London 2019

Having been to Rome lately I thought I might continue the travel tales whilst mixing that with a bit of film industry nonsense. Names changed to protect… well, me really.
Readers who follow this page (I know you all, I am sure) will be aware (maybe) that we re-wrote our feature script a while back and we have been progressing that project as and when we can. And to anyone outside the film industry that sounds like a half-assed affair. Being brutally honest I used to roll my eyes whenever anyone said things along the lines of “Well, this year I’ve been developing a feature about…”

This year? It’s December! What the hell have you been doing every day? How long are you spending in the shower?
Of course you aren’t working on it all day every day. This is a well developed script in its late stages and now it is a case of putting a film together. Which is fine if you are making a student film with your pals but not so easy when you are asking people to jump on board to the tune of £3m – £5m at a minimum.
And who exactly is it that you are asking to jump on board? Well, there’s loads of them. They all have very nebulous titles and work in buildings that remind you of sci-fi sets. The 1st picture below is located in central London and the offices of a major studio are on the 3 – 5th floors. If you make it through the barriers then you reach the lifts.
Not a homeless person in sight
God knows what happens to you if you just jump over the little security gate. I imagine those big white balloons from the Prisoner come after you and deposit you outside Byron Burger.
The lifts are also very amusing. There are a dozen of them and to prevent people just pressing ‘UP’ then standing around guessing at which lift might arrive first there is a single hi-tech panel. You choose a number and then it tells you which lift to get on.
This is a moment of absolute faith because, you see, there are no buttons in the lifts themselves. Nor are there any indicators as to which floor they are going to or, indeed, which floor they are currently on/passing. So everyone has to look out the door whenever it stops to see if they have arrived where they wanted to be. When we got in our guide asked if the lift was going to the third floor only to be met with shrugs and ‘no idea’.
We got in anyway and it stopped at the first floor because it wanted to. No one got in and no one got out. Then it went to the third floor. We still have no idea why.
Then we waited 25 mins to go into a meeting that had been confirmed only the day before. Which isn’t unheard of in the film industry but it is very rare when you are expected. I would love to blame the machines for this as well but I can’t. The floor we got off on had three receptionists who sat at raised plinths with massive screens in front of them. No desks, just a podium with a great big Dell on it. Feck knows where they put their handbags. Anyway they took our names and the name of our meeting and sat us down with water.
Then nothing. For 15 mins. Then they checked the names and the name of the meeting. Then nothing for another 10 mins. And then it became quite clear that something was not right.
Our intended collocutor had started a search party via email just as the receptionist asked …
Who are you meeting again?
Ginny Smithson (Name changed)
Ah, good. I have emailed him already.
Have you now? Given that (unless we missed an email of some import) we’ve met the gal before… you might not be…
But she had already gone back to her ivory plinth.
Ginny turned up a few moments later and when she discovered that we had been waiting for that long left us at the lifts and went back into the room to shout at some people. We got in the lift and went to the fifth floor (eventually). Turns out that there is supposed to be an intern called Heerah or something. Who was supposed to meet us and tell her we were there. Only no one knows where he is.
Personally? I think he’s stuck in one of the other lifts.
The main offices are filled with very young people with very big, curved screens. Aside from random film toys and posters dotted about the place. (We saw an ET spaceship that was very tempting) it looks like a high end call centre. They have desks and places to put a handbag but only the execs get offices. Which is where the true London returns. The vast chambers at the front and on the ground floor are merely there to give you the illusion of space. Upstairs everyone is crammed in. Yes, execs get offices but they aren’t big. They have a single glass wall and a sliding door. Unless the office is not twice the width of a door – then they get normal doors with hinges. Floor space is power.
Has anyone seen the agenda?

