Time’s up for Tam

 

© BBC

 

It’s fair to say that the state of modern British politics is dire.  Desperate for a trade deal that might punt a little money the way of post-Brexit Britain (and desperate to show that the country still has friends on the international stage and isn’t a global Billy No-Mates), our Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has just hobnobbed in Washington DC with President Donald Trump.  Trump is a man whose idea of a successful trade deal is to make sure he ends up with all the money in his pockets and the other guy is left with a big, fat, humiliating zero – he wrote a book with Tony Schwartz in 1987 called The Art of the Deal but it should really have been titled The Art of the Steal.  So I suspect that Theresa’s attempted wooing of the Trumpster isn’t going to end well.

 

Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is an oaf whose ideas about how to make friends and influence people involve such antics as going to France and cracking jokes about World War II punishment beatings.  And the British Labour Party seems to have given up on providing any meaningful opposition to May, Johnson and co and has gone from setback to disaster to catastrophe to apocalypse.  Instrumental in this has been the woeful leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.  Ethically, I don’t think Corbyn is a bad bloke, but he seems to have the management skills of a drunk chimp.

 

This makes me nostalgic for an older era of British politics when at least a few politicians managed to combine intelligence with conviction.  One such person was Tam Dalyell, Member of Parliament for West Lothian and then Linlithgow for over forty years, who died a few days ago at the age of 84.

 

Tam had a privileged background.  He spent his childhood in a grand Scottish mansion near the Firth of Forth and inherited a title, the Baronetcy of Dalyell, from his mother’s side of the family.  He got much of his education at Eton College and Cambridge University, whilst doing national service with the Royal Scots Greys for a period between the two institutions.  Significantly, he didn’t get through officer training and ended up serving as a common soldier.

 

Later, he taught for three years at Bo’ness Academy, near to his family home, and he also wrote a column for the New Scientist magazine.  This interest in science was just one example of his eclecticism – he’d started off studying mathematics at university, then changed to history and then done an additional degree in economics.

 

Despite his well-heeled origins – which gave him a rather languid, aristocratic air – Tam was left-wing in his politics and when he became a Member of Parliament it was for the Labour Party, not the Conservatives.  Not that Labour Party leaders had less reason to curse him than Conservative Party ones had, for when it came to being a contrarian Tam was in a league of his own.  Whenever he got his teeth into an issue he felt was worth fighting for, he didn’t release it in a hurry and didn’t give a damn whom he annoyed.

 

An early cause was the injustice wreaked upon the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, whom the British evicted between 1968 and 1973 to clear the way for the establishment of an American military base there.  He was also a thorn in the side of the 1970s Labour government when it tried, then unsuccessfully, to introduce devolved governments for Scotland and Wales.  Tam’s argument was that the devolution proposals made Britain’s system of government unfair and unbalanced.  It would be wrong to still have Scottish MPs present in Westminster influencing decisions that affected England, if there was a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh making decisions affecting Scotland that English MPs had no influence over at all.  Four decades later, the UK has a devolved system of government and the conundrum identified by Tam – which became known as the West Lothian Question after the name of his old constituency – has never been satisfactorily addressed.

 

Elsewhere, Tam’s role as a one-man awkward squad knew no bounds.  He spent years hounding Margaret Thatcher’s government about the General Belgrano, the Argentinian warship sunk with heavy loss of life by British forces during 1982’s Falklands War.  The Belgrano had been torpedoed outside, not inside, the 200-mile-radius Exclusion Zone established by Britain around the Falkland Islands as the war’s official combat zone.  He also questioned the verdict of the Lockerbie Bombing trial, the legitimacy of the first Gulf War and of military intervention in Kosovo, and the justification for invading Iraq in 2003.  Indeed, the Iraq fiasco prompted him to brand his then party leader and Prime Minister Tony Blair a war criminal and he came close to having the Labour Party whip withdrawn, i.e. he was nearly kicked out of the party.

 

Needless to say, Tam blew his chances early on of being considered for a ministerial position and high office.  He got as far as being Parliamentary Private Secretary to the minister Richard Crossman in the 1960s.  But I suspect he was happier sitting on the back benches, being a pain in the neck.

 

After retiring as an MP in 2005, one way in which Tam kept himself busy was by writing obituaries – often for people from Scottish political backgrounds such as Sam Galbraith, Bruce Millan and Albert McQuarrie – for the Independent newspaper.  His obituaries were erudite and gracious towards political friends and foes alike.

 

I recall one obituary Tam penned a few years ago about Margo MacDonald, the formidable one-time Scottish National Party MP (and later an independent Member of the Scottish Parliament).  Tam concluded by sheepishly admitting that he’d liked Margo so much that, despite his credentials as a long-time opponent of Scottish self-government and her credentials as a long-term supporter of it, he’d gone and voted for her in the last Scottish parliamentary elections.  More evidence that right to the end Tam Dalyell was his own man.

 

© The Independent

 

The multiple personalities of Ruth Davidson

 

From caltonjock.com

From zimbio.com

(c) BBC

 

I’m looking forward to the new movie Split, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.  Ever since Shyamalan made his name in 1999 with the spooky classic The Sixth Sense, he seems to have frittered away his talent with a string of increasingly disappointing films like Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013), but early reviews of Split have been largely positive and suggest Shyamalan has retrieved his mojo.  What has particularly impressed the critics is the film’s central performance by Scottish actor James McAvoy, who plays a man with multiple-personality disorder.  In fact, McAvoy’s condition is so extreme that he’s inhabited by no fewer than 23 different, competing and sometimes conflicting personalities.

 

But James McAvoy isn’t the only Scot who’s displayed symptoms of multiple-personality disorder recently.  If you examine the pronouncements of Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, it’s clear that poor Ruth isn’t a single psychological entity either.  Rather, she’s a walking battleground where various, often diametrically-opposed personalities fight for supremacy.

 

For example, there’s one personality within Ruth that’s staunchly pro-European Union.  This personality was in control, temporarily, when she took part in a debate before last June’s vote on whether or not Britain should leave the EU.  Railing against the Brexiting likes of Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart and Andrea Leadsom, she declared, “The other side have said throughout this debate that they don’t like experts but when it comes to keeping this country safe and secure I want to listen to the experts.  So when the head of GCHQ says we are safer in the EU I listen.  When five former NATO chiefs say we are safer in the EU I listen.  When the head of Interpol, who is a Brit, says we are safer in the EU I listen.  When the head of MI5 and MI6 says we are safer in the EU I listen.”  Even the left-wing, anti-Tory New Statesman magazine was sufficiently impressed to call her a ‘stand-out performer’ afterwards.

 

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/eu-referendum-debate-sadiq-khan-and-ruth-davidson-give-remain-punch-it-needs

 

From politicshome.com

 

Presumably it was the same pro-EU version of Ruth who, before the referendum, posed with other Scottish political party leaders of in support a ‘remain’ vote.  And the same version again who, two years earlier, had urged the Scots to vote ‘no’ to independence (and ‘yes’ to remaining part of the UK) for the reason that this would guarantee Scotland’s place in the European Union: “No means we stay in, we are members of the European Union.”

 

Oops, that didn’t work out well, did it?

 

But fast-forward to today.  The British public narrowly voted to leave the EU and suddenly a new personality has wrested control of Ruth Davidson, one that’s in favour of Britain quitting the EU too; one that sees juicy economic opportunities for post-EU Britain; and one that opposes everything the Scottish National Party, which runs the devolved Scottish government in Edinburgh, is trying to do to preserve Scotland’s place in the EU.  Britain – though admittedly not Scotland, which voted by 62% to 38% to stay – chose to leave the EU, barks this new Ruth.  So get over the result and get on with Brexiting!

