Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mr Russell Brand And Mr Jonathan Ross May Be Idiots, But They Should Be Spared The Pitch-forks Of Synthetic Ire

Much as I have enjoyed my visits to the Hammer House of Horror, I have always been suspicious of witch hunts. Perhaps because I have lived in Peebles for so long, I have an inbuilt scepticism of the pitchfork-wielding mob. Indeed, on more than one occasion I have had to seek sanctuary in the fatty nave of Big Eb’s chip shop, while the hoodlums did their worst. On such occasions, I tend to seek solace in a white pudding.
What, then, are we to make of the strange case of Mr Jonathan Ross and Mr Russell Brand? To be clear: I do not hold a candle for either man. Mr Ross is a boor and a bore, and a poor replacement for Sir Michael Parkinson. His comedy comprises single-entendres, many of them homo-erotic, and he gives the impression that he would rather be at home, addressing his mirror. Or mirrors.
It is not possible to identify the moment when Mr Ross’s career as a talk-show host reached its nadir, as he redefines the term every week, but there was a grotesque familiarity to his recent “interview” with the angry chef, Mr Gordon Ramsay. Mr Ramsay is a true child of 21st century television. He speaks in swear-words, and has the manners of a bully. I understand he was trained by the infamous manager of Glasgow Rangers football club, Mr Jock Wallace, whose party-piece was to lift his young charges up by the ears, before bashing them.
Mr Ramsay and Mr Ross have much in common, not least wealth and contempt for their audience. They are spivs: salesmen with a gift for selling themselves. When Mr Ramsay met Mr Ross recently, he showed him how to cook scrambled eggs, a simple task made unnecessarily complicated by the addition of crème fraiche and the shavings of Mr Ramsay’s truffle. (As any chef should know, glutamic acid and eggs are not compatible, except to pigs).
Reithian it was not. It was an embarrassing spectacle based on two simple rich men competing to underestimate the intelligence of their audience.
About Mr Brand, I know less, but the little I know is discouraging enough. He dresses like a dandy of the underworld, from a time before combs, and speaks like a Dickensian urchin who is having trouble digesting a dictionary. What he is for, I could not say, but it is a fair bet that the Reithian strictures of educating and informing do not fall into his purview.
We now know that Mr Ross and Mr Brand contrived to insult Mr Andrew Sachs, the actor who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers, and whose family fled the persecution of the Nazis in 1938. Mr Sachs has behaved with some dignity in this affair, possibly because he understands the difference between nonsense and a crisis.
There have been consequences: Mr Brand has resigned from his Radio 2 show. Mr Ross has sent flowers and an apology, and has been suspended for three months without pay. (Nevertheless, I fear he will not be going hungry this Christmas). The controller of Radio 2, Ms Lesley Douglas, has walked the plank.
That, really, should be enough. Yet the world, led by the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, and the Daily Mail – a triumvirate who are, on occasion, oddly indistinguishable - has behaved like the bellows in a firestorm of synthetic outrage, in which only the censure of the BBC, the abolition of the licence fee, and the re-imposition of National Service for disc jockeys will quell the rage. Oddly, such is the masochism of the Corporation that the BBC has itself been complicit in this process. The news bulletins are full of self-flagellation, which makes a change from the end of the world economy as we know it, but is far from edifying.
Now is the time for a dose of truth. We must all sober up. The BBC is flawed. It is staffed by twits from Oxbridge whose expensive education has at least allowed them to feel guilty about their privilege. There are many horrors on the Corporation’s airwaves, only some of them evoked by the words “and now, Midweek with Libby Purves”. But it is not ITV. And in difficult times, small mercies should be cherished.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back To The Puggies On The Promenade As The Supercasino Of The World Economy Collapses

