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.

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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!

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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!

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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

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.

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.

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

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe: Book Review.

If you’re a fan of Coe there is plenty in this novel to pique your interest. It’s a scabrous as ever about the state of the nation (as was the case in 2015 when he wrote this Osbornian nightmare).

It takes austerity as its backdrop and as usual Coe spares the Tory government nothing in terms of its unfairness and divisive policy, one that has proven to be pointless and did nothing but deepen the divide between Britain’s haves and have nots.

It’s loosely a follow up to his earlier Winshaw critique “What a Carve up” but not in so direct away as his Trotter trilogy.

It’s also nothing like his best. The number 11 theme that runs through it is a bit clunky and the story, whilst cleverly plotted, lacks some of the cohesion of his earlier, and later work. Nevertheless it’s Coe, and that’s enough for me to romp through it to a highly unexpected ending that takes us into sci-fi, fantasy, horror territory, albeit briefly.

I dunno, his language in this book feels a little laboured (no pun intended) and maybe rushed because it has a formality that doesn’t seem quite so evident in his other work. It’s a use of language, especially the descriptive prose, that isn’t as rip-roaring or light on its feet as he usually is.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy his distinctive annihilation of centre right (increasingly moving away from the centre towards populism) politics.

It’s interesting that the main characters are female and maybe that’s what’s slightly mis-stepping him. I mean he is a real English bloke, right?

I enjoyed it for what it’s worth, but in Coe terms no more than a 6/10.

Unknown Pleasures #10: Jon Stevenson

Jon was my first boss back in 1985 at Hall Advertising. He hired a hot new secretary soon after, that I quickly winched and later married.

He, and his wife Chris, had a daughter, Ria, who we thought had such a cool name that we unashamedly nicked it for our daughter Amanda.

(Only joking, she’s also called Ria.)

But that master/servant relationship that began in the pre-internet days soon became a peer-to-peer and extremely good mates relationship, and it thrives to this day.

We even live quite close (only a few miles as the crow swims) he in Aberdour, I in South Queensferry.

We have both run Festivals.

His, The Aberdour Festival, has put him on first name terms with King Creosote (which I think is cool). Mine, the spectacularly unspectacular and now defunct Queensferry Arts Festival.

By the way King Creosote’s first name isn’t King, it’s Kenny.

One of the things that has cemented our relationship is our love of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, whom we both saw, with Chris and my, not his, Ria at Glastonbury in 2011 (amongst other occasions).

The other is beer and food and wine and that.

And good advertising.

And good books.

Jon is cool but he doesn’t think so and you couldn’t tell it from the preposterously ham-fisted portrait he ‘knocked up’ in 30 seconds when I asked him to. Not for him a trip to Patrick Lichfield’s, oh no, he, like me, is a bit of a basher and what will do, will do.

I made it monochrome which spares some of the abject amateurism of it.

Anyway, Jon, you have great taste and I’m delighted to share your Unknown Pleasures with my readers.

My favourite author or book

Where do you start? When I was young, I read to impress – Iris Murdoch, Anthony Powell, CP Snow, JP Donleavy (although I really did like him). I then went through a phase of reading books in rotation – one to improve me, one to learn something technical, usually something to do with the Apollo space missions, and one to read without thinking. 

I’m much less rigorous now and over the years I’ve read everything by Len Deighton, John Le Carre, Christopher Brookmyre, David Lodge, Tom Sharpe, Iain Banks (but not Iain M. Banks) – even Jilly Cooper. At the moment I do like Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Coe, Ian McEwen and William Boyd. And Ian Rankin. 

I’ve just finished Barack Obama’s book which was uplifting and dispiriting in equal measure. How do we get from such a patently intelligent and humane man to Donald Trump in such a short space of time? Jon Sopel’s latest book Unpresidented is an entertaining romp through the last US election campaign.

I can say, as anyone that has ever worked with me will testify, I have yet to read any of the airport books like “How to be a winning manager by the time you get off the plane”

A Promised Land: Amazon.co.uk: Barack Obama: 9780241491515: Books

The book I’m reading

One Long and Beautiful Summer by Duncan Hamilton – a paean to county cricket as it used to be before the gel-haired marketing know-it-alls took over and turned cricket into a game for people with the attention span of a particularly dim goldfish.

The book I wish I had written

No real desire to write a book, not even the one that’s apparently inside me.

The book I couldn’t finish

Quite a lot but Lincoln in the Bardo was definitely one I couldn’t get into.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Can’t think of any particular one, although I would like to have appreciated Dickens more instead of rejecting him because he was a set text at O-Level.

My favourite film

Toss-up between Apollo 13 and Local Hero.

Apollo 13 | DVD | Free shipping over £20 | HMV Store

My favourite play

I’ve seen a lot of stuff at the Traverse and it’s difficult to pick any one as a favourite but I did enjoy Under Milk Wood by the Aberdour Players in our local village hall. The writing is brilliant, and it prompted me to get the BBC Richard Burton narration as an audiobook. Which is probably better than The Aberdour Players’ version.

Richard Burton reads Under Milk Wood (plus bonus poetry) - Alto: ALN1502 -  2 CDs | Presto Classical

My favourite podcast

Like Stephen Dunn I thought 13 Minutes to the Moon was outstanding.

The box set I’m hooked on

When does a TV series become a box set? I can’t cope with TV binges so still watch one at a time. 

My favourite TV series

At the moment it’s Unforgotten

Watch Unforgotten, Season 1 | Prime Video

My favourite piece of music

Pretty much anything from my Jolly-Jon singalongaplaylist

My favourite dance performance

Every time I’ve seen NDT it’s been stunning, but I go to dance performances with Mrs S on the basis that if I have to sit through a dance show, she has to go for a curry afterwards…so the last dance performance she went to was with Mark Gorman as she doesn’t really like curry…. 

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Oh What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma at my mother’s funeral. Although it was absolutely pissing down, so there was some laughter through the tears.

The lyric I wish I’d written

The Christmas one Hugh Grant’s father wrote in About A Boy that allowed Hugh to live quite happily without having to work.

The song that saved me

Not sure I’ve ever needed saving but California Girls by the Beach Boys reminds me of being a hormonal 13 year old, getting interested in girls and thinking the Californian ones sounded exciting – if only I had known what to do if I met one.

The instrument I play

I’ve tried and failed several – but one day I’m going to master the guitar and be transformed into the acoustic Bob Dylan

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Piano or clarinet

If I could own one painting it would be

Probably something by David Hockney

portrait of an artist: David Hockney's painting, which was auctioned for  $90.3 mn, was initially sold for $18,000 - The Economic Times

The music that cheers me up

Bean Fields by the Penguin Café Orchestra. With thanks to Mr Gorman who introduced me to the delights of the PCO. 

He’s also tried to introduce me to Nick Cave but I’d rather poke my eyes out with a burning stick, thank you very much. 

The place I feel happiest

Achiltibuie – thanks to Jim Downie. 

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Death in Paradise

Death in Paradise (TV Series 2011– ) - IMDb

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

David Mitchell (the comedian, not the author), Billy Connolly, Meryl Streep, David Attenborough and Danny Boyle

And I’ll put on this music

My Jolly-Jon mix tape obvs.

If you liked this you might like to read the others in this series.

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Ensemble Basiani sing Tsikris Alilo from the podcast What I Love.

What I Love – Podcast – Podtail

I heard this wonderful piece of music courtesy of Jessie Buckley on the podcast “What I love” presented by theatre director Ian Rickson on a recommendation by a future Unknown Pleasures by Phil Adams. It’s a truly great podcast and this song is the sort of treasure you can find on it.

This is the state ensemble and the Choir of Sameba Trinity Church in Tbilisi, Georgia. “Basiani” – is the name of this beautiful group and this is Christmas Carol (Nativity of Christ) – “Alilo of The dawn” (“Tsiskris Alilo”) by Vakhtang Kakhidze. The word- Alilo ( probably derived from- alleluia ) is connected to Nativity of Christ, traditionally Georgians used this word to greet and rejoice in the Christmas of one another. The song starts with words- “On December 25th, Alilo, Christ has born in Bethlehem, Alilo. The Choir of Angels are chanting, Alilo – Jesus was born, Alilo. The martyred Lord’s Hand will ring the bells of the dawn, rejoice, rejoice, Angels are chanting – Alilo of the dawn!” And then at the end it repeats- Jesus was born!

Unknown Pleasure # 9: Ricky Bentley

It was never going to be brief.

It was never going to be orthodox.

I’ve known Ricky since I was little. Little in advertising years that is.

Ricky is a colleague of mine at Whitespace. The agency where I now work but which I helped establish in 1997 (I think.)

He joined the company soon after as an artworker ( a great one at that) and remains there to this day.

Ricky is a philosopher, of that there can be no doubt.

A man that is comfortable in his own skin. Happy to zag against the world, rage against the machine, bring his own world view to anyone willing to listen.

He’s a polymath. A musician, a massive enthusiast (one of the reasons I love him so much) a historian, a film maker, a writer, a runner, an all round top bloke.

And his cultural interests are nothing like any others you will read in my series. You’ll see that his aesthetic is caught in a cross between B movie Americana, and its musical cousins and deep philosophical discourse. It’s brilliant.

I mean, his dinner party guest list says it all: John Gray, Diogenes, Jim Goad, Marquis de Sade, Robert Burns, Scheherazade, Betty Page, Salma Hayek, Mairi Kidd and Aphrodite. (When Diogenes hits on Aphrodite sparks will fly. The Marquis looking on inquisitively.)

I do hope you will enjoy Ricky’s take on culture, life and the world as we don’t know it. I sure did.

Unknown Pleasures

Hey! I was so chuffed to be asked by Mark if’n I’d be interested in contributing to his blog in the form of an Unknown pleasures piece – and so here it is. Let’s just dive right in . . .

My favourite author or book

She by H Rider Haggard an incredible work, a rip roaring adventure so good I read it over two days (it would have been one had I not started it late in the evening) – OK it has courted controversy with it’s themes of Imperialism, race and evolution, female authority and sexuality – feminists both praising and criticising it – but putting all that aside – I just love this book and have nothing more to add than that.

If I could add one other book as an also ran You Can’t Win by Jack Black . . . no, not the Thomas Jacob Black the Californian Actor but rather the autobiographer who spent life as a hobo in depression era USA – discover a world of yeggs, gay cats, bindle stiff conventions and rod riding outlaws – so good, this is the book that most influenced William Burroughs and as the linear notes read from a ‘forgotten era of American history lodged somewhere between the Wild west and the birth of the Metropolis.

H. Rider Haggard. She. | H rider haggard, Paperback writer, Pulp fiction  book

The book I’m reading

Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War a compendium of second world war experiences of woman of war torn Russia gathered and relayed by the author. I’ve been reading this book for some time, in-fact just over a year – I drop in and out of it whilst reading other books in between. Nothing prepares you for these stories and this is a work that shouldn’t be approached lightly – it should be read by everyone that thinks war is an option – It’s a deserved winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature but sadly serves to remind me that the human race has an unwavering propensity to record history and fail to absorb consequence. Progress you say? Read, absorb learn and act.

The book I wish I had written

I just wish I could get ‘any of the many’ unwritten books that are filling the Inside of my head completed and onto the printed page. It’s always the plan for another day.

The book I couldn’t finish

A pet hate of mine is to NOT finish reading a book therefore it makes me all the more selective of those that I invest in. However, there is one fiction publisher I tend to take a chance on and blind buy because even if the content ‘just ain’t no good’ like many of the characters within the books – the book cover art is ‘pulp’ superb and I do love them. So I forked out my usual four bucks on the budget find Hard Case Crime’s 140th book – ‘The Triumph of the Spider Monkey’ by Joyce Carol Oates –representing the ‘Mind of a Maniac’ or not . . .  it’s SHIT! . . . and sits half read on the shelf and I probably won’t return to it no matter how great ‘Time’ magazine tells me she is as a writer. 

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I feel no shame, more so regrets that I haven’t read some books – but the book I’d reply in answer to this has to be ‘One thousand and one nights’ the framing device featuring Scheherazade for the compilation of tales alone makes me regret not having read this . . . so much so, I’m off to order a Folio edition English translation of the book right now.

One Thousand and One Nights: Amazon.co.uk: Al-Shaykh, Hanan: 9781408827765:  Books

My favourite film

I have a real challenge between two movies that I absolutely love and consider both to be exceptional – Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre the first based on the Stugatsky Brothers Roadside Picnic book and the latter on German Anarchist B. Travens Treasure of the Sierra Madre (both books of which having read them, also deserve a place in my favrit books and authors list). 

Although these movies appear miles apart in theme and content (one a 1940’s Mexican adventure the other a 1970’s Soviet Sci-fi movie) they are so similar in so many ways. In both movies two men set out on a quest to feed their hearts desire with the help of an experienced guide and we discover as viewers that perhaps the journey offers the true riches to our life.

If I was forced to choose between them, today I’d choose the 1948 Treasure of the Sierra Madre . . . watch out for the in-joke by director John Huston playing the rich American when Humphrey Bogart’s down on his luck character ‘Dobbs’ street begs from him three times – and on the third occasion Huston says: ‘that’s the third time you’ve begged from me today, when are you gonna stand on your own two feet?’ the reference being – Bogie bought the rights to the book and screenplay and saved it until after WWII when he could request John Huston direct the movie after returning from military service. Humphrey Bogart hoping this would follow the success that had made him a star with their two post war collaborations The Maltese Falcon and Across the Pacific.

Stalker – Senses of Cinema

My favourite play

Sophocles Oedipus – what a play! And from around 500BC – the plot involves a plague ravaging the land and the king doesn’t know what to do about it (hey wait a minute that sounds familiar), anyways – opening with a prophecy delivered by a consulted Oracle on what to do, Oedipus is informed he will shed the blood of his father and mate with his mother . . . and the biggest hook in theatre is delivered . . .  you just gotta find out what’s to come.  

My favourite podcast

There are too many to mention but on this occassion I’m only gonna mention one: Tyler Mahan Coe’s Cocaine and Rhinestones – you think Rock and Roll or Hollywood has all the stories? Just take a trip down Country music histories colourful country road – from the poverty stricken get go in 1500’s Britain and the birth of murder ballads to the rags to riches world born in the Appalachian mountains to torture, extortion, rape, murder, gay shaming, suicide, prison life, girl power, love all over country USA – nobody can beat country for tales of sex and drugs and guitar twang! An oldie but a goodie – listen here.

7 podcasts to keep music lovers in touch

The box set I’m hooked on

I ain’t no Box set ‘doer’ especially of the recent TV types, but I do have loads o’ box sets piled high in my collection of ‘old school’ – DVD’s an’ Blu-ray discs, including Universals Film Noir (regularly revisited), a couple of Arrow’s Gailocompilations (Oh my! those Italian’s made murder look so stylish in the 60’s ands 70’s) and lot’s of Euro and Japanese cinema box sets. But the box set that is most compelling is the astounding and award winning unforgettable WWII documentary series World at War This is a serious historical and emotional journey and even today, should be on the school carriculum. Super high rating of 9.2 on IMDB says it all and if and when you are lucky it’s sometimes available on Amazon Prime here https://www.amazon.co.uk/The-World-at-War/dp/B0197L5MSM

My favourite TV series

Champion the Wonder Horse – From the opening title song to the overall goodness in every story – ‘Champion’ can’t be beat. A boy, a dog and a wild horse doing more for his community than any official – the mantra by which I live.

Watch The Adventures of Champion, The Wonder Horse | Prime Video

My favourite piece of music

Pink Floyds Dark side of the moon. It’s still as incredible today as it ever was – a timeless piece. 

As a kid in high school myself and some friends would camp out in our back gardens, go strawberry raiding around the neighbourhood in the middle of the night, return to the tent and gorge ourselves whilst listening to Darkside and Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album on C60 cassette and we’d dream of being ‘Rock stars’. 

Dave Gilmour’s guitar solo’s on Time and Mick Ronson’s on Moonage Dream were the songs that turned me into a guitar performer. My sister found a cheap Strat copy in a Dunfermline shop window, recognising the shape from my Floyd poster and persuaded my mum to buy it for me. One of the gang purchased a drum kit – thought he was Keith Moon and another a bass guitar and much to the displeasure of the neighbourhood ‘Thundermaster’ were born. Back to DSoM tho – I’ve loved every track on this piece more than the others at one time or another but top choice now would be – Us and Them it’s so on the ball.

The toughest thing about this question was discarding Amazing GraceVaughn Williams’ Lark Ascending and Artie Shaw’s rendition of Cole Porter’s Beguin the Beguine all of which could easily have made the favourite spot.

My favourite dance performance

Anything by Rita Hayworth does the trick, so here’s a wee compilation of Rita in mash-up with the Bee Gees.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Just listened to it again today – see The song that saved me two questions below.

The lyric I wish I’d written

And I’ve been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet
Had my head stoved in but I’m still on my feet
And I’m still . . . willin’

Hats off to Lowell George and Little Feet.

The song that saved me

Dick Gaughan Sail On . . . makes me greet every time.  

The instrument I play

I’ve never considered myself an instrument player per se – especially when I listen to all of my guitar influences who CAN play, but I do like to strap on the guitar and do the occasional live trash performance in a junkyard entertainment style or operhaps now – just give me a cowboy guitar, a horse and I’ll save the gal.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The Guitar

If I could own one painting it would be

If it had been a work of art I think I would have selected Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina marble sculpture – it would look great sitting in the centre of my lawn. When I first saw this in the Borghese Gallery I was in awe – the detail of Hadeshand impressing Persephones thigh alone is enough to cement any sculptures reputation for eternity – and that’s before viewing the rest of the piece as a group. Wonderful.

Rape of Proserpina

If it has to be a painting tho the choice is beyond reduction but for this I’ll choose one of the many that I can happily view on a daily basis without tiring of and something that reminds me of just how joyful art can be . . . I love the art of Glenn Barr and his When Betty Rubble Went Bad is great even tho it perpetuates the ‘male gaze’ theory in art . . . but hey we’re getting into Feminist TheorySigmund Freud and Jean Paul Sartre territory here and and that’s not what this shiz is about (or is it?).

When Betty Rubble Went Bad | Adam Gorightly's Untamed Dimensions

On an aside, if anyone fancies putting a wee heist team together and doing one on Tate Britain I would hang the Victorian romantic work Deer and Deerhounds in a Mountain Torrent the 1833 work by Sir Edwin Landseer above the fireplace in my villain’s lair. 

The music that cheers me up

Western swing, Bob Wills, Moon Mullican, Spade Cooley et al and especially songs featuring the fantastic vocal of Tommy Duncan. His 1952 hit Relax and Take it easy a particular favrit . . .  Honourable mention to every album that the Dwarves have ever recorded tho.

The place I feel happiest

I’m with John Muir on this one and ‘None of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.’ Just set me loose in a forest, on a mountain or wild environment and I’m happy. 

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Collecting Jungle Girl comics from the 40’s and 50’s and boy, oh boy there are hundreds of them – featuring such illustrated beauties as Jann of the Jungle, Lorna the Jungle Queen, Rulah – Jungle Goddess, Sheena, Princess Vishnu, Gwenna, Tiger Girl to name but a few and illustrated by such legendary artists as Will Eisner and Frank Frazetta.

Mind you I also can’t pass a ‘Good Girl art’ illustrated book and have built a fair collection of these featuring artist like Margaret Brundage, Allen Anderson, Matt Baker, Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood and plenty more.

Jungle girl: Amazon.co.uk: CHO, FRANCK: 9791094169469: Books

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

John Gray, Diogenes, Jim Goad, Marquis de Sade, Robert Burns, Scheherazade, Betty Page, Salma Hayek, Mairi Kidd and Aphrodite.

And I’ll put on this music

The Muses would control the entertainment and have it performed live and maybe later the nusic app would randomly select and it’d look something like this . . . 

If you enjoyed that there are a bunch more to read. Try these:

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #8: Jeana Gorman

When I first met my wife it would be fair to say that our cultural influences were not exactly close.

The day we saw “Strictly Ballroom” at The Odeon (sighs at the loss of that great auditorium) she asked me what I thought of it. I was ambivalent.

“What, does it not have fucking subtitles?” she cried in dismay.

And her love of poor quality movies has yet to desert her. Indeed her 5.6 sweetspot on IMDB still fills me with gloom.

But our cultural planets have gradually aligned and we enjoy nothing more than visits to The Traverse, The Lyceum, The Cameo and The Filmhouse, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Modern Art Gallery.

We’ve done the Venice Biennale together. Going specifically for that reason, and especially to see the almost life changing Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable that overshadowed the biennale itself.

And then there is Italy full stop. Our favourite place.

During Edinburgh Festival month I still steal a march, but for my 30-40 shows she puts up a spirited 20 -30 and we take in theatre, dance drama, music and even some food. Not much, but some.

Imagine my surprise, as a lifelong Stranglers fan, when she announced, maybe ten years ago, that Golden Brown was her favourite song, the one she wants played at her funeral.

Jeana is my cultural partner of choice and we spend many, many hours in establishments of cultural wonder.

She’s also, much more than me, a creator: – her Alzheimers blanket, that she knitted for my Mum, had to be seen to be believed.

So here she is, cultural nirvana, Jeana Gorman style.

My favourite author or book

I’m not the biggest reader and tend to read when I’m on holiday.   My initial thought was Margaret Attwood.    However, I don’t think you can beat John Irvine.   I read A Prayer for Owen Meanie, an absolutely wonderful book.    First book I’ve ever read where I was dreading the ending as I didn’t want the book to end.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

The book I’m reading

I have a stack of books to read at the moment.   However, I spend more time looking at knitting websites getting pattern ideas and tips for baby items.   

The book I wish I had written

I’ve never really wanted to write a book, at one point I did think there was a gap for a useful gardening book explaining the basics to novices and children.   That has been filled now as there are so many websites and apps, and no one seems to want to pick a book up. 

The book I couldn’t finish

Somehow, I managed to trudge my way through Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.   It was instantly forgettable and have since made the decision to stop reading a book if I’m not enjoying it.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

My knowledge of history is non-existent.   I’ve often thought I should read more about it.  I’ve bought a few books but I still haven’t taken the time to pick them up.  

My favourite film

That’s a hard one.   I love films and I love going to the pictures.   Seeing a film on the big screen and immersing yourself in it.   No distractions.    I’m not big on seeing films repeatedly, once I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it.  A film I have seen on numerous occasions however is The Shining.  It took about 5 goes to see it straight through and have seen it many times since.   It never gets old.

The Shining is the most horrifying quarantine movie

My favourite play

There are so many to choose from, I really enjoyed the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart by David Greig, The Incident Room by New Diorama Theatre at The 2019 Fringe and Richard Gadd’s Monkey See, Monkey Do where I was actually the first person to get up on my feet to give him a standing ovation.     

For sheer enjoyment though I’m going to choose Sweeney Todd for this, I’ve seen so many different productions of this musical and it never disappoints.   I particularly enjoyed Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball’s production at The Adelphi Theatre in London.  

My favourite podcast

It’s not just a Podcast but I do like Desert Island Discs.   

The box set I’m hooked on

Mark and I are currently loving Gormorrah.   It’s a brilliant series about the Italian drug gangs in Naples.   Very brutal but somehow you come to love the characters.    I normally binge watch box sets but this one is being eked out. (You wrote eeked out before I sub edited it.  Eeked, though seemed appropriate. Ed.).

My favourite TV series

Grey’s Anatomy.   What’s not to love?  It started when I borrowed the box set from my sister-in-law and watched every episode with my daughter, Amy, over a 3 week period.   I see the new series is about to be screened – can’t wait.

My favourite piece of music

Golden Brown by The Stranglers.  I just love everything about it.   It’s a beautiful piece of music.  I recently heard an instrumental version by Zephyr Quartet and I loved that too. 

My favourite dance performance

In 1989, at the Edinburgh International Festival, Mark and I went to the Kings Theatre to see Johann Kresnik’s and Gottfried Helnwein’s ‘Macbeth,’  performed by the Bremer Theater from Bremen.  We were in the Gods, I was terrified of heights.    When we first sat down I thought I can’t be here, the performance started and I was transfixed.  Nothing has beaten that. 

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Gus Harrower recorded a version of Secret Love by Doris Day, my mother-in-law’s favourite song, for her funeral.   The first time I heard it the tears flowed.   Marley and Me it gets me every time – it was on TV the other week.

The lyric I wish I’d written

Our Children from Ragtime a beautiful song about children. 

How they play,
Finding treasure in the sand.
They’re forever hand in hand,
Our children.How they laugh,
She has never laughed like this.Every waking moment, bliss.Our children.See them running down the beach.
Children run so fast…Toward the future…From the past.How they dance,
Unembarrassed and alone.Hearing music of their own, Our children.One so fair,And the other, lithe and dark.Solemn joy and sudden spark,
Our children.
See them running down the beach.
Children run so fast
Toward the future
From the past.
There they stand,
Making footprints in the sand,
And forever, hand in hand,
Our children.
Two small lives,
Silhouetted by the blue,
One like me
And one like you.
Our children.

Our children.

The song that saved me

The Blue Nile, A Walk Across the Rooftops, in 1991, and Sinead O’Connor’s Earth Mother in 1994 certainly kept me company when I would be up through the night feeding Amy, Tom and Ria.

The instrument I play

Knitting needles.  I learnt to knit when I was 10.   Stopped when I had children as I just didn’t have the time.  Started again when I was 50 when my great nephew was due.  I always have something on the go.   It’s a good way to watch TV and achieve something at the same time. 

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Definitely singing.  I am in no way musical, if anyone would like a big challenge and would like to teach me, please contact me.

If I could own one painting it would be

I would have a statue.  Either Michelangelo’s David or the Little Dancer – Aged 14 by Degas.   I would have to work out how to preserve them, but they’d make for very interesting pieces in the back garden.   

Degas exhibited only one sculpture in his lifetime; now 70 have gone on  view - Los Angeles Times

The music that cheers me up

Scott Walker always cheers me up, he’s so over the top.   Marc Almond, in particular, Tainted Love and OMD’s Enola Gay.   

The place I feel happiest

In my garden.   There’s no better way to get some fresh air and exercise.   Sitting having a coffee and watching the plants change and grow throughout the seasons is such a pleasure.   

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

I love watching a completely rubbish TV series.  My daughters and I have discovered a rating of 5.6 on IMDB is perfect.   Sometimes you just need to let a programme wash over you.  You know it’s rubbish but you can’t stop watching.   Some I’ve particularly enjoyed are Riverdale, Once Upon a Time, Married At First Sight AustraliaNew Amsterdam and How to Get Away With Murder

Married At First Sight Australia: What Happened To The Couples From Season  Six? | Grazia

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

Audrey Hepburn , Jordan Samuels (Skincare), Daniel Levy, Bob Mortimer and Tim Minchim.

And I’ll put on this music

I would ask my guests for some contributions in advance and make a playlist up for the evening.  

If you enjoyed that there are a bunch more to read. Try these:

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Gomorrah: TV Series review

Sodom and Gomorrah afire by Jacob de Wet II, 1680

Sodom and Gomorah were two Jordanian cities in the book of Genesis.

From Wikipedia “The Lord reveals to Abraham that he would confirm what he had heard against Sodom and Gomorrah, “and because their sin is very grievous.”

The sins of the wholly Catholic characters of Gomorrah fall fairly squarely into the camp of “grievous”. Indeed, not one of them can be in any way excused. And yet, we love them. Tony soprano, and his mates, by contrast, appear almost saintlike.

For Gommorahns are bad bad people. Not bad in a tut tut sort of way, bad in a callous, pointless, hollow and frankly evil way.

The level of violent revenge, the principal driver of Gomorrah, is breathtaking in its brutality and its unforgivable ness.

And yet, we grow close to some of them, notably Ciro and Patrizia.

The story, over 48 episodes with 12 more to come in Serie 5, centres around the Camorra wars of Napoli, a city I have been fortunate enough to visit twice, and love dearly (probably my favourite Italian city).

The city is carved into gang ‘owned’ neighbourhoods focussing primarily on Secondigliano, a Northern slum of the city, famous for its four sail shaped Brutalist tower blocks – rabbit warrens of hidden streets that house the wealthy drug dealers that rule the community.

Genarro Savastano, son of Don Pietro Savastano, is the central character (the Tony Soprano figure). his presence underpins the whole series although he by no means dominates the action. We see him rise from a fat wimpy kid into a ruthless killer who tries hard, at times, to leave his life of crime and rebuild his reputation as a more philanthropic business tycoon. But family honour and preservation of his reputation keep sucking him back into his ways.

He’s a dick.

He’s also, like several of the characters, probably saved from his extraordinarily narrow acting range by the fact that the entire show is performed in Italian and the beauty of the language masks a nagging feeling that he cannot really act.

His facial expressions, dominated by a biting of his bottom lip as he stares off camera, are limited in the extreme. Patrizia (his rags to bitches sidekick) played by Cristiana Dell’Ana fares little better, her range runs from resting bitch face to surly pout.

Either this is method acting par excellence or it’s not. Decide for yourself.

Either way, it doesn’t really matter because its gripping and compelling from start to finish.

The endless wars (and endless car journeys) are more repetitive than a week with Phillip Glass, again it doesn’t matter because what the series does evoke a unique mood, driven by a complex and exhausting narrative that’s utterly spellbinding.

The directors favour a tableaux composition of gang members that are certainly biblical and always beautifully realised; in car parks, warehouses, underpasses, doorways and alleyways and the spectacular graveyards that are commonly visited.

The music, whilst overly directional in its use of receptive themes, is magnificent and underscores the action to perfection.

The shadow of the Catholic church is impossible to escape. Many a killing is precursed by its perpetrator blessing him or herself with a sign of the cross. Many of the drug dens and meeting places of the gangs are in churches. Many of the killings (and there are literally hundreds) happen in places of worship. It reminds us of the inglorious history and commercial greed of the Vatican.

I can say with certainty that no TV series has ever taken me in to this extent (not the aforementioned Sopranos, not the West Wing, the Wire, Breaking Bad, nothing) so for that reason I have to proclaim it the greatest TV series ever made.

Bravo.

Unknown Pleasures #7: Lisl MacDonald

You might have been beginning to think that my Unknown Pleasures series was simply an old boys club of dusty memories. But you’d be wrong. It’s just that the female contributors I’ve invited to this have been, shall we just say, tardy, in their responses.

But I’m delighted to bring you the first of these, that of Lisl MacDonald.

Lisl’s quite a new pal actually. We came together through the Marketing Society and she was my choice to replace me as Chair of The Nods when I had to step down due to a conflict of interest when I joined Whitespace.

Our friendship has grown through marketing and music, but I’ve also been very aware of her vast appetite for everything cultural and I feel we are in for the long haul as we both near our later years. That’s if she stays in Scotland, because she has many interests in Asia and is more often than not found there.

Lisl has impeccable musical taste but her many performances in my lockdown music quiz ranged from inept to innocuous. But her humour and acerbic wit made her a welcome competitor. (I use the word competitor in the loosest possible term, I mean Brora Rangers are “competitors” in the Scottish Cup but they’ll never actually win any matches.)

Anyway, here’s the views of the lass fae Rothesay. I have to say, it is exquisitely composed (although she couldn’t spell cornet).

My favourite author or book

If I can redefine this as “books I have read more than twice”, then Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and Lanark by Alasdair Gray. These three books impart really important lessons about life, love, sex, war, racism, inequality, creativity, courage, and many more things besides. As they are so well written, you enjoy them first as a great read then realise afterwards that they were instructive.

The book I’m reading

I’ve just started Kitchenly 434, the new Alan Warner. Only on page 10 but looking very good so far!

The book I wish I had written

Candide, by Voltaire. Smart, tragic, hilarious, genius.

Candide eBook: Voltaire, by, Fleming, William: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

The book I couldn’t finish

Never managed to get far with Ulysses, James Joyce. I’ve tried three or four times then stopped, put the book down and gone and done something interesting instead.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith. Read bits of it. 

My favourite film

Pi

It was Aronofsky’s debut in 1998 when he had no budget and loads of ideas. Firstly, it has one of the best soundtracks you’ve never heard and includes  Aphex Twin, Autechre, Roni Size, and  Clint Mansell. So it sounds great. Secondly, it is filmed on high-contrast black and white reversal film. So it looks great. Finally, it’s about a mad number theorist trying to find connection and order in the world through mathematics. So it’s a crazy but satisfying journey. It feels even more relevant today and I would love to see it on the stage. 

Pi: 15th Anniversary | Alternative Poster | Movie posters design, Pi art,  Art contest

My favourite play

Is it a cliché to say King Lear? We studied it at school and I’ve seen it staged in so many places, so many ways. It’s a credit to the creativity of all the artists involved in theatre around the world that you can take one old text and keep bring it to life in new ways which keep it relevant and feel fresh.

My favourite podcast

I have two. Trashy Divorces, which combines social history with trashy gossip of the highest order. And Backlisted, which has brilliant hosts, fabulous guests, and always costs me a fortune as I buy the books they discuss and refer to. It’s a real book lovers thrill.

The box set I’m hooked on

Currently the French spy series The Bureau. It’s making me suspicious of everyone’s motives…why are you asking me these questions Mark?

My favourite TV series

I’ve been all about RuPauls Drag Race for quite a long time now. The camp, bitchy, positive, supportive, colourful JOY of it.

RuPaul's Drag Race' reveals season 12's new queens

My favourite piece of music

John Tavener’s, The Lamb. Unaccompanied voices. Written as a lullaby for his nephew and inspired by William Blake. Exquisite.

My favourite dance performance

The Rite of Spring, a Pina Bausch work. Can’t remember where we saw it but my husband and I still talk about it. Closely followed by whatever Benjamin Millepied is doing, we’ve seen his work a couple of times in Paris and its always engrossing.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

It was a few nights ago. I have chronic insomnia and often listen to music while I should be sleeping. A relaxing mix was on random play, and Max Richter’s Maria The Poet (1913) came on. The tears flowed. 

Music truly is a drug. Beware of the set and setting in which it is consumed! This composition usually makes me feel hopeful. At 3am, with the rain pattering the window, and after a day of hearing news of corrupt Westminster politicians, attacks on women being normalised , genocide, climate disaster…well, I crumbled. 

It was cathartic though.

The lyric I wish I’d written

They were written by T Rapp but made famous by This Mortal Coil. They contain all the wisdom of the ages:

The jeweller has a shop on the corner of the boulevard.

In the night, in small spectacles, he polishes old coins.

He uses spit and cloths and ashes.

He makes them shine with ashes.

The coins are often very old by the time they reach the jeweller.

With his hand and ashes he will do the best he can.

He knows that he can only shine them, cannot repair the scratches.

He knows that even new coins have scars so he just smiles.

In the darkest of the night. Both his hands will blister badly.

They will often open painfully and the blood flows from his hands.

He works to take from black coin faces, the thumb prints from so many ages.

He wishes he could cure the scars.

When he forgets he sometimes cries. 

He knows the use of ashes. 

He worships God with ashes.

The song that saved me

Slippery People, Talking Heads. It whispered to a young lassie on the Isle of Bute that it was OK to be a bit crazy. Preferable, even. Its my hymn, my anthem, my rallying cry.

The instrument I play

I’ve always read music as my family are all musical. So it went: recorder, violin, oboe, cornet. I violated the violin with scratching bows, obliterated the oboe with shrill reeds, but really enjoyed playing cornet in a swing band. Haven’t picked one up for decades though. 

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Piano. It’s on the list to learn.

If I could own one painting it would be

Woman With a Book, Picasso. It’s a reasonable likeness! I love that it is both vivid and still. It shows me that reading is an act of quiet solitude which can also be subversive, erotic and exciting. Mostly, I just like looking at it and it never bores me. And isn’t that the real criteria for putting something constantly in your line of sight?

Woman With Book 1932 By Pablo Picasso Art Reproduction from Wanford

The music that cheers me up

Honestly,? Music that takes me back to a happy time works. So Gil Scott Heron, Prince, The Pixies,and some old scool house, techno and hip hop gets me up off my chair, and feeling that same vibe from back in the day. If only my body felt the same…

The place I feel happiest

Anywhere I am by or on the sea. I grew up on the Isle of Bute, scuba dive and am a qualified yacht skipper. Sailing connects us as humans with all those communities of old who found ways to build boats, navigate, and handle the sea in all its moods. And its environmentally friendly. 

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

The podcast Dear Joan and Jericha. Outrageous. 

Dear Joan & Jericha: a VERY revealing conversation about their podcasting  journey | by Acast: For The Stories. | Acast | Medium
I mean, this should be banned it’s so subversive Ed. (I love it)

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

David Byrne (my muse), Voltaire, Robert Burns, Maya Angelou, Kim Gordon, Ian Dury,  Alan Cumming, Michele Obama. 

And I’ll put on this music

Ron Carter, Stockholm Volume 1.

Ron Carter Foursight Stockholm Vol. 1 [CD] - IN+OUT Records GmbH

If you enjoyed that there are a bunch more to read. Try these:

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #6: David Reid

David Reid 1 SA : David Reid – Because Brands Matter Picture by Stewart Attwood All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2018. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission. No Syndication Permitted.

Ahhhh. David Reid. My longtime compatriot and co-founder of 1576 Advertising Limited where we did seriously great work and had seriously good fun.

David was never shy of a lig. Most famously perhaps in his Schlitz days when he got all pissed up with Lisa Bonet and Johnny Rotten.

My favourite memory is around his kitchen table, planning 1576 when his Dad (Normski) uttered the ludicrous conclusion on reading my business plan “You’re not seriously considering going into business with this wanker are you David?’ He was. He did. We rocked. Normski later redacted.

David and I regularly attend PrimaveraSound in Barcelona.

I regularly embarrass him with my lack of finesse as he peacocks to my tramping.

We are pretty much chalk and cheese, but we love one another nevertheless.

Here’s his shizazzle.

My favourite author or book

I always look forward to a Robert Harris novel coming out. He rarely misses the beat. Other authors I like are George Orwell, Graham Macrae Burnet, Ernest Hemmingway, Aldous Huxley, Donna Tartt, Ray Bradbury and William Boyd. 

His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme  Macrae Burnet

The book I’m reading

I’ve got a few on the go at the moment but the one you need to know about first is definitely the weirdest – We All Hear Stories in The Dark by Robert Shearman. Nothing quite like this trio of books has ever been attempted before. The premise is that stories always change their meaning dependent upon the order in which you read them and as you work your way through the peculiar tunnels of the 101 short stories he has written, the odds against anyone else ever treading the same path as you become exponentially unlikely. In essence, every reader’s journey through the book will be entirely unique and you will be the only person who ever reads your version of the collection. I’m also reading the classic book about positivity – Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman as well as the fantastic Mayflies by Scots author Andrew O’Hagen.

The book I wish I had written

If I’d written a set of books about a Boy Wizard I’d like to think I’d have spent my earnings wisely. As well as very unwisely. 

The book I couldn’t finish

I’m not a quitter – I never start a book without completing it. My patience was really tried recently however with a collection of EM Forster short stories. They were crashingly dull. 

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I’ve never read Catch 22 by Joseph Heller or Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. That’s a pretty poor show, I know.

My favourite film

This is such a hard question because different films equate to different moods and times. I could easily make a case for Jaws, The Third Man, Duel, Once Upon A Time In America, Pan’s Labyrinth, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Blade Runner. I’m going to go with Sleuth. The original film made by Joseph Mankiewicz in 1972. I was lucky enough to enjoy a drink with Michael Caine, one of the only two actors within the film, back in 1997 and he confirmed it was one of his most joyous acting experiences.  

Sleuth (1972 film) - Wikipedia

My favourite play

The Royal Lyceum Theatre’s production of A View From The Bridge by Arthur Miller. It was absolutely outstanding. 

My favourite podcast

The Spectator has some excellent podcasts. Coffee House Shots provides really incisive political analysis. At the other end of the spectrum, but no less important – Scarves Around The Funnel is a podcast for fans (like me) of Heart of Midlothian FC. They were also Sir Walter Scott’s team y’know. 

The box set I’m hooked on

I’m on a box-set break at the moment – but the original Russian version of To The Lake is exceptional. 

My favourite TV series

I used to love watching University Challenge, but I’ve completely lost interest in it now for some reason.  I like watching documentaries on art, literature and music – usually on Sky Arts. In terms of making a conscious decision to sit down and watch something regularly – that would nearly always be for unbridled escapism. Real mainstream stuff like Strictly, GBBO, Top Gear, Antique’s Road Show, Fake or Fortune and Poirot would fall into that category. 

BBC One - Strictly Come Dancing

My favourite piece of music

La Wally from the opera by the same name by Catalani. In 2018, I went to Vienna with my daughter to see it being performed.

My favourite dance performance

I can still vividly remember seeing Michael Clark and his company performing at the Edinburgh Festival in 1988. Supported on stage throughout by The Fall, I am Curious Orange was a bizarre mash-up that featured dancing phone boxes, an enormous Big Mac, a gay Old Film football match and several risqué costumes by Leigh Bowery. It was glorious.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

It doesn’t happen very often. I may have had something in my eye at the end of A Star is Born.

The lyric I wish I’d written

From Neil Young’s Cortez The Killer

He came dancing across the water
With his galleons and guns
Looking for the new world
And the palace in the sun

On the shore lay Montezuma
With his coca leaves and pearls
In his halls, he often wandered
With the secrets of the world

And his subjects gathered ’round him
Like the leaves around a tree
In their clothes of many colours
For the angry gods to see

The song that saved me

Being saved sounds a bit dramatic – but I remember the moment I heard New Rose by The Damned and being really excited about its rawness and energy. I had just turned 13 at the time and, up until then, wasn’t really into music. Punk and New Wave changed all that. Forever.

The Damned - New Rose

The instrument I play

I can’t play anything. I was in a post punk band from 1979 – 1983 and I had to sing because I couldn’t play anything. I couldn’t sing either – but I was quite happy taking centre stage. 

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The electric guitar, although I have never even tried. 

If I could own one painting it would be

Generally I am more drawn towards modern art, but the two paintings I’m struggling to decide between are The Balconyby Edouard Manet and Nichols Canyon by David Hockney. I’m going to go with Manet. 

1868-1869 – Edouard Manet, Le balcon (The Balcony) | Fashion History  Timeline

The music that cheers me up

Unquestionably Reggae. I love the classic Jamaican stuff by Toots & The Maytals, Lee Perry, Culture and of course Bob Marley. On balance however, I prefer the more political English reggae of the 1970’s – Misty in Roots, Steel Pulse and Mikey Dread. 

The place I feel happiest

My perfect day would be art gallery / pub / football match / restaurant / show or gig. 

My true happy place is also where I have had some of my saddest moments – Tynecastle Park. 

Fan behaviour "beggars belief" says Hearts owner Ann Budge as section of  Tynecastle is closed | HeraldScotland

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Pretending to work, but actually reading The Spectator. 

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

Very difficult, but here goes: 

Jah Wobble

Pablo Picasso

Oscar Wilde

Marilyn Monroe

Agatha Christie 

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Oscar Wilde's Arrest and Conviction: He Discovered His Wit Had Limits | Time

And I’ll put on this music

It would have to be instrumental so everyone could listen to what everyone else was saying. Jazz from the Dave Brubeck and Sonny Rawlins era. 

Children of the Stones: Podcast Review

Milbury, a fictitious town in England, is the home of a bunch of ancient stones that encircle the community and have strange intoxicating powers that render the townsfolk strangely happy and a bit out of it.

Moving there in the wake of the death of the family matriarch, father and daughter Adam and Mia are both involved in their study. Dad as a professional Archeometrist, daughter as a grumpy teenage podcaster.

Mia, in the central role is played by Worzel Gummidge actress India Brown and she rules the roost with a fine performance.

It’s a tight, short two and a half hour yarn that brings a mix of sci-fi and semi-religious mumbo jumbo into play.

It feels a bit young adult in nature but is well put together and an entertaining romp.

Reece Shearsmith plays a crazed scientist who wants to take over the world and adds his usual stamp of maniacal over the topness.

It was a 1977 TV series apparently, although I missed it at the time, and is brought deftly up to date by the accomplished dialogue of scriptwriting team of AK Benedict and Guy Adams.

Presented by BBC Radio 4 and BaffleGab it’s well worthy of your time.

Good drama well presented.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: Book Review

The Vanishing Half: Longlisted for the Women's Prize 2021: Amazon.co.uk:  Bennett, Brit: 9780349701462: Books

This article in The Atlantic sets out some context here. Its by Theodore R. Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

According to the Implicit Association Test, I have a “strong automatic preference for European Americans compared to African Americans.” That’s a sterile way of saying that I’m biased against black people. For most people, such a designation would probably be unsettling. After all, the United States is a nation that ostensibly aspires not to judge others “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” But for me, it caused a mini-existential crisis.”

Why? Because I’m black.

That’s a bold and brave admission and central to the tenet of this novel.

I read the book because Bernardine Evaristo recommended it.

I’m glad she did because it’s an engrossing read, albeit a game of two halves.

Ironic, as it’s about the lives of twins who take different paths.

But much more than this, it’s a highly original tale about racism.

Desiree and Stella are Black twins that look White.

In fact, they are born in a small town called Mallard in Louisiana that has an all-Black citizenship that hates being Black – they are all fair skinned, the melanin somehow bred out of the local populace. Worse, they hate Black people, they especially hate Black people that present as Black.

The sully the town.

So, when Desiree and Stella jump town at 16 and move to New Orleans, Desiree spites them all by marrying an ink-Black man. Blue Black. And has a Blue Black baby, Jude.

Returning to Mallard after her husband abuses and beats her, with Jude in tow, she finds her daughter ostracised.

Meanwhile Stella goes all White.

She bluffs her way into a job in the local department store where Blacks are shunned and meets her soon to be wealthy husband who, as her boss, is unaware of her racial background and soon they give birth to a blue eyed blonde ‘princess’ who embarks on a career as a second rate theatre and then soap actress.

It’s menacing.

The first half of the book sets up this story beautifully and elegantly.

Stella’s racism grows out of control as she first shuns, then guiltily embraces, a rich Black female neighbour that taints her staunchly White suburb, threatening a mass exodus and outcries at the town hall meetings.

So far, so brilliant.

Act two loses some of its sparkle, although the story develops strongly as the twins and their daughters’ lives gradually overlap.

The secrets and lies gradually threaten to overwhelm Stella’s life, and the action turns into a part detective story, part revenge thriller.

For me, it started to lose its power as the, admittedly good, story fails to build as strongly as I had hoped on the central premise of the novel.

But overall it’s a page-turning, deeply shocking exploration of racism that can’t but help draw you into thinking about both Meghan Markle and Michael Jackson.

Racism isn’t about race. Racism is about attitude.

It’s a stark reminder that we all need to look ourselves in the mirror.