 

Admittedly, Ruth’s new pro-Brexit personality has at least expressed support for the UK, and by extension Scotland, remaining in the EU’s single market.  It’s something she believes Scotland should have “the largest amount of access to.”   Though Theresa May, British Prime Minister, Tory supremo and Ruth’s big boss in London, ruled this out in a speech a week ago when she declared that Britain “cannot possibly” remain in the single market because it would mean “not leaving the EU at all.”

 

Oops again.  That didn’t work out well, did it?

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-38555683

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38641208

 

I suspect a third personality might surface in Ruth Davidson soon.  One that’s totally hard-line in its support of Brexit and rejects the single market as much as it rejects every other aspect of the EU – you know, sort of like what Theresa May’s been saying.  I don’t know why I think this.  Call it a hunch.

 

There’s yet another personality lurking inside Ruth that manifests itself occasionally – one that loathes the USA’s new president, Donald Trump.  This personality was clearly in control of Ruth last year when she borrowed a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and trolled the ginger-skinned tycoon on Twitter: “Trump’s a clay-brained guts, knotty-pated fool, whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch, right?”

 

Yet two days ago, her boss Theresa May arrived in the USA to meet President Trump and suddenly another personality took hold of poor Ruth – one that seemed a lot more sanguine about the clay-brained, knotty-pated, whoreson, obscene, greasy, etc. businessman-cum-world-leader.  This new version of Ruth believed May – who described Trump’s presidency as dawn breaking “on a new era of American renewal” – just had to open her mouth and talk a wee bit of sense into him and everything would be okay.  May’s first speech in the USA, tweeted this new Ruth, “promotes liberal internationalism, warns on Putin, defends Muslims and makes case for democratic leadership in the world.  Bravo.”

 

Actually, Ruth’s words about May defending Muslims were perhaps a bit premature seeing as soon afterwards Trump slapped a ban on refugees entering the USA from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.  On Holocaust Memorial Day of all days, too.

 

Oops, that didn’t work out well, did it?

 

Some people would argue that Ruth Davidson doesn’t have a multiple-personality disorder at all – that her situation as a Conservative with reasonably liberal instincts and something of a social conscience who runs the Scottish branch of her party but who has to take orders from a considerably more right-wing regime in London means that during her pronouncements she needs to do more twisting and turning than a whirling dervish.  But I don’t believe Ruth could be as supine and pathetic as that.  I think there’s something genuinely, seriously wrong with her.  She ought to see a psychiatrist immediately.

 

But who’s going to have a word with her?  Who’s going to take her aside and give her this well-meaning but unpleasant advice?  Probably not her many sycophantic fans in the mainstream Scottish press, who kiss her arse as enthusiastically as Theresa May’s been kissing Trump’s arse recently.

 

© Blinding Edge Pictures / Blumhouse Productions

 

Glorious international foodstuffs 1: haggis

 

From donaldrussell.com

 

Food is something I’d like to write more about on this blog – especially since I’ve eaten a lot of unusual and occasionally mind-bogglingly strange varieties of food in different parts of the world.

 

And where better to start this new series of postings about glorious international foodstuffs than with Scotland’s national dish, haggis?  After all, today is January 25th, 2017: the 258th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard.  And tonight, the devouring of haggis will be one of the main activities (alongside the reciting of Scots-dialect poetry, the playing of bagpipes and the downing of industrial quantities of Scotch whisky) at Burns suppers held in honour of the great man the world over.

 

Haggis is a mash of oatmeal, suet, onion, salt, spices, stock, sheep’s lungs, sheep’s heart and sheep’s liver, traditionally (though not normally these days) boiled inside a sheep’s stomach.  The fact that the main ingredients of haggis are offal has earned it a lot of abuse over the centuries.  For example, someone called Lils Emslie once wrote a famous piece of doggerel that went: ‘One often yearns / For the Land of Burns / The only snag is / The haggis.’  More recently, in the 1990s, I remember the London-published Q magazine describing haggis inelegantly as ‘a bag of shite’.

 

Well, the ignorant may sneer.  But in my experience anyone adventurous enough to try haggis for the first time usually ends up enjoying it.  The Wikipedia entry on it describes its taste as being ‘nutty’ (as in ‘nut-like’, not ‘crazy’); but I can’t say I’ve ever thought of it like that.  ‘Spicy’ is the adjective I’d use – though spicy in a dark, subtle, slightly teasing way.

 

Culinary historians have argued about where haggis originated, although I’m sure it wasn’t in Scotland itself.  I’ve seen the invention of the dish attributed to northern England, to medieval Scandinavia and to ancient Rome and Greece.  Personally, I suspect the basic format of haggis dates back in history to soon after humans started hunting and killing their food.  Once you’d tracked down and slain a big animal like, say, a stag and removed the best cuts of meat, there’d still be a fair amount of flesh in the carcass that you couldn’t let go to waste – especially not when there was no guarantee when you’d be getting your next meal.  So you’d gather up the squelchy bits too – the heart, lungs, intestines – and find something to put them in.  And handily, there was another squelchy bit you could use as a container – the stomach.  Then you’d cook all this before the contents went off.  Hence, haggis.

 

And that’s one reason to cherish it.  Haggis, or the original concept of haggis, is the meat dish of the common man.  You can bet that by feudal times it was the aristocrat or wealthy landowner who was carting off the best meat from the big game animals he’d hunted down.  Whereas it was the serfs – who’d done all the hard work, looking after his horses and hounds, carrying his weapons, chasing the wild animals out into the open – who’d be stashing the left-behind offal into left-behind stomachs, boiling them and tucking into them afterwards.

 

© Daily Record

 

Appropriately, Robert Burns, of humble origins himself, appreciated a good haggis and wrote a poem in honour of the dish – Address to the Haggis, customarily the first poem to be recited at a Burns Supper, with the carrying in and cutting of haggis the first thing on the schedule.  It begins: “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face / Great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race!” Though it’s usually around the third verse that things get exciting and the reciter-cum-haggis-cutter starts waving a big blade in the air: “His knife sees rustic labour dight / An’ cut you up wi ready slight / Trenching your gushing entrails bright / Like onie ditch / And then, o what a glorious sight / Warm-reekin’, rich!

 

Not that haggis has remained unchanged since the time of Burns.  It’s evolved.  As culinary tastes and habits have developed, so has the way it’s been eaten.  It’s possible now to get haggis burgers, haggis pakora and haggis-topped pizza.  Vegetarian haggis – with the squelchy meaty bits replaced by nuts, lentils, beans and other vegetables – has been on sale for many years and it’s also been a long time since I munched my first-ever bag of haggis-flavoured crisps.  If someone hasn’t already invented haggis-flavoured ice cream, I’m sure they’re working on it.

 

From guff.com

 

And of course, the deep-fried haggis supper has long been a fixture of Scotland’s many fish-and-chip shops.  One admirer of haggis in its deep-fried form is New York chef and author Anthony Bourdain, who’s presented the TV shows No Reservations (2005-2012) and Parts Unknown (2013-present).  In one episode where he visited Scotland, he identified it as his favourite Scottish dish and described it as “battered and floating adrift in a sea of mysterious life-giving oil, the accumulated flavours of many magical things as it bobs like Noah’s Ark, bringing life in all its infinitive variety…”

 

A tribute to haggis that’s almost worthy of Robert Burns in its eloquence.