Originally uploaded by Herschell Hershey.
There have been many times, over the last 40 years, when I have found myself on the wrong side of history. The sale of the public utlities, in which the unemployed and the feckless were encouraged to join the share-owning minority, was one such occasion. It was not that I was unattracted by the idea of money for nothing - I have played the penny falls and patronised the puggies at the Portobello funfair - but I felt demeaned by the advertising campaign, which was aimed squarely at people called "Sid".
When the building societies "demutualised", I received no windfalls, and no acknowledgment of my letters to the Peebles Times-Picayune stating that demutualisation was a code word which could be better understood by the term "highway robbery", if not "blood money". In those heady days, when council houses were given free with Shredded Wheat, the Conservative government established the principle that money could, indeed, be had for nothing, and that the main point - if not the only point - of government was to hand out this booty with as much fanfare as possible. Since then, no political party - with the possible exception of the Liberal Democrats under the gregarious highlander Mr Charles Kennedy - has felt comfortable with the traditional equation in which public services were understood to be funded by taxation. The New Labour project, stewarded by the Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown, has been one in which taxation was more heavily disguised than Mr Tim Turner in The Invisible Man.
Today, apparently, is one of the worst days in banking history. Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley have been nationalised, and their bowler hats banished from the City of London. Their mistake, apparently, was in selling "buy-to-let" mortgages at implausible rates to people who couldn't really afford them. All of the demutualised building societies have now perished, though some of them at least had the good manners to do so without being rescued by the taxpayer.
As I write, the Dow Jones index on Wall Street is plunging at the speed of an Apollo re-entry vehicle, and a conservative Congressman is warning that the rescue plan advocated by the political establishment represents "the slippery slope to socialism". Would that it were so. Such a fate might imply a degree of economic planning, albeit with the side effect that the supermarkets would run short of fresh vegetables while being overstocked with tractor tyres and shoes comprising two left feet.
It's at moments like this that I am grateful that my savings are stored in jamjars in the airing cupboard, behind my wellington boots. There they will stay until conditions improve, or - as seems more likely - hell freezes over, and Caol Ila rains from the marshmallow clouds in the black autumn sky. Then, and only then, will I empty the jamjars.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Message From Our Sponsor: Click On The Advertisement Above To Keep The Peebles Showboaters in Butter Biscuits

As a man whose upbringing would have struck Pastor John Calvin as unduly joyless, I need no reminding of the impossibility of entering into a pact with the Devil. Indeed, this very afternoon, as part of the Peebles Showboaters’ Theology And Cinema course of which I am tutor, I watched The Masque Of The Red Death, in which a Satanic, and yet unusually restrained Mr Vincent Price attempts just such an act, only to discover that - while it may be possible to hold dominion over a spooky castle, and to have among your servants an impetuous dwarf and a tiny dancer - diplomacy with the Lord of Flies is a tricky prospect. Yet, as you my have noted, this “blog” hosts advertising from the information superweasels, Google. You may click on the advertisement above, and in so doing keep the Peebles Showboaters in butter biscuits. (In the last six months, our earnings have totalled $1.86; a fair return for my labours, and roughly equivalent to the hourly rate I used to receive for howking tatties in the frost-hardened dreels of East Lothian.) I have no idea how Google selects these advertisements, but they are usually complimentary. In recent weeks, the advertisements on this page have been for crematoria, wreaths, and industrial-strength pan drops, which is a slightly depressing summary of my interests, but realistic none the less. But I was intrigued, the other day, to see a small advertisement for “Scottish Teeth”. It had disappeared by the time I tried to investigate it, but it did cause me to think. It has never been harder to find an NHS dentist; has the health service now taken to selling the remnants of its handiwork as souvenirs?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mr David Cameron May Be A Dab Hand With A Frisbee, But His Lusty Displays Will Not Help Beat Britain's Economic Woes

