Channel 4 Paralympics ad.

This brought tears to my eyes this morning.

Tears of joy.

Partly because it’s just so fucking positive and life affirming, partly because the concept is just so unashamedly ‘fuck you’.

Like when the athlete mouths “Fuck sake” after being so disdainfully ignored by the cafe owner who hasn’t lowered the kerb to allow wheelchair access. OK it’s a set up, but you get the point.

The trend for advertising to become more real in tackling ‘taboo’ subjects, like feminine hygiene and in this case disability, is truly inspiring. I wish I’d had some of these briefs to work on as youngster.

It’s a trend, but it’s far from the norm because too many clients are still too scared to reflect reality, so this is a great example of what Behavioural Economists call normalisation.

In my youth disability was so unspeakable, and the language around it either so degrading, cruel or patronising that people who had “something wrong with them” were shunned.

I once worked at The MacRobert Centre on Snow White and the Seven “Dwarves”. There was so much confusion around all this. Their stage call was “Little People” not dwarves – the medical name is actually dwarfism so Dwarves is not medically inaccurate. But, the Little People, in private were more than happy to call themselves dwarves.

It was a quandary.

So this is just wonderful. It’s funny, it’s inspiring, it’s emotional.

The music is inspired. (and, yes, they’re not all boxers – a lesser client would have binned the music for that reason.)

Congratulations to every single person involved in this fucking masterpiece.

Like its predecessor.

Unknown Pleasures #21: Alan McBlane

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose family.

Well, I got lucky because Alan is my brother in law and I count him among my best friends.

He lives in England, he supports a shite football team and he’s clean living and thoughtful.

So, why do I like him so much?

I’d say many of my longest and most enjoyable deep into the night chats over the last 20 years have been with Alan, once we’ve dispensed with our wives.

Music leads the conversation, followed by sport.

We both golf badly and we both cycle. We both just love sport full stop.

But we also like contemporary literature, the movies and good TV.

So many great nights have been spent in Alan’s company, and great experiences too, on golf courses, bikes, boats, footpaths, pubs, restaurants but, most of all, gigs.

We went to Glastonbury together in 2015 or so and we had tickets for the big one in 2020. Covid Glasto. The 50th.

But we got to keep them for 2021, and now for 2022. It will be epic by then of course, no longer for his 60th, but it will be for mine.

I look forward to that very, very much but in the meantime you’ll just have to content yourself with his cultural highlights. Thanks Alan. Thanks Bro.

This is an impossible task. Ask me the same questions tomorrow and I’ll probably give you a whole different set of answers .. except for favourite dance performance.

My favourite author or book

I’ve always enjoyed exploring Scottish fiction so Ian Banks or Ian Rankin would be up there, and some quality American storytelling (which often comes on recommendation from Mark). I’ve never read enough John Updike – and should – but if there’s one author it would probably be Cormac McCarthy, and the Border trilogy. 

Currently Reading: All the Pretty Horses | Invisible Children

The book I’m reading

I had my usual burst of reading after Christmas and worked my way through Shuggie Bain and two of the Kate Atkinson Inspector Brodie tales. I wanted something different after that and I’m slowly working my way through Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Mountains of the Mind’.

Shuggie Bain: Winner of the Booker Prize 2020: Stuart,  Douglas: 9781529019278: Books

The book I wish I had written

Nothing specific, but I’d love to have put together a collection of short stories. Check out ‘Children of Albion Rovers’ sometime.

Children of Albion Rovers by Kevin Williamson

The book I couldn’t finish

Updike, the Rabbit trilogy. I stupidly bought the big version with all of the books compiled together and the smallest type known to man. 

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Haven’t read or can’t remember reading? That’s too long a list…

My favourite film

This is a bit like asking for your favourite song. It changes all the time, so it could be ‘Three Billboards..” or anything in that ilk, or it could be a Tarantino choice, maybe ‘Django Unchained’ but one film that always makes me laugh is Mel Brookes’ ‘Young Frankenstein’, a classic of its kind. “Hump, what hump?”

My favourite play

Not my specialist field, and when we’re in Edinburgh at Festival time we tend to go to see more comedy than anything else, but I really enjoyed ‘The Incident Room’, which is all about the investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper.

My favourite podcast

Probably the ‘Desert Island Discs’ archive on BBC Sounds, but I don’t know if that counts as a podcast. I don’t listen to many but enjoyed the first two series of ‘That Peter Crouch Podcast’.

The box set I’m hooked on

‘The Bridge’! How did I miss this first time around? Easily the best crime thriller of its kind, the storyline is so well put together and the characters are amazing. Lockdown was also put to good use by watching every episode of ‘Schitt’s Creek’.

My favourite TV series

Nothing in particular at the moment, but looking forward to a new series of ‘Peaky Blinders’, although I hope they make this the last before it gets too far out there. Trying to follow the first series of ‘Killing Eve’ is a good example of why you should quit when you’re ahead.