 

The FBI guys

 

© CIBY Pictures / New Line Cinema

 

Ask me at least two days of the week what my all-time favourite TV show is and I’ll say Twin Peaks, the weird, whacky and wonderful crime drama / mystery / soap opera / offbeat comedy / horror series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost and sometimes directed by Lynch that ran for two seasons from 1990 to 1991.

 

Admittedly, I agree with the consensus opinion that the show dropped in quality during its second season after the big question that’d propelled its plot until then was answered – i.e. we found out who’d murdered Laura Palmer back at the start of episode one.  But I’m still awfully excited about the news that Lynch and Frost have recently been working on a third season of Twin Peaks, set a quarter-century after the events of the original, which is scheduled for broadcast in May this year.

 

I’m saddened, though, by the recent death of actor Miguel Ferrer, who appeared regularly in the 1990-1991 Twins Peaks and was one of many old cast members recruited again for this year’s revival.  It now looks like Ferrer’s return appearance in the new Twin Peaks, filmed last year, will prove his swansong.

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

The son of the legendary Hispanic-American stage, film and TV actor José Ferrer and the American singer Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt), Miguel Ferrer played a character called Albert Rosenfield in the show and made his debut in its second episode.  Albert is an FBI forensic expert summoned to the town of Twin Peaks by his colleague Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to help him investigate the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).  The testy, cynical and frequently obnoxious Albert is the yin to the yang of Cooper, who’s a decent, honest and almost psychotically cheerful fellow.  Cooper also seems the only person on the planet who’s capable not only of tolerating Albert but of treating him as a friend.

 

Still, Cooper is mindful enough to advise town sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) about Albert being an acquired taste: “I gotta warn you.  Albert’s lacking in some of the social niceties.”

 

Initially, those social niceties aren’t so much lacking in Albert as non-existent.  He denounces the town as a “slipshod backwater burg” and a “forgotten sinkhole”, to which he’s “travelled thousands of miles and apparently several centuries”, and one that’s full of “morons and halfwits, dolts, dunces, dullards and dumbbells”.  He calls Truman to his face a “chowder-head yokel” and “blistering hayseed.”  Truman responds by punching him so hard that he ends up sprawled on top of the mortuary slab bearing Laura Palmer’s corpse.

 

But, as the show progresses, Albert is allowed some character development.  By the second season, when Truman’s ready to punch him again following another jibe – “You might practise walking without dragging your knuckles on the floor” – he responds to the threat of violence with an impassioned speech explaining that he’s happy to be a knob-end if it helps him in the greater scheme of things, i.e. in the struggle against evil.  And by the way, he’s a committed pacifist.  “While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I’m a naysayer and hatchet-man in the fight against violence.  I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King.  My concerns are global.  I reject absolutely revenge, aggression and retaliation.  The foundation of such a method is love.  I love you, Sheriff Truman.”  No wonder Cooper tells the dumfounded Truman afterwards, “Albert’s path is a strange and difficult one.”

 

Actually, the FBI as it’s portrayed in Twin Peaks is a strange and difficult thing too.  Apparently, it’s staffed by eccentrics and oddballs, admittedly ones with impeccable codes of conduct.  The abrasive-but-idealistic Albert seems almost normal compared to Cooper, with his compulsive habit of talking into a tape recorder, obsession with coffee and cherry pie, predilection for seeking clues in his dreams and generally bizarre investigation techniques, such as ‘the Tibetan Method’ (basically throwing rocks at bottles).

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

There’s also Gordon Cole, Albert and Cooper’s Regional Bureau Chief, who’s played by David Lynch himself.  He’s partially deaf, with the unfortunate side effect that he himself speaks much too loudly, which when you think about it isn’t a helpful characteristic for an employee of an intelligence agency.  In addition, Gordon is given to such odd behaviour as writing epic poems in honour of meals he’s just eaten and making obtuse statements like, “Cooper, you remind me today of a small Mexican Chihuahua.”

 

And then there’s Agent Denise Bryson (actually from the Drug Enforcement Agency rather than the FBI) who’s played by none other than David Duchovny and who turns up in Twin Peaks after having what we’d call today a ‘gender reassignment’.  Denise, who not-so-long-ago was called Dennis, explains to Cooper that she first donned woman’s clothing whilst working undercover on a sting operation and enjoyed the sensation so much that she decided to go the whole way and become female.

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

As a transgender character entering the remote, rural town of Twin Peaks, Lynch and Mark Frost can’t resist wringing a few laughs out of Denise’s situation – for instance, stunned expressions when Duchovny first trots into the sheriff’s office in high heels, stockings, skirt and long hair.  But overall, she’s depicted with surprising empathy and respect by the standards of an early 1990s TV show.  She’s shown to be smart, likeable and professional and Cooper and the others immediately accept her as a member of the team.   And she saves Cooper’s neck when he’s being held hostage by the villainous Jean Renault (Michael Parks).  Disguised as a waitress, she smuggles to Cooper a gun that she’s hidden up her skirt.

 

Let’s not forget the additional agents we meet in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the Lynch-directed movie prequel to the TV show that appeared in cinemas in 1992.  We get Phillip Jeffries, an FBI man who’s been mysteriously missing for two years but who one morning suddenly pops out of a lift at FBI headquarters.  He proceeds to babble gibberish at Cooper, Gordon and Albert: “Who do you think this is, there…?  I found something.  And then there they were!”  Then he narrates a surreal dream montage involving dwarves, killers, masks, disembodied mouths and long-nosed spectres.  And then he vanishes into thin air again.  Making the experience even stranger for the audience is the fact that Phillip Jeffries is played by David Bowie, in the movie for all of three minutes.

 

© CIBY Pictures / New Line Cinema

 

Another musical talent playing an FBI agent and disappearing mysteriously in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is Chris Isaak, who had a big hit with the song Wicked Game.  Early in the sequel, Isaak’s character Chester Desmond is sent to another small town to investigate the murder of another young woman.  We last see Isaak reaching under a trailer to retrieve what looks like the murdered woman’s ring – and then, spookily, he fades out of view.  I find it unsettling that Isaak’s musical career seemed to vanish off the radar about the same time he vanished off the screen in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.  Maybe Lynch knows something about Isaak he hasn’t told the rest of us?

 

The reputation of America’s intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies isn’t exactly spotless.  Indeed, the FBI’s image was severely tarnished by the many years when it had the unsavoury J. Edgar Hoover as its director.  I can’t help but wish that David Lynch had been allowed to run the FBI in real life and he’d hired the likes of Dale Cooper, Albert Rosenfield and Denise Bryson.  It would have meant some very peculiar characters investigating crime in America.  But they’d have been both entertaining and ethical while they did it.

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

The Dear Green Place

 

 

During the five years I’ve produced this blog, I’ve made little mention of the city of Glasgow.  Indeed, I don’t think I’ve written about Glasgow at all.

 

Nothing against the Dear Green Place, which is the meaning of the Gaelic version of its name, Gleas chu.  (The Dear Green Place was also the title of a 1966 novel by Archie Hind, one of the finest works of Glaswegian literature ever.)  I just haven’t been there lately.  Come to think of it, I’ve only made four brief visits to Glasgow in the 21st century, three of them to attend concerts and the fourth to pick up a new passport at the Passport Office on Milton Street.

