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.

A Practical Solution To The 'Cash For Gongs' Scandal Which Might - But Need Not - Result In The House Of Lords Being Invaded By Defecating Elephants

I have been intrigued by the parallels between the government's policy of accidentally giving honours to the billionaires who support New Labour, and the fact that Blue Peter badges are now being sold on the internet trading site eBay.
Both of these developments suggest that free market thinking has triumphed over more subtle definitions of the public good, and that the ethics of the supermarket have replaced the values of the community.
This is not a surprise, and I make no comment on it. However, in one respect, the Blue Peter badge is preferable to the existing honours system, in that clear guidelines exist by which non-billionaires may apply for the award. The blue Blue Peter badge is awarded "for interesting letters, good ideas for the programme, stories, poems, pictures and for having appeared on the programme."
The Silver badge is slightly odd. According to the guidelines: "To win a Silver badge you have to do something different from what you did to win your Blue badge. For instance, if you won a Blue badge for an interesting letter; you could win a Silver one by sending us a picture or poem."
Green badges are awarded for letters with a conservation and environmental theme. Gold badges - the most exclusive award - are reserved for "really outstanding achievements - for instance, saving somebody's life or extreme bravery." A further category of badge is available to those who have won Blue Peter competitions.
Clearly the possibility of badge abuse exists within this system, and there is no clear definition of the criteria for judging, for example, "a really outstanding achievement". Both HM, The Queen, and the pop singer, Ms Madonna Ciccone, have been given gold badges, though I am not aware of either of them being involved in an act of extreme bravery.
However, in most regards, the Blue Peter system is preferable and - to use modern parlance - more transparent than the honours system.
I propose, therefore, that the honours system, which has been debased by greed, be replaced by the Blue Peter system, which will also allow the great and the good to be identified as they walk among us by the colour of their lapel decoration.
Clearly, this would be a radical constitutional change, and could not happen overnight. In the interim, perhaps the existing peers could be encouraged to open up a trade in honours. If peerages were 'for sale' on eBay, we would all have a clearer idea of their worth.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I Puff, Therefore I Am, So Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It, Mr McConnell

I type with tredidation, for as I write, my meerschaum bowl is stuffed with gold-red embers of Walnut Plug. As I breathe, I wheeze. At times, the fug is as a thick as the fog in the London of an elderly American's imagination - a veritable peasouper.
Am I a criminal? I may well be, though I confess that I am as confused as the next woman by the small print of the Scottish Executive's ban on smoking in public places. True, my living room is far from public. It does not welcome visitors. Indeed, the last stranger to step over the draught excluder was the Co-op engineer who had come to fix my television after I complained that it was receiving ITV: a service I had neither requested nor enjoyed.
And yet, the ban includes the cabs of long-distance lorry drivers, who are now under a legal requirement to extinguish their gaspers as they cross the border travelling North, with the result - I predict - that Gretna Green will become more famous for its resemblance to an ashtray than for its matrimonial anvil.
Still, it was exciting to see the Senior Retainer, Mr McConnell, on the national news, even if the lasting memory of his appearance will have been the suspicion that he is a fellow with a peculiarly square head, and the diction of a schoolboy using English as a foreign language.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

There Will Be Dancing In The Streets Of Raith As A Result Of This Budget

The Chancellor, Mr Gordon Brown, is not famed for his levity. But did I detect the ghost of a smile as he announced that there was to be no increase in duty on Champagne "in anticipation of World Cup success this summer"?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Scotland Has No Need Of An Anthem, For It Is A Wee Country, Meek In Aspect, And Quietly Happy With Its Insignificance, Thank You For Asking, Mister