My favourite piece of music

An impossible question. What day is it, what mood are you in? I’d find it easier to answer the best live performance I’ve ever seen. (Prince – twice – if you’re interested.)

My favourite dance performance

Mark trying to get into Tom’s white jeans.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Driving alone and listening to ‘The Dark Island’ when we were putting together the music for my Dad’s funeral.

The lyric I wish I’d written

A Beatles lyric, maybe “Though I know I’ll never lose affection / For people and things that went before / I know I’ll often stop and think about them / In my life I love you more” (In My Life). A close second would be a line or two from Buddy Miller’s ‘Don’t Tell Me’.

The song that saved me

I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m still listening.

The instrument I play

I took piano lessons when I was young but then they clashed with Wednesday nights at Tynecastle and I gave up. Right now the instrument I regularly hold, but can’t really play, is the guitar.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The guitar. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing musicians and watching them pick up a guitar and produce something of beauty with such ease is something I’ve always wished I could do.

If I could own one painting it would be

Anything by Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko. There’s 2 opposites for you!

Jackson Pollock - “Poured” works | Britannica

The music that cheers me up

I have a Tuesday Morning playlist that was set up for my Tuesday morning class while they waited on Zoom for the session to start that always cheers me up, but if there’s one song that stands out it would be George Harrison ‘What Is Life’.

The place I feel happiest

Zermatt on that first day of skiing, just before you push off for the first run. A quick nip from the hip flask usually sets it up nicely.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Classic rock. There’s no thinking going on, just raw noise and aggression.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

I’d want to laugh, so probably Billy Connolly, Sir Alex Ferguson and my first boss, Bruce Findlay. I think we’d all have enough in common to talk about.

And I’ll put on this music

I wouldn’t. I don’t want to miss anything.

If you like this here’s some more…

Felix Mclaughlin

Duncan McKay

Claire Wood.

Morvern Cunningham

Helen Howden

Mino Russo

Rebecca Shannon

Phil Adams

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

The Wall, by John Lanchester: Book review.

The Wall by John Lanchester | Waterstones

There’s no question that John Lanchester can apply his journalistic background into a dystopian vision that’s alarming and original. What he can’t do is write character studies very effectively so it adds up to a very good story but only passably told. Nonetheless I think it’s worth your while passing the time with this interesting novel.

It’s set in an undated future where the world has annexed itself, country by country, into imposingly walled territories. The seaside has gone (a result of climate change) as the UK (where it’s set) becomes an imposing barrier to unwelcome visitors. Two year national service, of a sort, is a requirement for young people, Defenders, who are punished with expulsion to sea if the Wall is breached by Others during their shift.

It’s a fairly brutal regime with freezing cold 12 hour shifts where literally nothing at all happens, most of the time. Two weeks on, two weeks off for two years is a daunting prospect for our new conscript Kavanagh and we witness the first few months of uneventful boredom pass slowly by as he describes in detail the drudgery of his now horrific life.

Of course an attack eventually comes and that changes everything. It would be a spoiler to say any more at this point but as the book develops the story moves from a dispassionate description of the setting into a more textured telling of the story and Kavanagh’s relationships with a number of the key characters. That’s where Lanchester’s limitations are exposed.

But as an allegory for Trumpism, racism and the vilification of refugees (I hate it when they are labelled immigrants) it’s a powerful read – not quite living up to its OTT marketing splurgel as the 1984 of our day. It isn’t even close, but he has a good bash at it.

Unknown Pleasures #20: Felix McLaughlin

Felix comes from a long line of McLaughlin brothers. Four men so very different you’d be surprised they were even related. But each is a star in their own right. And their beloved Mum, Prue, well, she’s a one off.

Felix is the performer of the bunch. The natural showman. As you can see from the picture above, which I took about 12 years ago at the after show party for FCT’s Ya Beauty, he’s larger than life.

He’s enthusiastic, knowledgeable and great fun to be around. But his music quiz performance, in last year’s extended lockdown series, was only passable.

Felix and I know each other largely through the august body that is Forth Children’s Theatre where Felix made his name before going off to Wales to tread the boards there and meet his delightful wife, Louise.

But now he’s back to Scotland, living in Fife. I’m looking forward, very much, to meeting with Felix and his brothers at the annual Edinburgh Festival politics day, where they cram in as many left wing performances as is possible in one day.,

Thanks for your fantastic, not unsurprisingly eclectic selections Felix. Enjoy everyone.

My favourite author or book. 

Never been a big reader to be honest, particularly of fiction.  I have perhaps read more in the last 10 years or so, but I’ve always revelled in autobiographies – some favourites were Rikki Fulton, Danny Baker’s trilogy, Mo Mowlam and Peter Ustinov.  Not read Obama’s yet, so that is on the list.

How Barack Obama's Book Sales Stack Up Against Other Big Memoirs

The book I’m reading. 

A Kindle freebie called The Escape by CL Taylor – the kind of trash that sends me to sleep.