The Meeting

Then you have the meeting. Which is now of so standard a format that there are books and blogs and articles and interviews detailing the separate phases and what you should be doing in each phase. I will leave that for others to detail. We tend to play it as standard but being comedy writers the initial icebreaker phase is important to us since we’re supposed to be funny in a professional way.
Pleasantries complete you start to talk business. Not your business, not necessarily… at least not right away. A bit of chat about the state of the business in general is always good. How hard it has become lately. How no one is making any money. How that one film should have made more and the other made less and how much did it make?
Phones are checked. $95 million!??! Well I never.
Then it comes to the crunch.
“So, what’s going on with you guys?” And that’s the signal. You don’t want to be in there too long but you can’t be out in 25 mins either (not counting the 25 mins we were all looking for Heerah). Anywhere between 40 mins and an hour is good as far as I can tell but I’m not exactly a veteran. Everyone is always positive and there will be chat about international rights, domestic rights, things being packaged and so on. This is where information a normal person would regard as shallow and meaningless comes to the fore. Lists of actors between the age of 20 and 32. Directors of comedy who are vaguely famous but not to anyone you might meet out on the street. Names are thrown hither and yon with little regard for the actual owners of the names since right now they are no more than possible ingredients for a dish you might not make and even if you do no one might ever eat it.
And all you want, your entire goal, is to get the next meeting. You are unlikely to win the game in this particular meeting you see, but you sure can lose it.
It’s in rooms like this where another little world is created. A place of magic where reality is suspended somehow and it seems perfectly reasonable to talk about creating something at a cost of £5 million that might or might not work. It’s insane when you think about it. If your mate came along and said
“I’ve got an idea for a pop-up shop/t-shirt/toy/car. What say we get £5 million and a couple of hundred other people involved and see if we can make any money?”
You’d surely just advise him to go and get a job. But no. Everyone buys into the illusion that just by asking if we have someone involved who can drive a car or draw a t-shirt we might guess how many we could sell. Who was that guy who drew that shirt? That was a great shirt let’s get him.
Yeah, but he designs black t-shirts mainly. Not sure he’s the right fella for the white t-shirt I have in mind.
You’re right, you’re absolutely right. Let’s get someone else to design it and then we’ll get someone else to check that and then we’ll get someone to run a few off and we can always copy a bit of that other t-shirt… what we want is a really good and original t-shirt that no -one has ever seen before but that (somehow) we know everyone already likes.
Original Sequel?
We could put Che Guevara on the front?
In truth it is utter madness to even consider that some people you have never ever met will have enough faith in you and your t-shirt vision to give you millions of pounds. And people still wonder why it takes so long to make films. At the moment we make little films and I find it miraculous when we can scrape up a few grand to make a short. Of course, we don’t get paid often.
Then it’s back out into the real world. The other London. Which looks nothing like this…
Where do I plug in my MacBook?
The thing about futurology is that people always assume rationality will prevail without taking into account human nature. The picture above is from 2001: A Space Odyssey and I thought of it when I was in London this time. And how utterly, utterly unrealistic it is. The truth of the matter is that were we to really build this spaceship it would need a lot more in the way of signage. Film Studio offices aside I never saw a space in London that size that didn’t have advertising in it. Actually, a space that size would have a Starbucks in it.
London is cramped. Every cafe has the maximum number of seats. The little supermarkets are designed to within a millimetre or so. When we arrived I had a wheelie case of medium size but I might as well have been driving an artic and heaven help me if I entered the Tesco Express at the same time as a mum with a pram. That particular manouevre required a banksman and some temporary traffic lights.
London used to feel big and bustling and exciting and now it just seems busy and stressed and expensive and loud. We have the benefit of staying at a friend’s place when we go to London – it’s in Hampstead. It is not big in Hampstead but in Hampstead it doesn’t matter. Passing by an estate agent’s window a cursory glance will find properties in nearby Swiss Cottage renting at just under £4,000 per week.
Per week.
Which is fine I guess. I mean, it’s approaching £200,000 a year and apart from Jose Mourinho I don’t know anyone who needs to rent a house at that price but if it works for them…
4 grand a week? I’ll take two…
But what is it buying them? The ability to sit in a cramped cafe drinking cappuccino whilst three feet away the owner grinds beans at a volume close to that of a Heathrow runway? The pleasure of everyone having to get up when someone wants to leave?
I love London – it’s got it all going on. I went for dinner, had an accident with a steak taco and bought a replacement shirt before the offending sauce had dried. It’s amazing. But they all seem very busy and I can fully understand if they don’t really have time to look up.
But… if you can’t look up then you can’t help but look down and when you do what you will see is people lying around. One of our meetings was with a comedy writer friend. He is well known in the writing game and very good at it so he has to live near London, but he doesn’t live in the centre. Even he, a veteran of the place, was shocked at the homelessness. He’d seen nine in a two hundred yard walk from Angel Underground to the bank across the street and I had had a similar experience the night before at Charing Cross.
To be clear, I’m not talking about begging here. I walked out of a tube station and found people sleeping where they fell. One of them in his work clothes. No one asked me for money. No one even looked at me. I would have taken a photo but that seemed wrong somehow. Like the zoo scene in La Haine it would just have made it worse.
London is bigger than Rome and more cosmopolitan than anywhere I have ever seen outside of New York. We nearly crashed into Alastair Campbell as he raced off a tube. Then we went back to Hampstead and sat in this little pub (which was packed to bursting on a Tuesday night) where the walls are covered in black and white pictures of famous people to the extent that there is no more room on the walls. Bowie, Einstein, Olivier… we even saw a picture of Nick Mason from Pink Floyd which would be an unremarkable thing in and of itself except that we left to go home and he was sitting in a restaurant around the corner.
If Rome is organised chaos then London is poverty-stricken wealth. Fur coat and no knickers.
After the madness of a film meeting I went to dinner with an old friend who works in the justice system. She told me a story about a person she encountered in her job who had a tendency to eat things. He’d eat ceiling tiles like toast so they threw him out of the office. At which point he ate the buttons on their keypad entry system.
He would starve to death in the film industry of course.
The lifts don’t have any buttons.

Here we go again?

It’s election time – again.
When I think back it seems that we’ve had a few of late. And when not having elections then we have a referendum.
2014 – Indy Ref 1
2015 – General Election UK
2016 – Scottish Election
2016 – European Referendum
2017 – General Election UK
2018 – Year off (presumably for the World Cup)
2019 – General Election UK
We have now moved in to the political equivalent of perpetual war where conflict continues endlessly and upheaval is the new norm. It is the ‘forever election’ cycle. Boris Johnson, hang on until I get my standard picture of Boris…
Boris (and it more likely to be Dominic Cummings) is merely adopting the standard political techniques of the day – constant chaos – to achieve his aims. By creating mayhem and then posing as the only possible answer to that mayhem.

Let’s Get Brexit Done

Followed or preceded by the words. “People are tired of this constant wrangling over Brexit” which is the same as saying “People are tired because of the thing I did, so let me do this other thing”.
Should Johnson win do we imagine that any of the sunny policies he is espousing will actually come to pass in the form that he describes? No, they won’t because the policies are not an end in themselves. There is no end beyond the continuation of Tory (Boris and Dom) power. And when that has been achieved the policies will warp, or vanish…

We’ll build 40 hospitals!

No they won’t. They’ll say they will and then, when it turns out that 40 hospitals costs more than £10.50, they will change it. It will be a more staggered roll out but they are still building 40. Then it will be 30 but they are more efficient and 2 of them are bigger. Eventually, after causing so much chaos no-one can remember they were ever going to build a hospital at all they will announce…

We’ll build 50 hospitals!

And when someone digs out the last manifesto they’ll basically point to some chaos that they can vaguely claim was not their fault and say “People are tired of these poor services (thing we did) so we need to get on with fixing the economy (other thing) and so we’re cutting corporation tax and increasing national insurance”.

