dark, and reinforced trilbies for anxious reports from the rooftops of Holiday Inns in war zones, in which they would tell us that the situation remained tense, but bearable, as the hotel bar stayed open late.
But do we really need Scotch News? I would rather listen to pigs being electrocuted than tune in to Good Morning Scotland, which is an international bulletin in tartan slippers. And much as I admire Ms Jackie Bird, I fear that newsreading is one of the occupations in which the nation's best talent has gone South. Newsnight's Mr Gavin Esler is a fine and sober presence, and Ms Kirsty Wark - though she talks as if her wallies have been gummed together with the grouty remnants of a Tunnock's Caramel Wafer - has the authority, and the dimmed beauty of Miss Jean Brodie.
But the Scottish news programmes are beyond help. Is it, I wonder, because as a nation we find it difficult to stand up and talk in public? Well then, why not provide chairs for our newsreaders? Does the news really have to be so depressing? Scotch News as it is currently formulated is 30% parliamentary hot air, 30% fish, and 40% murder. As a nation, we have a lot of weather, but we also have two weather forecasts: the BBC weather, in which the rain on Caledonia is shown on an electronic map which makes Scotland look like a suburb of Antarctica, and what the former newsreader and television critic Mr Kenneth Roy dubbed "The Wee Weather", in which Heather The Weather, or one of her impersonators, breathlessly describes rain in more words than the Inuit have for snow. Heather The Weather has improved - her early bulletins were like a race commentary delivered under water by Mr Jacques Cousteau - but I still like to have my rainfall confirmed by London.
I have more to say about this, but I must sleep, perchance to dream of Mary Marquis (Ms).

Monday, August 06, 2007

An Apology: Three Not Particularly Convincing Reasons Why I Became Invisible, And May Do So Again

Apologies for my absence from these "pages". There are many reasons for this but, in order of importance, the main ones are as follows. 1. I have been in a dwam for two months, caused by my sense of bafflement at the Scottish election result. 2. My computer, which is really an adding machine with a portable television Sellotaped to the side, has been suffering from foot-and-mouth disease,and has been held in isolation in the table tennis room at the Community Centre while "experts" assessed whether it was safe to release it back into the community (only doing so when I persuaded them that the explicit downloads which soiled my hard drive were, in fact, pop-ups which popped up without any encouragement, or understanding, from me.) 3. I have been in extensive rehearsals for an adaptation of my as-yet unpublished autobiography, And Not For The Better.
On all three of these matters, I can now report some progress. 1. My dwam has not weakened, but I now have a better understanding of the nation's politics. Roughly speaking, the electorate has no idea what it is doing, but in elections to the Scottish parliament, it is relaxed about the outcome, because it makes only a symbolic difference, and in the matter of symbols, the Scottish National Party is stronger than the Scottish Labour Party, which was, and is, unsure whether it is New or Old Labour, Scottish or British, or whether it aspires to represent the labouring classes, who are mostly Polish, and not registered to vote.
2. I have a new computer. I have no idea how it works, but I have written to my dentist asking for reassurance that it is not to blame for my teeth turning blue.
3. Due to an administrative error caused by a misuse of "Google" on my new computer, I accidentally booked my show into the 1966 Festival Fringe. This inadvertent distortion of the space-time continuum was accompanied by an outbreak of motion sickness, from which I have only just recovered.
However, having returned reluctantly to 2007, I will now be applying my forensic appreciation of the dramatic arts to this year's festival. Unless I stay in and watch Bargain Hunt, which is distinctly possible.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Scotland Is Not The Worst Small Country In The World, Necessarily, But Mr Pat Kane's Diagnosis Of The Nation's Ills Is Odd Medicine