I am not in the habit of reading The Guardian, as I feel patronised enough in everyday life without having to pay 80p for the privilege. However, the paper was foisted on me by an underfed student as I made my way to an off-Fringe performance of The Gulag Archipelago on Ice at the Tartan Club in Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge, and my resistance was weak.
From what I can tell, the newspaper of the liberal-leaning North London intelligentsia is in the midst of a schoolgirl crush, and is counting the days until the matter of Mr Blair’s succession can be properly settled in a battle between two fresh-faced clones of the former Prime Minister, these being Mr David Cameron, who is pretending not to be a Conservative, and Mr David Miliband, who isn’t quite sure what he is pretending not to be, while giving every impression of being an opponent of the current Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown.
Mr Brown does not enjoy a good press or, indeed, anything very much, but his recent faux pas include wearing a tweedy jacket on his holidays and looking ill-at-ease with the notion of a “photocall”, whilst his main opponent, Mr Cameron was happy to play with his Frisbee in public. It is, I realise, an unfashionable opinion, but I have never been of the opinion that skill with a Frisbee was an important tool in managing a global economic downturn. Indeed, my experience of Frisbees is limited to the observation that they appeal to the listless and the loutish, and to dogs.
Mr Cameron also took time during his pretend-holiday – a break which he is sandwiching between two less-reported foreign jaunts – to make love to his wife on the sands. (I use the term in its traditional sense). His lack of manners was matched only by his immodesty. This saucy display had all the verisimilitude of a photo-love story in Jackie magazine, but it has been indulged by the English electorate, which seems happy that its potential leaders should aspire not to intellectual clarity, or honesty, but to a hammy approximation of lust.
But I digress. My point was The Guardian, and its lengthy examination of the politics of kissing. The English, apparently, have eschewed the manly handshake, and now brush cheeks – or worse – with perfect strangers at the slightest invitation. There is no etiquette for this, though behavioural expert Ms Judi James suggests kissing the right cheek first, and then the left, whilst always keeping a hand on the torso.
Happily, I can confirm that such lewd behaviour has yet to reach Peebles. In Peebles, kissing is permitted at high times and holidays, but rarely indulged. In business, a handshake is considered “showy”, and there is never any need for two men to hug, let alone kiss. I have been to weddings where the bride and groom celebrated their union with nothing more than a weary nod. This may not be romantic, but as my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma’am), used to say before strapping me to the ironing board of an evening, “romance never skinned a rabbit nor pressed your father’s breeks”.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Senior Retainer, Mr Salmond And Ms Alexander Are Discussing The Future Of The Union With The Levity Of Children Arguing Over A Game Of Conkers.

I have never been fond of Mr Eric Miralles's architecture for the Scottish Parliament building. This Caledonian Casa Poporului looks, in my view, like a Surrealist car park, which is an altogether more interesting proposition than its actual function, which is to make the assembled cooncillors, party hacks, and accidental politicians feel important as they go about the business of not doing very much at all.
Certainly, the original plan had some symbolic merit, and I like to think that when a roof beam threatened to crush the Conservative desks (to call them benches would be altogether too grand), Mr Miralles was having a little psephological fun.
But yesterday, while watching the dim spectacle of First Minister's Questions, I noticed an unusual feature of the architecture. It is a matter of light. Whenever the Senior Retainer, Mr Alex Salmond, stood up to speak, his head was wrapped in a turban of bright sunshine. It wasn't a halo as such - the light was too diffuse - but it did administer a saintly glow to his physiognomy. This is a great benefit to the Nationalist leader, who has charisma but could not be described as bonnie. Yet, the fireball which illuminated his features gave him film star good looks: the film star being Wilson, the volleyball which upstaged Mr Tom Hanks in the film Castaway.
The leader of the New Socialists, Ms Wendy Alexander, had no such advantage. The grandiosity of the debating chamber - which I fancy is modelled on the banqueting hall at Ikea headquarters in Humlabaek, Denmark -has the effect of making the diminutive Ms Alexander resemble a wasp ingesting a sherbet dip-dab.
All of which would be unimportant, except that Mr Salmond and Ms Alexander were discussing the future of the Union with the levity of children arguing over a game of conkers. (Mr Salmond, you can be sure, adds vinegar, and hardens his chestnuts in the oven).
But do not be deceived. This is a brilliant piece of strategy by Ms Alexander. She is trying to overcome her perceived unpopularity by forcing Mr Salmond to have a vote on his core belief. Mr Salmond, of course, can do nothing and look statesmanlike, since his only policy is to appear more patriotic than everyone else. Ms Alexander would like to do nothing, but is now agitating for Mr Salmond to do something.
It is a plan, of sorts. But though Mr Salmond looks as if he might enjoy basting himself in beer-batter, he is not, I fancy, the sort of turkey who would agitate for Christmas.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I Want To Work As If I Live In The First Days Of A Better Nation. How About Denmark?