The decision to serenade our Commonwealth Games medallists with a dreary blast of Scotland The Brave has put a match to the damp touch-paper that is the debate about our national anthem. The tartan specialist and - it says here - "anthem campaigner", Mr Roddy Martine has called on the BBC for the matter to be sorted out, with a new anthem for a new Scotland. A representative of the Scotland football supporters' organisation has suggested that Auld Lang Syne would be a good option, despite the fact that the Corries' Flower of Scotland is now used at most sporting events.
It is, I think, a curiosity and a sign of our national impotence that so much energy can be devoted to the choice of an anthem, when so little is given over to a consideration of whether Scotland is a country at all.
Certainly, we have a flag. We have a parliament, though it is closed for repairs, and is not sovereign. We have a national dish - haggis - which is now on sale at selected Sainsbury's outlets throughout Britain all the year round. But our "army" is tartan, and has built its reputation on its cheerful celebration of the inevitability of defeat.
I do not make these observations from a position of political malice. All of these things may be signs of nationhood, but none of them is likely to win a seat on a chaise longue at the United Nations.
In fact, it is a good thing that we have no anthem. If we did, I suspect it would be something like Loch Lomond, by Runrig - whose habit of wearing black vests in public disqualified them from serious consideration - or Sailing, by that gravedigging son of Holloway, Mr Rod Stewart. In an ideal world, Mr Michael Marra's Hermless would prevail, but the song, and Mr Marra, have resisted all attempts to coax them into the light.
In a sane world, Mr Hamish Henderson's Freedom Come All Ye, would be adopted, but I am not convinced that it represents the aspirations of the young, whose idea of freedom is the right to drink coffee from polystyrene cups while wearing white earphones and talking in a Jamaican patois, unless one is Jamaican, when such behaviour is frowned upon.
Perhaps the time has come to accept that, insofar as we are a people at all, we are meek, and polite, and rarely anthemic.
If pride were not a sin, we could feel a wee bit chuffed about that.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mr Blair Could Solve The "Cash For Gongs" Scandal By Ridding Britain Of The Menace Of Political Advertising. Who But The Agency Chimps Would Care?

Please excuse me if my tone is unfamiliar. I am just back from the latest seminar in Borders Council's Silver Surfers Initiative, which aims to encourage the withered and the obselete - that is, anyone over 40 - in the ways of modern media. This latest seminar concerned the "semiotics of blogging", and it included several handy hints on how to get one's writing noticed.
Most of these tips can be characterised by a central premise: one should be angry and unreasonable at all times. The blog is to the modern media landscape what the news bulletin was to Mr Peter Finch in the film Network: a place in which the author is under pressure to declare that he (and they are usually gentlemen) is as mad as hell, and not going to take it any more.
Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I have acquired some jargon. Until recently, I thought the modern media landscape was the Blue Peter garden, designed by Mr Percy Thrower to resemble an Italian sunken garden in 1973, and cruelly vandalised in 1983. Mr Thrower, I recall, declared tearfully that the culprits must have been "mentally ill".
It is, then, with some trepidation that I must announce that this blog identified the Prime Minister's problem with patronage some time before the current "cash for gongs" scandal erupted. On the 5th of March, I noted that Mr Blair had attempted his public relations "comeback" with an appearance on Parkinson, the host of which he had rewarded with a CBE in 2000. This breach is of a different order to granting peerages to the millionaires who secretly funded New Labour's election campaign, but the principle in both cases is one of mutual back-scratching.
As I have resisted all invitations to donate money to the coffers of New Labour, and am in receipt of no offers of peerages, or medals of any sort, I feel I am in a strong position to make an observation which goes to the centre of this row.
So far, all the attention has been on the question of how political parties are funded, when it should really be on the way they spend their money. Both Labour and Conservatives squandered £17m at the last election, much of it on pointless advertisements. The only beneficiaries of such largesse were the performing chimps in red-rimmed spectacles who designed the advertisements, the newspapers which published them, and the companies whose hoardings do so much to make our town- and city-scapes resemble the back pages of a pornographic magazine.
Why not ban political advertising? It is a malign influence, and a visual pollutant, which makes dishonest people richer while demeaning our democracy.
Incidentally, on the question of "gongs", I tend to side with the late Goon, Mr Spike Milligan, who observed of his CBE: "It’s a thing on a string. It’s not really that exquisite. You could get one, you feel, at Marks & Spencer."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Late Baron Wilson of Rievaulx Was One Of The Last Of The Great Pipe Men, And It Made Him A Better Prime Minister