This morning, on Radio 4's Today programme, Mr James Naughtie announced something that many of us have suspected, but dared not enunciate. Scotland, according to a study, is officially The Worst Small Country In The World.
The reasons for this judgment were complex, but in large part, they seemed to be based on the fact that Glaswegians have a habit of dying young, though whether this is through a diet of Buckfast and tattie scones, drive-by "chibbings", or an over-familiarity with the dramatic arcs of the BBC Scotland drama River City, no one can say.
Mr Naughtie's guest on Today was Mr Pat Kane, a singer, whose contributions to the gaiety of the nation include a successful consultancy based on the ethics of play, and second place in the ITV television programme, Hit Me Baby One More Time, in which he was, as they say, "pipped", by the former communist, Mr Shakin' Stevens; a performer usually known by the less formal title, "Shaky".
I wish I could report the detail of Mr Kane's analysis of Scotland's failings, but to do so would would be unfair to all of us. In short, he seemed to be saying that the nation's "badness" was caused by the fact that it has yet to achieve full independence. His analogy seemed to be related to the common cause of depression: the sense that matters are outwith the control of the sufferer, which leads to low self-esteem, a failure to wash one's hair, and - eventually - arguments with oneself in a loud voice on the lower deck of the bus. (I have extrapolated the medicine somewhat).
I confess that I am not convinced by this line of reasoning. Indeed, I believe it to be entirely wrongheaded. The discovery that we are The Worst Small Country In The World is an inevitable reaction to the claim which preceded it, that we were, in some way, The Best. My mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am), used to warn against pride and boastfulness, by quoting Mr Thomas Carlyle, who noted: “The man of life upright has a guiltless heart, free from all dishonest deeds or thought of vanity." Each of these words was accompanied by a firm rap from her spurtle.
So, we are not the best, and we are not the worst. We just are, and that is depressing enough.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mr Alex Salmond's "New Scotland" Is Oddly Familiar, But The Forward March Of History Has Reached The Teacake Factories Of Uddingston


Try as I have, I cannot get the hang of Mr Alasdair Gray's nationalist motivational workout, in which one wakes each morning as if in the first days of a new nation. It is not the waking that is the problem. I awake each morning at around 12.28, just after falling asleep, as the teenage drunks make their way home, stoned on lighter fuel, pheromones and fortified wine, pausing only to fight with lamp-posts, dance like Nijinsky (the racehorse) across the bonnets of parked cars, before challenging each other to games of touch rugby using, as the ball, the grease-soaked wrappers which blow like post-apocalyptic tumbleweed down Northgate from Big Eb's chippie. With luck, Radio 4's Shipping Forecast will put me under again, though not without adding a meteorological backdrop to my dreams, which are stormy enough, thank you, on account of the cheese. And as the night progresses, my rest will be punctured by the barking of the urban foxes, and the pre-dawn squawking of the robins. Sometimes, in these insomniac moments, I am reminded of Mr Spike Milligan, who used to complain of the din of silence which surrounded his home in Rye, East Sussex: the snoring of the sheep, he used to say, was keeping him awake.
My morning rituals also get in the way of imagining that the country has been re-born. If Good Morning Scotland does not send me into a blue funk, I am statistically unlikely to survive unscathed the challenges of MacAulay and Co, which I now listen to in the bath whilst poking knives into the guts of the toaster in order to deaden the pain. Oddly, though the toaster is plugged in, I have yet to receive an electric shock, perhaps because of my sandshoes.
But, like Ronnie Corbett, challenged by a ladybird to a bout of Tae-Kwon-Do, I digress. My point is politics, and how oddly similar to yesterday tomorrow now seems. It is true, one gets a sense of the temporal nature of existence merely by looking at the countenance of Mr Jack McConnell - his hair thinning and grey, like his cheeks and his suits - but I am not yet convinced that the new Senior Retainer, the racing tipster Mr Salmond, has what the cowboys used to call "the proper mustard". If he is to achieve the statesmanship his rhetoric craves, he will have to learn how to appear on television without looking as if he is about to consume the camera.
But perhaps I am being unduly pessimistic. On visiting the Store for my ration of Billy Beef, I noticed that the sainted Mr Tunnock of Uddingston is now selling his teacakes with a plain chocolate coating. As a service to my readers, I have consumed a six-pack of these confections, and can advise that one is not enough, but two is too many.