Johnson is often described as Trumpian. But the truth is that Trump isn’t even the original. He models himself on Putin and the fact is that even Putin isn’t the original. The Russian power is maintained by Vladislav Surkov who may well come to be seen as the inspiration for Cummings, Steven Miller, Bannon and the like. Follow the link and have a read if you have the time but if you don’t then perhaps this single quote sums it up.
…the stage is constantly changing: the country is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away. Surkov is at the centre of the show, sponsoring nationalist skinheads one moment, backing human rights groups the next. It’s a strategy of power based on keeping any opposition there may be constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable.

Peter Pomerantsev – Putin’s Rasputin – London Review of Books
In a state of bedlam it can be difficult to know where to focus and what to believe – This is the very state they want you to be in and I don’t mind saying that it is difficult to handle. As a person I simply cannot see a problem unsolved or an injustice unaddressed. Which, as you can imagine, my partner loves when I am supposed to be ‘listening’ and I am actually just trying to come up with answers.
Note: This is not a good idea. Partner wants to be heard not helped.
I struggle every day not to over-react. My partner, my doctors and my friends tell me to chill. It’s not my job to solve everything. And I really, really wish that I could do that but if I know one thing I know that complacency and assuming it will be all right is not the answer. And how do I know that? Because of this photo.
The Last Jew in Vinnitsa
This photo haunts me. For reasons too numerous to mention here. I keep it on the desktop of my computer and I look at it occasionally. not for macabre, ghoulish reasons but more as a lode star. A reference point for navigation. If anything is proposed or reported I compare it to this photo. Any step, in any direction, that leads towards this photo is to be resisted with all the power at my disposal.
At this point you might be thinking ‘Here he goes. Comparing everyone to the nazis, why does everyone have to be compared to the nazis all the time?’.
I’m not saying people are Nazis. I’m just saying that if you take enough steps along the road then that is where you end up and the price we have to pay for not having that, is vigilance. Have another look at the photo and then have a look at the photos below. Then ask yourself – ‘In what direction are we moving? Away from, or towards, Vinnitsa?
Hostile Environment
American cages for children
So, here we go again. More marches, more protests, more chaos. Another referendum perhaps and another election on the way. This time in winter. You’re tired, I get it but do me a favour. Have a look at these photos one more time.

And then go vote.

Holiday Romanvs

Air BnB not as advertised.
Rome. A bucket list item finally chalked off said list after all these years. I won’t bore you with all the photos (there are hundreds) as they mostly contain my family standing next to a useless pile of old rubble. There are a few I am not in however.
Why Rome? Well that goes back over 30 years to my school days where, in my wisdom, I was the only pupil in a school of hundreds who actually chose to do Higher Latin. Chose to. I wasn’t very good at it but in our school when it came to second year you got to choose another language to study or you got to keep going to PE. Given that our PE teacher was a rugby fanatic and I weighed less than your carry on baggage allowance (seriously, I would have had no trouble fitting into the overhead compartment or under the seat in front) then it seemed only logical to take Latin instead. And I loved Latin – it was, at least, madly different from all the other subjects. I’d far rather be learning the best way to the forum instead of trying to figure out what Leiselotte and the rest of Die Familie Rheinhagen were up to. I also had a crazy teacher. Mr Clark aka Blinky. A man for whom the modern world (1983) was deeply unsatisfactory and whose response was just to keep his eyes closed most of the time even when he was talking to you. Seriously, unless he had to move around or write something he just kept his eyes closed and I tested whether they were fully closed or not one time in class. There were only the two of us and he was giving me pelters about how I had completely misunderstood a certain passage – Aeneas was not making a phone call apparently – when he closed his eyes to go off on a rant and I switched seats.
When he opened his eyes again I had ‘blinked’ two seats down. He wasn’t happy. Anyway, I digress. He was a lovely chap really and his enthusiasm for Ancient Rome kinda rubbed off on me. Everyone else remembers Gladiator and the Colosseum but for me it was the forum and the Palatine Hill that I wanted to see.
This is where the Caesars ruled. Where Julius and Augustus and Tiberius and, my favourite, Claudius reigned. If you have not read I, Claudius by Robert Graves incidentally then you should remedy that at once.
I couldn’t wait to wander through their world.
So, of course, we went everywhere else first. That’s the thing about Rome. It’s a nicely sized city. You can walk just about anywhere if you are feeling fit or if you have the time. The entire Metro system has about 20 stops in total and you are usually only about three stops from where you want to be in any case, but despite the small size it is absolutely packed with stuff. You can’t be the eternal city without accumulating some baggage along the way so there are countless museums, monuments, statues and piazzas to be seen in your immediate vicinity without traipsing all the way across town.
Our apartment looked onto the dome of St Peter’s a few hundred metres away. We had left the house at four o’clock in the morning and so we were wandering around St Peter’s square a little before lunch. We’d already paid for a tour the next day and took a half a day just familiarising ourselves with the atmosphere of modern Rome.
And what is there to say that has not been said before? Yes, it’s a modern European place – it has the obligatory statuary and monuments alongside the graffiti and the homelessness. The place is to cry for.
I had already been in Rome for a couple of days when we took the compulsory hop-on hop-off bus tour. I don’t mind saying I cursed when we turned the corner and I saw the ‘wedding cake’ for the first time. The thing is enormous and to give you some idea of scale the guy on the horse in the middle is so big that his hat is taller than I am. And then that night I saw a guy in a wheel chair begging outside the Spagna metro station who had clearly suffered incredible burn damage to his face and body. He should have been in some kind of accommodation but he wasn’t, he was begging to live in a life that had treated him just about as badly as life can. I cursed again. Rome is the city of opposites. Based on an empire that almost invented the concept of being organised it is utterly chaotic. Yes, there are rules and systems but you get the feeling they made them up because they had to and then never bothered with them again. Crossing the road is a matter of trust when you step onto the black and white pedestrian crossing and hope that the cars will stop, but a matter of mistrust when you use an actual crossing. Sure, the countdown might say that you have 3 seconds left to get across the road, but the scooters bearing down on you can’t see the countdown and don’t care anyway. Move.
In a city where space is at a premium and everyone lives on top of each other they have seemingly random areas of wide open space and splendour. And sometimes just wide open spaces…
This thing you cannot see the end of is the Circus Maximus (you’ll remember Charlton Heston charging around here every Easter on BBC2) home of chariot racing and at its height a stadium that could accommodate 250,000 spectators. In Rome it is just left to be.