 

However, on December 30th and 31st, 2016, my partner and I got an opportunity to spend a day-and-a-half in the city.  Here’s what we did there.

 

Just before noon on the 30th we got off a train in Queen Street Station and, not wanting to waste time, went out of its southern exit, down the side of George Square and into the Gallery of Modern Art.  The gallery was hosting three exhibitions at the time, though only one made much impression on us – a display about the work of the eclectic Scottish filmmaker John Samson, responsible for documentaries “covering topics such as tattooing, amateur railway enthusiasm, clothing fetishism, professional darts and the sex lives of disabled people.”

 

But the building is handsome, especially the lobby and the spaces above it.  Oval-shaped openings with ornate balustrades on each floor allow you to look all the way up from the lobby to a gorgeous glass dome with a spider’s-web pattern of panes in the roof.

 

 

Maybe the most famous work of art at the gallery is the statue on a plinth outside its entrance, of the Duke of Wellington on horseback.  What makes the statue iconic is how the old warrior’s head has, for many years, disappeared into the interior of a Glaswegian traffic cone, perched on top of him like a dunce’s cap.  Any attempts by the city council to remove the thing have prompted an outcry – the common argument being that the statue and cone constitute a Glaswegian landmark and symbolise the city’s healthy disrespect for authority.

 

In the early afternoon we checked into our hotel at Pacific Quay on the River Clyde.  Once the site of the commercial docks Plantation Quay and Princes’ Dock Basin, Pacific Quay is now a redeveloped area serving as (to quote its website) “Scotland’s most important location for broadcasting, media, digital and creative industries.”  Its attractions include the headquarters of BBC Scotland, housed in a six-storey glass box; the Glasgow Science Centre, whose building is a truncated hemisphere with a slanted-back glass façade; the Clyde Arc bridge, whose most prominent feature is a big steel hoop above its main span; the SSEC Hydro, a concert and conference arena shaped like a giant bucket; and another concert and conference venue, the Clyde Auditorium, whose segmented shell has earned it the nickname of ‘the Armadillo’, though looking at it across the river from our hotel-room I thought it looked more like a giant woodlouse.

 

 

One relic from the old days is the hulking Finnieston Crane, which loaded and unloaded ships from 1932 to 1969.  Rather sadly, it’s marked on Google Maps with a little medieval-tower symbol that denotes a ‘historical monument’.

 

Despite there being crowds of kids hanging out around the SSEC Hydro and Clyde Auditorium, most of the quay felt oddly bleak and empty – like a post-industrial ghost town.  Perhaps it was because of the grim end-of-year weather.  A vaporous ash-grey sky seemed to press down upon the tops of those architectural boxes, hemispheres, hoops, buckets and shells and it drained the scene of life and colour.

 

In the mid-afternoon, we walked north from the quay to Kelvingrove Park and then to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.  In contrast to Pacific Quay – a study in grey – the park seemed on this wintry day to have been coloured with a palette containing nothing but shades of brown.  It was populated with brown leafless trees and littered with fallen brown leaves.  Even the gothic Glasgow University Tower that rose above the park’s far edge looked like an extension of its brown foliage.

 

 

The gallery was hosting an exhibition by Alphonse Mucha, about which I’ll write in detail in the near-future.  Meanwhile, part of its foyer floor was devoted to the Glasgow Boys, the two-dozen-or-so artists who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries pioneered the celebrated Glasgow Style of painting – about whom I’ll also write more in future.  By the time we’d viewed Mucha and the Glasgow Boys, the building was ready to close, which meant there were still many parts of it we hadn’t seen.  Which means we’ll need to make a return visit someday.

 

 

Incidentally, I appreciated the fifty or so disembodied heads hanging above the foyer.  Devised by Sophy Cave in 2005, these heads are bald and albino and variously yawn, smirk, grimace and gurn.  They’re simultaneously funny and creepy.

 

 

After stopping off at a branch of the craft-beer pub-chain BrewDog opposite the gallery – which, pleasantly, seemed to cater for a range of ages, including grumpy old farts like myself, and not just the loud young hipsters who often seem to fill BrewDog pubs elsewhere – we headed back to the city centre.  There, we ate at an Italian restaurant on Hope Street and then retired to a rock-music-themed pub further up the street called Rufus T. Firefly.  It happened to be showing Joe Dante’s anarchic Christmas movie Gremlins (1984) on a big screen – yay!

 

The following morning, my better half, Mrs Blood and Porridge, resolved to do some shopping in the Argyle Street branch of Next.  I left her to it and took a wander around Buchanan Street.  The first time I ever visited Glasgow, I was with my family, I was eight years old, we lived in Northern Ireland and we were over in Scotland on a holiday.  I was a big fan of Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who and one of my main memories of that visit was spotting what looked like the Doctor’s Tardis, i.e. an old blue police box, standing on the corner of Buchanan Street and Gordon Street.  More than 40 years later I discovered that the thing is still there, though the sign at the top now says HOTDOGS instead of POLICE.  I wonder if the current Doctor, the Glaswegian actor Peter Capaldi, goes to that corner whenever he’s back in town and plays jokes on passers-by by leaping out from behind the police box and accosting them in character.

 

 

Later in the morning, we walked to Glasgow Cathedral, which is nearly nine centuries old and is a rare example of a Scottish medieval church that survived the Reformation wholly intact.  The hill behind the cathedral is home to the city’s famous Necropolis and bristles with stone crosses, columns, plinths, sepulchres and stelae, but we didn’t have enough time to explore it and besides, the weather was turning wet and wintry again.  Instead, we contented ourselves with looking around inside the cathedral itself.  And again, this may be the basis of a future blog-entry.

 

 

That was all we had time for, save for lunchtime drinks in the Horseshoe Bar on Drury Street, famous for its 104-foot bar-counter that’s supposed to be the longest in the UK – although since it’s an island bar rather than one than runs in a straight line, you may not notice its great length.

 

And so ended my first substantial visit to Glasgow in many years.  My verdict?  There’s plenty to see and do, the people are hospitable, much of the city is handsome and it won’t be long before I’m back.  Though I hope next time the Dear Green Place really is green, as opposed to grey or brown.

 

Mid-January news round-up

 

Here at Blood and Porridge I like to think I have my finger on the pulse, offering opinions on the big news stories the moment they happen.  Alas, I’ve been up to my eyes in work this last fortnight and haven’t been able to post much.  And meanwhile, during the same fortnight, the big news stories have come thick and fast.

 

To make amends, here’s a quick round-up of those recent news items as Blood and Porridge sees them.

 

Knobhead of 2017 found already

Only two-and-a-half weeks ago I named Nigel Farage as the biggest knobhead of 2016.  The reason why Farage won that title despite stiff opposition from US president-elect Donald Trump was because: “Trump is the equivalent of the loud malevolent playground bully who blighted your childhood.  But there was always one kid who was more detestably obnoxious than that – the slimy little sneak who grovelled before and sucked up to the bully, hoping to attain a smidgeon of his aura of cruel power.  And since it became clear that Trump was going to be the most powerful man on the planet, Farage has been doing a good impersonation of the slimy little sneak, scurrying across the Atlantic to do some major sucking up to the gruesome orange-skinned tycoon.”

 

Well, if that’s the criteria for making yourself the most loathsome and pustulent human being of the year, it looks like we already have a winner for 2017.