Monday, May 14, 2007

How Labour Won The Battle, But Lost The War, By A Man Who Should Keep Taking The Tablets

I have never had much time for opinion pollsters, but this description of how Labour "won" the Scottish election from Mr Phillip Gould is so inventive that it deserves to be classified as Magical Realism.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Jings, Crivvens And Help Ma Boab - Scotland's Parliament Is A Guddle, A Bourach, A Midden


This morning - the third since the earthquake - I woke early, alerted by squalling robins serenading the mice in the coalhole. It is one of the perils of age that, once woken, nothing short of morphine can make sleep return and, as Mr Whippy's morphine van is not due until Thursday, I rose reluctantly. How did it feel, this new state? Oddly similar to the old one. I felt older, which is normal, not younger, as advertised. I thought, as I sometimes do, of Mr Alasdair Gray's rhetorical suggestion that we should work "as if ... in the early days of a better nation". It is, I confess, a splendid suggestion, but confusing too. Where is this better nation? The nationalists are fond of comparisons with the "tiger economy" of Ireland, but the success of that charming country has not been achieved by virtue of hard labour. Rather, it is an economy grown merry on the generous subsidy of the Common Market, horse-racing, and the side-effects of refrigerated cider. The Scottish Wildcat Economy, I fear, will be a harder creature to tame, if indeed it exists beyond the world of biological myth.
The news is confusing, but comforting. Mr Brian Taylor, the generously-appointed political editor of BBC Scotland, is everywhere still, twanging his braces at the splendid incompetence of the election, and using the word "guddle" as if it is going out of fashion, which it may be. Such has been his frustration that he has also been ejaculating in gaelic, using the word "bourach", which he defines as "an utter, hideous mess." Writing like a delusional Concorde pilot forced to crashland on Barra, he told the readers of his weblog, "this is a bourach, Mach Five."
Since my couthy ejaculations tend to come in the Doric after a glass of milk stout, I might have taken his word for this, but my able researchers uncovered an article published in The Scotsman almost exactly a year ago, entitled "A puckle of words in the braw Scots tongue", which contained the following definition: "A classic Gaelic word used by parents across Scotland is b├╣rach, used to describe a child's messy room. But according to Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language by Alexander McBain (Gairm Publications, 1982) burach means 'turning up of the earth, digging; from the Scottish bourie, English burrow. The Scottish bourach, enclosure, cluster, knoll, heap, etc., is the English bower.'"
I am not sure whether this is the image the estimable Mr Taylor had in mind, but a child's messy room is exactly what our parliamentary system resembles today. My mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) preferred the word "midden", but the meaning was, I think, the same. To our befuddled politicians, I offer Mrs Elder's solution, which came in the manner of a threat: tidy it up, or there will be no peas in your mince.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mr Alex Salmond May Resemble The Cartoon Monster Shrek, But His Fairytale Election Will Not Make Scotland A Magical Kingdom


