Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Sad Decline Of Scotland Can Be Measured in Pan Drops

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

World Champions Are Made Of Marmalade, And Other Uplifting Thoughts

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

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mr Tommy Sheridan And The Ethics Of Decimalisation

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

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

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

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