The book I wish I had written. 

Argos catalogue – the book of dreams.

Argos catalogue: After 48 years and 1bn copies, time's up for the  'laminated book of dreams' | UK News | Sky News

The book I couldn’t finish. 

Lovely Bones. Dull.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read. 

It’s a cliche, but all the classics – Dickens, Hardy etc.  Never been one for fantasy, so won’t ever attempt Harry Potter or Tolkein, my suspension of disbelief only goes so far!

My favourite film. 

Movies I could watch again and again include One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Sleuth (obviously the Olivier/Caine original), West Side Story and The Odd Couple. 

My favourite play. 

This has been mentioned before in this series, but I saw Ulster American with Mark G a couple of years back at the Traverse, which was amazing.  We spoke to one of the actors (Darrell D’Silva) outside afterwards and his wise-cracking American accent from the stage then morphed into thick Rotherham!  John Byrne’s The Slab Boys at The Lyceum circa 1988 made a huge impression on me.  I used to go to all the previews back then at Lyceum, great atmosphere in there.  Seen many great musicals – Green Day’s American Idiot once in Cardiff and once at the Playhouse in Edinburgh, Blood Brothers, special mention for B2’s production of Rent and FCT doing Jesus Christ Superstar in the Fringe a few years back (and being well oiled helped with my accompanying every word from the audience!). 

My favourite podcast.  

Adam Buxton is always good with a nice interviewing manner and interesting people.  His recent chat with McCartney was miles better than Idris Elba’s bum lick on BBC.  Richard Herring’s LHSTP is very silly, but still makes me smile.  The BBC Sounds series Tunnel 29 is an extraordinary tale of escaping under the Berlin Wall, gripping and well worth seeking out.

The box set I’m hooked on. 

Enjoyed Zerozerozero a lot – atmospheric, dark, crazy and great acting.  I was late to the party with Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow but binged right through, very clever.  I love Derry Girls on All4 and Detectorists has also been a lockdown binge. 

My favourite TV series. 

GBH with Michael Palin and Robert Lindsay at the top of their game, very much of its time but still relevant.  I always return to Have I Got News For You and anything with Alan Partridge.

My favourite piece of music. 

Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien.  My Dad had a cassette of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic and he played it ad nauseam in the car when us four boys were younger.  For me it is hugely evocative, stirring, dramatic and beautifully performed.  My younger brother bought me a vinyl copy for Christmas a couple of years ago, which is exquisite.

My favourite dance performance. 

Not a medium I rush to go and watch, to my shame, as I know I should, however my cousin Lulu Johnston created and performed a one woman Fringe show in 1994, which was a double bill called “Beastie” and “Gemma & Mrs Kemper”.  It was on at St Cuthbert’s By The Castle and I always remember in the 2nd half, she got herself into a dolls house and danced with it on for over 20 minutes…amazing.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry.

12 Years a Slave.  Astonishing.

The lyric I wish I’d written. 

Well it’s a toss up between Newport’s finest Goldie Lookin Chain’s “Your mothers got a penis” with some memorable lines:

She walks around proud, with a short dress on
Which sometimes exposes the tip of her dong.
Often it’s dripping, sometimes it’s dry
No matter when I see her there’s a tear in my eye

or from Iggy’s Lust for Life – “Well, that’s like hypnotizing chickens”.  Love that line.

The song that saved me. 

To be used seamlessly in three different scenarios – loud in car on a long journey, background chill at home, or thumping out from a PA as the sun comes up, it has to be Primal Scream with Come Together. 

The instrument I play. 

When much younger, I learned trumpet, tenor horn, drums and piano.  Don’t play any of them now, sad to say.

The instrument I wish I’d learned.

Guitar, definitely.

If I could own one painting it would be. 

Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross.  There was a small print copy on the wall in my granny’s house and I used to stare at it just to try and work it out, it fascinates me.  Even better, the original is housed in Scotland, so my ownership wouldn’t involve any Brexit red tape cos it’s in Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow!

Work in focus: 'Christ of Saint John of the Cross' by Salvador Dalí | Event  | Royal Academy of Arts

The music that cheers me up.

Elvis, no contest.

The place I feel happiest. 

6-9pm on a Friday, taking ages to make a curry in my kitchen, random hoppy ales in fridge, music loud, chatting rubbish with wifey.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure. 


I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors.

Adolf Hitler, Elvis, Shakespeare, Bowie, Clare Grogan, Bjork, Joe Strummer, Daniel Day Lewis and Chic Murray. 

And I’ll put on this music.

Late 60s early 70s easy listening (Bacharach, Tony Christie, Dionne Warwick) interspersed with Chic greatest hits cos we’ll need to dance between courses, then lots of shouty Simple Minds, Big Country or Proclaimers when everyone is lashed up.

If you like this here’s some more…

Duncan McKay

Claire Wood.

Morvern Cunningham

Helen Howden

Mino Russo

Rebecca Shannon

Phil Adams

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman