Grief thief

Grief thief

It’s been 7 weeks, 50 days. 

Since she went away.  

Stolen in the night.

A victim through, not of, the plague.

There’s no score less one on her certificate of death.

She’s not a number.

But she has succumbed to the stealer of grief.

7 weeks, 50 days, nary a tear

I ask myself why and I stumble

Stumble upon an explanation

No stories

No tales

They’ve been hijacked, by the stealer of grief

Dead.  Not gone.

The passage of rite, of rights, is to talk

To hug, to laugh, to cry

To party

Parting is party time

Time for the telling and retelling of tales.

Ham and eggs or eggs and ham?

But the stealer of grief shut the party down

The red card

The naysayer.

Storytelling it took

The rite to smile

Though mortality has left the room

The rite to weep 

When the whisky takes its inevitable toll.

But the firkin lies untapped

The stories dusting up in droothy neighbours minds

The stealer of grief. 

Snatched away our tales.

And what’s left?

A place at the table, unsat.

A place in the heart, ungrat

A place at the party, unhad

And memories untold, going cold?

Oh, this plague.

I hate it so much, I should cry.

Our Ladies: Movie Review.

Our Ladies review: Raucous and very funny take on Alan Warner's  Oban/Edinburgh novel The Sopranos | HeraldScotland
I’d love to have seen this in the hands of Lynne Ramsay, who adapted another of Alan Warner’s brilliant books for cinema. I am referring to Morvern Callar. A great, sympathetic rendering of a great book.

Michael Caton-Jones, by contrast, has made a ham fist of this.

The Sopranos, the source material, by Alan Warner is a spiffing book.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, the stage play/musical, based on it, is one of the National Theatre of Scotland’s finest hours.

Our Ladies, also based on it, is supremely average. It’s just so….whatever.

It’s absolutely bang on 5/10.

Completely average. Completely unremarkable. Terribly disappointing.

The script, in part, destroys the source material, but there are some laugh out loud moments. I’ll give you that. But that’s because of Alan Warner.

The casting is more patchy than my lawn.

The acting more variable than a digital radio in the Highlands.

But my real ire is reserved for time continuity. Our Ladies start at their School in Fort William at, let’s say 8.45, but by 11 am they have driven to Edinburgh, rehearsed a choir competition, changed and hit the pubs before they are even open. Come on Michael (Caton-Jones).

And is the book not set in Oban?

The book is supremely feminist and lambasts its male characters but the movie simply caricaturises them. Every single man in this movie is poor (apart from the wee specky love interest of Orla).

It’s directed with a lack of sympathy and it’s poorly cast all round. I mean one of the girls was 27 when she played the part. Come on man.

I found it tolerable, but only just. I really could not be more ambivalent about this.

Sorry.

9/11: One Day In America. TV series review.

As we reach the 20th anniversary of 9/11 (or September the 11th if you can’t get your head round this confusing American dating approach) there’s been a slew of great documentaries hitting our screens. I’d argue this is the best. It’s hard to imagine better frankly.

For years my all time favourite documentary (if favourite is the right word) has been 102 Minutes That Changed America (it captured the attack on, and collapse of, the Twin Towers through a massive stitched together segue of found footage, in real time. I reviewed it here in 2009, back in the early days of my blog.

But this new series has raised the bar to a new level by tracking down a whole bunch of people who were there (essentially survivors), caught on mostly newsreel footage at the time that made people, the producers for sure, ask themselves. “I wonder what happened to that guy?” (It’s mainly men. Mainly from the uniformed services, and particularly the New York Fire Department.)

So they went out and found them and interviewed them around their footage – every bit as horrifying today as it was then.

You know, if you were to plan a terrorist atrocity you could not do it more effectively than Al Qaeda, under Osama Bin Laden’s leadership, planned this.

The interviews are essentially personal stories about how and why they got there, who they interacted with (saved, saw die at their sides, lost).

There are some truly extraordinary tales of heroism in all this. And that footage. Hours and hours of it.

Again and again we see the planes strike, the buildings crumble, the jumpers jump.

Is it appropriate to be so enthralled by this real life disaster, that destroyed the lives on nearly 3,000 as well as their multiple diasporae?

I mean, it’s been played out so many times that you wouldn’t think it could still grab you by the pit of the stomach, the pit of the colon actually, quite so viscerally.

But it’s engrossing. It’s so utterly spectacular.

It sort of shames me to be such a voyeur, and yet, it’s also like a modern day pilgrimage. An homage to the bravery and good or bad luck of these ordinary people.

One floor higher: death.

One room eastward: survival.

The sheer lottery of it all is what these stories bring to life. So movingly, so sympathetically teased out of these deeply respectful people.

In many ways it’s actually a tribute to Americans and the American dream because time and again this tells of the selflessness of people. It opens a window on New York’s cosmopolitanship because every ethnicity, every immigrant nation is represented.

Time and again I was in tears as these gripping stories unfolded with little or no blame. No why me’s? No hatred.

It’s a masterpiece on almost every level. Editing, direction, music, pace, drama.

You must see it.

Unknown Pleasures #24 Gordon Brown

Gordon

No, not the ex-chancellor and Prime Minister, the ex-Tennents Marketing Head and now hugely succesful Crime author.

I never actually worked with Gordon when he was at Tennents but my agency, at the time, The Leith Agency did, developing a trophy cabinet full of brilliant work.

Gordon was one of the good guys with an eye for strong creativity and great brand nous. So imagine everybodys’ surprise when he announced he had “written a book”.

Pah, it will be shite we all opined.

But, lo and behold, he’s no longer a hobbyist, he’s a fully fledged, bona-fide SUCCESFUL author.

Thirty-one Bones is his EIGHTH novel and is published under his pseudonym, Morgan Cry.

No photo description available.

On top of all that he’s a DJ on Pulse 84 where he co-hosts a great show called ‘Laid Back with Gordon and Scott’.

So here goes, my first authorial Unknown Pleasures.

My favourite author or book:

As an author I get asked this a lot and I can’t really see past Stephen King. I first stumbled upon him while working in a hotel bar on the shores of Loch Lomond in the early eighties. He appeared in my life in the form of a copy of his novel ‘Christine’. A guest had left it behind and during the quieter moments and, as the book drew me in, even during the busy moments, I devoured the book and went on the hunt for more. His book ‘On Writing’ is a must for any aspiring authors. A wonderful piece of work packed full of common sense, advice and inspiration. King to this day still ticks all my boxes. As to my favourite book, well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘Nightmare Blue’ by Gardner Dozois and George Alex Effinger. The story of an alien race who arrive, planning to take over earth, bringing with them a drug that is instantly addictive. One shot and you’ll die if you don’t keep taking it. The aliens target world leaders along with the great and the good, forcing them to take the drug. Riding to humanity’s rescue is a German private investigator who teams up with a multi-limbed alien slave to rid the planet of this evil threat. Go on tell me you don’t want to read it – I have, at least half a dozen times.

There is one other book I need to mention. ‘The Fog’ by James Herbert; a story of a mist that breaks free from a crack in the earth near a village in middle England. It sweeps across the land and turns everyone mad, driving them to do insane and violent things. Why does this book hold such a special place? When I was fourteen or fifteen I was lying on my grandmother’s bed in her house in the town of Fraserburgh reading a Hardy Boys book; my books of choice back then. My gran said she was heading for the library and did I want a book. For reasons that were never quite made clear to me she did not return with a Hardy Boy’s book or a Tom Swift or even a Nancy Drew – she came back with ‘The Fog’. My reading changed forever. I was amazed that an author was even allowed to write about such things – and my desire to be an author was born.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: Twentieth Anniversary Edition with  Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King: Amazon.co.uk: King, Stephen:  9781444723250: Books

The book I’m reading:

I’m in the middle of reading three books for the upcoming Bloody Scotland book club – we review three books every month and I’m one of the chairs. I’ve just finished ‘Raven Black’ by Ann Cleeves – the first in her Shetland series, I’m on ‘Bloody January’ by Alan Parks – gritty police procedural set in 1973 and will soon start ‘The Serial Killer’s Wife’ by Alice Hunter. After that I’m going to read the new Jack Reacher book as I’m chairing Lee and Andrew Child at Bloody Scotland this year. 

The book I wish I had written:

I’m not sure I have any book that I wish I had written. I have read many books where I’ve marvelled at the author’s skill. William McIlvanney is one. His Laidlaw trilogy is a work of art but I always hope that the book I wish I had written will be the next book I write. In truth I could have answered the question on my favourite book in the same way. I’m never happier than when writing a new novel and always believe deep down that this will be my best ever – and, if I’m lucky, someone else (or hopefully more than just a single ‘someone else’) will think the same.

Laidlaw - William McIlvanney

The book I couldn’t finish:

I’m now at an age when I can’t be bothered trying to finish books that I’m not enjoying. I used to plough on with some real turgid tomes – on the simple premise of ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’. No longer. One book/trilogy that I couldn’t get to the end of was ‘Lord of the Rings’ and believe me I’ve tried – but each time I’ve lost the will to read and put it away to for another day – that never comes. I’ll also hold my hand up and say that only last week I gave up on Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – and I really gave it a go – got to the last quarter and just couldn’t go on.

The Lord of The Rings: Amazon.co.uk: Tolkien, J. R. R.: Books

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read:

I’m not ashamed at not reading any particular book. There are a few author friend’s books that I know I should have read – and, without naming names, I apologise for that.

My favourite film:

I’ll answer this by choosing more than one. 

‘Aliens’ – second in the series – my all-time favourite action film. When Ripley gets into that elevator to rescue Newt and front-up the alien my heart races. 

Blade Runner – the original cut with Harrison Ford’s voice over. Sacrilege to hard core Blade Runner fans to select that version – but I love it – and don’t get me started on Rutger Hauer’s dying speech as Batty – 

‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” 

And for my last movie – any of the James Bond set. 

My favourite play:

I’m not a big play person. Now if I can sub the word ‘play’ for ‘musical’ then I saw ‘Kinky Boots’ in New York and was delighted. Was dazzled by the ‘Lion King’ in Edinburgh and mesmerised by ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in London. But my all-time favourite was ‘Something Rotten’ the story of Shakespeare’s rivals and their attempt to invent the musical. My wife and I saw the preview in New York and were just blown away. 

My favourite podcast:

I’m almost a complete podcast virgin. Seldom does a podcast penetrate my ear drums. I’ve appeared on a few. I even host my own for a client but I have no go-to podcasts at all. The closest I get is ‘The Moth Radio Hour’ on Radio Five which also goes out as a podcast. A genius collection of everyday people telling amazing stories.

The Moth Radio Hour + Podcast | The Webby Awards

The box set I’m hooked on:

If I get hooked, I get hooked. If not – I’ll watch a couple of episodes and say bye-bye. Notable box sets that I’ve given in on – ‘The Wire’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Sopranos’. Notable ones that have lost me sleep – ‘Ozark’, ‘Star Trek-Discovery’ ‘Clarkson’s Farm’, ‘Star Trek – Lower Decks’, ‘NCIS’.

My favourite TV series:

I have a thing for ‘Minder’ and I don’t mind whether it’s Terry or Ray. Things you may not know. The show ran for fifteen years (79-94), had one hundred and four episodes and there was a revival in 2008 with Shane Ritchie that flopped.

My favourite piece of music:

I just submitted to eightalbums.com where I had to name eight albums, not necessarily my favourites, and why I liked them. Click here to read them https://eightalbums.co.uk/morgan-cry.html But if I had to pick three tracks I’d go for ‘Some Kind of Dream’ by Villa Nah; sublime Finnish electronic music, ‘Electricty’ by OMD; where it all really started for me music wise and ‘Rex Bob Lowenstein’ by Mark Germino; lyrics to live your life by.

My favourite dance performance:

Christine and the Queens on their ‘Chaleur humaine’ tour. I’ve seen a lot of live music and a lot of choreography on stage but this was simply hypnotic – if you want a sample click here:

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

I’m not given to weeping, so this is struggle. Although when I eventually go and see ‘No Time to Die’ I’ll no doubt well up as soon as soon as Daniel appears, gun in hand to that music.

The lyric I wish I’d written:

‘And his name is Rex Bob Lowenstein 

He’s a frame and bell inside a tambourine 

He could play it all if he was just set free

Just to find what people W.A.N.T.’ 

The song that saved me:

Not saved me but a song that changed my musical direction was ‘Electricty’ by OMD. Purchased in the basement of Fiesta Records on Union Street back in 1979 it led to a whole new world for me. New Wave and Electronic were responsible for me wearing out more shoes on the Strathclyde union dance floor than seems feasible during the early eighties and to this day I still love to get up and get down – only it now takes longer to do both.

The instrument I play:

Ten chords on the guitar and I can just about put together ‘Sloop John B’. I once compered a two-day musical festival’s main stage and promised that one day I’d step onto a not too dissimilar stage somewhere and play guitar – even if it’s for just one song. That’s on my bucket list.

The instrument I wish I’d learned:

See above.

If I could own one painting it would be:

‘Wheatfield with Crows’ by Vincent Van Gogh. I saw this in the Van Gogh museum Amsterdam and spent an eternity just staring into it. I have a tiny version next to my bed and it just makes me smile and I’m not sure that was what Vincent was going for as a reaction.

Wheatfield With Crows - Van Gogh Hommage, Painting by Robin Funk | Artmajeur

The music that cheers me up:

Dance music – lots and lots of dance music. I’m an old school Trance Dance freak – I play it when I’m writing my books. Loud. In terms of bands chose from any of the following – Chicane (Nick Bracegirdle is a wonder), Cut Copy, Rufus du Sol, Villa Nah, Sin Cos Tan, Above & Beyond.

The place I feel happiest:

Any live music event or festival. It’s my best way to escape. On a more physical front my wife and I are lucky enough to own a small flat in the town of Javea on the Costa Blanca – it’s my real happy place. So much so that it’s now the setting for my new novel ‘Thirty-One Bones’ and the sequel out next year ‘Six Wounds’. Writing about the area gives me a wonderful excuse to visit for ‘research’ purposes.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure:

I’m a DJ on local community radio, Pulse 98.4, with my friend Scott. We have been doing a weekly one hour show for over ten years. Called ‘Laid Back with Gordon and Scott’ we play the sort of music that’s better heard while horizontal. However last year the radio station was looking for content to play out over Christmas (as a community station we don’t have the DJ’s to cover the entire schedule live). I asked if I could do something a little less laid back and recorded a two-hour dance mix that went out at New Year. Now just give me a dance tent at a major festival, a twin deck and let me fly.