Since the Nationalist junta run by the Senior Retainer Mr Alex Salmond took over the Casa Poporului on the lower slopes of the Royal Mile, I have been following the advice of Mr Alasdair Gray, and working as if I lived in the first days of a better nation.
At first I chose Denmark, but the smell of bacon drove me to distraction, so I settled, instead, on the Scotland as it is reflected in the Edinburgh novels of Mr Alexander McCall Smith. Mr McCall Smith is as well-mannered as he is productive, and his version of the capital has all the hurly-burly of a damp November in Tannochrae. In the Scotland I imagined, the local GP would be an avuncular figure in a maroon Pringle v-neck and a tweed suit, straining slightly at the waistband, and smelling faintly of camphor and Old English Spangles. He would be a stern man, but fair and forgiving, and able to cure all but the most troublesome of ailments with a kind word and a handshake. The police force would be of a pre-Taggart vintage, roughly modelled on the example of Oor Wullie's PC Murdoch, surveying the absence of crime from the well-sprung saddle of a boneshaking bicycle. I fancy there would be a community centre, where kindly matrons would fashion quilts for the starving orphans of Africa and Lanarkshire, and a town daftie with a tinsel hat and a five-string guitar, with which he would harmlessly serenade the local children, before continuing on his daily inspection of the bins, looking for Globe bottles to redeem at the Italian Fish Bar, run by a man called Toni, who would serve him a free portion of "little chips" gone crisp in the frier.
(To be continued...)

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Sagging Gusset Of Mr Jeremy Paxman Was A Distraction On Newsnight, But The Newscaster Is Not Alone In His Discomfiture

It is with a degree of shame and guilt that I admit this: I have spent much of the week in anguished contemplation of Mr Jeremy Paxman's unmentionables. Mr Paxman - so often the voice of irascible unreason on BBC2's Newsnight - made an important contribution to the national debate when he criticised the quality of the undergarments and socks at Marks and Spencer's. I may be paraphrasing slightly - or possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder - but Mr Paxman's ventures into M&S have led to a sagging gusset, and a protruding big toe (NB: this is not a metaphor). No wonder he often looks as if he is chewing a wasp.
Mr Paxman has my sympathies. For years now, my unmentionables have been imperilled by the quality of intimate tailoring at this high street institution. The men's underwear department has always been a disagreeable place, rather like a painting of a rummage sale by Mrs Beryl Cook. The customers are mostly women, tugging and pawing at the Y-Fronts, while stray male customers hover in embarrassed clusters by the slip-on shoes. Sometimes these women will have their husbands in attendance, as if attached by an invisible leash, and the conversation will run along these lines: "These are the ones you like, aren't they?" A pair of briefs similar to the trunks worn by Mr Mark Spitz in the 1972 Olympic Games will be held aloft. "Naw. I mean... aye."
In recent years, men's unmentionables have attracted the attention of the fashion industry, with disastrous results. It is no longer enough to give a gentleman the choice between Y-Fronts and boxer shorts. Now, these garments come in all manner of space age fabrics, and in shapes that have not been seen since the demise of the wrestling on World Of Sport. I still suffer twangs of distress from the "Wonderpants" I was asked to "road-test" for Scotland's Notional Newspaper some years ago. These were made from a stretch fabric which appeared to include no natural fibres, and were designed to "shape and enhance" a gentleman's undercarriage. Now, decency prohibits me from commenting in detail on this concept, but I found it offensive and misguided. I have spent a lifetime avoiding situations in which I might be seen in my underwear, and I see no reason to change. Admittedly, on my rare forays into the swimming baths, I have seen things that would have frightened Colonel Kurtz - Edinburgh's Commonwealth Pool is particularly bad for this - but it was obvious immediately that I was not, and would never be, a Wonderpants man.
Aside from the discomfort, I could not abide the suggestion that my moleskins were, at any moment, about to ignite.