 

© The Daily Mirror

 

Michael Gove recently scuttled over to Trump Tower in New York to sychophantically interview Trump on behalf of the Times newspaper.  The resulting article was shocking even before Gove started the interview.  Describing the ascent in the Trump Tower’s infamous gold-plated lift, he wrote, “It was as though the Great Glass Elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had been restyled by Donatella Versace, then staffed by the casting director for Gone with the Wind.”  Gove felt moved to insert that Gone with the Wind reference because the lift had an “African-American attendant kitted out in frock coat and white cotton gloves.”  I wonder if the Trump organisation had forced him to pick the cotton that his gloves were made of.

 

Is Trump a Russian plant?

Speaking of Donald Trump, there’s been a kerfuffle lately about an intelligence dossier accusing Trump of being a puppet of Russian president Vladimir Putin.  The dossier alleges that those pesky Russkies spent more than five years cultivating Trump as a US presidential candidate with the intention of getting him into the White House and letting him wreak havoc on the Western world.  It also warns that they have “potentially compromising personal and financial information about him”, including saucy stuff involving prostitutes and what’s euphemistically known as ‘golden showers’.  Cue a million jokes on Twitter about Trump being the next Pee-OTUS and about him talking pish.  Oh, and ‘urine for a shock’ when he becomes president.

 

From talkingpointsmemo.com

 

Just before Trump’s lawyers get in touch with Blood and Porridge, I should say the dossier’s claims are so far unverified and their accuracy has been questioned in many quarters, not just by Trump’s supporters.  And the Orange One himself has strenuously denounced them as ‘fake news’ and ‘phony stuff’.

 

Still, this malarkey calls to mind certain works of fiction and celluloid – for example, Richard Conlon’s conspiracy thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1959), filmed in 1962 and 2004, about the Chinese and Russians using a brainwashed Korean War veteran to carry out a political assassination in the USA; and Robert Harris’s The Ghost (2007), filmed three years later by Roman Polanski, in which a very Tony Blair-esque former British prime minister turns out to have been a CIA plant.

 

My favourite entry in this sub-genre, though, is the Don Siegel-directed movie Telefon (1977), based on a 1975 novel by William Wager, in which mad Russian scientist Donald Pleasance tries to start World War III by activating a network of brainwashed sleeper-agents across the USA.  These agents develop a glazed look and lumber off and attack American military installations as soon as Pleasance gives them a ‘trigger’, which is the recital of certain lines of verse by Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep / But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep…

 

© MGM

 

Not that I think Trump would become glazed-eyed and trudge off zombie-like to attack a military installation if you recited Robert Frost at him.  Somehow, I doubt if poetry has much effect on him.  In fact, he probably he thinks Robert Frost was the guy who interviewed Nixon.

 

May rejects Europe, except for Bulgaria

January 17th saw British prime minister Theresa May give a historic speech about the nature of Britain’s ‘Brexit’ from the European Union at Lancaster House.  Guess what?  It’s going to be hard!

 

If there was one thing ghastlier than Ms May’s pronouncements – she even warned that if the EU didn’t accommodate Britain’s demands, she would “change the basis of Britain’s economic model”, i.e. slash taxes to lure businesses away from the EU even though this would leave next-to-no-money to pay for Britain’s public services – it was the head-to-toe blue tartan outfit she wore that day.

 

© The Daily Telegraph

 

It makes me wonder if someone somewhere is making a movie of the old British TV children’s series The Wombles and May fancies her chances of landing the role of the Wombles’ venerable patriarch, Great Uncle Bulgaria.

 

From Wombles Wiki

 

Trump’s inauguration still short of talent

Back to Donald Trump.  His presidential inauguration ceremony in Washington DC on January 20th has been beset by problems.  At least 50 Democrat lawmakers have announced they’ll be staying away.  The demand for hotel rooms has been low compared to previous inaugurations, with some Washington DC hotels reporting they’re only half-full.  And scalpers are struggling to offload tickets for the event.

 

On top of all that, there’s been a noticeable reluctance among the musical community to perform at the thing.  Everyone from Elton John to Celine Dion, Kiss and even Vince Neil of Motley Crüe have turned down invitations to sing / play and the names booked for the inauguration concerts aren’t exactly household ones, at least not in the Blood and Porridge household: Jackie Evancho, Three Doors Down, The Piano Guys, Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood, DJ Ravidrums and the Frontmen of Country.

 

Apparently, a group called the B Street Band, who do covers of songs by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, were on the line-up but recently cancelled.  They cited as their reason the ‘respect and gratitude we have for Bruce,’ who coincidentally hates Trump’s guts.  Maybe there’s another Springsteen tribute band that could be recruited?  The C Street Band?  The D Street Band?

 

But if Trump’s people are still hunting for a performer to enliven those inauguration day concerts, I could direct them to one famous artiste whom I’m sure would be only too happy to step in at the last minute.

 

He’s someone whose stomping, glitzy anthems capture both the brassy boldness that Donald Trump no doubt believes is one of his winning qualities and the shiny opulence of the Trump empire, gold-plated lifts and all.  Someone who was a legend in his time, but who’s been off the radar for a little while and would surely welcome the new exposure that playing the inauguration would bring.

 

Yes, I give you…

 

From blog.thecurrent.org

 

Caledonian culture war

 

© Channel Four Films / PolyGram Pictures

 

Many people may be puzzled by the title of this blog-entry.  After all, if you’re to believe the pronouncements of certain Scottish Labour Party heavyweights of yesteryear, there isn’t any culture in Scotland to have a war over.

 

George Galloway, one-time Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead and Glasgow Kelvin and now widely-known as a preening, egotistical jackanapes, once declared that no such thing as Scottish culture existed.  Supporting him in this assertion was George Robertson, former Labour MP for Hamilton South, former Secretary of State for Defence and now known by the socialistic, man-of-the-people title of Lord Robertson of Port Ellon, KT, GCMG, PC, FRSA, FRSE.  Comparing the campaign for Scottish independence unfavourably with similar campaigns in Flanders and Catalonia, he said that unlike the Flemish and Catalans the Scots have “no language or culture or any of that.”

 

Despite George and George applying their mighty intellects to the matter of Scottish culture and ascertaining once and for all that the very notion of it is as ridiculous and chimerical as the Loch Ness Monster, a few people have not yet seen reason.  For example, the Scottish National Party, which forms the current Scottish Government.  And Jackie Kay, the current Makar – i.e. Scottish poet laureate – for another.

 

Recently the SNP / Scottish government launched a scheme whereby the parents of every baby born in Scotland receive a ‘baby box’, a collection of items handy for those taking care of a bairn during its first few months of life: a blanket, bedding, play and changing mats, a towel, fleece, reusable nappy, sponge, thermometer and so on.  The boxes these come in can also double as cribs.  The idea originated in Finland, where the boxes / cribs are believed to have contributed to a fall in the number of cot deaths.

 

What has raised the ire of many a commentator – mostly, it must be said, of the same unionist / pro-British / anti-Scottish independence mindset as Messrs Galloway and Robertson – is the decision to include within these baby boxes a poem written by Kay called Welcome Wee One.

 

The poem begins, “O ma darlin wee one / At last you are here in the wurld / And wi’ aa your wisdom / Your een bricht as the stars…

 

That’s right.  The poem isn’t written in proper standard English, but in Scots – the Scottish dialect of English that some misguided souls believe to be a separate language, to constitute a separate Scottish linguistic culture.  No wonder people who agree with the two Georges are having seizures of rage just now.  The Scottish government is propagating Scottish culture, something that doesn’t, shouldn’t, can’t exist!

 

Okay, enough of the sarcasm.  From now on, I’m writing seriously.

 

Among the many tweeters and posters expressing their scorn at Kay’s poem was Ian Smart, self-styled ‘lefty lawyer’ and ‘Scottish Labour Party hack’, who dismissed her as “a woman from Bishopbriggs, writing doggerel.”  A reader posting below a report on the baby boxes in the Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, brought up the fact that Kay is of what used to be called ‘mixed parentage’ to question her right to pen the poem in the first place: “…Jackie Kay has produced Welcome Wee One in what is supposed to be local dialect…  according to her Wiki entry her father was Nigerian.  I wonder what she’s like at Igbo?”

 

© The Guardian

 

As far as this baby box / Welcome Wee One stushie is concerned, I find myself agreeing with the Scottish journalist Kenny Farquharson.  Writing in the Times a few days ago, he claimed the antipathy towards the poem and the Scottish government’s distribution of it in the baby boxes was down to the ‘Scottish cringe’.  This cringe is the commonly-held belief that any manifestation of Scottishness in Scottish people is something to be embarrassed by, something you need to shed and disown in order to get on in life.

 

In an article headlined SPEAK UP FOR SCOTTISHNESS AND BAN THE CRINGE, he observed how the cringe’s “symptoms were easy to spot: an involuntary shudder at the sound of a glottal stop; an onset of the vapours when confronted by a fluttering saltire; a pursing of the lips at any manifestation of Scottish working class culture.”

 

However, many Times readers didn’t share his opinion.  The comments thread below his article was soon ablaze with Farquharson-bashing (“really just a closet nationalist…” “he seems to have a chip on both shoulders…”) and with further Kay-bashing (“fake, rubbish art…” “the great majority of the recipients of the baby box will take one look at the poem and assign it to the recycle bin…”), Scots-language-bashing (“no one, in 21st century Scotland, would ever express themselves in this way…”), and Scottish-government-bashing (“the box and the poem are intent on branding babies Scottish the moment they gulp their first breath…”  “As a government, they are totally incompetent…”)  No wonder that a few days later Farquharson tweeted, “Have to say, I’m fair ferfochan at some of the responses to my Scottish cringe column.”  (‘Ferfochan’ is a northeast Scottish word meaning ‘tired’ or ‘troubled’.)

 

Well, I think the baby boxes are a good idea in any society that claims to be civilised and anyone railing against them is showing himself or herself up as a Grade-A mean-spirited numpty.  The people complaining about them containing a poem written in Scots seem ignorant of the fact that since the medieval era of Dunbar and Henryson, through Robert Burns to the present day, an awful lot of Scottish poetry has been written in Scots.  So what’s the big deal about this poem being written in it?

 

© The Herald

 

Regarding the argument that the Scottish government is playing identity politics, trying to ‘brand’ youngsters as Scottish so that, somehow, they’ll be more likely to vote for Scottish independence from the UK when they’re adults – I suspect that if the baby boxes had contained some Union-Jack-waving verse by the likes of Rudyard Kipling, the right-wing readers of the Times and Telegraph would have expressed less indignation.  It seems we’re now in the midst of a culture war, Scottish culture being aligned with the SNP and the Scottish independence movement at one end of the battlefield, and British culture aligned with unionism and the status quo at the other end.

 

Oh, and in response to one of Farquharson’s detractors at the Times – I’ve just spent the past fortnight in the Scottish Borders and I’ve heard plenty of people speak ‘in this way’.  (Although the word ‘een’, for ‘eyes’, does seem obsolete now.)

 

What I find astonishing about this is that Farquharson himself is a Unionist and often writes scathingly about the Scottish government and its long-term policy of achieving Scottish independence.  But the moment he attempts to show some reasonableness and writes favourably about a policy by that government, he’s torn apart by people who are supposedly on his own side.  (I should declare an interest here – I knew Kenny Farquharson, slightly, for a year or two when we were students at Aberdeen University in the early 1980s.  I don’t much agree with his politics, but I found him to be a decent bloke back then, full of Dundonian congeniality, and I’m sure he continues to be that way now.)

 

From youtube.com

 

With all this yelling about the SNP / Scottish government using Scottish culture to play identity politics and further their agenda, you’d expect them to have established the post of Makar too.  After all, giving Scotland its own poet laureate is another way of separating it from the United Kingdom, which has long had its own national poet laureate.  But in fact the post was created by the previous regime at the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition – Unionist politicians to a man and woman.

 

And if you’re going to employ a Makar for Scotland and not have them write a short ode of welcome to its new-born citizens – why employ one at all?

 

Kandy’s Royal Botanical Gardens

 

 

I recently spent New Year with my family in Scotland, the memory of which makes me shudder.  I’m not shuddering about being with my family, of course, but shuddering at the physical discomfort that New Year in Scotland inevitably entails – pummelling wind, unrelenting rain, numbing cold and generally all the greyness, dreichness and shiteness that the Scottish mid-winter can muster.

 

How different it seems from another sort of New Year I’ve experienced lately – Buddhist New Year in Sri Lanka, where I’ve been living since 2014.  This takes place over three days starting with the first full-moon-day in April.  And in Sri Lanka, April is a month when the daytime temperature is in the thirties and the air feels so toastingly hot that you want to shower after spending two minutes out on your balcony.

 

One Buddhist New Year, my partner and I found ourselves in the Sri Lankan city of Kandy.  On the first day of the holiday we wondered what we could do with ourselves because we assumed everything would be shut.  Then, after making enquiries, we learned that Kandy’s famous Royal Botanical Gardens, just beyond the edge of town, were open that day.

 

 

Stupidly, I assumed that these ‘botanical gardens’ would be like the ones you find in the United Kingdom, i.e. with their tropical plants sealed off from the brutal British elements behind thick glass walls and beneath thick glass roofs; growing safely in an artificially-created tropical climate.  But when we arrived at the gates of Kandy’s botanical gardens, the truth dawned on me.  The gardens here don’t need to be kept indoors in an artificial tropical climate.  This is Sri Lanka.  It has a tropical climate.  D’uh!

 

Thus, these botanical gardens are proper gardens, outdoors.

 

As we wandered about the gardens, certain features caught our attention.  Passing through the bamboo thickets was a surprisingly aesthetic experience – as it penetrated between the bars of their walls, the sun made hypnotic patterns of long straight shadows.  Unfortunately, though, the effect was vitiated somewhat by the amount of graffiti that’d been carved onto the bamboo shafts.

 

 

Other highlights included a tree called mora excelsa, a hulking brute of a thing with amazing roots.  Tall and narrow as they spread out below the trunk, the roots didn’t just divide the surrounding ground into segments but formed high walls between them.  Syrgus romanzoffiana, which originated in South America, was a tall, super-straight tree with a trunk like a pole.  And coryphe umbraculifera, found in Sri Lanka and India, stood at heights of up to 80 feet and was supposedly the biggest of the world’s palm trees.  My notebook entries that day also mention ‘spiky, pineapple-y and vaguely triffid-esque things’ and ‘weird sinister growths with yellow-white buds, light-brown flowers and round coconut-like fruit, whose tangled tendrils enclose the trunks of trees.’

 

 

Somewhere during our circuit of the grounds, we saw tall, slim and weirdly-curved coniferous trees, forming wavy patterns in the distance.  One had a curious, cloven comb at its top.

 

 

At one point too, we encountered a broad meadow, a couple of feet above which battalions of butterflies were fluttering madly.  I tried to photograph the scene but, alas, these butterflies proved as ephemeral and elusive as vampires or J.D. Salinger – their images just refused to be captured on film.

 

 

It was a delightful place to explore.  However, after tramping around the gardens for a few hours in the gruelling heat, we both got mightily thirsty and hungry – and we were less than pleased to discover that the one part of the place that was closed because of the holiday was its shop, café and restaurant facilities.  Thank God we thought to bring umbrellas with us as protection against the sun.  But at least a New Year associated with extreme heat, dehydration and sunstroke made a change from one associated with hypothermia.

 

 

Meanwhile, I hope you all had a Happy New Year, no matter what climate it was spent in.

 

Death log 2016 – part 2

 

© Hat Trick Productions

 

Just before I bid adieu to 2016, here’s a second posting paying tribute to those people whom I liked and admired who passed away during the year.

 

Firstly, two people who died in the first half of 2016 but whom I forgot to mention in my previous posting.  American author Harper Lee left us on February 19th.  Her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) was both an indictment of racial injustice in 1930s Alabama and an affirmation of human goodness, as epitomised in the characters of upstanding lawyer Atticus Finch and the scary-but-good-hearted Boo Radley.  Rather less wholesome was the character played by Irish actor Frank Kelly, who died on February 28th, in the classic 1990s TV comedy Father Ted.  Kelly’s Father Jack Hackett was a man reduced by a lifetime of hard (and un-priestly) living to a sedentary existence in the world’s grottiest-looking armchair, from which he would occasionally bellow, “Feck!  Arse!  Drink!  Girls!”  Father Jack couldn’t have been further from the charismatic, cerebral and articulate person that Kelly was in real life.

 

© Richmond Film Productions / Rank

 

TV comedy lost another talent on July 2nd with the death of British comedienne, actress and writer Caroline Aherne, famous for acting in and co-writing the sitcom The Royle Family (1998-2012) and for playing the titular host in spoof chat-show The Mrs Merton Show (1995-98).  July 2nd was also a day when cinema took a double hit, seeing the deaths of filmmakers Michael Cimino, co-writer of Silent Running (1972) and Magnum Force (1973) and director of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), The Deer Hunter (1978) and ruinously expensive western Heaven’s Gate (1980); and Euan Lloyd, producer of the not-to-taken-seriously mercenary epic The Wild Geese (1978) with Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore, its demented sequel The Wild Geese II (1985) and laughably right-wing SAS thriller Who Dares Wins (1982).

 

Meanwhile, record producer Sandy Pearlman died on July 26th.  He’d worked on classic albums by two bands who, while they were equally loved at Blood and Porridge, were wildly different in their styles: the Blue Oyster Cult’s Agents of Fortune (1976) and The Clash’s Give ’Em Enough Rope (1978).

 

© CBS / Epic

 

A number of veteran character actors died around the middle of the year.  William Lucas, star of such fascinatingly oddball British movies as X the Unknown (1956), The Shadow of the Cat (1961), Night of the Big Heat (1967) and Tower of Evil (1972) died on July 8th.   The New Zealand actor Terence Baylor, who died on August 2nd, will be remembered for uttering the most quotable line in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979).  After Graham Chapman’s reluctant messiah Brian pleads with a crowd of followers to leave him alone because they’re “all individuals” and the crowd mindlessly chants back at him, “We are all individuals!”, Baylor pipes up: “I’m not.”  He also appeared in Terry Gilliam’s The Time Bandits (1981), which lost another cast-member in August – the excellent Kenny Baker, who died on August 13th.  Baker was best-known for being the man inside R2D2 in the Star Wars movies and he was honoured at Blood and Porridge in this entry:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6802

 

There were also many deaths among the American acting fraternity.  Comic actor and writer Gene Wilder died on August 29th.  Though Wilder was best-remembered for playing the title character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), for me his finest hours came in two Mel Brooks movies made in 1974 – playing the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles and Dr Frederick Frankenstein (“Pronounced ‘steen’”) in Young Frankenstein.  Two days later the hard-working character actor Jon Polito passed away.  Polito was a regular in the films of Joel and Ethan Cohen, appearing in Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Man Who wasn’t There (2001) and most memorably Miller’s Crossing (1990) where he played the mobster Johnny Caspar.  And on September 5th Hugh O’Brian, veteran of many a western movie and TV show, rode off into the sunset.  As the villainous Jack Pulford, he had the distinction of being the last person to be shot dead onscreen by John Wayne, in Wayne’s swansong The Shootist (1976).

 

© 20th Century Fox

 

September 16th saw the departure of Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning American playwright Edward Albee, whose work included The Zoo Story (1958), The Sandbox (1959), A Delicate Balance (1966) and most famously Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), made into a movie four years later and distinguished by splendidly unhinged performances by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as a booze-sodden university couple from hell.  Filmmaker Curtis Hanson, who started off writing interesting little movies like The Dunwich Horror (1969), The Silent Partner (1978) and White Dog (1982) and ended up directing the brilliant L.A. Confidential (1997), died on September 20th.  A somewhat less reputable filmmaker died on September 26th: Herschell Gordon Lewis, whose ultra-cheap but sensationally gory horror movies like Blood Feast (1963) and 2000 Maniacs (1964) were by no stretch of the imagination good, but left enough of an impression on Blood and Porridge to warrant this entry:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6940

 

Another American purveyor of low-budget celluloid sensationalism, Ted V. Mikels – of The Astro-Zombies (1968), Corpse Grinders (1971) and Blood Orgy of the She-Devils (1973) fame – died on October 16th.  October 13th saw the death of multi-tasking Italian Dario Fo, described on his Wikipedia page as an “actor-playwright, comedian, singer, theatre director, stage designer, songwriter, painter, political campaigner for the Italian left-wing and the recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature”, whose dramatical works made him “arguably the most widely performed contemporary playwright in world theatre.”  Ten days later, the comic-book world said farewell to artist Steve Dillon, who cut his teeth on British comics like Doctor Who Magazine (Abslom Daak), 2000 AD (Judge Dredd, Rogue Troopers, ABC Warriors) and Warrior (Marvelman, Laser Eraser and Pressbutton) in the 1980s and ended up working on acclaimed American titles such as DC Comics’ Hellblazer and Preacher in the 1990s and Marvel Comics’ Punisher in the noughties.  And on the same day, Jimmy Perry, who scripted the much-loved TV comedy Dad’s Army (1968-1977) with David Croft, died at the age of 93.

 

© Arena Productions / MGM Television

 

On November 5th, the English actor John Carson died.  As well as being a regular face on British television, he appeared in three memorable Hammer horror movies: Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974) and best of all Plague of the Zombies (1966), where he played a voodoo-practising Cornish squire saving on labour costs by using reanimated corpses to work in his tin mine.  Passing away on November 11th was actor Robert Vaughn, famous on television for playing Napoleon Solo in The Man from UNCLE (1964-68) and equally famous in the cinema for being the longest-lasting member of the titular septet of gunslingers in John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven (1960).  Between those two dates, on November 7th, the great Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen expired, having delivered one final album, You Want It Darker, just the previous month.  Here’s what Blood and Porridge said about Cohen at the time of his death:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=7111

 

The great Irish novelist, short story writer and playwright William Trevor died on November 20th, while actor Andrew Sachs passed away three days later.  Most famous for playing the Barcelonan waiter Manuel in John Cleese’s classic sitcom Fawlty Towers (1975-79), Sachs was the son of a German Jew who fled to Britain to escape Nazi persecution in 1938 – an irony missed by right-wing British tabloid the Daily Mail, which printed the refugee-scare headline MIGRANT NUMBERS HIT NEW RECORDS next to the news of Sachs’ death on its front page.