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

I think I’d rather have all my mates round. It would take place at the top of Creag Bhan on the Isle of Gigha on the first May bank holiday. We’d have a barbecue on the go and booze in a chill box. We’d have my mate with his blue-toothed musical waistcoat on for the tunes. No chairs or tables – we’d sit on the rocks and look out at Islay and Jura in the distance, talking rubbish until the sun goes down. Truth be told we’ve been doing that very thing for years but if I could add in a few celebs to the party I’d take Stephen King and Andy McCluskey (of OMD). Maybe add in Neil Armstrong and if I could magic Daniella Coulstoun, my protagonist in my latest book, into life, that would be cool.

Creag Bhan and the Old Mill (Walkhighlands)

And I’ll put on this music:

My two-hour dance mix – played through my mate Ian’s musical waistcoat along with an eighties selection of music to move to.

If you like this, try these…


Gordon Munro

Gerry Farrell

Alan McBlane

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 White Lotus: TV review

The White Lotus: Cast, plot, release date and how to watch the gripping new  drama in the UK | HELLO!

Another peach from Sky Atlantic. What a channel it is.

It’s a deeply black comedy with a character list of bastards. Maybe not Succession-level bastards, but not far short.

Set at an idyllic Hawaiian Island hotel resort, only reachable by boat, a bunch of blowhard white privileged twats arrive to be met by a bunch of deeply troubled staff that range from the recovering alcoholic/narcotic gay Hotel manager to a striving native American spa host and wellness instructor.

Each character is flawed in one way or another and what this does is light a touch paper to a week of increasing mayhem where their individual psychoses and prejudices build to a constant underscore of Hawaiian folk music that thrums and crescendoes as each of the six episodes unfolds.

It would be bad of me to spoil this by revealing the plot. Instead I’ll just say that each character is given sufficient airtime to reveal their true character as they impact on each others’ lives in a totally unpredictable way.

This is very fine writing and character acting, across the board.

Truly outstanding drama that is laugh out loud funny but deeply troubling. Proper black comedy at its finest.

Very highly recommended.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler: Book review.

OctaviaEButler Kindred.jpg

The planets collided a little on this one. My friend Morvern Cunningham raved about Octavia E. Butler in her brilliant Unknown Pleasures post and then my book group also put it to the vote to read. So, read it I did.

At first, and on a very superficial level, this appears to be a sort of ‘Outlander on Slave Plantations’ which is to completely overlook its quality as a piece of work.

Yes, the device (time travelling between 1976 and 1815) is very similar but the depth of the novel is far greater than anything in Outlander.

The book engages with notions of slavery, female identity and male dominance, love and family, indeed humanity itself.

After a slow start, where it seems to me that Butler is struggling to find her voice for this complex novel, (and the dialogue initially suffers) she gradually gets into her stride and what emerges is a true masterpiece.

Is it, as described, sci fi? I think not, probably closer to fantasy but in reality it’s almost a historical polemic on how slavery is such an evil slight on humanity.

The central character, Dana, is a black Californian woman married to a white man, Kevin. This is, in itself, quite unusual for the 1970’s, but transport that back to 1815, and Maryland, and you have a scenario that is inconceivable.

Dana is the ‘protector’ of Rufus, the son of a plantation owner and linked to Dana’s birth line. He gets into a variety of ‘scrapes’ that means that Dana, his ‘guardian angel’, has to come from the future to extricate him.

This brings with it all sorts of challenges, first of all who is this weird woman wearing ‘pants’, secondly why is she so educated, thirdly why is her ‘master’ (her husband) so close to her?

Several leaps across time, of varying lengths of stay, immerse Dana and Kevin into the past and expose them to the hideous savagery of the slave life (despite Rufus’ plantation being at the fairer end of the scale).

What Butler achieves in this magnificent novel is a complete immersion into an alien culture that is entirely believable and a beautifully crafted series of relationships between Dana, Rufus, her husband Kevin and several of her ‘fellow slaves’.

It’s complex but it’s readable (even if it’s horrifying in parts) and the brilliance of the storytelling is totally immersive.

A strong recommendation from me.

It seems almost inconceivable that this has not been made into a movie yet but a scoot through IMDB suggests that in these #BlackLivesMatter times, where the novel is so pertinent, it has finally been recognised and a TV adaptation is in pre-production. That will be a must watch.

Unknown Pleasures #23: Gordon Munro

Politicians.

Liars, cheats, self-centred blowhards with empty promises and corrupt motives.

Each and every last one of them.

Right?

Well, actually, no.

Not if you have political ambitions in Leith that is.

First off, you have Deidre Brock, the sitting SNP MP for Leith and North Edinburgh and then there’s her closest competitor, Labour’s Gordon Munro.

A long term Councillor for City of Edinburgh Council I had the great pleasure to build on my Dad’s friendship with Gordon when I first met him as a fellow Board Director at The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, one of Gordon’s many Council responsibilities (funnily enough that’s where I first met Deidre too).

I was immediately impressed with Gordon’s enthusiasm and contribution – so many of these posts are really statutory and lead to disinterested contributions, if any at all. Not Gordon.

It helps that he is a passionate lover of so many art forms, not least theatre. (Oh, and the mighty Hibees.)

But as time went on I started to stumble upon him all over the shop. In art galleries, at gigs, in the theatre. And then I called on his help to find a new home for Forth Children’s Theatre.

Boom!

He was straight in there, scouring Leith for us, putting forward all sorts of suggestions (including a disused car park under the Banana Flats).

I read some of his work in The Leither. I chatted to him in corridors. I quickly formed a deep respect for a man who wears his heart firmly on his sleeve and makes no compromises with his political beliefs.

To say Gordon is left of centre would be to downplay his passion for the Labour movement. An all-consuming passion that manifests itself in all the values of Labour that I love (although I vote SNP).

This is what politics should be about. A man of the people who cares wholly in his rage against the machine.

I love that about him. I love that about great politicians of any hue (and actually there are a lot of them that aren’t what I painted in my opening paragraph).

But, if you want to see what integrity looks like in flesh and bone, look no further than Gordon Munro.

An actual hero in my book. (And the only other person on earth I know that likes the outstanding Yasmine Hamdan.)

Now read about his heroes.

And, come the revolution. Back Gordon.

My Favourite Author or Book

Victor Serge. I first encountered Serge in 1983 when I bought a battered second hand copy of his ‘Memoirs of a Revolutionary’ published by Oxford books in 1963. It’s a great read and a fantastic insight into the tumults of the first half of the 20th Century. When the New York Review of Books brought out an edition which included material omitted from the edition I knew I bought it right away. I was not disappointed its still a great read. NYRB have also brought out his notebooks which cover 1936-1947 and his humanity shines through despite recording the murder and deaths of several friends. A threat that he constantly lived under too as Stalin’s GPU kept him under observation. They also publish some of his fiction too. His writing is superb and his volume of poetry ‘ A blaze in the desert’ is worth seeking out . “ All the exiles in the world are at the Greek informer’s café tonight,” is a line from his poem ‘Marseilles’ written in 1941 and a film script in one line. But don’t take my word for it here is what Susan Sontag thinks of Serge : “ Serge is one of the most compelling of twentieth-century ethical and literary heroes”. She’s right.

Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge

The Book I’m reading

As always I have several on the go. ‘Paint Your Town Red – How Preston took back control and your town can too’ by Matthew Brown & Rhian E Jones’ is essential reading. ‘The Divide – A brief guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions’ by Jason Hickel infuriates and illuminates in equal measure.’To Mind your Life- poems for Nurses & Midwives’ is life affirming. ‘ The way to play – coaching hints and technique’ by Inverleith Petanque Club is to hand as I’ve taken up this sport during Covid. ‘ Fixture List season 2021/22 Hibernian FC is essential year round reading for me as a lifelong Hibs supporter.

Paint Your Town Red: How Preston Took Back Control and Your Town Can Too:  Amazon.co.uk: Matt Brown, Rhian Jones: 9781913462192: Books

The book I wished I had written

Is still locked in my head and unlikely to make it out .

The book I couldn’t finish

Funnily enough I had a conversation recently with Ian Rankin where we both said we started but could not finish ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ by Thomas de Quincey. Turgid.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater: And Other Writings (Penguin  Classics): Amazon.co.uk: De Quincey, Thomas, Milligan, Barry:  9780140439014: Books

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ by James Hogg. I know, I know it inspired Stevenson , it’s a classic etc but life gets in the way. Maybe one day.

My favourite film

Too many but if its one only then it has to be ‘Casablanca’.

My favourite Play

It has to be Peter Brooks ‘ Mahabarata’ in Glasgow . 3 nights in a row of the most sublime theatre I’ve ever seen. The whole audience, which included a chunk of Scottish Actors, were on our feet shouting for more.

My favourite podcast

I don’t do podcasts but I do recommend the blog ‘Stand up and Spit’ by the poet Tim Wells. Great stuff and always interesting.

The box set I’m hooked on

‘American Gods’. A great cast and a good realisation of a favourite book.

My favourite TV series

Tiswas. It just broke all the rules and was great fun too. Chris Tarrant , Sally James , Spit the Dog and the Phantom Flan Flinger along with some cool music . What more do you want.

My favourite piece of Music

‘Teenage Kicks’ by the Undertones. Perfection. When Peel left us and Hibs adopted it for a while as our tune part tribute and part due to the boy band look team we had at the time I was chuffed. 

My favourite dance performance

I’ve been lucky enough to see Nureyev, Wayne Sleep, Ballet Rambert, Michael Clarke but it has to be Carlos Acosta with ‘On before’. He has this amazing ability that some football players have of being able to hang in the air. His company will be worth catching when we get the chance to enjoy live performance again.

The last film/music/book that made you cry

Film – Motorcycle Diaries – Walter Salles. I know that’s Guevara’s companion in the last scene watching the plane take off. Alberto Granado at 84 was not allowed in to the USA for the premiere at Sundance despite Robert Redford’s best efforts.

Music- Kathryn Joseph at Pilrig Church Hall. Go see here at Edinburgh Park in August.

Book- Notebooks 1936-1947 Victor Serge. So many deaths.

The lyric I wished I had written

‘Happy Birthday’ – not the Altered Images one. Imagine the royalties (and yes I know there’s a story to this lyric).

The song that saved me

Not a song but a request to dance the Gay Gordon’s at a wedding in 1985. We’ve been together ever since.

The instrument I play

The voice. Badly.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The piano.

If I could own one painting it would be

‘Nighthawks at the Diner’ – Edward Hopper. I have had a print of this up on the wall since 1983. 

Nighthawks at the Diner | Edward hopper, Edward hopper paintings, Art  institute of chicago

The music that cheers me up

 A whole bunch of 45’s from season 1977/78. Punk Rock shook things up and even Bowie upped his game with ‘Heroes’. We were lucky.

The place I feel happiest

Home with our family our two daughters , son in law and the best thing to happen during lockdown our granddaughter Ada.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Alcohol. It’s got me in and out of trouble. Seen me on my hands and knees outside a nightclub in Tangier. Arrested in Burnley. Stealing a Police hat from the back of a Police car outside a Police station. Chased by a knife wielding pimp in a Miami hotel. And I keep coming back for more.

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

Dead – David Bowie, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart , Frida Kahlo, Jesus so the wine would flow , Oscar Wilde.

Alive – Brian Eno, Marianne Faithfull, Annie Lenno , Jan Gehl, the Singh Twins, John Byrne.

And I’ll put on this music

Bessie Smith, Yasmine Hamdan, Calypso Rose, Ludovico Einaudi, Max Richter.

(This is fucking mazing by the way. Ed)

If you like this, try these…

Gerry Farrell

Alan McBlane

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

Under Milk Wood – Semi Skimmed by Guy Masterson: Edinburgh Fringe 2021

18 months since we last stepped into a theatre.

Our excitement is palpable.

It’s the first Tuesday of The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Never the peak time for Edinburgh to be totally overwhelmed, but usually by now it’s heaving nonetheless. For maximum chaos one has to wait for the final weekend that usually coincides with an English Bank Holiday and the mass movement of Knightsbridge and Sloan Square to our hallowed streets.

We start with a quick drink in the venerable Summerhall’s Royal Dick Courtyard.

There’s people here, sure, but no shows. Not today anyway. You see, Summerhall only has the one venue this year and today, for some reason, all the performers need a day off. So soon?

So the atmosphere is pleasant but subdued.

Next stop, Assembly George Square, the city’s thriving epicentre of boozing, alongside the Pleasance Courtyard, in any other year. The Box Office ticket board displays very, very few shows available today, maybe 12. Again, only one venue, the Speigeltent, is operational, plus an outdoor music stage. Next door The Underbelly’s business is, well, not brisk.

But there’s a long and tedious queue to get into the Gardens, so maybe that augurs well?

Turns out, no. It’s populated, for sure, and nearly every table is taken, but no standing is allowed so it’s a one-in one-out policy that is being applied. So, no lolling about on the grass, no random collisions with people you know and love from the circuit.

The beer is, of course, overpriced as ever, but the ‘atmosphere’ we are usually paying a premium to enjoy is virtually non-existent.

The usual 3,800 or so shows has been slimmed down to maybe 400 live shows and a bunch more online. This does not a festival make. Maybe in a smaller town with no experience of the phenomenon that is the Edinburgh Festival(s) this would work, but here it’s not exactly Ghost Town, but it ain’t Glastonbury either.

We head to the aforementioned Speigeltent for the 8.30 production, a one hander (aren’t they all) production of Dylan Thomas’ magisterial Under Milk Wood.

Guy Masterson directed the brilliant “The Shark is Broken” in 2019 and this, his slightly edited version of Thomas’ masterpiece, is his self-directed and performed effort that he has been touring for 27 years.

It’s pretty good, with an impressive performance on this his 60th birthday.

What we don’t anticipate is a double stage invasion by a man clearly suffering terribly from some form of mental illness. He defies the stewards both times but on the second is escorted politely from the building, albeit not without some consternation on his part. It’s upsetting, but not seemingly for Masterson who battles stoically onwards.

The show is not as good as I thought it would be. It’s just too rushed is my main criticism, but it has merit and we can hardly feel cheated at under £20 for two tickets.

But the malaise of the streets transports inside the fairly cavernous tent with maybe 50 in an audience that could hold ten times that number, or more.

We leave, a little deflated, a little underwhelmed by our whole evening.

It feels like a failed experiment so far. Too few people making too little frisson of excitement.

It’s all a little sad.

Not quite a wake, but not much of a festival.

To next year and normality. (Although I will venture out again).

Olympic ‘relevance’.

Olympics double gold: Why Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatar's Mutaz Essa  Barshim decided to share a gold medal - CNN Video

I’m loving the Olympics. I really am. My highlight so far has to be the sharing of the High Jump Gold between the French and Quatari athletes. Either could have won but they are pals (and you get joint bronzes in other sports eg Boxing) so why not share it?

Another highlight has been the outstandingly consistent commentary across multiple sports of Alistair-Bruce Ball who has a very balanced view on things. Buncie is the best pundit on the boxing and Taekwondo but his assassination of the Cuban boxing team this morning. where he accused them of stealing all the bananas (and fruit), may come back to haunt him.