This morning, as I prepare to make the lonely trek to the polling station, I feel the hand of history on my moleskins. Scotland, it seems, is on the verge of electing a nationalist administration on a platform of "independence lite", which means that while Mr Alex Salmond (above, right) will have the keys to Bute House, and a mandate to stick a sprig of lucky white heather in the radiator of the ceremonial Hillman Imp, he will not hold a referendum until the nation has grown so bored of the question of self-government that it will do anything to make it stop. (Or, if you believe the ITN news - which I do not, having once met Mr Sandy Gall in a public bar - he has pledged to hold a referendum within 100 days).
It has been a queer election, and it may grow queerer still. If the polls are correct, the electorate has decided to vote for Mr Salmond because he has pledged not to implement the one policy which is his party's reason for existing - an act of selflessness which is at odds with his personality. In recent months, Mr Salmond seems to have modelled his appearance on the world's most famous Scotsman, the cartoon monster Shrek, but I am not yet convinced by his expressions of humility.
Mr Salmond is a contradiction wrapped in a contradiction. His popularity is based on the fact that he has proved himself on the big stage - the Westminster parliament which he refused to abandon until he had a realistic chance of heading an administration in the home country. The current Senior Retainer, Mr Jack McConnell - who even as I type is doing an inventory of the teaspoons of office - never graduated to the big school, and has done everything he can to make a virtue of small-mindedness. He has, however, succeeded in his pledge to "do less well".
Frankly, I am bored already by questions of nationality. I feel no great kinship with the Edinburgh bankers who play roulette with the economy, or the Glaswegians and the Gaels who decide that our national identity is best-expressed by television and radio schedules full of stairheid rammies and what used to be known as "the banter", but which might more accurately be viewed as a form of verbal diarrhea. As far as I can see, the Scotland of the nationalists does not exist, and even if did, it would do nothing to placate my disquiet with the crass materialism of the modern world.
In elections, I always ask one question designed to expose the misguided ambitions of our prospective leaders: will your party get the chewing gum off the streets? To this, I have added a supplementary question: why can I no longer leave my bicycle in the street without chaining it to a lamp post?
In the fairytale world of Shrek, I might expect some answers.

Friday, April 20, 2007

To Paraphrase Mrs Thatcher's Willie, The Senior Retainer, Mr Jack McConnell, Is Guilty Of Stirring Up Apathy


The other morning, as I was laying down the Spam and the tins of Marvel in the coal hole, in anticipation of the calamity which will follow independence, I found myself puzzling over the logic of the current election. There is, you may have heard, an election campaign underway in Scotland, although I have not, as yet, set eyes on a candidate, or been able to attend a public meeting, as elections these days are "virtual" affairs in which all attention is focused on the personality of the leader, or - as in the case of the Senior Retainer, Mr McConnell - its absence.
Mr McConnell, in my view, has never recovered from the "reddie" he got from wearing a pinstriped kilt to a social event in the United States; a mistake that it is hard to imagine being made by the Father of the Nation, the Great Gannet, Mr Donald Dewar, who preferred antiquarian books to clothes, and was unwilling to invest in an overcoat when his funds could be invested instead in a slightly-foxed hardback.
But, even with the failings of the Senior Retainer in mind, I find the rush towards independence slightly perverse. As I understand it, the logic is as follows: devolution has been a failure, because it has not been able to stop the American-led invasion of Iraq, Mr McConnell's kilt, or the entertaining humiliation of the suntanned firebrand, Mr Tommy Sheridan. In its early months, the Executive was powerless to stop the decline of the Scottish football team under the command of the German, Herr Berti Vogts. The broadcasts of Mr Fred Macaulay have continued unabashed on Radio Scotland. The manufacture of Hillman Imps has not resumed at Linwood.
In short, the parliamentarians have been unable to live up to the grandeur of the parliament building, which is compared by its supporters to the Sydney Opera House, and by its detractors to the Palatul Parlamentului in Bucharest. (In fact, it resembles the regional outpost of a Gardening Supplies Company.) The one big achievement of the Parliament, is the ban on smoking in public places, which has had the effect of forcing people to smoke in even more public places, and has caused many bars and restaurants to install patio furniture in the mistaken belief that Scotland is a suburb of Benalmadena. It would not surprise me if the health benefits of the decline in cigarette smoking have been offset by a corresponding increase in hypothermia.
There are, I'm sure, many other issues of concern, but the great achievement of the Parliament is its promotion of a sense of stasis. The Conservatives' main contribution to Parliamentary affairs may be related to the production of taxi receipts, but the blue corner may take some satisfaction from the fact that the Executive seems to have adopted as its manifesto the phrase used by Baroness Thatcher's "Willie", Lord Whitelaw, who famously accused Mr Harold Wilson of "stirring up apathy".

