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

96 days until Trump’s fascist kakocracy is served its just desserts.

Tau ya Mariri on Twitter: "Which ANC? The ANC I grew up studying ...

Isn’t that a great word?


It’s Greek-derived and means a rule or government by the worst of people.

I assume its etymology is closely related to Caca (The Spanish word for shite): a shitocracy.

If Trump (a shite) is running (I use the word loosely) a government that is a kacocracy then he is running a government of shites.

And he is.

And they are.

America’s privileged elite: that want to reduce Unemployment Insurance Benefit from the current $400 a week to $200 a month. Saying, why should taxpayers carry the burden?

Well, because it’s taxpayers that need the support I’d say.

Anyway back to Trump’s kakocracy.

I’ve been listening to the highly entertaining Pod Save America for weeks now and it’s clear that they are part of the Democrats’ election machine, but the presenters wear their hearts on their sleeves so openly that it validates the appalling bias of their twice-weekly in-depth analysis of all things political in the USA.

It was here that I stumbled upon this wonderful word. A word that must have been created with Trump’s administration in mind because usually the denigration of governments stems from autocracy or even dictatorship.

But here we have a government fairly and democratically elected, now in a state of delusion, disarray and frankly, evil.

The USA does not deserve or need this shitshow, this freak show, this carnage.

So come 3rd November if the polls are reliable (Biden 8 points up) the kakocracy will be consigned to the cesspit of history.

A history lesson that will endure the ages, that will draw the question, “Mummy, Daddy what did you do during the war on decency?”

History teachers will have to reframe lessons, will need to pre-warn their students that this four-year period of American disintegration, when it became the laughing stock of the world, was for real, not a comedy interlude, a Shakesperean musical in the woods, a play within a play.

No. It was for real.

Yes, before he went to prison as an enemy of the state Mr Donald (person, woman, man, camera, TV) Trump was for actual real.

A barefaced, lying fascist scumbag who abused his citizens on the world stage, with only Altzheimers as his defence, while a sociopathic kacokracy looked on with daggers behind their backs waiting to absolve themselves from blame because they were only following the fuhrer’s orders.

That’s what a kakocracy is.

And it comes to an end in 96 days.


Becoming: by Michelle Obama. Book review.



As we live through life under the Donald and, perhaps even worse, the Boris, it takes the breath away to read this account of an ordinary, but extraordinary, woman who rose to global prominence by a mixture of serendipity, love and intelligence.

This is the story of a woman of colour who reached unexpected levels of influence but never forgot where she came from.

It is also a true love story, not just of her wonderful husband and family, but of humanity.

And it’s a story of activism, on fairly extreme levels; activism for the rights of women and black Americans but mainly both.

From the first page we uncover a person, bit by bit, that was never prepared to accept the status quo.  Brought up on the rough side of black Chicago, in, essentially, a ghetto with a disabled dad she was fortunate enough to have parents that strove for her and her brother to pay for an Ivy League education.  This is not a normal outcome for this demographic.

Even as she becomes a wealthy lawyer she knows this is not right for her and gradually reduces her income by taking challenging but emotionally rewarding jobs in human rights and fairness.

She meets Barack, her husband, through work.  He too is an oddity in his demographic.  A mixed race Kenyan Hawaiian.  They’re made for each other but strangely and movingly they are not 100% compatible.  Conceiving their children is a challenge.

The book talks much of Obama’s success and we enjoy the Primary’s, hustings, presidential races and victories in some detail.

But this is not about Michelle’s role as a dutiful First Lady, it’s about her life story as a black woman and how she was able to use her influence to make a difference.

It’s breathtaking throughout.  Frequently I was close to tears, partly because viewing the world through the eyes of Michelle one realises that there is humanity in politics and then stepping back and asking oneself, ‘Would Trump do/think that?” one is left with an inevitable response in the negative.

It puts Melania and Donald Trump’s motives into perspective.

It makes us realise just how evil and selfish both he, and his English buffoon-like contemporary, are.

It makes us extraordinarily grateful for having lived through the greatest presidency in history.



Trump rumbled.

ma and the donald.jpg

My face-off with our new Donald Trump toilet brush.  Like the Democrats, I won, just as they did at the Mid Terms.  

New York Times.  25 January 2019.  Day 35 of the Federal shutdown.

He did not get any funding for a wall. And on Friday, he did not advance any new arguments for building one. In fact, many of the claims he made were recycled heavily from previous comments and contained many of the same misstatements and exaggerations.

Also notable was something Mr. Trump did not say, namely that Mexico would pay for the wall, one of the most often repeated, and unsupported, claims he has made on the border funding dispute.


He also indicated that he was open to declaring a national emergency or shutting down the government again if Republicans and Democrats cannot reach an agreement on wall money by the February deadline.

He has agreed to back-pay employees very quickly or as soon as possible.  I suspect Mr Trump has not got a strong grasp on tautology annuls there is a significant distinction between the two.

He thanked and praised the people he had completely and utterly fucked over on a point of principle that the Democrats in the Senate will never give in to,  because it is singularly the most ridiculous policy objective in the modern American history.

On Friday, Mr. Trump praised federal workers as “fantastic people” and “incredible patriots” and acknowledged the toll they had suffered. But several federal employees said they still felt angry after being treated like pawns, they said, in a five-week-long Washington standoff. They said the shutdown had left deep scars on their families and finances and undermined their faith in elected leaders, and in the careers they had chosen.

A Homeland Security policy will certainly be forthcoming in the next 21 days.  Fair enough.  But it will not come in the form of a very big nasty wall.

“Everywhere you go in the world walls work.” he claims in a Watch With Mother speech. Andy Pandy would have been very, very impressed.  Very.

The Guardian reported…

Later on Friday, the president argued that he had not backed down in the feud over wall funding, claiming the agreement “was in no way a concession”.

Ann Coulter, the influential conservative commentator, called Mr Trump “the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States”.

The Telegraph reported…

The president also suggested he was still considering taking unilateral action by declaring a national emergency, which would allow him to use the Pentagon budget to build the wall. However, that would face legal challenges.

Mr Trump said: “I have a very powerful alternative, but I didn’t want to use it at this time.

“They [The Democrats] are willing to put partisanship aside, I think, and put the security of the American people first. We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier.

“If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”

The Nolan Principles of public life. Are we seeing them in action in these difficult times?

I was listening to ‘Thought for the Day’ this morning and the Reverend who presented it brought up this model and asked whether this could be applied to politicians in modern day life.

Three obvious candidates sprung to mind for evaluation.  Theresa May, Donald Trump and, today at least, The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern.

Let’s have a look shall we?


I am not particularly qualified to comment on Jacinda Ardern and her day to day political performance,  but I can comment on the news conference she convened to apologise unconditionally to the parents of graduate and backpacker Grace Millane with such emotion that she immediately crossed off leadership, honesty, selflessness, integrity, openness and accountability in one fell swoop.  I hope she is always like this because, today at least, she was a great ambassador for her country.

In case you haven’t seen it…

Now let’s apply these to Trump and May.

Trump first:

Accountability         Well, I think we will have to wait for his impeachment trial to assess.

Selflessness              The man is a criminal.  Crime is fundamentally selflish.  Not selfless.

Integrity                    The man is a criminal.

Objectivity                He fires nearly all of his advisors – if they disagree with him. So, no.

Leadership                He thinks he is a leader.  We all know he is a fool.  So, no.

Honesty                      The man is a criminal.

Openness                   Well, he passes on one of seven.  If Twitter counts.

Now May:

Accountability        Largely, so I’d say.  She is democratic.

Selflessness             I think yes, for sure.  On personal level look what she is going through.

Integrity                  I don’t think you can question that.

Objectivity              I’m afraid not.  She is too blinkered.  She is not a good listener.

Leadership              You can argue this both ways but I find her too intractable.  It’s a no.

Honesty                   Borderline.  (largely so) but she was forced to publish the Brexit legals.

Openness                Again borderline, for me.

Much more tolerable than Trump, for sure but she only clearly passes on 3/7 and borderline on another 3.


Call a psychologist: quick!

DAWSEY: You said yesterday when you were leaving that you were skeptical of a climate change report that the government had done. Can you just explain why you’re skeptical of that report?

TRUMP: One of the problems that a lot of people like myself — we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including — just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say where does this come from. And it takes many people to start off with.

Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff: Book review.

fire and fury.jpg

Not a political reader?  Read this.

Think Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot?  Read this.

Feeling the February blues?  Read this.

Whilst the focus, in reviews of this epic book, has been firmly on Trump’s shenanigans the reality is that it features a large cast that could probably be described as Dumb and Dumber, and Dumber still, and even more Dumber and so Dumb it doesn’t compute, and those vying for the Dumbest of the Dumb.

Chief amongst them, and clearly living the aphorism that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, is Stephen K Bannon.  A serial schmuck who, at best, scrambled through a career of wannabe jobs before stumbling upon Bob and Rebekah Mercer, father and daughter multi-billionaires who spent vast sums to build a “radical free-market,small-government,home=schooling, anti liberal, gold-standard, pro-death-penalty, anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, monetarist, anti-civil-rights political movement.”

The Mercers installed Bannon as CEO of the tiny ultra-right-wing TV network, Brietbart, that overtook Murdoch’s Fox network as the voice-piece of the far right (and the Tea Party) and gave Bannon his way into Trump Towers.

The hold (albeit precarious) that Bannon had over Trump is remarkable.  He became his svengali and, against all the odds, overcame the Clinton Juggernaut to instate Trump in a totally unexpected presidential role.  The chapter on the victory has you howling with laughter.

The book charts the relationships Trump (and Bannon) then forge in the nascent government.  (It was meant to cover the first 100 days but Wolff was having so much fun, and so much unchecked access, that it actually takes us, via a postscript, to October 2017.)

Wolff claims he had dozens of, unscrutinised, interviews with aides and central characters in the book.  He had ‘a seat in the White House’, and was never challenged.

It’s like a fervent 5 set, Grand Slam Final, tennis match of deceit and counter deceit, leaks, backstabbing, plotting, firings, hirings, regret about hirings and various other daily occurrences amongst a team of advisors and departmental heads that had no more experience of US politics than I have.

It starts off laugh out loud funny, and I mean gut wrenchingly so, before settling into a torrid succession of horrendous back stories and tales of who was next for the firing line.

Central to the story are Bannon, of course, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (idiot), and the hilarious construct that is Jarvanka (Jared Kushner, son of a criminal, and his wife Ivanka Trump; Daddy’s Girl).

Jarvanka come in for relentless ridicule; mainly from the mouth of Bannon but there can be no doubt Wolff sees them as a laughable pair of complete morons.

Of course, Sean Spicer gets it in the neck (although we see him as a sympathetic character here, completely overwhelmed by Trump’s madness.)

What the serial womaniser sees in the gorgeous, and startlingly unqualified, Hope Hicks – his closest advisor, is anyone’s guess, but her position is as solid as anyone’s could ever be in this tram smash of a court.


No idea what Trump sees in the beautiful Hope Hicks.

Startlingly missing are both Melania and Vice President, Pence (who is castigated as even more of an idiot than Trump).

It’s a completely and utterly biased malicious character assassination of a man you wouldn’t put in charge of running a bath.  It exposes, time and again, Trump’s complete incompetence and reliance (100%) on gut feel.

That this man is an idiot of monumental  proportions is no great revelation – we all know that.  It’s the day to day incompetence that makes for the meat and potatoes of a political read like no other.

It’s a must read.

Go on, read it, before Kim Jong-un blows us all up.


Fire and Fury. Inside the Trump White House.

I’m reading this mind spinning book and one third of way through I think I have the measure of The Donald.

Basically it’s pretty easy to get a gig as a special advisor to the POTUS.  You don’t actually need any talent.

Anyway. I have spotted the main flaw in his presidency and so I’d like to share a bit of consultancy advice that I’ve used in first year advertising lectures in the past.

It’s a familiar statement that many of you will know but if heeded could transform his premiership.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.33.03.png

Can I have a job now please Mr President?