Michael Johnson can ‘do one’. (Constantly talking over Denise Lewis.)

And that red table in the BBC studio that casts a red cast over everyone’s face and body is a technical disaster. What were they thinking of?

But one point that caught my ears this morning was that in a bid to keep the Olympics ‘relevant’ the Olympic Committee runs a ‘one sport in, one sport out’ policy.

I like that. It makes sense.

One new sport for Tokyo was skateboarding and that strikes me as really great and ‘relevant’ decision as it has long been a young person’s global street sport and to elevate to Olympic status is bang on.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Sky Brown wins skateboarding bronze to become youngest  British summer Olympic medal winner | Olympics News | Sky Sports

The ‘sport’ that sets my teeth on edge, however, (not because it’s for toffs because actually when you hear the Great Britain team speak they sound more like farmers than toffs) is dressage.

Tokyo Olympic dressage: Cathrine Dufour takes the lead in the grand prix

I mean, give us a break. Who can afford a horse to start with, never mind train it and transport it to these ridiculous ceremonial events?

And who is the sport star here? The horse or the rider?

It reeks of privilege and must go IMHO. Whether Great Britain is good at it or not.

Unknown Pleasures #22: Gerry Farrell.

If you know Scottish advertising, you know Gerry Farrell. My dear friend of many, many years. Nearly 35 in fact.

It was he who got me poached from Hall Advertising to The fledgling Leith Agency. An unexpected happening, but one that made me think maybe I could do my job after all.

Gerry and I lived through a golden age of advertising that included many shenanigans and totally unacceptable behaviour. For instance, there was a hole in the wall of The Leith Agency that Gerry kicked when I failed to sell a second rate piece of work for him. It was, as I recall, a Lion Rampant singing into a microphone for Tennent’s Live. OK. it wasn’t second rate but it wouldn’t be troubling the jury at D&AD, and that wall will testify to Gerry’s passion for doing it right every time.

Gerry is, under all that loudness, bravado and fiery red-haired temper, a quiet and very, very thoughtful soul. A fly fisherman. You cannae flyfish making a fucking racket, I’ll bet.

The work he has done in Leith’s under-priveleged communities shows his generosity. He is also generous to a fault with his advice, his willingness to encourage young talent and to just make our industry better than it already is.

He’s a great teacher too, and a showman. Oh God, a showman. His pitches have been legendary – up there only in theatre and passion with those of the dearly departed Simon Scott.

And he’s a laugh. A fucking loud, hearty, guttural laugher that invites you to laugh with him. And who could resist? The teller of tales has many that are just wonderful.

As you might expect from Gerry his Unknown Pleasures were created with a great deal of thought and are nothing if not thorough. But also shot through with storytelling genius. Take his opening line for example …

As a little kid and right the way through my plooky adolescence, I spent hours skulking in Morningside Library.” I mean that is just Gerry Farrell to a T. Witty, colloquial but a beautifully turned and welcoming entree for the many corses that follow.

Enjoy this. I sure did.

My favourite author or book

As a little kid and right the way through my plooky adolescence, I spent hours skulking in Morningside Library. Once I’d read the two hundred-odd books in the ‘Fishing’ section, I prowled the fiction shelves, skimming everything with an interesting title or back cover story, zooming in on the dirty bits and filling in the facts of life my mum and dad were too embarrassed to tell me.

As the plooks faded and my ginger hair reached afro proportions, the novelist who came to make the deepest impression on me was John Updike who wrote the ‘Rabbit’ quartet ‘Rabbit Run’, ‘Rabbit Redux’, ‘Rabbit Is Rich’ and ‘Rabbit At Rest’, depicting the life journey of Harry Angstrom, a blue-collar anti-hero on the run from the American Dream just as much as he’s inexorably pulled towards it. As Julian Barnes said in the Guardian:

In Rabbit Redux Harry feels he has “come in on the end” of the American dream, “as the world shrank like an apple going bad”; by the start of Rabbit is Rich he feels “the great American ride is ending”; by the end of Rabbit at Rest “the whole free world is wearing out”.

Years later, aged 21, I met him in Rome at a talk he gave and we had a wee blether. I told him how much I’d learned about sex from the way he wrote about it and he reminded me that he had twice won the Bad Sex Award, literature’s equivalent of the Razzies.

When I left home for Italy aged 17, the second novel ‘Rabbit Redux’ was my company on the long train journey from Edinburgh to Perugia. It set the tone for my own glorious liberation from my parents and my exciting and occasionally disastrous experiments with drugs, alcohol and naughty girls. I probably learned more about sex, infidelity, father-son relationships, marriage and death from the pages of that book than I learned from my own experiences in later life. 

It started a love affair between me and American literature and got me reading Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip Roth. All these writers taught me the best lesson I’ve learned: don’t take anything in life too seriously, especially yourself.

Will Atkinson picked out ‘Earthly Powers’ by Anthony Burgess in his Unknown Pleasures. That’s in my Top Ten. I read it in an eight-hour binge in a caravan, finally finishing at 4am in the morning, thrilled and wrung out, unable to get a wink of sleep. 

My favourite Scottish author by some distance is Kate Atkinson and my two favourites of hers are ‘Life After Life’ and ‘When Will There Be Good News’. I feel like I know her because I used to sit opposite her daughter Helen at the Leith Agency. I’d bring in books for her to give to her mum and she’d bring in books her mum recommended to me.

Finally, if anyone wants a red-hot tip for a thriller, let me recommend ‘Rogue Male’ by Geoffrey Household about a man on a mission to kill Hitler. You won’t put it down till the last page.

Life After Life (Todd Family, #1) by Kate Atkinson

The book I’m reading

I’ve just finished ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’ Farrell who lives in Edinburgh. It zeroes in on a single catastrophic domestic event – the death of Shakespeare’s son. There may never be a better, more absorbing book about the death of a child. The prose is luminous, the depth of feeling is bottomless and the ending is miraculous.

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell | Book Club | TOAST Magazine

The book I wish I had written

I’m still waiting for that story to appear in my head. Most writers will tell you not to even bother sitting down to write a book unless you have a story you’re bursting to tell. That’s not happened to me yet although I’m permanently gripped by the IRA’s blowing up of Lord Mountbatten. He was an awful man but nobody deserves to die that way. If I was to write anything it would be a fictionalised version of that. The only part of a book I ever wrote that got published was the title of my son-in-law Adam Kay’s first book ‘This Is Going To Hurt’, his diaries from his time as a junior doctor, currently being turned into a BBC drama. If I got a penny for every copy sold I’d have several million pennies. But I’m happy to make do with my honourable mention in the credits.

1979: Lord Mountbatten killed by IRA bomb | Monarchy | The Guardian

The book I couldn’t finish

If a stack of them fell on me, I’d be crushed to death. Most notable was ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov. Just a chore, so I gave up. Life’s too short. ‘Underworld’ by Don Delillo was another one. I bloody hated ‘American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. And I almost gave up on The Thursday Murder Club but I’m glad I persisted. People kept telling me to read ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I eventually slogged through it but I was never gripped.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Will Self | Waterstones
Hear Hear. Utter shite. Ed.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

There are plenty of things I’m more ashamed of than not reading somebody’s book. I do love books and I have a secret fantasy about being locked in a library all night. But nobody should be guilt-tripping themselves for not obeying the Culture Police. There are plenty of great books I haven’t read. In my old age I look forward to sitting down for a month and reading all of Shakespeare’s plays because he really is the best writer (of English) that ever lived. Crying shame if you had him forced down your throat at school and never went back to enjoy him in later life.

My favourite film

‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. One way or another, I’ve been dogged by mental illness in my family all my life and was amazed when my own mental health went off a cliff one day. Jack Nicholson takes Ken Kesey’s novel by the scruff of the neck and gives it a violent shake. My favourite scene is the fishing trip. My favourite bit of dialogue is “What flavour?”…..”Juicy Fruit”. I’m krazy about Kubrick too. Clockwork Orange and The Shining are incredible movies. So powerful I’ve never been able to watch them again.

My favourite play

I rarely visit the theatre but I’m not going to be guilt-tripped about that either. I did love ‘The Bevellers’ by Roddy McMillan which I was taken to as a 13 year-old St Augustine’s RC schoolboy. I remember all the filthy, funny lines like “If he got a hard-on, he’d think it was a fart gone backwards” and “Tell that fireman ma knickers are on fire and he’s the man wi the hose.” I was shocked and delighted in equal measure at the way all my St Augie’s Catholic teachers in the audience fell about when those pearlers got dropped in the salubrious surroundings of the King’s Theatre.

The Bevellers. Citizens Theatre Glasgow. Design by Jason Southgate. |  Design, Settings, Set design

My favourite podcast

Ach, there’s millions but ‘Thirteen Minutes To The Moon’ has been my favourite for a while, especially the second series about the doomed Apollo 13 flight. It still blows my mind to think that there’s more computing power in a bog-standard calculator then than there was in that spacecraft back then. The astronauts and the chain-smoking NASA crew who got them home with old toilet rolls and sticky back plastic are heroes to me.

Podcast About Moon Landing Records Final Episode In Houston – Houston  Public Media

The box set I’m hooked on

Nothing will ever touch The Sopranos. If you argue otherwise I’ll have you chopped into pork parcels and fed to the fishes.

Concrete Shoes - YouTube

My favourite TV series

‘Friends’. It hasn’t aged that well – these days at least one of the pals would have to be gay and they certainly couldn’t all be white. But the casting was inspired and I partly credit its warmth and likeability with helping my four kids become the funny, fearless, big-hearted people they are today. I’ll never forget taking them to a holiday house right on the water on the Cote d’Azur for a fortnight. Remind me never again to rent a holiday home with a telly. I couldn’t get them out in the sunshine for hours every day because they were glued to Aniston and Co. The scene where Joey has to improvise a foreskin out of Spam for a casting session is unforgettable. Oh, and Danny de Vito’s turn as a stripper in police uniform. The other night I watched ‘Friends: The Reunion,’ a silly, moving, funny, big-hearted retrospective bringing the friends back together in front of a live audience. Worth it just for Lady Gaga dropping in to do ‘Smelly Cat’ with Lisa Kudrow and a gospel choir.

My favourite piece of music

Nah. You cannot be serious. I could do a different Desert Island Discs every week. I cried half the day when David Bowie died. I love genres, like Motown and the way that inspired superstars like Beyonce and Amy Winehouse. I love ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ by Ella Fitzgerald. I love country music and I’d love to visit Nashville. (I spent six years singing and playing in an 11-piece bluegrass band called The Downrights, see photo.) Nina Simone still gives me the chills as does Robert Plant. When I was 13, if I couldn’t be a pilot I wanted to be Mick Jagger. The cowbell at the start of Honky Tonk Women might be the quickest cue to get on the dancefloor. Or is it the opening bars of Nutbush City Limits? I love pure, shallow pop music: Denis Denis by Blondie; anything by Chuck Berry; beautiful slow sad songs like Purple Rain, Perfect Day, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay. I think Eminem is an amazing writer. I love every song Jarvis Cocker ever wrote. I never fail to fill up listening to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and I still get a kick out of a brass band playing the William Tell Overture (I used to play the French horn). But the sad truth is that I’m a show-off. All the songs I love are songs I can learn and perform. My perfect gig would be me on stage, with me in the audience but I’ll settle for karaoke. 

My favourite dance performance

I’m just not into it. I love watching African tribal dances and Mick Jagger prancing and poncing about on stage. Couples who can jive make me jealous. But ballet? Puts me to sleep. I’m a dance Philistine.

The last film/music/book that made me cry

Sophie’s Choice and the Killing Fields unlocked my tear ducts. But honestly, I laugh more than I cry.

The lyric I wish I’d written

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover

The song that saved me

I used to play hymns in my local church group and although I don’t have a strong Catholic faith any more, I’ve always found ‘Amazing Grace’ one of those songs that gets me reaching for my best and bravest voice. It’s a song about being saved despite your wretchedness and that’s a compassionate and helpful way to find comfort when you’re going through a tough time. The other one is a song called ‘Pilgrim’. Steve Earle wrote it in a hurry. He had been asked to say something at a friend’s funeral but his mind went blank so he came up with this beautiful song instead and sang it at the service. It’s a very beautiful song to sing at funerals and it has a chorus that suddenly starts everyone singing along, despite the lump in their throats.

The instrument I play

I have two guitars. A beat up old Yamaha semi-acoustic which I practise on at home and a gorgeous, sunburst Godin 5thAvenue Kingpin (see attached photo) which is my ‘show-pony’ geetar, the one I go on stage with. It has a gorgeous, vintage ‘50s tone so it sounds as good as it looks. 

The instrument I wish I’d learned

My son Olly is a genius on the piano and his playing leaves me stone-cold jealous. He can play anything after one hearing and if need be he can take it up or down a semitone in an instant without breaking sweat. He plays regularly for a ska band called Bombskare (but we never talk about that in an airport). I’d also love to be able to play blues harmonica. You can wrench more raw emotion out of that tiny piece of tin than even the sweetest Stradivarius.

If I could own one painting it would be

Anything by Monet, if I had the monet.

What Are Claude Monet's Best Paintings? Five Curators Weigh In – ARTnews.com

The music that cheers me up

Phil Collins. Only joking. Ry Cooder, Bop Till You Drop. Never gets old.

The place I feel happiest

In a boat flyfishing for trout on a Scottish loch. If I had to pick, I’d go for a week’s stay in the Victorian Boathouse on Coldingham Loch.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Karaoke, singing ‘Mack The Knife’.

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

I’ve thought about this a lot but the honest truth is if I was having the ultimate dinner party I’d be treating my best mates and my family at Langan’s Brasserie in London. I’d have their spinach soufflé with hot anchovy sauce, to this day the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. If you forced me to invite famous people, they’d mostly be dead ones because that would give the occasion added piquancy. I’d have Claude Monet, Bill Nighy, Billy Connolly, Shakespeare, Meryl Streep, Winston Churchill (seated next to Gandhi who he was very rude about), Charles Dickens and Jennifer Aniston (seated next to Jack Nicholson who would try and fail to get off with her). Bowie, Prince, Jeff Lynne, Amy Winehouse and George Harrison would be in the same room, doing requests.

And I’ll put on this music

It would be live music, played by the house band above, doing requests all night, shouted out by me and my dinner guests.

If you like this here’s some more…

Alan McBlane

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

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: Amazon.co.uk: 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. 

YouTube.

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

Unknown Pleasures #19: Duncan McKay

I know Duncan through his fellow love of the greatest football team on earth. Hibernian Football Club.

With the greatest team song in the world.

We;’ve been to several, mostly heartbreaking events together where we have inevitably Hibsed it.

Aside from that I bump into him from time to time at gigs.