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Whither Scotland? The Last Days Of Mr Jack McConnell Are A Like A Wistful Nuclear Winter


The nation, apparently, is in ferment. An election is underway. Rosettes are being ironed, and freshly-laundered babies delivered to party headquarters, so that they may be kissed by strange men - a fate which would prompt a lynch mob in any other month.
Looking out from the windows of the Old Manse, it is hard to imagine that revolution is in the air. The weather, as usual, is like a nuclear winter, where wistful mist turns to tearful smog. There is a little less traffic - the schools are on holiday - but the roads still hum with HGVs and angry cars amber-gambling and playing jungle drums as their drivers shout into tiny phones and programme computers to guide them home, like lost astronuats, to the executive bantustans on the edge of town, where life is a cobbled cul-de-sac of saddened bankers planning fraud, adultery, and a timeshare at a golf resort in Portugal. Or death. Whichever is easier.
The buses still run late; the peaceful chug through the upholstered slag of Midlothian is still as relaxing as a practice run with the Jamaican bobsleigh team. The mail is still junk. The pavements are still sticky with a carpet of gum, spat out by people chewing mindlessly to ease their stress, or mask their breath, which is rotten with the sulphur of pointless commerce, imbibed in anxious gulps of filter coffee which taste like earth trowelled from the grave of hope, or Burke and Hare's petunias.
These, it seems, are the last days of the spring-heeled Senior Retainer, Mr Jack McConnell, a politician who has met the demands of office by shrinking to fit the space. He looks, in the dying days of his regime, like a seal pup praying for the quick release of a hunter's club, hardly daring to imagine a better future, but dreaming, in his more feverish hallucinations, of a retirement to the pebbled shores of Scottish commerce, the shale and flotsam of Edinburgh lunchers, that nest of fearties with nuts on trays and brains battered by drink and rugby into yesterday's mince.
I have more to say about this election, and will return to it when I am suitably scunnered. In the meantime, I will eat one of Mr Tunnock's excellent teacakes and wonder how we got here, to a place where it is possible to be nostalgic for the dynamism and charisma of the butter-fingered ex-goalkeeper, Mr Henry McLeish.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mr Jeremy Paxman's Contempt For His Boneheaded Colleagues Cannot Quite Excuse The Painful Populism of the BBC