City Life

There are tiny streets and alleys where the shops are all crammed together as well. They have enormous boulevards that they then make tiny by parking thousands of cars there until they become small and cramped. Speaking of cars. This is Italy, the home of Ferrari, Bugatti, Maserati and Lamborghini (other super car makes are available) but they all drive tiny little smart cars because they have made the place unusable for anything else. If you turned up here in a Ford Mondeo they’d just assume you were mad. Or it was part of a funeral or something.
Actually I did see a woman driving a big Range Rover thing so I can only imagine she is living in it or the boot folds out and the back turns into a mobile trattoria where delicious pizza is served by her and her family.


The Italians pride themselves on their food but unlike the French they aren’t actually that good with it. Yes the pizzas are delicious and they make a tomato sauce to die for. But that’s it. Italian ingredients are excellent – Italian cuisine is somewhat limited. I found myself wandering around Rome and in all the time I walked I saw one Chinese restaurant and one Kebab shop. This is a world capital – you’re telling me there’s no demand for an Indian curry? Or a caribbean place or… well, anything except pizza and pasta? I’m not saying a deep fried haggis is the answer but would it kill you to offer a goulash? A german sausage? Perhaps the answer lies in the people. We went out shopping and amidst the shoe shops we found a place selling masques. We love a masque so in we went.
Where we were accosted by a charming Syrian fellow who endeared himself to my French wife in short order. We’ll leave aside the fact that he tried to sell us some catwoman type masque as being good for the ‘sexual attraction’ when our kids were stood right next to us. The rest of it was very illuminating. This chap speaks perfect English and French and Italian and Syrian and heaven knows what else. Why is he in Rome? Well, the war obviously – he had to get out about a year ago and ended up here.
“And do you like it here? Do you feel at home here?”
“Not really. The Italians aren’t anti Syrian particularly but…”
“Well, they just hate everybody equally”.
Which sums it up to be honest. The place is all smiles for the tourist and that’s just great but you are there to spend money. Every bridge and street has someone happy to see you because you are there to spend money. We ended up with a lot of worthless jewellery (my fault) and some worthless stamps (his fault, money back please) but we still had a totally marvellous time. The scale of the grandeur and the weight of the history are overpowering.

The Other Empire

As stated we were living near St Peter’s and the Vatican City. There are endless photos and videos that I will cut together somewhere else and then drop in a folder so that I can easily access them when my wife moans that we never go anywhere or do anything.
I simply wasn’t ready for the scale of the wealth that the church has. I wasn’t ready for the extent of the art or the reach of the church as an organisation, As we walked towards St Peter’s square for the first time I said.
“This is nun soup here” And my daughter – brought up atheist -promptly asked me why they didn’t have any soup. So we had to start explaining nuns and the church and all that. It isn’t easy. We did the tour of the Vatican museums which is a sprint past centuries of art. You could spend weeks in there and never come close to seeing half of it. The place was so busy we had to detour through the Etruscan wing and they have probably lost more priceless art by just forgetting than we ever owned in the first place. The Vatican is a microcosm of Rome – it is just too much. Here’s a random corridor on the route to the Sistine chapel…
See what I mean? This isn’t the Sistine chapel, this is just going to the Sistine chapel. If I had to sum up Rome that’s how I would do it.
It’s just too much. And as a result I am sure that the Romans themselves have become inured to it. They don’t even see it any more.
Daughter’s playground
We were only there a few days and for my youngest daughter this place wasn’t a global icon at all. It was just the place she ran around in after our evening walk and gelato. Truly a city of opposites. I got the perfect visual representation on our last day there…

I need to go on a diet.

It’s lucky that my wife never reads any of my stuff because she would be waving this in front of me for the next 5 years. I don’t actually mean that kind of diet – the Slimming World, Keto, Caveman, Avocado toast kind of diet. Which is lucky, because I am useless at resisting temptation. I know, for example, that crisps are bad for me and I was honest enough (dumb enough) to tell my doctor that.
Doctor: How many crisps do you eat?
Me: All the crisps.
You know you want to.
Doctor: Ha Ha. You are funny. Seriously though, how many packets?
Me: Ha ha. You know those six packs of Salt & Vinegar?
Doctor: Yes.
Me: They’re all mine. You’re not getting any.
No. I need to go on a news diet. You know how you hear about people who are mostly friends of friends of friends (hardly ever just a person you know directly) who have gone on diets and now they look wonderful? You know what I mean, they used to have a BMI score that would be a decent break in snooker but now they hardly exist at all and have qualified for the olympics?
Well I know people who have done that – only with news. They aren’t reading the paper, they aren’t catching up with the TV bulletins either online or off. They don’t do Facebook and they don’t do Twitter. They are also smugly happy about it and live lives so much less stressful than mine it just isn’t even funny.
So for someone like me it just makes perfect sense to cut this out of my life. You ever just get overwhelmed? You wake up in the morning and there is just so much to do and think about and worry over that it seems like you would be better off just pulling the duvet over your head again and not even bothering?
Tuesday? How can it only be tuesday?
Tuesday? How can it only be Tuesday?
I wrote down my current to-do list the other day – just the major headings, not the little bits, there was no DIY on the list for example. Then, when I had finished writing it down, I softly closed the notebook, gently picked it up and then gingerly placed it down as far away on my desk as I could manage without it exploding or somehow spilling a load of letters and numbers everywhere.
Things are hectic enough without having the entire concept of undone (not even started) tax returns bouncing all over the house.
There’s the production planning and re-write of Neighbours-A Parable, the edits from the last six weeks on set with young people up and down the country, the admin work for the Scottish Youth Film Festival this year and the prep work for the next set of outreach projects in Clackmannanshire. Then there’s the need to go out and scare up work for later in the year and then start writing the next thing whilst at the same time promoting the re-make of Electric Man and trying to find an agent… it goes on. Notice the lack of family and friends mentioned thus far. Time must be made for them I am told.
Even using major headings I was at number six on the list before I even got to one that was something for the future, something that I actually wanted to do and was looking forward to instead of having to do it. Yeah, there’s just too much on the slate to be making Learn Gaelic the top priority.
I count myself as blessed. Not everyone has such nice problems to deal with. I can’t even conceive of doing a job I don’t enjoy and then adding everything on top of that. Or having a sick relative to care for before even getting to start the list.
It should be the easiest thing in the world therefore to stop consuming news. You’d think I would enjoy the peace and quiet – but that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. For example, this Autumn I could have had an easy go of it. Finish off the summer edits and start work on the admin for the winter projects at a leisurely pace whilst taking some time to look for future work (life as a freelancer) and get back to the Gaelic or the Archery or whatever. But instead….
Write a short film and attempt to get it made without getting paid for it as I try to set the world to rights. Which is just stupid. And all because I refuse to put down the news. I read an article in the Observer a few weeks ago about Greta Thunberg and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and it had this in it…
I know so many people who feel hopeless, and they ask me, “What should I do?” And I say: “Act. Do something.” Because that is the best medicine against sadness and depression.

Greta Thunberg, Guardian, 29th June 2019
I’ll just have one segment…
Well, you might as well be waving a Terry’s Chocolate Orange in front of a five year old. I’m not just addicted to reading the news I’m addicted to reacting as well. It seems impossible for me to not try and fix the unfixable and so my question is this. Is there any hope? I need the media equivalent of a bar man cutting off a drunk near the end of the night.
Me: “Just The Guardian please, Oh actually can I have a copy of The Economist as well? Oh and since it’s the weekend I’ll take 2 hours of MSNBC or CNN whichever you happen to have”
Media Gatekeeper: “Don’t you think you’ve had enough sir? Shouldn’t you be getting home to the wife and family?”
I need attractive people who see me reading my phone in public to walk past me with the same outward breath of disgust and quick look away that posh supermodels use when they walk by someone eating chicken from a bucket. In short, society needs to find a way to shame me for my uncontrolled desires. Until that happens though I guess I shall just have to be content with my wife giving me pelters for my crisp habit. Speaking of which, I have resolved to stop them as well…

Five Minutes Later…

Shopkeeper: Ah hah! Back again. Mister Salt and Vinegar. What will it be today. Walkers or Golden Wonder?
Me: Don’t be ridiculous. What lunatic prefers Walkers Salt and Vinegar?

Once upon a time…

Stories are the new battleground

History is but a fable agreed upon.

M. de Fontenelle, 1724, The origin of fables
What goes around comes around I guess. Because what the old French geezer was talking about was the fact that the Greek myths were exactly that… myths. There were stories aplenty but no actual history of any sort.
GM food spokesman denies side effects story
In effect all the news from the ancient Greeks was fake news. All the news from anywhere was fake news until we started inventing things like the telegraph system, telephones and television – so that it was possible to see the truth.
Girl band in wardrobe malfunctions scandal
Possible. Not inevitable. The quote at the start of this article is the basis for the adage ‘History is written by the winners’. In essence it is those who win who get to tell the story and create the truth. Back in the days of Napoleon (who also used this adage) that was about the people who prevailed on a battlefield being able to justify their actions afterwards.
Only now we have the internet and the obfuscations, misdirections and outright fabrications that were once possible (inevitable) because of a lack of information have returned ten fold due to a rampant surplus of information. It is not surprising that we are breaking down into ‘tribes‘ again and that those tribes are spouting very simple ideologies. The confusion is driving people back to the basic human method for survival in my opinion. Learn the rules of the tribe and then stick with them. As a strategy for getting through life this is pound-for-pound your most efficient method of survival from birth to death.
Your parents teach you basic things – don’t eat that, don’t go there… and you get by on that. The unfortunate thing for humans is that a great many people never really get beyond that level of analysis. And I don’t blame them. If this Brexit/Populist/climate change denying catastrophe has taught me anything it is that thinking about big, shitty stuff is hard. I’d rather be writing stories, or reading them, or… doing anything else really.

But now we fight through stories themselves.

Remember Momo?
Me before the morning coffee.
Momo scared the freaking shit out of me. I found the image in itself scary enough but then there was the whole story that the meme was going around telling kids to hurt themselves and as a father I was even more terrified. I am fairly good at telling bullshit from nutella usually but (confession) I had a chat to my daughters on the back of this. How could I not. A powerful image that had the possibility to hurt my children. I’m going to react and react quickly aren’t I?
And now there are even scarier stories being told by another grotesque… BOJO!
No deal will be brilliant!
We’re getting drug death stories which are distorted, we’re being promised the shipping work for the navy again because we fell for that last time.
Why? Because a story is a powerful thing. Ever since the Indy Ref in 2014 we have been besieged by one particular type of story and it goes along the same lines every time.

Scotland you are weak, you are in danger. Don’t do anything stupid.

And every story that follows the ‘Too wee, too poor, too stupid” framework is designed to do the same thing – affect how we vote. The onslaught is fairly constant and it is now coming through every channel. The BBC are terrible for it but they are joined by other TV channels and a great deal of the internet. The battleground of stories is constant. 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
Which is why I write blogs and make movies.
Our latest effort is our first step into the fray. Alongside my creative partner David Barras we are putting a story out there to help the cause of sanity. But we are being guided by what we have seen. Shouting isn’t helping – what it needs are stories, told simply and well that show the truth of what we are saying. For the moment we want to concentrate on Independence as a first step (for reasons outlined here) and that means telling the story of Scotland’s current relationship in a way that might just get through to people listening to other sources. We might, possibly, be able to change a few minds by changing how we tell the tale.