He also works in my industry on the PR side and our paths have crossed here too.

He’s probably best known, though, for his most excellent podcast The Terrace that has spawned a hit TV programme on BBC Scotland.

Duncan is nothing if not enthusiastic, an avid buff in music, football and literature if not more.

He’s an enthusiast, a statto and a thoroughly nice bloke who I wish I could have spent more time with over the years. His best mate, Mark Atkinson, also happens to be the son of one of my best mates, Will Atkinson.

So all things considered he’s the very man to share his cultural secrets.

My favourite author or book

A few authors who I will read anything by: Simon Kuper, Wright Thompson, Erika Fatland and David Keenan.

This Is Memorial Device | Faber & Faber

The book I’m reading

I annoy my fiancée Sarah because I never just have one book on the go. I’ll have one in the lounge, one upstairs, one on the Kindle. So currently I’m reading Michael Crick’s biography of Alex Ferguson, a book about the final season of football in East Germany and Kelman’s The Disaffection.

The book I wish I had written

To be able to write like Gay Talese would be a privilege. Imagine being able to do profiles like Frank Sinatra Has A Cold?

Frank Sinatra Has a Cold: And Other Essays (Penguin Modern Classics):  Amazon.co.uk: Talese, Gay: 9780141194158: Books

The book I couldn’t finish

Gorbachev’s memoirs. Maybe it was the translation, maybe it was my age, but gave up a fifth of the way through. I’m getting more ruthless as I get older, why waste time reading bad books when there’s so much good out there?

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Oh plenty. Only in more recent years have I started to read more and more fiction. So a lot of the classics are unknown to me.

My favourite film

Probably 24 Hour Party People. If I could bottle how I felt leaving the cinema after seeing that age 17 I’d be solving the world’s problems.

My favourite play

Not the world’s biggest theatre goer but very much enjoyed Mary Stuart when it ran at the Duke of York’s Theatre a few years ago.

My favourite podcast

Feels indulgent to include one I’m involved in, so I won’t. The podcast I’m most excited to see show up in my feed at the moment is Puck Soup, an ice hockey podcast. I find the three voices on that show both really soothing and entertaining.

The box set I’m hooked on

Spiral. French crime drama. Moody Parisians. Slowly watching the final series as I don’t really want it to end.

My favourite TV series

Arrested Development Seasons 1-3. I don’t think I’ve watched a show as much as got more enjoyment on every viewing, finding jokes I’d missed. And let’s know acknowledge what happened to the show when it went to Netflix ok?

My favourite piece of music

Probably the piece of music I’ve heard the most in my life and still love is The Weight by The Band. My dad was a massive fan and we used to hate it as kids listening in the back of the car on long trips to Elgin but suddenly as a teenager something clicked and I’ve loved it ever since.

My favourite dance performance

Sorry to be a philistine but I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a dance performance.

The last film/music/book that made me cry

Finding Jack Charlton. I think I cried about four times watching it. Having lost a grandparent in the last year to dementia it hit close to home too.

The lyric I wish I’d written

“When I finally find the words,

I’ll be coming back for you.

If I decide to rule the world,

I’m still coming back for you”

Somewhere Across Forever by stellastarr*

The song that saved me

Music means a lot to me, but I don’t think I’ve been saved by a single song. It’s helped me immensely and get through things, but nothing has “saved” me.

The instrument I play

The guitar, badly and not for several years.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Piano. Or an ability to sing well enough that other people would want to listen to me rather than put fingers in their ears.

If I could own one painting it would be

It’s not very sophisticated but The Runaway by Norman Rockwell. It’s one of my enduring memories of my grandparent’s house in Elgin. I was fortunate enough to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts and see the original in the flesh. It was a lovely moment.

The Runaway

The music that cheers me up

The day I can’t be cheered up by Hey Ya by Outkast will be the day I shuffle off this mortal coil.

The place I feel happiest

Waking up anywhere on holiday, anywhere in the world with Sarah.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

I’m against the notion of guilty pleasures, but undoubtedly mine is professional wrestling. Yes I know it’s contrived, problematic nonsense but it fascinates me.

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

I’m always wary of meeting your heroes and idols but I think it could be fun to have Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and the McIlvanney brothers for company. And it will be in a lighthouse.

And I’ll put on this music

A deliberately curated playlist from my iTunes catalogue that I’d spend many hours agonising over more than the food that was being served.

If you like this here’s some more…

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 Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe: Book review. (An accidental revisitation)

The Rain Before it Falls: Amazon.co.uk: Coe, Jonathan: 9780141033211: Books

Clearly my taste has changed over the years because as I sat down to rip this piece of shit to pieces I searched ‘Jonathan’ Coe on my blog and found out that I had read, and reviewed, this in 2011. (i didn’t really rate it all that highly but I rated it a lot higher than I do now.)

I honestly do not remember a word of it.

Which is a shame because it’s actually a turd disguised as a paperback novel, and if I’d remembered it I sure would not have poisoned my brain by reading it again

It’s written by some old fucker (protagonist, not author) who’s about to top herself and runs through about twenty photos describing them to her blind niece, or a dog maybe. Who fucking cares.

Anyway, in these descriptions she gets right down to what fucking colour the vicar’s Y fronts are and which cunt took the photo, Who fucking cares who took the shit photo THAT WE CAN”T ACTUALLY SEE as it’s not fucking Maus or something.

And they are non-integral to the plot, even though they are the plot.

Does this book have a plot anybody? Does anybody give a flying fuck when this old twat tops herself? Sooner rather than later I wished so I could be out of this torture.

He writes ‘in character’ that is, slow as fuck, tortuously boring, all Queen’s English and “oh my dear” and “goodness” and “Did I mention that I was a lesbian in the 1950’s?”

Yes, she (the boring bastard central protagonist, who the book isn’t actually about) was an actual lesbian in the 1950’s. Now this could be thrilling, risqué, dangerous, but it’s just boring.

The title is a deep philosophical treatise on the fact that the rain before it falls…isn’t rain.

THERE. PLOT SPOILER. I RUINED IT FOR YOU.

Well. That. Is. It.

That’s what it’s about. Rain that isn’t rain.

Being Gay.

Being Boring.

And it’s not even the Pet Shop Boys.

Fellow readers. This is wank. And Number 11 wasn’t much better.

Jonathan. Stick to comedy mate. Please.

Unknown Pleasures #18: Claire Wood

May be an image of 1 person and smiling

And so to Claire.

Now, to start with, I have to declare an interest here. Claire is actually my client. She’s a strategist in the Scottish Government’s Marketing Team, although she never signs off her emails with her title so I don’t know what she is called formally.

So I’ll just caller her what I think is my biggest compliment for clients. A clear thinker. A brilliant mind and a thoroughly lovely person to work with that gives back huge amounts, that inspires all those around her and that makes her agencies eager to do their best work.

But I’ve known her a lot longer than that. Primarily as a Strategic Planner at The Leith Agency and secondly as a director of Edinburgh University’s alumni theatre group. However, because my shows and hers at The Fringe clashed every single year, neither of us has seen the others’ work. My assumption is that it will be brilliant.

Claire is just such a wonderful enthusiast and that ticks all my boxes. She really is a genuinely pithy thinker and original expert in positioning brands, services and now behavioural change of the masses. If you’re being asked to change your behaviour in Scotland there’s a good chance Claire has had a hand in it somewhere.

When I was a freelance consultant Claire always had an open door. We’d meet for coffee and a chat, often, no usually straying off topic and that’s what I love about her and the few that are like her.

No ego. No agenda. But plenty of time for me and other human beings. And for that I thank you Claire.

And now, on to her likes. Many of which I share. A great selection of stuff to get your teeth into and a lot of it pretty accessible so dive in and follow up folks.

(David Greig – an earlier contributor – will be pleased with her most excellent theatre choice, a show I’ve seen in Carlops Village Hall myself.)

My favourite author or book

I’m rubbish at favourites. I love Arundhati Roy, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Atwood, Donna Tartt, Hanya Yanigahara, Mary Beard, Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Irving, Robert Harris, J. R. R. Tolkien and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’ve just finished How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue which is beautifully heartbreaking. 

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue – Canongate Books

The book I’m reading

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. 

The book(s) I wish I had written

The Handmaid’s Tale and / or The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan. Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones. This last is a children’s book but contains the character I’d sail off into the sunset with, if he wasn’t in love with Millie, Chrestomanci. 

The Testaments': Margaret Atwood's urgent new tale of Gilead

The book I couldn’t finish

The memoirs of a survivor. Doris Lessing. Recommended to me by a wonderful English teacher when I was 15. It sat on my bedside table for considerable years. Moving it to the bookshelf was the kiss of death. I must try again. 

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I haven’t read any Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf to my shame. Nor any Germaine Greer though I’m a bit less troubled by this. I’ve barely dabbled with the classics though enjoyed a teenage love affair with nineteenth-century Russian writers. Sadly not in Russian. 

My favourite film

Life Is Beautiful. A glorious tribute to the power of stories to make shit things, a bit better. 

Watch Life Is Beautiful (HBO) - Stream Movies | HBO Max

My favourite play

As a script, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. As a production (and script), David Grieg’s The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart. As a moment in theatrical history, National Theatre of Scotland / John Tiffany / Gregory Burke’s Black Watch. As a spectacle, The Drowned Man by Punchdrunk. For clutching at my heart, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. I’m looking forward to The Lyceum’s audio play, Sophia, by Frances Poet. 

My favourite podcast

Shit Town. Tremendous (if dark) story telling. And anything by History On Fire

The box set I’m hooked on

The Bridge. I can always tell when I’m properly obsessed with a show as I start imagining (wishing) that I see the characters in the street. Saga is an awesome character for all sorts of reasons. Call My Agent was a gift in lockdown. 

My favourite TV series

The Simpsons.  

My favourite piece of music

Totus Tuus by Henryk Gorecki. Or Suburbia by the Pet Shop Boys. Both whisk me back to teenage freedoms. The former was me wishing I was cultured and cultivated. The latter, fondly imagining I was rebellious. 

My favourite dance performance

Crystal Pite’s Emergence, performed by Scottish Ballet in the EIF in 2016. Or way back to my teenage years, Rambert’s Little Red Rooster. Somehow, maybe the first time I’d heard the Stones. Electrifying. 

The Last film / music / book that made me cry

Yerma with Billie Piper by the National Theatre, currently available online. It was filmed with a live audience. That usually makes me cry. She was also awesome. 

The lyric I wish I’d written

Many of Stephen Sondheim’s. (See Liza Minelli’s version of Losing My Mind. Or Judi Dench and Send In The Clowns.)  For suckerpunch-ness, the Pet Shop Boys: “I love you, you pay my rent.”

The song that saved me

Paint It Black by the Stones and Amy Winehouse feed my self-indulgence pretty well. And I’ll listen to Stand On The Wordby the Celestial Choir on repeat. 

The instrument I play

Chopsticks on the piano. I aspire to play Bach.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Clarinet. One day, I’ll play Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

If I could own one painting it would be

Actual paint? Anything by Alison Watt would do me nicely. 

Sabine | National Galleries of Scotland

The music that cheers me up

All sorts. Jazz. (Kansas Smitty have been doing wonderful things online during the pandemic.) Handel. Mozart’s Requiem, perversely. 

The place I feel happiest

Theatres. Right now, any theatre that was open and about to serve up a show would cut it. If I’ve got my pick of all of them, the Traverse, in no small part because of their bar. 

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Does Jilly Cooper count as culture?

Sexiest books ever | What to read | Erotic Fiction | Culture

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

Zadie Smith, Mark Ravenhill, Clare Barron, Neil Tennant, Laura Bates, Tennessee Williams, Greta Thunberg, Alan Rickman. I’d need a big table. 

And I’ll put on this music

US3. Air. Nouvelle Vague. Charlotte Gainsbourg. Kings of Convenience.

If you like this here’s some more…

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

Looking back at how racism has changed. To Kill a Mockingbird: Book Review.

Cover of the book showing title in white letters against a black background in a banner above a painting of a portion of a tree against a red background

Like me, you possibly read this book at school. In my case over 40 years ago.

I recently joined a book club at work and we specifically read books either by Black writers or books about racial prejudice. This clearly falls into the latter camp and the choice to read it came from a a left-field suggestion by my wife that we revisit the past.

So we did.

It’s much lauded, selling over 30million copies and winning the Pulitzer Prize.

A morality tale for the times (1960 but set in 1936). It tells the story of black oppression and racial discrimination completely through white eyes, worse, children’s white eyes.

Not one single page features a contribution from the central (struck mute) protagonist Tom Robinson – frankly even the character’s name is redolent of hokey deep southern central casting – but, hey, maybe that was the idea.

It paints the picture of an Alabaman township where a strange resident (Boo Radley) lives holed up in his house next door to brother and sister young Scout and wise Jem Finch. Boo scares the bejesus out of them (is that why he’s called Boo?) by simply being reclusive.

He’s the first harmless Mockingbird of the title.

The second is an uneducated Black farmer (Tom Robinson) enticed into a trailer trash home by a seductive young hick who, having been stumbled upon by her paw, screams the house down accusing him (completely falsely) of rape.

He’s taken to the local kangaroo court, tried for the fake rape and is defended by Scout and Jem’s dad (oddly known to them by his given name, Atticus).

Atticus, Jem and Scout seem to be the only open-minded folks in the town which quickly earns him the reputation as a “nigger lover”.

The use of this word is liberal and the polite version (negroe) was clearly the acceptable version of the time, but its repetitive use is also quite startling.

It’s a very odd read indeed, terribly trapped in time with much outdated language and a dreadful naiveté. Maybe that’s deliberate, I suppose, because Harper Lee chooses to make the young Scout the author in a bid to open the eyes of the reader to the illogical nature of the inherent prejudice of the town.

But it also serves to make the book uninsightful and frankly, quite boring.

The structure is clumsy with the two mockingbird stories only loosely related and with no real link other than as a storytelling device.

But it’s the lack of a Black voice that most troubled me in this. Tom Robinson is cast as stupid (stoopid and ign’rn’t) and has no way of repositioning himself. The only Black voice is of another lovable central casting character, the cook and housemaid, Calpurnia who looks after the motherless Scout and Jem as her own.

Sure, it’s a coming of age novel with a purpose, but I found it banal and patronising.

The characters are wholly unrounded and the entire conceit naive and unsubtle.

It wasn’t a good experience.

I think it’s long had its time. Avoid.

Unknown Pleasures #17: Morvern Cunningham

Morvern is one of the most creative, most ambitious (in a good way) and most democratic people I know.

She sees creativity through a lens that brings people together in a way that improves their lives. Ordinary people largely. That’s why she’s been involved with Leith Creative, led the Leith Shutters project, where she put amazing street art onto the shutters of closed shops, The Mural Project, which had a similar ambition of bringing street art to Leithers, and, of course, she founded the fabulous Leith Late 10 years ago and, pandemic aside, has nurtured it through a wide variety of forms with often little or no money.