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In general, I am not in favour of the television journalist, Mr Jeremy Paxman, a gentleman who reads the news with the impatience of a man astride a bike of wasps, but I must confess I have been warming to him in recent weeks. On BBC2's Newsnight (English edition, which I receive by spinning the coat-hanger aerial in the general direction of Mountbenger or Cappercleuch) he alone has stood out against gimmickry; the most idiotic example of which is Ethical Man, an unfortunate reporter who has been required to spend the last year considering the merits of windmills and self-composting toilets, as part of the programme's attempt to make the imminent ecological catastrophe caused by Global Warming interesting to its viewers.
Last night, in what was a new low, Ethical Man was dressed like a pantomime scarecrow, with a false moustache, a stick, and a breathing impediment - as if reporting from the future. There were several peculiarities about this idea, not least the fact that the elderly only appear on television when they are part of the "live studio audience", which they do, presumably, in an effort to keep warm now that public libraries have been turned into amusement arcades. More bafflingly, this futuristic old man was dressed in the style of a 1950s gentleman, clothed by Veitch of Peebles, when in all likelihood he will be wearing a tracksuit and baseball cap in a material not yet invented, but flammable, machine-washable, and guaranteed to make the wearer invisible to Closed Circuit Television Cameras.
Happily, Mr Paxman dispatched this item with unconcealed contempt, before going on to destroy the reputation for competence of Mr David Miliband, a square-jawed lad with hair of jet, who was discussed as a future Labour leader only because he had not been exposed to the public glare for long enough to dispel the illusion. Well, now he has.
But I digress. My point - and I make no apologies for recycling it - is that global warming will only increase, as long as it is treated only with hot air. BBC reporters currently attempt to trap daytripping ecologists by asking whether they would be prepared to ban £1.99 flights to the dark corners of the continent, as if aviation was the only industry currently using electricity. Due to an administrative error, I currently receive 153 channels on my Ferguson 18" television, and I can confidently state that at any given time, 152 of them are unwatchable. (At least 93 of them seem to be showing a programme in which a Liverpudlian hairdresser goes into dark rooms and pretends to commune with ghosts - an entertainment I can get for the price of a bottle of milk stout at the bar of the Tontine Hotel on Tuesdays and Thursdays). How much energy, I wonder, would be saved, if broadcasting was restricted - as it was in the 1970s - to three channels which closed down at 10.30pm with a sonorous rumble of the National Anthem? Increasingly, public buildings are illuminated at night, thus decreasing the visibility of the stars, and adding nothing to the sum of human enjoyment. And, as cars do nothing but harm, could they not be replaced by rickshaws, thus giving welcome employment to the unfortunate 2.6m who remain jobless in our booming economy?
There are a few other suggestions I could make, but as a wearer of Clark's excellent Polyveldts, with their everlasting polyurethane soles, I am confident that my "carbon footprint" is smooth, if not invisible.
On a separate note, I am still on a course of sedatives after observing a late night discussion programme in which Mr Andrew Neil (the erstwhile saviour of The Scotsman), Mr Michael Portillo (a former MP) and Ms Diane Abbott (Widow Twankey), entertained the pop singer Miss Lily Allen, representing that ungrateful demographic, Young People. I have seen happier car crashes, and I remain tormented by the fact that Mr Neil was not only tieless, but had undone at least two, if not three, buttons on his shirt, allowing a generous view over the Himalayan hummocks of the torso of the ageing boulevardier. If this is current affairs, I remain happy to live in the past.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Economist's Talk Of "Affluenza" Is Typically Misguided, But It Doesn't Make the BBC's Mr Huw Edwards Any Less Frightening


I am not in the habit of reading The Economist magazine, as I have always believed economists to be a species beneath pity. My mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am), on sending me to the Co-operative for morning rolls, would hand me the money with a stern warning that I was not to be diverted by beggars, gamblers or bank managers - these all being persons of the same kidney - and her lecture would end with a paraphrase of Mr William Blake's view that art is the tree of life and science is the tree of death. "Economics," Mrs Elder would say, "is the spider plant of eternal damnation."
However, on visiting my dentist this week, I found myself forced to wait for three hours and, in order to distract myself from the atmosphere of genial and expensive torture, sampled the magazines from the waiting room table. Some of these publications were not of recent vintage, but after exhausting the leather-bound editions of Titbits, I progressed with a weary heart to the bible of the suburban banker.
There, in The Economist, I encountered an article which claimed that the country was suffering from an ailment called Affluenza, the symptoms of which are low levels of personal happiness despite increased material wellbeing. I must say that I would welcome the chance to test my sense of emotional dyspepsia with a bout of increased wealth, but I find it hardly surprising that the population is in a dwam. Each night as I contemplate the milky balloon of skin on the surface of my Horlicks, I fully expect to be taken before the dawn by bird flu, terrorism, or a hundred other brands of "friendly fire". There is war everywhere, and a shortage of sparrows. Poles have taken over the Spar, and replaced the potted hough with a thousand types of sausage, most of which seem to be made of vulcanised rubber and shredded sand-shoe. The Union is on the verge of disintegration and Mr Fred MacAulay is still on Radio Scotland. The country is being overrun by mocking pylons and windmills which wave in distress at the impossibility of generating enough power to keep the country's growing collection of unnecessary electronic devices on "stand-by" while we wait for the big thaw, when the ice caps will melt, and the highlands will be overrun by a tsunami of disoriented polar bears looking for a single fish, with salt or sauce, whichever is most convenient.
I do not want to think about Affluenza. I have an allergic reaction to "buzz-words" and puns, because invariably they have been invented by men called Dave, who ride Chopper bicycles and spend their working days playing Mousetrap in a pathetic attempt to relive a childhood they never had, because they were too busy being spoiled by their divorcing parents whose idea of responsible childcare was to make the child wear an elasticated bow-tie, and to wait until the age of five before permitting him to drive a miniature motorcyle along the pavement to the tattoo parlour, before returning home with a satchel full of Woodbines and a packet of Space Dust for dessert.
Affluenza in nonsense. Unhappiness is as inevitable as it is logical, and should be celebrated as an act of reason. One need only turn on the news to become comfortably glum: just looking at Mr Huw Edwards (above, right) has me reaching for the Askit powders.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Sandwich-Board Men Are Right. The End Is Nigh. A Solution To Global Warming.


