Monday, 21 April 2014

A Great Light has gone out

It happens very rarely that I am moved to tears by art. Only 3 singers have managed it. I'd never have dreamed that the staff in The Red Fort curry house would one day be fussing around me asking if everything was all right.  Tears streamed down my face and I blurted out as I bawled: "Fine, I'm fine. This is just so ball-acheingly beautiful." I held up my Rougan Josh and tear-stained copy of Alistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief.

The literati call it a novel and the Canadian writer of the finest Scottish novel of the 20th Century died yesterday, aged 77. I think it sings more like a ballad, a memorable collection of vivid vignettes that moves the reader with an emotional range and intensity of both humour and melancholy I'd never have thought possible through the bare, written word. 

I chose the title of this post because one of the most striking things about the novel is that it is suffused with light of every kind, and no-one could write light like Alistair MacLeod.  Friends who were privileged to know him speak of his kindness, generosity and humility. A truly gentle man.

If you've never read No Great Mischief, do yourself a favour.  The National Post reports that, as well as his family, he is survived by a second novel. I for one can't wait to read it.

Fois do t'anam.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Defence? De man wid de nails am comin' to fix it.

As a relic of Empire kicked out of more than one newly independent country in my youth, and later as one who spent his military career confusing senior officers who asked me "What would be your ideal job in the Air Force?" with the answer "Air Attaché at the Court of St James", I recall a wheen of racist jokes such as a correspondent asking a Prime Minister of a newly independent state:
"What is [Bongo-Bongoland] going to do about defence?"
"De fence? De man wid de nails am comin' to fix it."
Racist, objectionable, puerile, offensive? Indeed. But is it materially any different to this utterly biased, puerile and objectionable 'animation' from BBC Scotland's Sunday Politics today?


Thankfully we retained our own legal system during the Union so we should be spared the BBC equivalent of an interview with the Lord President:

Correspondent: "Why does a ginger-haired, kilted laddie periodically run through the court squeezing women's breasts?"
Lord President: "He is the Court Titter."
Correspondent: "Court Titter?"
Lord President: "Yes, Court Titter. You have them at the Old Bailey in London. I frequently read in the Times Law Reports that a titter ran through the Court, so we thought we'd have them here as well."

The Third Seal

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 1887 by Victor Vasnetsov
And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. Revelation 6:5
You'd think they'd learn. Lord George Robertson was rounded on by all and sundry this week as being over the top for breaking the second (War) and sixth (Terror) seals, prophesying a cataclysmic end to Western civilisation wrought by the "Forces of Darkness" if Scots grow up and decide to govern themselves on 18 September 2014.  But no, the third seal (Famine) has been broken not only by the International Development Secretary, but also the Minister for Transport.

Vote Yes and the little brown baby gets it.
Scots of my vintage may remember from their toddler years the parental scolding "There are thousands of starving children in Biafra who'd be glad of that ..." when the offspring's nose was turned up at what was on the plate. Maybe she thought she was tuning in to such formative influences, though unaware of the petulant Scots brat's standard response of "Well stick it in an envelope and send it to them then." Anyhoo, feeling a bit left out of the indyref saga, Justine Greening (Who?) has weighed in prophesying third world famine and, for good measure, a bit of pestilence as well if we vote Yes. Apparently the "impact and influence" of the "hugely successful" (!?) UK aid programme will be diminished if we rend it in twain. Influence? Ah, yes. If Scotland chooses to give aid for aid's sake rather than sticking with the UK's long history of tying aid to arms sales to corrupt third world politicians, then the "influence" may well be diminished.

Way back in the dim and distant past, I had wondered where there was for the UK Government to go after the prospect of being nuked by North Korea failed to produce a even skid mark on the underpants of the imperturbable Scots. There was nary a trouser cough when we saw through the empty tripartite threat of no currency union from Osborne, Balls and Alexander and Yes support rose in the aftermath.

Have Project Fear given up trying to get us to keich our breeks on our own account? Do they think that we may be more amenable to being scared on behalf of Western Civilisation or little brown babies? Not quite.

We had come to terms with the fact that if we vote Yes, we'll be denied the Better Together Jam Tomorrow of Devo Max, or Devo Nano as it has turned out to be, if they can ever agree on what it means. In a cruel twist, the UK Department of Transport is now to deny us even Pie in the Sky.  Yes, if we vote Yes, the £40Bn HS2 project which was never going to come to Scotland will, erm, not come to Scotland.  If you are keiching your breeks now, please remember not to pull the chain while the train is in the station.