Also a lover of unorthodox cinema, her KinoKlub has delighted many with its surrealist movie screening, often, but not always from the horror genre.

She’s a thorn in many sides because she won’t ever, take no for an answer. Her co-curated Blueprint for Leith was citizen-powered and asked the questions the City Council daren’t and therein lies many of her face-offs. Deeply respected (probably feared too) by our ‘City Fathers’ she has succeeded in drawing support from them for many of her ambitious projects.

You’d assume from all this that Morvern was a proud Leither, and she is, but only as her adopted home because she’s 100% Glaswegian, and sounds it.

I’m so delighted to have Morvern share her cultural inspiration with us. I’m also proud to know her because I consider her by far the most proactive, imaginative and effective advocate of art and culture, outside of the pantheons of culture that dot my city, that I know. Her influence is massive, her ability to articulate her belief in the power of art and culture tremendous. But underneath it all she’s just a really lovely, caring person that does what she does for all the right reasons.

And its the reason she gets the respect and admiration that she does. Including from our City Fathers.

My favourite author or book

My three favourite authors are Ursula le Guin, Shirley Jackon and Octavia Butler, but it has been Octavia’s work in particular that has really helped me get through the various lockdowns of late. Butler was the first recognised Black woman author in the science fiction genre, a genre she dubbed ‘speculative fiction’. It was by harnessing this she was able to explore the following scenarios: ‘What if?’ ‘If only?’ and ‘If things go on like this’. The latter has been highlighted most recently in the public consciousness by her 1998 novel Parable of the Talents, which features an American President despot who presides over an increasingly chaotic and destructive country, using the mantra “Make America Great Again”.

There are so many great places to start with Butler, but my favourite of her characters is Lillith Iyapo from the Xenogenesis trilogy who we meet in Dawn, with the start of a new kind of human race after the demise of Earth. My great sadness is, since Octavia is no longer with us, the novels we have of hers are finite so therefore I eke out the experience of reading her work and savour every novel and short story available.

The book I’m reading

I’m currently reading Into the London Fog, subtitled Eerie Tales from the Weird City and published by the British Library under their ‘Tales of the Weird’ series. There’s lots of great stuff in it, including entries by Edith Nesbit who wrote a significant amount of ghost stories alongside her children’s fiction, and Arthur Machen, a great proponent of the weird literary genre. Editor Elizabeth Dearnley talks in her introduction to the collection about the feature of fog in the city making it both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, an eeriness I think we’ll all be familiar with now when wandering around our emptied city centres as a result of the pandemic. My only point of reference to the historic London fog is of course the Edinburgh haar, which is less inherently mysterious and more of an eerie character itself!

The book I wished I’d written

I don’t wish I’d written anything already out in the world, as each book is a product of their time and of the circumstance of the author. However, I would love to edit a future contribution to the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series, or something of a similar ilk. I recently attended an online talk by Elizabeth Dearnley (editor of Into the London Fog), who described putting the book together as a dream project, which I can well imagine. I believe there must be a vast array of uncovered weird and gothic gems in the collections of the National Library or the University of Edinburgh, that could be given a whole new lease of life in a shiny new edition. Edinburgh is the city that spawned Blackwood’s Magazine and other similar periodicals of the 19th century after all, so there must be plenty of fine homegrown bogie tales of yore out there to sift through! 

My favourite film

I couldn’t possibly single out any one film in particular, but the film genre that I’m most fond of is horror. Unfairly diminished and looked down upon, the horror genre has existed since the genesis of film. It provides a safe space to explore societal fears and prejudice, to observe life’s inhumanities, to vicariously experience the limitations of the human body and our ideas of what might happen after death. There is some evidence to suggest that horror, while always popular, has increased in popularity as a result of COVID-19, with stay at home audiences keen to watch pandemic-themed dystopias as a means of helping to cope with everyday reality. Perhaps it’s like wild swimming – the more you subject your body and mind to cold sharp shocks, the easier it becomes to cope with real-life trauma. A few recent recommendations worth seeking out include: Midsommer, Tigers Are Not Afraid, His House and Host.

Favourite podcast

I have to confess I’m not much of a podcast person, so I’m just going to mention the handful of podcasts I’ve ever spent time listening to. First up is the Persistent and Nasty podcast, (@PersistentNasty on Twitter), a collective of Glasgow-based female creatives who regularly interview a variety of cool and interesting guest speakers. (Dunno why I’ve not been invited on yet tbh!) I’m also a massive fan of adrienne marie brown who has written, amongst other things, the inspirational Emergent Strategy. It’s a radical self/society-help book inspired by the work of Octavia Butler and her writings on the subject of change, and has been really influential to my thinking and writing about creating our collective futures. (See Edinburgh Reimagined: https://sceptical.scot/2021/04/time-to-rebuild-edinburgh-reimagined-part-2/The Emergent Strategy Podcast has grown out of the teachings of the book of the same name and is well worth a listen. During 2020, adrienne also launched the podcast Octavia’s Parables with Toshi Reagon, which explores Butler’s The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents chapter by chapter. I’m yet to properly dive in, but it’s sure to be amazing. 

Persistent and Nasty – Civil Disobedience

Favourite TV series

I don’t tend to binge on TV series, tending to stick to film instead, but this sprung to mind so I’ll run with it. One surprise TV hit of the pandemic was BBC series The Repair Shop, a programme centred around the careful and sensitive restoration of beloved family items to their owners. Filmed at Weald and Downland Living Museum, the show features a regular roster of expert restorers in their field, working in the areas of fabric, leather, wood, metal and mechanics. Antiques Roadshow this is not, with the heart of the programme not based in what something is worth financially. Instead, the focus lies in the emotional attachment we have to objects of personal significance, and the powerful feelings that are involved in bringing these items back to life, often evoking loved ones that have been lost in the process. Indeed, some of the items so lovingly brought to life are pretty worthless and potentially irreparable to an outsider’s eye, but priceless to their owners. Each project is a reminder to us to care for what we already have in a disposable society, plus it makes me greet regularly!

How to contact The Repair Shop - how to apply to be on the BBC 1 show -  Radio Times

The last thing that made you cry

The last thing that made me ugly cry over and over again was Russell T Davies’ Channel 4 miniseries It’s a Sin, following the trials and tribulations of a group of queer teenagers descending on London for their first real foray into the world. Their arrival and beautiful emancipatory evolution of selfhood also coincide with the early days of the spread of the AIDS virus, and we watch broken hearted as AIDS rips through our group of friends, leaving none unscathed by its effects. A cultural masterpiece by Davies, who also directed Queer as Folk and who has admitted that he always avoided focusing on the AIDS crisis till now, perhaps intimidated by the overwhelming mark it has left on the queer community at large. What Davies and his queer cast have since created is a vital, vibrant and celebratory tribute of those lives we have lost, those continuing to live with HIV, and to all the young queers coming into themselves today. I’m tearing up now…

The instrument I play

I had violin lessons at primary school, which I wasn’t very fond of tbh. I then discovered Scottish traditional music around aged 10 when I joined the Glasgow Fiddle Workshop and suddenly a whole new world opened up. I started referring to my instrument as a fiddle and, long before being of drinking age, would pitch up to trad pubs like Babbity Bowsters and The Vicky Bar in Glasgow to join the sessions that took place there. It was great, the musicians would take up a whole section of the bar, with fiddle players, guitarists, whistle players, bodhrans, the lot, and we would play tunes all day as the crowd jammed in around us. It was my first taste of the traditional culture we have in Scotland, and the great community that can grow up around an artform. Celtic Connections was a key time in the trad music calendar, with all the local pubs full of musicians during the festival, and folk pitching up to the Glasgow Concert Hall to find a session. The Festival Club which took place afterhours was and still is an amazing place. I started going when it was at the Central Station Hotel, which is also where the performers and a lot of the out of town audience were housed at the same time, which made for a great atmosphere and lots of room parties! I’m a bit out of practice now – I must get back on it so I can join a session sometime.

Instrument I wish I’d learned

I always quite fancied playing the spoons as percussion, but never quite got the knack.

Music that cheers me up

Funk and soul is generally my go to most days, my personal soundtrack is generally upbeat. I also like a song with a message – some songs have turned into personal mantras at different points in my life. I moonlight as DJ BUTTZ (check me out on Insta) and recently put together a playlist for Emma Jayne Park’s Daily Dancing resource (you can find out more about DD here, it basically does what it says on the tin: https://www.culturedmongrel.org/blogs/2021/3/22/daily-dancing-turns-one).

All the songs on the playlist have been important to me at some point in time, and it was great fun to put together. I recommend everyone puts a similar playlist together, as it’s guaranteed to cheer you up if you ever feel things aren’t going your way. Link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0yWFZaqW7Ml5BfRPk53dys

Place I feel happiest

I love being by the sea, and like many people over lockdown, recently took up wild swimming. It’s amazing seeing how the water changes from day to day, week to week, even minute to minute sometimes! There’s something about being close to water that brings out a calmness and retrospection in people. Wild swimming as a practice generates an inner happiness too. The experience of regularly immersing yourself in cold water can generate interesting results – you’d be surprised at the levels of cold your body can tolerate – and as a lifestyle it’s meant to be really good for your health. There’s nothing quite like watching wildlife from the perspective of being in the water as well!

if you like this here’s some more…

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

Unknown Pleasures #16: Helen Howden

Ah, Helen Howden. My friend and neighbour. Sometimes a droothy one.

Helen is to the legal world as Caitlin Moran is to journalism.

Sharp witted, a bit anti-establishment, argumentative, funny, well read, opinionated, bolshy.

Just great really.

Sarcasm is a weapon sharpened in her holster.

But, woah, I am painting a picture of a difficult woman when, in fact, the opposite is true.

Helen is a warm, affectionate friend that would never, ever say no to a cry for help. (I’ve already run up several thousand pounds worth of free legal advice.)

She’s uncommonly sharp, uncommonly insightful and uncommonly great company to be with.

However, legal minded or otherwise, she clearly cannot read a brief because this, dear reader, is called Unknown Pleasures and Helen has renamed it.

So Helen.

So I’m not changing it.

Uncommon Pleasures

An indulgence by Helen Howden with prompting by Mark Gorman

Favourite book or author

Start with the question that is impossible to answer. Books have been with me for as long as I can remember and there have been particular favourites over the years – Enid Blyton’s Noddy books, the Faraway Tree, the Secret Seven (far better than the Famous Five); Judy Blume; Joan Lingard (oh my goodness – Across the Barricades – just brilliant); KM Peyton’s quartet of novels about the virtuoso pianist Patrick Pennington (my first bad boy crush); Robertson Davies; etc.  I don’t usually keep books now after reading them but there are some which will always have space on my shelf: Little Grey Men by BB; Reach for the Sky (the story of Douglas Bader); Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh; The House by the Dvina by Eugenie Fraser; and the Shardlake novels by C.J. Sansom.

Secret Seven Adventure: Book 2: Amazon.co.uk: Blyton, Enid, Wane, Esther:  Books
I’m so with you on this one Helen.

The book I’m reading

As if there would just be one! I have struggled to read during lockdown, it’s just not been the comfort to me I wish it had been.  However I’ve still got a few on the go including The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (on loan from Mark Gorman) and Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: 9780345804341 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

The book I wish I’d written

Frankly, I wish I’d written any book – the novel inside of me is so well hidden I don’t think it will ever come out.

To fund my retirement – the Harry Potter books. 

The book I couldn’t finish

I used to plough through books regardless but have now given myself permission not to finish.  Most recent book cast aside was Booker prize winning, Shuggie Bain.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart | Waterstones

The book I’m ashamed I’ve not read

I really have no shame.  

I do wish though that I could get through War and Peace.  I’ve been challenged twice by our son who even pointed out that reading a chapter a day would mean I’d finish it in a year.  I’m halfway through but really do not care what happens to any one of the characters.

My favourite film

Legally Blonde.

My favourite play

Plays are a category like books – I’ve loved the theatre for year and was lucky to be in Glasgow when the Citizen’s Theatre was at its height under the artistic direction of Robert David MacDonald, Philip Prowse and Giles Havergal. (there is a rather colourful painting of them by Adrian Wiszniewski which really ought not to be in the Portrait Gallery rather than in storage).  Tickets were £1 (free for preview night) and I frequently saw plays several times during their run.  The Tron in Glasgow was also a favourite haunt during the late 1980s when the likes of Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson (then known as Bing Hitler) and Victor and Barry held court in the bar.  

If I had to pick a favourite, then it would be Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (or maybe Hedda Gabler) or it would be Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard (or maybe Uncle Vanya).  

My favourite podcast

I’m currently listening to my first podcasts (very adopter), a series called Presidential recorded by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.  Each episode is devoted to one US president and looks at how they have shaped what has come to be the modern presidential office (pre-Trump).  I like how, in trying to get a picture of these man, she asks her contributors what a blind date with them would be like.

The box set I’m hooked on

The West Wing – we invested in the discs years ago and they are almost worn out.

Favourite TV series

The West Wing.

Favourite piece of music

Mozart’s Requiem

Favourite dance performance

The first dance at my wedding – an awkward shuffle around the floor to Elvis crooning “Can’t help falling in love with you”.

Last film/music/book that made me cry

Always on My Mind sung by Willie Nelson.  

The lyric I wish I’d written

I think Elton John’s Candle in the Wind.  

The song that saved me

There isn’t one.  

The instrument I play

I don’t.  I did once upon a time play the piano, flute and saxophone.  I doubt I could now.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

I did want to learn the clarinet, but my mother persuaded me to go for the flute.

If I could own one painting it would be

Vermeer’s The Milkmaid – the light is exquisite, and she is quite lost in her work.  I have the Playmobil set – it’s a poor substitute.

Milkmaid acc. Johannes Vermeer Painting by Jan Teunissen

The music that cheers me up

Van Morrison’s Bright Side of the Road – from the very first toot.

The place I feel happiest

With my people (Pat, Alexander and Ike).

But ideally I would be in Cullen.  It’s where I’d love to live – beside the sea and an amazing ice cream shop.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

(Sniffing new books.)

Dutch interior paintings from the 16/17th centuries – especially church interiors (which all have at least one dog – trust me, I’ve seen a lot of those paintings).

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

Grayson Perry (and Philippa) – his laugh is just brilliant, Dolly Parton (because who doesn’t love Dolly), Alan Bennett, Graham Norton (will make my drinking speed seem slow), Evelyn Waugh (I know that might involve a bit of a séance), Sheila Hancock, and Sally Unwin (@PintSizedFarmer). 

And I’ll put on this music

I’m at the age when music during meals needs to be soft otherwise I won’t be able to follow the conversation!

If you enjoyed this there are another 15 to enjoy.