The weather, as a bald poet once noted, is variable, and so are we. But I wonder, at the risk of succumbing to False Memory Syndrome, whether the weather is worse than it used to be. It is winter, of course, so we should expect extremes of cold, and frosts, and perhaps the odd dusting of sleet. In January, too, a little wind may blow. The January sales are accompanied by the January gales. I would not mind a billow of smirr, or haar. All of these brands of inclemency can be navigated with wit and tweed clothing.
But the recent weather had been quite irregular. The rain, which rarely stops, is torrential; a cold monsoon. The sun never rises. The cloud is permament, the sky always grey. I have not seen conditions like these since 1966, when I attended an illicit screening of Mr Peter Watkins' apocalyptic film, The War Game, in which the aftermath of a nuclear explosion over Britain was dramatised (and found to resemble a particularly unpleasant episode of Z-Cars).
The news, of course, is full of climatic catastrophe. The Prime Minister, Mr Blair, has been criticised for catching an aeroplane to go on holiday, and his airbrushed doppelganger, Mr Cameron, has been busy fitting solar panels and a windmill to the roof of his Notting Hill home, in the belief that an electorate which has tired of "spin" will vote for a public relations man as long as he resembles Windy Miller from television's Camberwick Green. (The public, I fear, would much prefer Sergeant-Major Grout, though Mrs Dingle the post-mistress would be an interesting outside candidate).
Scarcely a day goes by without an outbreak of doomsaying. The sandwich-board men were right: the end is nigh.
In which case, why is nothing being done? I am aware that responsible behaviour is approximately as fashionable as my Polyveldt shoes, but I would have thought that the end of the world was a matter of some importance, even to a populace which has swapped sentience for celebrity, and civic responsibility with the National Lottery. Certainly, there are a great many distractions: terrorism has replaced the Cold War as a kind of Permament War, very similar to that mentioned by Mr George Orwell in his Jura novel, 1984: "A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war."
But still, even in a time of perverted values, it is possible to do a simple calculation. The end of the world, by any sensible measure, is slightly more serious than the strikes and oil shortages of the 1970s. The emergency of the 1970s was met with the Three Day Week, and electricity black-outs. The country shopped by candle-light. Every second street-light was dark. The population was encouraged to brush its teeth in the dark.
How, then, have we met the challenge of the end of the world? By illuminating public buildings at night, and introducing "air-conditioning" to offices. Shops have heating which scalds the scalps of shoppers as they pass through their doors, and public houses have overhead heaters which are more efficient at warming the moon than they are at affording comfort to drinkers who, in a sensible world, would be curled up in front of a log fire with a cup of cocoa and a novel by Mr Nevil Shute.
What is to be done? Well, the modern solution to a problem is to give it a different name. The real problem with global warming is that it sounds quite pleasant. It should be rebranded to sound intolerable. I would call it Margaret.