Winners are those with the best stories these days

To that end there is now a script that we hope to make this August/September. There is a facebook page where we are showing the type of approach we think will work. If you are pro-indy at all you should check it out because it might just be your best step in helping that idea along. If you think like we do. If you think our story deserves to be told, we would be honoured if you will stand alongside us in creating it. Contributions are closing but can still be made via our indiegogo page. Thank you for listening.

Flags and Heart Attacks

I have a European family and all of my friends know this and know how much I love them. So I would be against Brexit no matter what happens because no one on this earth gets to tell me that my family is worth less than someone else’s family. That they are somehow inferior to someone or have fewer rights because their mother is French.
But even if that were not true, even if I had married someone from Scotland and I had two ginger-haired Scottish girls instead then I would still be against Brexit.

Why? I am glad you asked. It is a tale of medium length and although it starts far, far away it takes place not long from now.
In August of 2023 the research vessel Sir David Attenborough carrying the autonomous vehicle Boaty McBoatface is somewhere near Antarctica when a puzzled look comes across the Captain’s face.
“Number one?”
“What day is it?
“Friday Ma’am”
“Really? It feels like Tuesday already. Tell me, that promontory there, have we not seen it before?”
“Yes Ma’am. We were here last Wednesday Ma’am”
“So we have, in fact, circumnavigated Antarctica?”
“Yes Ma’am”
“And have we seen any ice in that time”
We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
“I saw some in the fridge in the galley Ma’am”
Because the Captain knew that that was it. All over. Sure, it had been a mild winter but mild enough to produce no ice? There was now nothing to prevent the seas warming around the southern pole? Nothing to defend at all?
Near the Govan shipyards in 2023
A world away in Scotland it is 39 degrees and I am struggling up the hill from the main street to my home. Bad luck for me really that I chose to live at the top and not the bottom because this means that once I have queued for the standpipe and got my regulation 20 litres of water for the family I have to drag the bloody stuff all the way up to the house and that’s a mile away.
It would be fine if I was this skinny but I ain’t.
Only today I don’t make it. The air is thick with pollen and my anti-histamines ran out yesterday. I’m sweating and I put that down to it being just a degree or two hotter today. But it isn’t that at all. Stopping halfway up the brae I am out of breath and try to take a shot from my inhaler – it’s nearly empty and there won’t be any more inhalers in the chemist for a week or so. They do still make them but they make them in Germany and there is currently a six-week backlog for German imports I am told. This is due to the usual customs and trade problems – exacerbated by the migrant riots in Berlin and Paris – plus the sanctions from China and the French lorry drivers blockading the ports are also partly to blame. But just knowing all of that isn’t helping me today. I could walk down the hill and try the chemist but I decide against it since I know they won’t have any and in any case I would just have to drag my sorry carcass up the hill again with this water.
Lanarkshire 2023
Then I feel a kick in my chest and my vision narrows to only what is immediately in front of me. Damn it’s hot… and these water canisters are heavy. I resolve to put them down but when I look I see that they are already on the ground. It isn’t the water that’s heavy, it’s my hands that feel like they are made of stone – I’m having a heart attack.
As I hit the ground I can’t help thinking that my wife will be disappointed when I don’t come back with water. The pain is more than I can bear and it goes on forever. Which is, coincidentally, about how long it takes for the ambulance to get there.
I don’t know what happened to the water but once they got me in the back of the ambulance I started to feel a little better (ambulances have legal A/C) and as they wheel me into the hospital at speed I notice a flag fluttering outside in the sunlight. It’s a Boris flag; A union jack made mandatory on all public buildings when the blonde buffoon became prime minister. So, there might not be any medicine in this hospital but at least it has a flag – which must make someone somewhere feel better I am sure.
Eva, as I imagine her.
A lovely nurse called Eva is soon ministering to me and telling me it is all going to be all right. She’s asking me questions and looking into my swivelling blue eyes with her lovely brown ones. She injects me with something ( I hope to hell the medical insurance covers it) and I even start to breathe a little better with the oxygen despite the fact that the hospital is awful hot… seems I won’t be dying today.
And that one good thing means I have two bad things to look forward to. One, my wife giving me a row for not coming back with the water and…
Two, if I ever get out of this place I’m going to have to go past that damn flag again.
All of which is very interesting but, I hear you cry, why the feck is this anything to do with Brexit and me being against it.
Eva the nurse? She’s Polish. I bloody love Europeans
Yep. immigrant.
PS – I don’t die that day. But a week later I have a bit of a reaction to some chlorinated chicken and that’s the end of that.
Killed by chicken