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

Harold Feinstein: Coney Island Sheet Music 1951.

This photo montage, shot in New York in 1951, blew me away when I stumbled upon it the other day.

Isn’t it beautiful.

I unwittingly took a series of shots in the Freedom Tower a few years ago that has some echoes of it (horrible reflections on this photo of my glass framed photo, but you’ll get the idea). It was my mum’s favourite picture.

Nomadland: Movie Review

Nomadland' Review: Frances McDormand Embraces Vagabond Life - Variety

It’s been 15 months since I stepped into a film theatre, so as I crossed the threshold of Boness’ stunningly beautifully restored 1912 cinema I almost had a lump in my throat.

On exiting I sure did.

Nomadland is a very unusual film. Virtually plotless, it evokes Tree of Life by Terence Malik to some extent, Boyhood by Richard Linklater maybe, in that it’s an emotional and spiritual journey rather than a scripted one. It’s semi-documentary, but it’s patently not one.

It captures the lives of America’s nomadic community. People who have variously opted out, been thrown out or simply squeezed out into the margins in society. They chase seasonal work (like Christmas at Amazon) in their battered RVs. They camp in the desert or on wasteland, occasionally in organised trailer park’s like the one run by the sort of philanthropic Bob.

Frances McDormand’s Fern is one of these people. And she really could be, so natural is her performance.

Director Chloe Zhao passes no judgement on them. Nor does she force you into any yourself. Because you can tell Zhao empathises with them. This is NOT a Michael Moore production in any way, shape or form.

There is no judgement going on here. You might decide they are trailor trash, but that would be absurdly unfair because these people work hard. You might castigate them as hippies, but just because they like a campfire doesn’t mean they are all earth mothers and fathers. Indeed, pointedly few of them are even vegetarian.

Is it a happy film or a sad one? I’m not sure it’s possible to decide. But it sure is an emotional one.

I didn’t particularly like the music, but it was a good choice for the movie because its neo-classical, lyricless mood-making underscored, rather than dominated, the action – or lack of it.

Yes, you may find this boring. But that’s fine, if you do it wasn’t meant for you.

I feel the cinematography was a little oversold to me. It’s good. It’s not great.

But the strength of this movie is heaped onto the shoulders, the mighty shoulders of Frances McDormand. An actress so great she rarely seems to be acting.

She seems at one with this movie, with its largely unprofessional cast.

Her relationship with Dave (David Strathairn) is a stunningly underplayed masterclass in relationship building. At no point does one know where it will go, how it will develop.

The running references to rock, stone, water and fire makes it completely elemental. Preternatural. And simple. So simple.

It’s an abstract oil painting. Maybe a Rothko.

It’s wonderful.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landside,
No escape from reality
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see.

Unknown Pleasures #15: Mino Russo

Mino and I go back a fair bit.

Our obvious crossover point is music. To say Mino’s knowledge of music is encyclopaedic would be to diminish his remarkable talent for the subject. He has smashed so many of the music quizzes I’ve presented over the years that I’ve asked him to collaborate with me this year rather than win. Again!

But he’s also a top bloke (another cyclist too).

I’ve been involved in hiring him (and recommending him) more than once in a business development agency role, another, this time professional, talent that has few peers.

And he’s funny and engaging and full of stories – including his own lifeline.

He’s proud of his Italian roots and I think that shows up in his enthusiastic temperament that gets folk going, creates a drive and energy behind what he does and gets things done.

We need more Minos. But for now you’ll just have to content yourself with his fascinating cultural fix.

My favourite author or book

Michael Dibdin for his Aurelio Zen mysteries, set in Italy. Returning to Scotland after a few years living in Milan, I discovered these books – he just seemed to nail Italian characters, one after the other, dialling up all the traits that I instantly recognised, with a little black humour thrown in. The series also used societal events taking place in Italy as a backdrop, from Tangentopli and Berlusconi – it’s all there. 

The book I’m reading

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown. So many books written about them, but none like this. Coming at it in so many new ways and angles. Their chance meetings, the coincidences, conflicting accounts of the same incident, tangents, personal anecdotes, the sad tale of Jimmy Nicol who was a Beatle for 2 weeks in Australia while Ringo was ill. Insights on Yoko Ono as a child Shirley Temple impersonator. So much to enjoy.

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time: Winner of the Baillie Gifford  Prize: Amazon.co.uk: Brown, Craig: 9780008340001: Books
I’ve read this too (Ed) and can confirm that it’s brilliant.

The book I wish I had written

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. He sells his jazz bar in 1982 to focus not only on his writing but, began running and kept going. Marathons, triathlons and more. Very, very cool.

The book I couldn’t finish

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – have tried 3 or 4 times on different holidays. Will try again.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I will one day, but as yet, I’ve not read anything by Alasdair Gray.

My favourite film

Broadway Danny Rose. Woody Allen plays a neurotic (of course) New York theatrical agent who gets caught up in a love triangle with his Italian American lounge singer, a lover and the mob. Worth it just to see Pee Wee the singing budgie.

My favourite play

Glengarry Glen Ross – not seen this on stage (yet), but the film adaptation counts. Ruthless, immoral, dishonest and desperate salesmen all vying for pole position as they try to fob off second-rate real estate to gullible buyers. Disgusting, horrible but very watchable.  

My favourite podcast

Word in Your Ear with David Hepworth and Mark Ellen. These two have provided very useful cultural pointers through the decades from Smash Hits to Word Magazine to this excellent podcast that has got even better during lockdown.

Word In Your Ear Podcast | Free Listening on Podbean App

The box set I’m hooked on

Shtisel – on Netflix. It’s about an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family living in Jerusalem. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are not the everyday characters that we see in TV dramas but, depicted as ordinary people, you soon caught up with very familiar family themes, the ups and downs, aches and pains. 

My favourite TV series

Curb Your Enthusiasm – even the first few notes of the opening credits fill me with joy. From the episode 1 of Season 1 to the last. Never a dip in quality. 

My favourite piece of music

Beyond the Missouri Sky by Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny. Recommended by a great friend of mine as the best music often is.

My favourite dance performance

In 2009, Michael Clark brought a new show to the Edinburgh Festival for the first time in over twenty years. The performance was set to the music of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie. The standout was Heroes. The 1977 video of the song was used in such a clever way. Wherever he looked, the dancers would move there to meet his gaze. When Bowie looked ahead – the dancers were in front. When he slowly alters his position to look left, the dancers moved to the left. They wore the same tight leather jacket that he was wearing in the video. It was surprisingly moving. 

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Sonho Meu by Maria Bethania always get me going. So sad and moving. A song about deep longing and homesickness. 

The lyric I wish I’d written

‘You can’t hide from yourself, everywhere you go there you are’ by Teddy Pendergrass. So obvious and true.

The song that saved me

I wouldn’t say that Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie saved me, but I think this was the first ‘serious’ single that I bought with my own money after seeing the video on Top of the Pops. Strange to think that nearly a decade earlier, the magic moment for many people was Starman on the same show.

The instrument I play

I play a little guitar and sometimes bass with a group of equally untalented individuals.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The piano – if I’d had lessons, practiced 8 hours a day for 4 years I would have been absolutely brilliant.

If I could own one painting it would be

The Birth of Venus by Botticelli – might as well aim high.

The Birth of Venus - Wikipedia

The music that cheers me up

Whenever I need a little pick me up, Spread Love by Al Hudson & The Soul Partners. Turns rain to sunshine every time.

The place I feel happiest

Sitting under a tree in the shade.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Coronation Street. Sorry.

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

Boy George, Malcolm Gladwell, Gail Ann Dorsey, Larry David & Deborah Meaden.

And I’ll put on this music

Moon Safari by Air. Just joking. I think I’ll put on Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands.

Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands |  Various Artists | Ostinato Records

Here’s the 14 others in the series so far. Dip in, enjoy and share them

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

Starmer’s stuttering leadership is losing the plot.

Why Keir Starmer is the Labour Party in human form | British GQ

They laughed at Corbyn, but he damn near won an election.

Starmer. The great polished hope of Labour is starting to look like a great polished turd.

Steve Richards nailed it in his podcast this week when he suggested that Starmer simply isn’t a politician.

He’s a professional.

And he’s no leader either.

What’s more, his knighthood seriously dents whatever credibility his working class roots may have afforded him.

I’d say England no longer has an appetite for working class Labour values. Its only success being in the hands of Scotland’s version of an Etonian. But Corbyn almost disproved that.

Labour is as Westminster bubble, and as Metropolitan, as The Tories now.

In Scotland, Labour is a laughing stock. Only in Wales does the party have any credibility whatsoever.

I’m not a Labour voter but I’d far rather see them in power than this disgusting mess that is this Tory, self-consumed corrupt filth.

Starmer has seriously lost the plot after a promising start. It started with his Brexit silence, it was compounded by his flag waving patriotism in a desperate bid to shore up that red wall and his lukewarm pandemic opposition has been, well, tepid.

In fact, that’s what Starmer is really, tepid.

He no longer seems to have a strategy and his loss of the Red Wall is extremely worrying.

I wish I knew the answer. Boris came from the London Mayorhood, maybe Sadiq Khan can do that but he feels as Metropolitan as Starmer.

Andy Burnham has proper credentials and a popular persona. But he seems settled in his role in Manchester.

I like Jess Phillips immensely, but I fear she is too out there.

Annalieise Doods seemed to have the intellect, but not the empathy.

It’s a right old mess, isn’t it.

Unknown Pleasures #14: Rebecca Shannon

It was a quiet early lockdown day last year.

I’d been providing free mentoring sessions through a Covid Scheme in Scotland when BOOM, my life changed.

Rebecca Shannon came into it.

Ostensibly looking for advice she was really just doing what smart entrepreneurs do, sifting the world for insight and inspiration.

We hit it off on the spot.

She liked my approach and later, it turned out, she liked my writing style having commissioned me, there and then, to help with her blogs and her website.

I liked her honesty, her energy (my God her energy), her enthusiasm and her laser sharp ability to get to the point.

She’s a professional coach in Faversham (yes, I do have a cosmopolitan outlook, don’t I?), an HR practitioner to trade, but now knocking people like me, and I’m willing to bet, you, into shape.

She loves a quote, and when I say loves, I’m talking Beatles 1966 scale.

Take this, on her LinkedIn and website home page.

“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes your trademark.” Jay Danzie

With Rebecca you get a sense that you are joining a personal gang (she calls it her Tribe, with good reason) and once you’re in there’s no way out.

She’s a singer too as it happens and a mum with the passion of a lion. She sure loves those boys.

She also recommended one of the best business books I’ve read in years called Feck Perfection by James Victore that makes her list.

There really is only one Rebecca Shannon. This is she.

(I was tempted to edit her unique writing style to fit with my convention. But she’s not conventional, so it stays as seen largely.)

My favourite author or book

Oh my this is a tough one …and that’s just from the ones I have read and I know there are so many more out there which will become my favourites. 

They tend to be the ones I have just read …. as they find me just when I need them.

So most recent ones would be Wintering by Katherine May  … a truly slow and beautiful book about something I have been practicing and living …. hibernating for the winter to rest and replenish and learning more about the power of this not just in the literal winter but when times are difficult tough or challenging. 

And the magic of this book is that it was written just a few miles from where I am…. and in a town I love; Whitstable … which I didn’t know until I started reading. 

Feck Perfunction by James Victore …. this was love at first read. A book I recommend to everyone …. including you Mark and led me on a exciting exploration of not just self … but James himself with an interview … several conversations and a place on his Creative Warrior School (… which I have been bunking off in my winter time to get back to it!)

It is fecking perfunction itself … as he is as, am I and as are you! 

James Victore's “Feck Perfuction: Dangerous Ideas on the Business of Life”  — Typograph.Her

The book I’m reading

Always reading more than one, they are dotted around the house and I will dip in and out as I feel drawn to them

Two are next to me in bed … where I am writing this so I’ll go with those.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold and beautifully illustrated by Levi Pinfold.

I’m with Michael Morpurgo on this one … ‘Unforgettable’ …I am reading a chapter a night with my youngest son and enjoying the slow build of the most beautiful story of the last bear on a distant island …it’s like reading the most delicious mug of hot chocolate … warming from the inside out …I’m excited about the last few chapters, enjoying the anticipation as I reach the last line of the chapter we are on… and intentionally resisting reading the next …he is away with his Dad for a couple of days … and so it builds! 

Hearttalk by Cleo Wade ….. this feels like a chat with your very best friend. It’s light and easy …. and packs a powerful punch with a mix of prose poetry and scribbled notes.

Children's book of the week: The Last Bear by Hannah Gold | Culture | The  Sunday Times

 

The book I wish I had written

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier   …. it would be a whole other story!  

Oh and the one Mark and I are going to write together.

The book I couldn’t finish

Midnight’s Children By Salmon Rushdie …. a Christmas gift from a very brief encounter …didn’t get very far with either! 

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I am giving up shame …… it’s no good for anyone. 

My favourite film

That is just too difficult …. the range here is too big … the choices too broad … too many for so many different reasons.

The Way We Were ….. for the sheer beauty of the leading man Robert Redford.

Out of Africa … and yes Robert is there and so is Meryl Streep who is just incredible.

 “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills”.

Bond films and Star Wars films …… all of them … for the sheer excitement that builds and the feeling when you lean back into the cinema seat (remember them ?) and the iconic music comes on.  

Random and from a younger me … Reservoir Dogs, I’m not sure I could watch it now. 

The Marvel Films …. I love watching them with my boys and am totally lost as to what most of them are about so a fantastic way to switch off! 

And, I nearly forgot…Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The Parallels Between Audrey Hepburn and Holly Golightly - Biography

My favourite play

I have not been to the theatre nearly enough in my lifetime and I can’t even remember the last one.

The box set I’m hooked on

Again don’t really do them.

WandaVision ….with my eldest son totally addictive and yet again I have absolutely no idea what was going on but just couldn’t stop watching. 

My favourite TV series

Sherlock. I don’t really watch TV anymore apart from some carefully selected Netflix’s shows and films. 

My favourite piece of music

Clair de Lune. 

My favourite dance performance

Nobody puts baby in the corner …couldn’t resist .

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

I have go to’s for this … as crying is healing. 

Film….. Life Itself and this quote. 

Music Adele overload.

Feel my Love … and whenever I sing it …  it’s for my boys X. 

When we were young … for my Dad x.

Everybody loves the things you do
From the way you talk
To the way you move
Everybody here is watching you
‘Cause you feel like home
You’re like a dream come true

You look like a movie

You sound like a song

My God this reminds me, of when we were young

Book …This is me letting you go by Heidi Priebe .

This is not a process that comes easily to me …. (despite many opportunities to practice) ….. this poignant book was a guide …a companion through a time where the tears were stuck ….. this is how I got unstuck and the healing began.

