Thursday, June 29, 2006

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

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2006

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

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2006

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

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

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

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

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

Monday, June 05, 2006

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

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

Friday, June 02, 2006

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

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

Thursday, June 01, 2006

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

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