First things first

Where do you even start? The world has gone insane and there are no limits to the number of problems and no end to the number of maniacs determined to make it worse – or at least make it no better.
Yes there is Brexit. And populism generally, not to mention the austerity, the impending global financial crash and the need for new anti-biotics but for sheer jaw-dropping, brain-freezing, pants-shitting terror then nothing beats the climate crisis. The only people who shouldn’t be worried about the climate crisis are people in hospices. Although, perversely, they are likely the most concerned because nothing focuses the mind and brings clarity to life quite like the imminent end of it. Yep. It doesn’t really matter what your beliefs are. You can take the view of reality held by Republican politicians – ‘We make our own reality’ but sooner or later the climate crisis will just crush you.
Likely sooner. As I write Europe is bracing itself for an early summer heatwave that is some 2C above anything ever recorded at any time of the year. The picture above is from the Guardian and even though the problem is in Europe it is big enough for them to mention it. What is harder to find is news about the trouble where brown people live.
Chennai is big. 4.6 million people. That’s nearly the population of Scotland – in one city – and they are running out of water. Can I ask you what you think will happen when they do? What anyone would do when they run out of water?
Why, they’ll probably just sit there and say ‘That’s that then. Nothing to be done about it.’
Or they’ll go looking for water.
Yeah, just like that.
I’ve written humorous pieces on here in the past about immigrants. I’ve written serious pieces about immigration and how these people are treated. In 2017, 26,547 asylum claims were filed in the U.K. and according to wikipedia the number of people trying to cross the channel in boats was a staggering 539.
Maybe I haven’t written the numbers out so you can see properly. That’s 539. Three digits. Remember, the population of Chennai is 4,600,000. The numbers of people trying to reach somewhere better were touted by Farage and the like as utterly unbearable already. Can you imagine what it is going to be like when hundreds of millions of people start to move?
Detestable man
You can sit there and say things like ‘Well, it’s not up to us to make sure they’ve got water’ and whilst that might be technically correct you’re going to discover very quickly that it isn’t going to make a bit of difference. What would you do to save your family? If they were dying of hunger, disease and thirst? Would the English channel stop you? Of course it wouldn’t. So let’s just accept that the climate crisis is for everyone to solve and the quicker the better. And it’s at that point you discover that your biggest problem isn’t the one you have to solve first. Because whenever there is a job to do you must first gather together the tools, fixings and other equipment that will let you get the job done. It’s only then that you realise you haven’t been investing in your toolbox. You’ve been buying cheap rubbish. Tools like…
This spanner.
No wonder all the screws are loose when this is what you are working with.
The truth is that your first job is going to be to change the toolkit. And it has to be a complete overhaul. Why? Because you’ve been buying the same brand for years.
The article this picture comes from details quite simply how 7% of the population (those educated in independent schools) manage to make up 65% of the senior judges and a majority of civil servants. Whilst there have been slight improvements over the last five years the Old Boys Network is alive and well.
That means that even if you have the requisite intelligence and the wherewithal to do the courses and attend the universities then, unless you are a member of that 7%, you only have 35% of the jobs to aim at. If you are a woman or a member of a minority then your outlook is even worse.
The system defends its own and is self-perpetuating. But why is there no outcry? I don’t understand it. I really, really don’t understand why the current wave of populism is this racist bollocks; this anti-immigrant, anti-EU nonsense when it should just be ‘Let’s eat the fucking rich. Seriously, let’s get the guillotines out’.
Sure, the media plays it’s part – 44% of newspaper columnists are part of the 7% and no numbers are given for editors but it is likely even higher. When your boss is a member of the system you are unlikely to buck that system or you find yourself out of it. The media is controlled by the elite, sure, but as the report shows -it’s not that hard to find out. It’s not that hard to see that Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, et al are just wankers out for themselves.
But that’s not the worst bit.
No, the worst bit is that it doesn’t even work. You could understand it if the system actually functioned and people could say ‘Aye, well, it might not be pretty or fair but it works’.
It doesn’t bloody work! These tools have brought us to the brink of disaster. It’s going to get hot soon and for some of us up here in Scotland that might take a little longer to have an effect. We’ve been mitigating the worst of these idiots for a while and unlike England we have an easier out. We can declare independence. For those south of the border I can only suggest a radical and complete overhaul of the toolbox. First things first – get rid of the problem – then get your actually talented people to set about fixing it.
You might not like it when the droughts start to kick in and then you look to Scotland for water only to hear
‘Well, it’s not up to us to make sure they’ve got water’
So, say it after me. ‘Eat The Rich! Eat The Rich!’

We’re sorry, but…

An SNN segment that can’t wait.

This was going to be an SNN segment but the more I wrote the more I realised that it would be too difficult to get it on air (internet, we’re not that fancy) before the European Elections next week. So I am making it into a blog piece and hope that it encourages people to follow us on facebook as we ramp up our new project. Anyway, here goes.

We’re Sorry, but…

…it’s back to school for some of you. Remember school? Remember all those classes you hated? Remember the sunshine outside driving you crazy and the clock always at the wrong time even if it was actually working because there was no way that could be the right time?
Only the TV was a cathode ray antique wheeled in from another room.
But at least there was always that one bampot, right? You know, the guy who didn’t know a single one of the answers but always had an idea to relieve the boredom? Sure you do.
He’d be rolling marbles down the classroom to the blackboard/whiteboard when the teacher had her back turned, just to drive her nuts. or he’d be ramming a test tube with four times the amount of potassium permanganate and pointing it at the nerd next to him in Chemistry because… fun, innit? What a dick. Great laugh though.
Until you got your report card. You spent so long being entertained by this clown – or afraid not to go along with him – that you never heard what the teachers were saying half the time. Then, somehow, he’s in more and more of your classes and one day you look around and start thinking..
Am I in the huts?!?
Am I… in remedial !!?!
If this did not happen to you then well done – it’s because you listened more to the teacher than you did to the class clown. But it seems like a lot of people, mostly south of the border but not always, are paying attention to him. And that’s more dangerous than you think.
Farage and Johnson are liars and cheats who are out for themselves and themselves alone. We know it’s hard to think about all of this. The Brexit, the populism, the climate change, the AI, automation and anti-biotic apocalypse. But we felt the same way about cloud formations in Geography, about surds in maths and why the hell does german need three genders just for words?! Yeah, those all sucked and the class bampot made the day pass a little easier but you want to know where it ends up?
Remember that time I…
In the pub, years later, with that same halfwit from school who is reliving his glory days in third year. Or worse, you are in the pub talking to someone you knew in the past and you’re blaming your problems on the wife, the government or your boss (they never seem to let you get on) and you aren’t interested in politics, it’s boring. If that’s the case then…
We’re sorry, but… you’re the class bampot.
*I was in the huts in 1st year doing basic maths – they’d put me in the wrong class and me and my mates were freaking out about it until we got moved. I was also in the huts in 6th year doing 6th year English as one of only two pupils. It’s an exaggeration for comic effect. Don’t get paranoid.