The lyric I wish I’d written

I gave you soft, I gave you sweet
Just like a lion you came for sheep
Oh no, don’t try to hustle me
You took my love, mistook it for weakness
I guarantee I won’t repeat this
No, don’t try to hustle me

The song that saved me

The song I need always presents itself … and saves me in that moment so they change with each moment 

To save me from a bit of a ‘Funk’ … Masaka Kids Africana Dancing To Jerusalema By Master KG Feat Nomcebo & Burna Boy.

The instrument I play

I don’t.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Piano …. I did for a while and then stopped … I will again. 

If I could own one painting it would be

The one that would light up my world …… I own a few of these already so no need to choose one 

An original that I commission … like this will hang in my new home …. when I find it!  the home not the painting!)  

This is The Light Within by https://www.jacquelinerooney.com/

The Light Within” - Jacqueline Rooney

The music that cheers me up

See above ….. anything that gets me moving and lifts my soul. 

The place I feel happiest

My sunny bench outside my home.

The decking overlooking the woodland garden in our family cottage in Wales.

Saint Lucia.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Bridgerton … pure fantastical desire (no guilt).

The Duke & Daphne Strike a Deal in 'Bridgerton's Latest Trailer (VIDEO)

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

I don’t have real dinner parties and if I did right now it would be for all the people I love ….an eclectic mix of wonderfully wondrous people. 

Artists and authors I’d love to come too James Victore (see favourite books) Jacqueline Rooney a favourite artist (and whose paintings light up my world  (see above) Robert Redford as my dinner date!  

And I’ll put on this music

I’d ask James Victore to serenade me (again) on his guitar along with Jacqueline and her father with some Irish songs ….and all the songs that would get us up and dancing. 

If you liked this there are many more to read now.

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

Vague memories are stirring.

Coloured by Binzoboy. What a great job he did.

Of course our lifting of the Scottish Cup, the big one, was far more recent , and far more important. But this photo of Paddy picking up the League Cup has a beautiful quality about it to reflect the Hibees’ beautiful game.

I hope we draw St Johnstone because we will in no way underestimate them.

They have jinxed us all season so this would be a good time to get one back.

It’s been a great, but frustrating season. But to finish third and aagin lift the Scottish Cup would make it a truly memorable one with a terrific squad and a magic manager.

TK-MAXX Tutoring. The Tories’ bizarre new post -Covid educational strategy for catch up.

89% Off TK Maxx Discount Codes & Promo Codes - May 2021

TKs sells high end designer products at deep discount prices. Typically up to 70% off.

So you could buy a £100 designer white T shirt for £30.

Or you could go to Primark and buy a white T shirt for £10.

That’s the perfect analogy for the strategy the Tories have landed on for their £350m injection of extra tutoring.

So instead of buying a £10 T shirt people buy a “bargain” £30 T shirt that does the same job.

Now look at the Tory strategy.

Instead of giving schools £350m to buy tutoring in, they appoint a bunch of brutally expensive tutoring “Agencies’ and provide up to 75% off (but tapering down to 10% off over time).

The headline tutoring rate? £90 an hour. (Less 75% that’s £22.50 an hour to the school. Cost to taxpayers: £90 an hour). For the record the tutor does not receive £90 an hour. Far from it.

The cost we paid for our kids’ tutors: £20 an hour. Were the tutors substandard? Nope.

Is this idiocy in the extreme? Yep.

Maybe Gavin Williamson should get himself a maths tutor.

(I can recommend a good one for about £20 an hour).

Unknown Pleasures #13: Phil Adams

Phil and I go back a fair bit to our days at The Leith Agency where we overlapped as Account Directors, although we are both now Planners. (Him for many years, me for just one.)


I have to say I look up to Phil in professional terms as a planner of considerable heft and great thinking.

You can follow him on both LinkedIn and Medium where he often posts inspiring and beautifully crafted, simple explanations of a subject that we love. Sadly, it’s often shrouded in black art (usually to hide the indifference of the proponent’s abilities) but is, at its core, simply the distillation of evidence and research into insight in simple terms. Good planning should inspire creative teams to do great work, even if the commissioner is looking for something less than that, which sadly they often are.

What has, I believe, further connected us is our love of all things cultural and our tastes overlap considerably as his culture fix demonstrates. John Irving, and Cormac McCarthy. Tarantino and Wes Anderson. What I love (which I devoured in about three days after reading this when he sent me it last month). And Salvador Dali whose museum we have both visited.

Oh, and the wicked, but sublime, Ulster American.

Phil is also a quiet, gentle soul imbued with genuine kindness – I bet he gets great kudos from his girls (three I think).

He’s one of the ad industry’s good guys and, like me, is also an ex Chair of the IPA in Scotland, an honour that I know he enjoyed as much as I did.

Go Phil.

My favourite author or book

Bookshelves don’t lie. It’s clear that the authors I return to are modern, North American and male. I’ve read all of Chuck Palahniuk, all of Douglas Coupland, all of John Irving, most of Cormac McCarthy, most of Bret Easton Ellis, a lot of Elmore Leonard, and several James Ellroy. I read a lot of female authors too, but evidently with less dedication.

It’s crazy to pick one book, but I’m going with A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. It’s epic. It’s a tragedy. It’s satire. A couple of reviews described it as Dickensian in terms of ambition and social insight. There are brilliant characters that stay just on the right side of larger than life. 

I read that Wolfe’s main insight from researching and writing The Right Stuff was that the primary motivation influencing male behaviour is a quest for status. And he used that observation as the basis of his subsequent fiction writing. You can see it in The Bonfire of The Vanities and it’s there in spades in A Man in Full.

A man in composite: Who inspired Charlie Croker's resume? - Atlanta Magazine

The book I’m reading

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan, who is modern, Scottish and female.

I’ve read so much non-fiction of late that it’s a joy to be reading any novel again. But so far (I’m about a quarter of the way through), The Sunlight Pilgrims is not just any novel. There are interesting characters being tested by challenging circumstances, namely an impending second ice age in Scotland caused by climate breakdown.

The book I wish I had written

This is the one question I’m allowing myself not to answer. I haven’t ever felt like this about a book.

The book I couldn’t finish

I know it’s in vogue at the moment, but I haven’t learned how to not finish a book. That said, and despite him being modern, American and male, Don DeLillo’s Underworld was an arduous slog. Like climbing at high altitude – lots of effort to make little progress, with frequent rests required.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

There are hundreds, thousands of books I should have read. But I don’t feel any shame in that.

My favourite film

Probably Pulp Fiction if I base my answer on how often I’ve watched it. Most films, I find, do not reward repeat viewing. But Pulp Fiction keeps on giving in many ways – characterisation, dialogue, monologues, messing around with structure, brilliant set pieces, and the Christopher Walken/Captain Koons cameo.

Based on the frequency metric, other candidates would be Man On Fire, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Shawshank Redemption, Grand Budapest Hotel and (another guilty pleasure) A Knight’s Tale.

My favourite play

I like subversive theatre. And, in a non-pandemic August, Edinburgh is soaked to the skin by a monsoon of subversive and experimental theatre that plays with form and space and genre. I’ve often wondered whether it’s true that you can smell the oxygen in the Amazon rain forest. I do know that in Edinburgh in August you can smell the creativity. Its heady scent is everywhere.

It’s impossible to pick a favourite from these unrestrained, intimate shows crammed into those tiny, incongruous Edinburgh Fringe spaces.

Two plays that were performed in a more conventional space (The Traverse) have stayed with me. Namely, Grounded starring Lucy Ellinson in 2013, and Ulster American in 2018.

Black comedy Ulster American back in Edinburgh by popular demand | The  National

My favourite podcast

What I Love. It’s beautiful. Theatre director Ian Rickson has conversations with artists on stage in theatres that are empty because of Covid-19. They talk about three things that each guest loves – a song, a film, a piece of writing – and in so doing they reveal themselves. I wrote about the many ways in which it is near perfect for the Formats Unpacked newsletter.

Also, the Jonny Wilkinson episode of The High Performance Podcast. It’s not what you’d expect. It’s about self-awareness more than sport. He talks about the profound difference between a mindset of control and a mindset of exploration. And his definition of confidence – being excited by the unknown – has stayed with me.

The box set I’m hooked on

Most recently, the gloriously funny French show, Call My Agent. Set in a Paris performing artist agency, each episode includes a cameo appearance by a famous film star. The dialogue is great, there are occasional moments of slapstick genius, and the character development over the four seasons so far is gripping.

My desert island box set would be Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, or both if I were allowed.

Call My Agent! (TV Series 2015–2020) - IMDb

My favourite TV series

I don’t watch telly. Not watching telly is how I free up time for doing extracurricular things. I don’t consider it a sacrifice.

I used to enjoy The X Factor when my daughters were the right age and all living at home. It is brilliant television, brilliant storytelling disguised as a reality TV show. It employs all the elements of the hero/heroine’s journey, multiplied by the number of contestants.

My favourite piece of music

Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin. The whole album please. Such apparently effortless eclecticism. They were so much more than a rock band.

(Your wish is my command Phil)

My favourite dance performance

Dance was never really my thing. By which I mean that I decided it wasn’t my thing without ever giving it a chance to be my thing. It was the worst kind of pig-headed ignorance.

Luckily for me, joining the board of Puppet Animation Scotland in 2015 introduced me to the world of visual theatre. Since then, I’ve seen many shows involving dance and physical theatre, mainly at our annual manipulate festivals. The artistry and technical excellence of the performers, seen live and close-up, is a marvel. I’m not going to pick one.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

I think it might have been the scene in I, Daniel Blake when single mum Katie is so desperately hungry that she eats the tin of beans in the foodbank. The very idea that something like that can happen in a supposedly advanced society. Injustice meted out to a character you care about is a good formula for a tearjerker.

The lyric I wish I’d written

She no longer needs you.

Oof. 

She wakes up, she makes up
She takes her time

And doesn’t feel she has to hurry
She no longer needs you

For No One is my favourite Beatles song, which is obviously saying something. The stark, cruel beauty; the brutal economy; the non-negotiable finality of those lyrics. Written when McCartney was 24. Genius.

The song that saved me

I haven’t been saved by a song. But I do have a song that I listened to a lot at the time that I needed saving. First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes. The video is based on a powerfully simple idea. We see people’s reactions as they listen to the song through headphones. The song may not have saved me, but if you read the YouTube comments it looks like it has saved plenty of others.

The instrument I play

Sadly, I don’t. File under regrets.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The piano.

If I could own one painting it would be

The Palace of the Air by Salvador Dali. This is a huge and hugely ambitious piece of surrealism that covers the entire ceiling of the Wind Palace section of the Dali museum in Figueres. It really does have to be seen to be believed. It’s immense and jam-packed with details that reward prolonged viewing until your neck starts to ache. It shows Dali and his muse ascending to a version of heaven, and the way he plays with perspective draws the viewer in so that you feel levitated, ascending with them. As well as the painting, I wouldn’t mind owning a space that would do it justice.

Palace of the Wind (Salvador Dali) | This art work is locate… | Flickr

The music that cheers me up

The answer to this is a genre. Two Tone. A dancefloor filler by The Specials or Madness, maybe Night Boat to Cairo if I had to choose one. It’s not just about the infectious beat or the playful delivery, it’s a form of time travel back to my mid-teens when we were all gloriously irresponsible.

The place I feel happiest

Aside from being with certain people, it’s participation in creative acts that makes me happiest. It’s why I worked in advertising, it’s why I make documentary films, it’s why I write for pleasure, it’s why I’m on the boards of two arts organisations, it’s why I enjoy gardening.

The happiness of creating comes from the process more than the end product. The journey rather than the destination. So, I don’t really associate happiness with a particular place. A place for comfort? Yes. A place for stillness, spirituality and inner peace? Yes. Happiness, not so much.

That’s maybe ducking the question. So, in a cultural context, I’d say one of the smaller festivals. The Do Lectures on a farm outside Cardigan. Festival No 6 in Portmeirion. Or The Byline Festival in Sussex. Intense stimulation surrounded by my kind of people.

Home - Festival Number 6

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

AC/DC

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

Keith Richards, Sarah Silverman, Michael Palin, Molly Crabapple.

And I’ll put on this music

One of my eldest daughter’s Spotify playlists. She has excellent taste, and we have a symbiotic musical relationship whereby she uses my premium account and I get a superb curation service, better than any algorithm.

If you liked this there are many more to read now.

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #12: Wendy West

Ah, Wendy. Wendy West.

What can I say about Wendy that won’t incur the Wrath of Khan.

You see, Wendy and I have an honest and frank relationship with one another.

Quite often she says Tomato, I say Potato.

But a healthy difference of opinion is a good thing. Right?

She often calls me “grippy” (adjective, grip·pi·er, grip·pi·est. Chiefly Scot. stingy; avaricious.) which I take as a term of endearment, but I fear my optimism is misplaced on that front.

She was referring to my handling of the financial management of Forth Children’s Theatre. Not to my speed of approach to the bar. Or perhaps she wasn’t?

But, the truth of the matter, regardless of our robust discussions that frequent our times together, is that she is an amazing human being, with an amazing family who I know just as well, and love just as much, as I do her.

We met at Forth Children’s Theatre.

She a parent, me the Chair.

I quickly spotted her potential for our board and managed to talk her into joining us and to exercise magnificent governance onto our historically fairly relaxed committee proceedings.

Her energy, enthusiasm, insight and good humour, laced with brilliant attention to detail, were to prove transformational for an organisation that always meant well but occasionally fell a little short on the difficult stuff.

But it’s beyond the boardroom table that Wendy and I grew our friendship. Rumbustious, hilarious and brilliantly honest.

She’s an amazing dancer, as I was to find out when Jeana and I joined her in a tap dancing class where she, the Margot Fonteyn of the room, contrasted amusingly with my Peter Boyle (The Monster in Young Frankenstein).

Anyone who knows Wendy knows she is a magnanimous supporter of the arts, and has recently worked with the excellent Lung Ha Theatre company. She is married to a Professor of Piping. THE Professor of Piping and her son and daughter have both inherited awesome musical and theatrical talents from her and Gary.

She’s just a really good egg, all round.

I’ve missed her during lockdown.

So, without further ado.

Wendy’s stuff.

My favourite author or book

The book that made a huge impact on me is The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson. The story of a contemporary Scottish minister who doubts the existence of God. Really thought provoking and truly beautiful writing.  It actually stopped me reading for a while because I just couldn’t quite get into another book for quite some time afterwards.

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
I can testify to the excellence of this book. Ed.

The book I’m reading

Girl, Women, Other by Bernardine Evaristo I started it a while ago and put it down, this has reminded me to pick it up again!

The book I wish I had written

Winnie the Pooh – it has given pleasure to so many generations and it is timeless.