Today is the 30th anniversary of the resignation of Mr Harold Wilson (later Baron Wilson of Rievaulx) from the office of Prime Minister. Odd as it is to say it, 1976 was a more innocent time, and Mr Wilson's resignation went unexplained. If it happened today, one imagines it would be accompanied by days and weeks of soul-searching and revelation, followed by interviews, serialisations, lecture tours, and a guest appearance on a Saturday night celebrity ice dancing spectacular.
The most common explanation of Mr Wilson's departure is the suggestion that he was aware that his mental faculties were failing, and decided to leave his office with his dignity intact. In which case, it would be in bad taste to probe further.
But, in thinking about it, I began to wonder about Mr Wilson's pipe. In journalistic shorthand, this is usually known as his "trademark pipe", though I am doubtful that any such trademark existed. Indeed, the more cynical of his biographers have suggested that Mr Wilson smoked cigars in private, and sucked on his pipe because - like his Gannex raincoat - it made him look as if he was in touch with the common man. I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt, not least because I am nostalgic for a time when a pipe might have been perceived as a no-nonsense accoutrement, rather than a prop from a play by Mr Noel Coward which must remain unlit due to Safety Regulations and legislation on "passive smoking". Passive smoking had not been invented in Mr Wilson's time, and no one was any less happy.
My enquiries into Mr Wilson's pipe led me to some dark cul-de-sacs on the information superhighway. One of these is a campaign to nominate the "Icons of England", which is surely welcome. For years, we Scots have been droning on about our national identity, and it would surely be healthy if our nearest neighbours were able to embrace their more benign peculiarities. At the moment, the nominations are led by the English countryside, the English pub, Morris dancing, the red telephone kiosk, the Land Rover, the oak tree, and the English bobby. At the risk of invoking the West Lothian question, I have voted for Mr Wilson's pipe, though I am clearly in a minority in my advocacy of this cause.
Writing some years ago about Mr Ruskin Spear's portrait of Mr Wilson in the Guardian Mr Jonathan Jones declared that the magic of the painting could be located in the pipe smoke. "It's a disconcerting veil, a cloud of ambiguity around Wilson, partly concealing his features and smudging our perception of him. Through the smoke, his blue eyes look away from us and are impossible to read. Wilson's pipe was one of the props by which he communicated an unpretentious northern persona, but here it becomes an emblem of the masked, secret Wilson: his bluff act is a disguise. He wreathes himself in smoke, like a conjuror on stage, to conceal the machinery of his act."
I am reminded, too, of the famous anecdote - once recounted to the House by the cigarette-chewing Mr Charles Kennedy MP - of the time Mr Wilson was visited at Number Ten by the fearsome Miss Jean Rook of the Daily Express. In Mr Kennedy's telling, Miss Rook and Mr Wilson shared an early-evening dram, whereupon the Prime Minister pulled out his pipe, and said: "In your own time, Jean." Miss Rook steadied herself,and said, "Prime Minister Wilson, is it true that whenever you are asked a tough, awkward or difficult question that puts you on the spot and you don't want to answer, you always respond by means of a question?" Mr Wilson paused for a moment, removed the pipe from his mouth, and said: "Now who told you that, Jean?"
Contemporary politicians should take note. With a pipe, such a manoeuvre is charming. Without a pipe, it is merely evasive.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

If Mr David Cameron Is A BMW, What Hope For An Electorate Of Cyclists And Pedestrians?

I was intrigued, this morning, to read that the Conservative leader is a BMW 5 series sports car, the Prime Minister an old Rover, a Lada (in the Guardian, or a Mini (on Radio 4's Today). The Chancellor, Mr Gordon Brown, is a tank. Reassuringly - though not for the environment, Sir "Ming" Campbell is an old Jaguar. (Mr Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party was not ascribed a vehicular equivalent, but I fancy he is a Hillman Imp with tractor wheels.)
These findings are part of an ICM poll into the impact of Mr Cameron's first 100 days in charge of the Conservatives, and they will be welcomed by anyone who was under the impression that we are a nation governed by automobiles. Of course, what the figures really show is that we are a people ruled by public relations, brainwashed by advertising, and force-fed by fools. How else to explain the fact that these meaningless statistics were broadly interepreted as good news for Mr Cameron?
Such an explanation implies that BMWs are good, when Ladas, Rovers or Minis are bad. My experience as a cyclist and occasional Dormobile pilot is that there is something in the BMW that encourages aggressive behaviour, speed, and a lack of consideration for others. Minis, Ladas and Rovers have no such negative associations, while Jaguars tend to be driven by spivvy characters such as Mr Mike Baldwin in Coronation Street.
On the rare occasions when I have encountered tanks on the roads around Peebles I have found them courteous and agreeably slow.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Kilty By Suspicion: A Reader Writes

Further to the item (below) regarding the midi-skirt worn by the Senior Retainer, Mr McConnell, I received a note from a Mr McGregor, enclosing a picture of a painting in the Museum of Art Decoratif in Bordeaux. Mr McGregor writes: "It reminds me of someone; I was hoping with your extensive knowledge and expertise of men in gender- challenging kilts you might be able to suggest a name ( or two?) to jog my age and alcohol depleted brain."
It is, I agree, an intriguing picture, and a rather agreeable one. It reminds me of an edition of Thingummijig.
Mr McGregor also complains that the BBC, in its advertisements for a documentary on Oor Wullie, pronounced the word "whit" as "wheat", and "crivvens" as "cree-vins". I spent the last four days in the bunker, waiting for the storm to pass, and missed these calumnies, but I cannot say I am surprised by them. It has long been my contention that if our country's most famous actor, Sir Sean Connery, cannot manage a Scottish accent, there is little hope for the rest of us.

Friday, March 10, 2006

As The Ceiling of the Scottish Parliament Is Falling Down, Like The Sky In Chicken Little, Shouldn't We Sell Tickets And Introduce Performing Animals?

It is, of course, regrettable that our glorious leaders should be made temporarily homeless by the danger of falling beams from the ceiling of the Palatul Poporului in Holyrood. Without wishing to denegrate our elected representatives, aren't they being a bit soft, with their suggestion that the parliament be sited elsewhere until the building is made structurally sound? Our parliamentary debates are, as a rule, less exciting than a performance by Major Roberts Madras State Circus, and involve a far smaller risk of being mauled to death by a drugged lion. Could a safety net not be attached to the roof, to catch falling beams? If, at the same time, the opportunity was taken to introduce a few acrobats and performing elephants, our parliamentary affairs would be much enhanced.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An Experiment in Democracy, Inspired By The First Meenister's Pinstriped Kilt

I still have bad dreams about the experimental kilt worn by the Senior Retainer, Mr McConnell, at a "Tartan Day" event in New York. The fact that it was not tartan was what the French would call a faux pas, and what my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) might have termed a skelping offence. Accompanying his mini-skirt with a ruffled blouson was a secondary affront to the nation's fragile self-esteem. In many parts of Scotland, wearing such an outfit would have been enough to get Mr McConnell "kilt".
But let us not be churlish: Tartan Day does a good job of promoting Ireland to the Americans, particularly when the parade is headed by the world's favourite Irish policeman, Sir Sean Connery, of Fountainbridge.
Nevertheless, I think, the money could have been better spent. Please avail yourself of the opinion poll, (below, right), so that the national temperature on this issue might be taken.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"The Earth meets the sky over the hill. I was told by a sparrow with a lump on its head." Mr Ivor Cutler, RIP

It was with with some sadness that I read this morning of the death of that famous chronicler of a Scotch childhood, Mr Ivor Cutler. Mr Cutler was an obscure figure in his later years, but no one who heard him recite his story, Gruts For Tea, could have any doubt that he had an acute understanding of the grim medical condition known as Scottishness.
Mr Cutler was a Scottish original, as true a reflection of the North-British psyche as pan drops, jaggy balaclavas and joyless ministers pedalling to the bowling green through the haar of a late spring evening.
Somewhere, I trust, a buxom angel is serenading him on a wheezy harmonium.

More about Mr Cutler can be found by clicking his name, above.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Chat Show Host, The Prime Minister, His Father-in-Law, And The Strange Case Of The "Jazz Cigarette"

It was kind of Mr Michael Parkinson to invite the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, to be a guest on the first edition of the new series of his ITV chat show, and decent of Mr Blair to accept, thus lending an air of gravadlax to Mr Parkinson's programme, which - like its host - is a shadow of its former self.
The interview was given much publicity in advance, after editors (not least on Newsnight) decided to misinterpret Mr Blair's reference to his faith. In fact, he said almost nothing about God, and seemed embarrassed by the subject.
There was one peculiar moment, however, when Mr Blair embarked on an anecdote about his father-in-law (and Mr Parkinson's old drinking companion) Mr Tony Booth. The Prime Minister said that the first occasion on which he had enjoyed a decent chat with the former Till Death Us Do Part actor occurred just after Mr Blair had married his daughter, Cherie. Mr Booth began the conversation by saying: "Do you mind if I light a joint?"
"I said 'no', incidentally," Mr Blair told Mr Parkinson.
Was this, I wonder, what he really meant to say? If he said no, he had consented to a "joint" being lit in his presence. Whether Mr Parkinson pressed him on this point, we may never know, as it was interrupted by a commercial break.
Such timidity is disappointing from Mr Parkinson, who, incidentally, was awarded the CBE - by Mr Blair, via HM The Queen - in 2000.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Beatles, The Arctic Monkeys, And What Happened When Ms Kirsty Wark Talked "Pop" With Sir 'Ming' Campbell

One of the hazards of listening to Radio 4's Today programme is that one is exposed to all manner of nonsense, and not all of it from the mouth of the Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP. Thanks to this, I am aware - as no mature person should be - of the existence of a popular showband by the name of the Arctic Monkeys. I could not distinguish them from the Kaiser Chiefs, or even from Orange Bicycle, but I am told there are people who find their music admirable, in much the same way as some people enjoy adding honey to their porridge, in the belief that this transforms it into a "super-food" which will grant them eternal life.
I was disburbed, however, by the performance of the new Liberal Democrat leader, Sir "Ming" Campbell on Newsnight, when presented with a "pop quiz" by that well-known fan of the late Mr Roy Orbison, Ms Kirsty Wark. Sir "Ming" was able to quantify the minumum wage, but could not name the head of the UK prison service. He was then asked to say which town the Arctic Monkeys hailed from. He said he could not answer the question, but he did know that the group had sold more records than the Beatles.
I am not sure what the researchers at Liberal Democrat headquarters are feeding Sir "Ming", but I think he should take a spoonful less from now on. If the Beatles have not sold more records, then I am the Walrus.

The Scottish Affairs Committee, continued.

More from that House of Commons committee on the benefits to Scotland of the London Olympics.
After a discussion of stadiums, Mr Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar asks how Scotland compares to Norway.
Ms Lindsay Macgregor, Policy Manager, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, replies: "I think economic and cultural differences as well makes comparison different, but certainly climatically it has its emphasis on skiing and snow and there is a cultural difference, that many people from childhood are driven in that direction. Perhaps we are lacking something like that; perhaps football is our equivalent here, I do not know."
Mr Charles Walker, Conservative MP for that well-known Scottish constituency of Broxbourne, adds: "It is a great shame that Scotland's mountains are not 2000 feet taller, is it not, because you would be one of the best ski resorts in the western world!"
In a hostile world, it is reassuring to know that we are governed by such perspicacious and witty folk.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

As Sir "Ming" Campbell Wins An "Olympian" Victory Will Peebles High Street Be A-Throngin' With Oiled He-Men In Tweed Vests?

On the whole, I do not believe in conspiracies, unless they are silent, in which case I am rather in favour of them. However, a coincidence worthy of Messrs Woodward and Bernstein occurred this afternoon, as I listened to the results of the Liberal Democrats' leadership election. Just as Mr Simon Hughes declared that Sir "Ming" Campbell had won an "Olympian" victory (a reference to his participation in the Tokyo Games of 1964) I heard a thump on the doormat. Assuming it to be the usual flyers for assisted suicide, psychotherapy, or voodoo gardening, I ignored it. But then curiosity got the better of me.
On the mat was a manila envelope containing the uncorrected minutes of a meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, from 15 November, 2005, concerning the impact of the Olympic Games on Scotland.
You might have thought that would be a short meeting. But no. The transcript runs on like a novel by Lord "Jeffrey" Archer (without the dramatic tension).
Fortunately, my informant had highlighted several passages, most notably the one which referred to the impact of the Olympics on Peebles.
Councillor Graham Garvie, of Peebles and District South, made the following observation: "In the real world we are 400 miles away from where the Games are going to take place, and I think that we should, as a society in Scotland, with our English colleagues running the Games, look at what we can achieve in reality on the ground, and I think that would be the exercise I would like to undertake. I think there are huge potentials for involving people in many ways. I am particularly interested personally in the training camps coming to Scotland - the spin-off from that is terrific. I live in Peebles and many teams for other sports come to stay in Peebles High Street Hotel and the youngsters are absolutely thrilled to bits; for a week they have international stars on their doorstep. That kind of involvement and spin-off I think is extremely important. It is not structured at all; it is just an encouragement to be involved in the area to which that team comes. So training camps interest me greatly in concentrating on a strategy for Britain to try to spread out the training camps from various countries throughout the UK; and some, I understand, come for months and months before the Games."
I am, pardon my French, dumfoonert. With the athletic Sir "Ming" now in charge of Councillor Garvie's party, can we expect a concerted campaign on this subject? Will Peebles High Street really be thronging with oiled Adonises, and if so, how will they be encouraged to keep running when they could more happily stop for a cup of milky tea and a fly cemetery?
There is more of this stuff, but I am saving it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Smoking: a case of swings, roundabouts (and Woodbines)

I am delighted to read that the Scottish smoking ban is to be extended to play parks in Glasgow. Why should children be allowed to smoke, when the rest of us are not?

After Bannockburn and Murrayfield, A New Form Of Nationalism, For We Are Not Blowhards, But A Country Of Mice

Now that a few days have passed since Scotland's victory over the English at Murrayfield, I wonder, is it safe to come out? I am no fan of rugby, having had my arm snapped in two places whilst playing the game at school; an event which was not deemed contrary to the rules, and which the PE teacher, Mr DeSade, ignored until my presence on the ground, moaning, became an impediment to the continuance of the game. Afterwards, the guidance teacher, Miss Germaine, fetched two dried prunes from inside the ironwork of her brassiere and administered them with a glass of stagnant pondwater, along with the instruction that the pain I was feeling was a punishment for my lack of athleticism. I was ordered to perform PE for the next year wearing only my pants and vest.
Needless to say, a dislike of rugby marks one out in the Borders, but I have always enjoyed the afternoons of the internationals. On those days,the streets of Peebles resemble the streets of Laredo, with tumbleweed, cotton balls and horse manure everywhere. Last Saturday, as Bannockburn was re-enacted, I was enjoying a lonely fruit scone.
But if the game is bad, what follows is worse. When Scotland beat England, we became, again, a nation of blowhards, puffed up on our own importance, as if the performance of 15 muscular men on a sporting field had something to do with the price of smoked haddock.
Fortunately, sporting pride is a short-lived delusion. But I do think that if Scotland is to prosper it needs to develop a more sustainable form of nationalism. It is not to be found in the apologetic boastfulness of the slogan "the best small country in the world". That only makes me consider moving to Monaco, or Denmark. Nor can the answer be found in the oratorical shortcomings of the Senior Retainer, Mr McConnell, who runs the country as if it were a coach hire company on the outskirts of Stirling.
Scottishness to me, is about reticence and repressed emotions. It is not a showy thing. It endures, but never draws attention to itself.
Oddly, as I try to picture it, I think of Robert Burns's ode to a mouse, and to Wee Jeemy, the friendly rodent in Oor Wullie. The anthem of this Scotland is Hermless, by Mr Michael Marra of Dundee, a song in which the nearest the author comes to a boast is the assertion that, as a people, we tend to return our library books on time.