 

© Hammer Films

 

Valerie Gaunt, who died on November 27th, made only two movies in the late 1950s before leaving the acting profession, but she made a big impression in them; playing Justine, the fickle maid who tries to blackmail Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein in the 1956 horror classic The Curse of Frankenstein, and playing Christopher Lee’s vampire bride in 1958’s equally classic Dracula.  And the venerable character actor Peter Vaughan, who played Grouty in the sitcom Porridge (1974-77), played Maester Aemon in blood-tits-and-dragons saga Game of Thrones (2011-2015) and gave many memorable performances besides in films and TV, died on December 6th.  Here’s Blood and Porridge’s tribute to the great man:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=7196

 

© Spitting Image Productions / ITV Studios

 

Astronaut John Glenn, the fifth person to travel in space in 1962, and also the oldest person to travel there as a crewmember of the Discovery space shuttle in 1998, died on December 8th.  Two day later saw the death of the avuncular Scottish weatherman Ian McCaskill, who presented forecasts on the BBC from the late 1970s to the late 1990s and was regularly lampooned on TV puppet show Spitting image (1984-96).  On December 18th, the world said goodbye to actress and all-round personality Zsa Zsa Gabor, who could appear in a masterpiece like Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil and a camp Grade-Z pudding like Queen of Outer Space in the same year (1958) and be inimitably Zsa Zsa-esque in both.  Distinguished British TV director Philip Saville died on December 22nd.  His career highlights included 1977’s Count Dracula, probably the most faithful adaptation ever of Bram Stoker’s seminal vampire novel; 1982’s condemnation of Thatcherism, Boys from the Blackstuff; and 1986’s gaudy and saucy TV version of Fay Weldon’s Life and Loves of a She-Devil.

 

Pop star George Michael died on Christmas Day.  I wasn’t a fan of his music, but from his philanthropic work (which included donating the royalties of his ever-popular festive anthem Last Christmas to the Band Aid charity) and from the fact that he lived his life with a healthy disregard for the strictures of Britain’s prurient tabloid press, I’d say he was a thoroughly good bloke.  And finally, the lovely and witty Carrie Fisher, aka Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, died on December 27th.  (Even more tragically, her mother Debbie Fisher passed away the following day.)  A depressing indication that in the shithole year that was 2016, you weren’t safe even if you were a fairy-tale princess.

 

© Lucasfilm Ltd / 20th Century Fox

 

Knobhead of the Year

 

If 2016 hadn’t been so stomach-churningly hideous, there would’ve been only one serious contender for the title of Knobhead of the Year.  Donald Trump, a man with the IQ of lichen, the charisma of diarrhoea and the moral compass of Beelzebub, was elected 45th president of the United States on November 8th.  He didn’t actually win the election, since he garnered 2.83 million fewer votes than his main opponent.  But fortunately for him the US electoral college system proved to be as demented and rotten as he was.

 

However, 2016 was also the year when a majority of Britons voted for Brexit, their brains apparently reduced to mush by the grisly Brexit cheerleading of people like Conservative MPs Michael Gove and Boris Johnson and then-UKIP leader Nigel Farage.  And it’s the third of this venal triumvirate, Farage, whom I think out-Trumps even Trump in the 2016 knobhead stakes.

 

© Daily Mirror

 

Farage’s antics during the past year have included, a month before the Brexit vote, the launching of a campaign poster depicting hundreds of traumatised Syrian refugees queuing to get into Slovenia with the slogan BREAKING POINT emblazoned on it and the insinuation that all these scary brown-skinned people would soon be invading Britain if it remained in the EU.  The poster bore a chilling resemblance to a clip of old Nazi propaganda that ranted about undesirables flooding “Europe’s cities after the last war… parasites, undermining their host countries.”

 

The Monday after the Brexit vote he got up in the European Parliament – an institution he’s been a member of for the last 20 years without, it’s fair to say, doing much in the way of work – and told his fellow MEPs, “I know that virtually none of you have never (sic) done a proper job in your lives.”  Seen facepalming behind Farage was Lithuanian MEP Vytenis Andriukaitis, whose useless, proper-job-free life had seen him growing up during the Stalin era in exile in the Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, overcoming such unpromising beginnings to qualify as a cardiac surgeon and eventually being a co-signatory of the act re-establishing Lithuania as an independent state.

 

From abc.net.au

 

Farage rounded off 2016 in similar classy style by attacking Brendan Cox – husband of Jo Cox, the late Labour Party MP for Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire, a pro-European and pro-refugee politician who was murdered shortly before the Brexit vote by a right-wing terrorist called Thomas Mair.  Referring to Hope Not Hate, an organisation campaigning against far-right militant groups that’s supported by Cox and funded by a foundation set up in his wife’s name, Farage said: “He backs organisations like Hope Not Hate, who masquerade as being lovely and peaceful, but actually pursue violent and undemocratic means.”  Hope Not Hate have demanded an apology from Farage for this slur, but I’m not holding my breath about them getting one.

 

But for me what clinches Farage’s status as a truly vile human being is his relationship with the US President-elect.  Trump is the equivalent of the loud malevolent playground bully who blighted your childhood.  But there was always one kid who was more detestably obnoxious than that – the slimy little sneak who grovelled before and sucked up to the bully, hoping to attain a smidgeon of his aura of cruel power.  And since it became clear that Trump was going to be the most powerful man on the planet, Farage has been doing a good impersonation of the slimy little sneak, scurrying across the Atlantic to do some major sucking up to the gruesome orange-skinned tycoon.

 

According to Farage, Trump is “full of good ideas”.  He’s confident he “will be a good president” – not like his White House predecessor, whom Farage has described as a “creature” and a “loathsome individual”.  Mind you, Farage also thought Trump was creature-like, though in a positive sense.  After one of Trump’s presidential debates with Hillary Clinton, he admiringly likened him to “a big silverback gorilla prowling the studio”.  Meanwhile, Trump managed to remember who Farage is long enough to tweet that many British people would like to see him “as their ambassador to the United States.  He would do a great job!”

 

Farage has raved about 2016 being the year that the “little people decided they could assert themselves and could actually beat the establishment.”  This utterance was made without irony, despite the allegedly anti-establishment Farage being a former pupil of Dulwich College, a former commodities trader in the City and the sort of guy who if there were ever little people in the vicinity of his house would probably set the dogs on them.  And I doubt if many little people are allowed in the same postal district as Farage’s new best friend, Mr Trump.  They certainly wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the golden lift-doors in Trump Tower, before which Trump and Farage posed for this nauseating and now-infamous photo.

 

© Daily Telegraph

 

Those little people will soon be feeling the pinch in Britain – a country where many folk are already dependent on foodbanks – when the 40 percent of their food that’s imported gets subjected to post-Brexit tariffs and its price gets jacked up further as the pound goes through the floor following the activation of Article 50.  No wonder Farage seems to be doing his best to get out of Blighty before the shit hits the fan.  I reckon 2016’s biggest knobhead is making plans to move to the USA permanently, where he’ll probably end up residing inside Donald Trump’s arse.