The book I couldn’t finish

I always thought I had to really finish a book – once you start and all that. Then one day, when I was really plodding through a book I had the sudden realisation that I could just close it and put it down. I did that and nothing terrible happened! Since then, I have become much more discerning. I couldn’t tell you what that book was – it was tosh, so I put it down!

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Well the fact that I have watched more of the classics as TV costume dramas rather than indulge myself in the words on the page doesn’t make me ashamed so much as determined to put right. I have a fine collection sitting in the bookcase waiting for just the right time.

My favourite film

Isn’t everyone’s The Sound of Music? Well, maybe not, but this is certainly a firm old favourite that never fails to endear! That aside though, I love so many films but to pick one, I would have to go for Cinema Paradiso as being a long standing favourite (director’s cut that is). The warmth, the angst and the beautiful scenery all set to Ennio Morricone’s simply sublime musical score. The beautiful friendship between Toto and Alfredo is heart warming right until the end. The Cinema Paradiso is the beating heart of the community – how nice! 

Cinema Paradiso Official 25th Anniversary trailer from Arrow Films - YouTube

My favourite play

This is hard, but I would have to go for Brian Cox and Bill Patterson in The Royal Lyceum Theatre’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It made such a lasting impression on me – I couldn’t quite believe how thoroughly compelling it could be watching two guys waiting around and nothing much happening. It was both funny and really quite serious in equal measure. Strange how things just strike a chord and claim a wee piece of your heart.

Waiting for Godot, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh | The Arts Desk

My favourite podcast

I like the Guardian Today in Focus – after Mark recommended it, but have also enjoyed listening to Brene Brown, Unlocking Us – she has really interesting guests including Barack himself, but lots of others too.

The box set I’m hooked on

The box set that is a winner for me is The Handmaid’s Tale, so compelling and terrifying. Based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, the series travels through the horrors of the dystopian society of Gilead and plays out struggles of power and oppression. A bizarre survival of the fittest that sees misogyny played out in its truest form but also in the shape of women against women. Hard to watch and recently compared by some to the America that Trump was striving for?

My favourite TV series

Ooooh, I love Killing Eve – Villanelle is brilliant! I really enjoyed Italy Unpacked – Italian chef Georgio Locatelli and English art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon, a programme exploring Italy’s art, culture and cuisine. Just beautiful to sit and watch on a Friday evening after rehearsals with glass of red in hand! It makes me want to go there, it makes me realise I know nothing! 

I also enjoy the drama of Line of Duty, but I think the last series I watched that really hooked me was Greyzone, a Swedish/Danish thriller that was just so compelling. It is essentially about the events leading up to a terror attack and is tense stuff, in fact, it is ‘hold your breath’ tense stuff at times. Great strong female lead in Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as a gutsy and smart Danish engineer. Complex emotions though – clever how you end up liking the perpetrator… I do love watching tv in a foreign language with English subtitles – I rather fancy I’m getting the hang of a new language by the end of things…. alas, never quite happens!

A psychopath with a wardrobe to die for: Killing Eve's Villanelle is the  fashion influencer of now

My favourite piece of music

I am not sure I have one single piece of music. It’s very mood driven for me, although I never tire of Keengalee by The Chair – a cheery go to piece of music particularly on car journeys that I just never want to end – once more, once more!

My favourite dance performance

Ghost Dances choreographed by Christopher Bruce for Rambert. I saw it in the early 80s and was mesmerised. I saw the revival a few years ago and it mesmerised me again! Haunting and hopeful all at one time. The dance shows courage and determination in the face of oppression and although it represents the horrors of the Pinochet coup, it is sadly sorelevant today. I love how dance allows you to create your own meaning because you interpret the movement without the presence of any words to channel your reactions and emotions. Danced to traditional folk music, this piece never fails to move me. 

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Lion

The lyric I wish I’d written

Ok, so swithered over admitting this… I realise I don’t really properly listen to lyrics…(I hear Mark scoff very loudly.  (No, not at all , neither do I.  Ed.)  In my defence, I tend to listen to the music and my mind wanders and I get a bit lost in my imagination…. So I don’t really have any that I could say I wish I’d written…confession over!

The song that saved me

Don’t think I have one…

The instrument I play

Well, being surrounded by awfully talented folk, I keep my minimal achievements with playing the clarsach quiet! Taken up as an adult, I enjoyed the beautiful sounds of the dancing strings – very hard to make a horrible noise unless it is terribly badly out of tune. These days, I enjoy doing a little accompaniment to traditional tunes in the parlour with a friendly nod on when to change chords! No public performances for sure!

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The piano. I also pictured myself dancing about playing the fiddle, but that didn’t quite transpire. Huge sighs of relief all round I am sure!

If I could own one painting it would be

Joan Eardley’s work. I love the Glasgow tenement children chalk drawings with their grubby wee faces, and her wild seascapes she painted whilst she lived in Catterline, Aberdeenshire. This self-portrait is just beautiful.

The music that cheers me up

Anything I can move to – The Penguin Café Orchestra, Abba. Duncan Chisholm on the fiddle for more reflective moods – he plays a mean slow air. Trad music and should also say, but actually mean it … I do love the stirring sound of a pipe band. Ok, so quite eclectic!

The place I feel happiest

I am happiest when the car is pointing north – I love getting to Ullapool and waiting on the ferry to the Isle of Lewis. Beautiful, remote, with big skies, huge oceans and great friends with whisky…

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Musical theatre! Not that I feel guilty about liking it, but some people sniff at it! Come from Away is my very favourite for the moment, it is mood lifting, energy boosting and just a very human story. Properly funny lyrics and great music too! I get emotional at the thought of the sheer unquestioning kindness demonstrated by the Newfoundlanders – this is a tale of gratitude, friendship and humanity.

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

Norman MacCaig – so I can hear him recite his poetry

Billy Connolly 

Whoopi Goldberg

Emma Thompson

Barack and Michelle Obama

Margaret Atwood

And I’ll put on this music

Hugh Laurie in the background playing the piano and singing then the Penguin Cafe Orchestra for dessert

If you liked this there are many more to read now.

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Molly Drake: I remember.

Molly Drake (album) - Wikipedia

Molly Drake was Nick Drake’s mum.

I wasn’t aware of Molly Drake until this morning, when Samantha Morton chose this song as the final of her excellent Desert Island Discs.

As I walked along the beach at Dalmeny I played it five or six times, drawn deeper and deeper into its intoxicating lyrics and haunting story.

This song may seem, at first, to be a little naive with such a simple melody, no arrangement and a homespun nostalgic whimsy about it, but wait for the last verse.

The cutting, no scything, away of that whimsy, in an understated nuclear bomb of a conclusion, is devastating.

It’s magnificent.

And here is The Unthanks doing it, not as well as Molly though. Surprisingly.

Unknown Pleasures #11. Will Atkinson.

Will, or Gramps as we now know him, has been a friend for quarter of a century.We first met at Hall Advertising where, instead of working, Will went our for long liquid lunches, and I got jealous.

You see, Will was a star copywriter and I was a jumped up greasy-haired fanboy with a lot to learn, but a willingness to do so.

Subbuteo nearly cost both of us our jobs as we did constant battle on the creative floor for what was affectionately known as The Linpak Cup (a polystyrene trophy of zero value or consequence).

Will was better in the morning.

I usually took revenge after lunch.

Will worked with Nige Sutton. Fuck me, they were an intoxicating (intoxicated more like. Ed) and an unlikely duo, but they were awesomely talented and taught me an awful lot as I lugged fridge freezers into Rob Wilson’s basement and they looked on.

Our love of football extended to Hibernian FC and our office bromance gradually filtered out into weekend boozing, bookending the weekly disappointments of another Easter Road humiliation, although we did witness Frank Sauzee, Stevie Archibald and Russell Latapy in green and white; not to mention Gazza, Laudrup and Larsson. Heady days.

Over the years though our relationship has grown and now stretches to a shared love of politics, music, theatre, contemporary fiction and, yes, a beer or two.

Will also shares with me the luck of the Irish. We both have wives that love us no matter our faults.

And I’ve been lucky enough to get to know his three wonderful kids, one of whom, his son Mark, is now the bestodian of the Gramps moniker for Will.

Congratulations Mark.

So here we are. The inimitable Will Atkinson.

My favourite author or book

It’s weird isn’t it, your favourite book isn’t always by your favourite author. Well mine isn’t. So to the book – Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess. The first line alone is acclaimed as one of the best ever written – “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.” This leads you straight into a wonderful voyage of fictional biography that crosses oceans and decades, with every sentence and paragraph as powerful as the first.

So to the authors. No, Burgess isn’t among them. But there is Kate Atkinson, John Irving, John Gierach, William Boyd, James Lee Burke, John Le Carre and Patti Smith. Recent discoveries include Colson Whitehead, Sebastian Barry and Attica Locke. To name any one as my favourite would be a complete impossibility.

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
(This is the copy I have. I too loved it.)

The book I’m reading

Mr Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe. His books are on the face of it quite comedic, but beneath the humour often lies some very dark observations – about human nature and the society we pretend to aspire to be part of, Middle England with its examination of Brexit for example. 

But whatever I’m reading I always have a John Gierach volume close to hand. He writes essays on fly fishing that are about so much more than (as he puts it) standing in the middle of a river waving a stick.

The book I wish I had written

Either A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving or Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. If you put a howitzer to my head Life After Life would just nick it. It’s a piece of high wire writing with a construction that few other writers would be able to maintain.

(This is the copy I have. I too loved it.)

The book I couldn’t finish

Like many readers I feel incredibly guilty about not finishing books, but then I mostly can’t remember the ones I put down early, so there’s probably a moral in there somewhere.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Moby Dick – true of a lot of people I suspect.

My favourite film

I think one way to make a long list shorter is to include only those films you re-watch time and again. No Country for Old Men is brilliant, and also one of the few films that actually stand comparison with the book they came from. I love the magic realism of Beasts of the Southern Wilds. The Godfather Trilogy and Apocalypse Now always accompany me on long plane journeys. American Honey is one of those great films where nothing much happens but loads does really. Ditto the Straight Story about an old man crossing America on a lawnmower. But probably my favourite film of all time (this week anyway) is Bugsy Malone – joyous.

My favourite play

When I was at school I was a member of the Young Lyceum or whatever it was called then. Back then I was seriously into anything by Harold Pinter. These days I rarely go to the theatre, which is a shame because I love it as I love all live performance. Favourite play? The Importance of Being Earnest. (Note to self – when the theatres open again, go more often.)

My favourite podcast

I don’t listen to many to be honest. A couple of advertising based ones – Stuff from the Loft and Ben Kay’s one. However, recently I’ve been following Jeremy Paxman’s The Lock-In – chats with people you’d never normally hear. Paxman is his usual contrary self. It would be an experience meeting him, but I’d probably run a mile in fear.

The box set I’m hooked on

I’m not really. But for the sake of punning into the question, Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing.

My favourite TV series

Ever? Wow. For my sins I’m quite involved in the world of politics -so Yes Minster and The Thick of It are good, sharp takes on how silly it can all become. Fleabag and Killing Eve obviously. University Challenge – another Paxman outing. Sorry, I don’t know.

Killing Eve Is the Most Fashionable Show on TV | Vogue

My favourite piece of music

One of the good things about getting older is you collect more and more stuff from more and more places – well I do anyway. It’s like curating your own cultural archive, infinite in its vastness. Musically it’s taken me from an early obsession with blues and folk into reggae and country and African Funk/beats and Malian divas and sweaty rhythm & blues and…and…and…and…the rabbit holes are deep and endless.

You get to add new stuff (eagerly awaiting new St Vincent album) and stumble across dusty but still perfect artefacts (over lockdown rediscovered the amazing Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and the Band.)

Taking the question literally as a ‘piece’ of music as supposed to a ‘song’ I could plump for something like So What by Miles Davis, King of Snake by Underworld. Or Peace Piece by John McLaughlin. But the one piece I go back to is the mind-boggling reach for the heavens that is Dark Star by the Grateful Dead from the Live Dead album – all 23 minutes and 18 glorious seconds of it.

My favourite dance performance

When I was a student at Stirling Uni in 1974 I was transfixed by the Ballet Rambert doing open rehearsals in the coffee area of the Macrobert Centre. A male and a female dancer improvised together to Tommy by the Who, I was totally lost in the moment. Then the moment eluded me until years later I started to go regularly to the ballet. Highlights have been the Rambert again, Nederlands Dance Theatre, anything devised by Michael Bourne and our own Scottish Ballet. Favourite? I’m terrible at remembering titles so I’ll cop out with Bourne’s Swan Lake.

Also, my favourite too. Seen them several times and adore them.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

I’m not a great one for weeping over films, books, music but one song did help me through a period when my best mate was dying of cancer. Sailing Round the Room by Emmylou Harris is an uplifting affirmation of death that kind of reflects what I think happens after you die – not a smidgen of Christianity to be found. While we’re on the subject the same artist’s Boulder to Birmingham is one of the best songs about loss ever.

The lyric I wish I’d written

Like a bird on the wire 

Like a drunk in some midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free

By Leonard Cohen of course. I want the whole song to be read as a poem at my funeral.

The song that saved me

Again, not sure a song has ever actually saved me but in another dark time I listened a lot to Speed of the Sound of Loneliness  written by John Prine. It’s been covered by loads of people but my favourite is the Alabama 3 version where they changed the lyrics to the first person. Gives the song another whole new emphasis.

Come home late, come home early
Come home big when I’m feelin’ small
Come home straight, come home fucked-up 
Sometimes I don’t come home at all

What in the world has come over me?
What in heaven’s name have I done?
I’ve broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
I’m out there running just to be on the run

The Rolling Stone’s Moonlight Mile would come a close second.

The instrument I play

Believe it or not I tried to learn the French Horn at school. Got as far as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

I can strum a guitar but really wish I could play properly.

If I could own one painting it would be

It would either be a Caravaggio – maybe this one:

Or a Joan Miro, maybe this one:

If I couldn’t have both I’d settle for the Miro.

The music that cheers me up

Music always cheers me up. At the moment it’s At Home (Live in Marciac) – Roberto Fonseca & Fatoumata Diawara.

The place I feel happiest

I’m lucky to have travelled a bit – rainforests really raise my spirits. But then so does being in a special spot in rural Languedoc-Roussillon. Or on a river with a fly rod, or a boat on a loch teeming with broonies. But actually where I am truly at my happiest (apart from with my family) is with friends. I am blessed to have met many people I have truly grown to like and count as good friends. Yep, that’s when I’m smiling, with them.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Hot Chocolate playing at the Usher Hall.

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

I’d need a big table: Hunter S Thomson, Keith Richards, Lee Miller, Kate Atkinson, Cerys Mathews, Kevin Bridges, Yoko Ono, Bjork, John Gierach, Jeremy Paxman, Michael Palin, Caravaggio, Boy George.

And I’ll put on this music

The Best of John Renbourn. Hunter would hate it.

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