Small Audience

Procrastination sometimes has its own benefits. Given a free morning (daughter to ballet, wife to shopping) I decided quite decisively that I too would be productive this fine sunny morn.
And then I opened up YouTube. Which had exactly the effect you think it would. The clocks are about to strike noon as I write. And why shouldn’t I, after all? It is Saturday and I am entitled, am I not, to some form of leisure? Besides, it’s not like there are millions of subscribers waiting to read/watch my latest output. Most of the things I write are applications for funding read by four people at most and when I do get to be creative then it is for the dozen(s) readers of this blog or perhaps ten people who will read the first draft of a screenplay. It’s hardly a pressing concern now is it? So I should be allowed to relax I think. But I didn’t.
The morning was productive I tell you – and I can see my wife’s face even though she isn’t here. Eyes widening as she nods in mock agreement. What have I been doing? I have been learning I tell you, I have been inspiring myself so that I in turn might inspire others, I have been… watching Stewart Lee on youtube. Not the funny bits, not excerpts of shows but a talk at the University of Oxford… about writing and not writing. And yes, since I watched it to avoid writing in the first place I am fully aware of the ironic potential thank you.
The video is a tad under an hour long and so, in this modern age of multi-media, it took me a good ninety minutes to watch it (facebook alerts, emails, daughters searching for water bottles). I do not recommend you watch it unless you are interested in writing in general and comedy writing in particular. It is for a very small and niche audience.
What it did for me (at least at first) was make me feel decidedly inferior. Not just at the ability and erudition of Stewart Lee and others but also at the commitment shown.
As I started to watch I reminded myself that he had the chance to go to Oxford only to then remind myself that he was clever enough to go to Oxford.
I reminded myself that a younger me was a good deal cleverer than the current version and had he applied himself then I could also have gone to Oxford.
Then I reminded myself that I didn’t.
All of which sounds very depressing. It wasn’t. I found it to be perversely inspirational. It was once possible to try for a few years using government funds. It was once possible to go to the Fringe and put on a show without engaging a boutique venture capital bank in your endeavour. He names people you have never ever heard of (and some that you have) and how they pursue a life in regional theatre or playing to audiences of ten or twenty. He talks about artists and writers and performers who just work at it because they want to and how even people like himself and Alan Moore end up lost at sea when it comes to the new marketplace of ideas. But the point is that he talks with such enjoyment about art and culture and reading and performance that in telling a story of how he was asked to develop characters who might become internet avatars he mentions the Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens…
Likely still won’t read it though
” Charles Dickens never had to think about letting the audience decide what happened in Little Dorrit”
And I felt ashamed at not having read the damn thing but also energised by the possibility that I could and soothed by the fact that the media types are even asking Stewart Lee to do ridiculous amounts of work on nonsense: In the same way that my stuff seems to get rejected or dismissed for not being “quite what the marketplace is looking for”.
You could say that misery loves company but it is good to see that there are others out there – working away and getting similar results to you – just because the work of writing and creation can be very insular. It becomes easy to think that you are just wasting your time. Looking at the lives of the successful and thinking it is always easy for them is like looking at your friends on facebook and feeling bad because they are all having a wonderful time and you aren’t. They aren’t always having a wonderful time, it’s just the magic of editing.
Lots of people didn’t go to Oxford.
Lots of people don’t have big audiences.
This is not how I should be judging things. There are better ways of looking. I shall give you an example.
Yesterday I spent a whole day learning to do something. Maybe it shouldn’t have taken that long but I ain’t the young Edison – it takes me a while to get my head around new things.
I was trying to teach myself something so that I can offer students better options when we do a horror project later this summer. Specifically I was trying to learn how to change eye colour without making them wear contact lenses so we could get a horror effect. The image above is an example of a simple project of that type. It took me ages to do it.
It might look like I did it with a facebook or instagram filter ( I have no idea how those work either) but beneath that 5 second clip is hours and hours of work and frustration at my inability to take on board new ideas. I did it in the end though and was overly proud of the results as you can tell. Hours and hours of work – for an audience of a few dozen at most. I am never going to be an effects specialist. That requires dedication and talent I do not possess. Moreover I do not enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing.
But I wasn’t wasting my time. I am in my fifties (same age as Stewart Lee, roughly) and he only started making a living about ten years ago. The knowledge and the effort is an end in itself. As he describes in the video you can put a play on above a pub, or you can do Macbeth with little ninja toys (It’s in the video near the end) – these things have value.
If a dozen or more people read this blog then I truly do appreciate it. They don’t have to and I am sure there are other ways they could be spending their time. More important things. But popularity does not equate to value. Your struggle through life has value even if it doesn’t get loads of likes on facebook.
An audience of one (yourself) is enough.
As it happens my audience was larger than that. The daughter in the video liked it and so I sent it to my other daughter via email and got the response.

That’s so freakin cool. Teach me!

And if that is all the audience I ever get then it’ll do for me.

The best of the best

Number one is… The Philadelphia Story.

Which I really shouldn’t like at all. It seems somewhat whimsical and lightweight doesn’t it? And more to the point it’s about some upper class bods and their love lives. Not my favourite subject – and no, I have never seen a single second of Downton Abbey.

Why then do I love this film so much? A more shallow chap might just like it because of Katherine Hepburn – she’s luminous in this and it rightly resurrected what was a failing career at that point.

It might be that James Stewart plays a poor writer and I empathize with poor writers more than any other demographic.
But it isn’t any of those – It’s the script, it’s the speed of the wit. It’s dialogue.

And now that we have established all these positive things I can get back to moaning and establishing without a shadow of a doubt how I am right and everyone else is wrong about nearly everything there is to be right and wrong about.