British Commentators

British sports commentators are known for their idiosyncratic turn of phrase. Both radio and TV pundits have become celebrated for their ability to paste the metaphor on thickly.

Interestingly, this tradition looks like it is even being continued in the field of flash mobile text commentary. As I’ve said previously, Orange’s service seems to me to be a very good example of a new form of chatty micro-journalism, perfect for sporting occasions. This gem, seems to be very British in style. The analogies could be made nowhere else:

Murray is trudging along the baseline like Kevin the Teenager. And in the 60 seconds it’s taken me to write that, it’s 0-5.0-3: Man v Boy, Tiger v Gerbil, Man Utd v Torquay. All these match-ups are now comparable to what we’re seeing on Arthur Ashe court as Federer consolidates his break.

He also continues that very British tradition of wallowing in British sporting defeat. The old customs don’t die with the new technology.

Scotland's Hottest

Well well – Just as I take a step back from the running of 59 Productions, they find their way into one of those top 100 lists. We are now officially only 6 degrees less hot than JK Rowling:

The List’s Hot 100 – 2007’s hottest talent

59. Fifty Nine Productions
Fast-tracking their way to international success as audio-visual designers, Mark Grimmer and Leo Warner have worked with Suspect Culture, Grid Iron and, for the National Theatre Of Scotland, Black Watch. Following extensive work at the National Theatre, the Royal Ballet and New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, future projects include a new play at The Traverse and Salome at the Royal Opera House.

No mention of Robert Sharp, goddammit, which probably reflects my distinctly hands-off approach in recent months. One can only hope that the second-hand prestige shows up in some healthy dividend payments, one of these days.

Life Goes On

After the terror attacks in London and Glasgow, there’s obviously been a lot of analysis and opinions flying around, from the mainstream media, security analysts, bloggers and the general public. Its interesting to see how most people are adhering to the idea that life should go on, and that these attempted suicide attacks should not provoke a draconian curb in civil liberties. To do so would hand the terrorists a victory.

For what its worth, I think Gordon Brown, Jacquie Smith and Alex Salmond have hit the right note, with their calls for unity and calm. Dave Hill seems to agree.

Over at the Devils Kitchen, Nosemonkey makes an interesting, if flippant point in the comments:

I believe in taking the piss when they cock up, and diminishing the status of the terrorist bogeyman. Terrorists exist to spread terror – make them a figure of fun, they fail, even if the occasional success does manage to kill a few score people and freak us out for a bit.

I’m not sure about making jokes about the attack, although I would suggest that the “life goes on”, “I’m not bovver’d” attitude also contributes to the diminishing returns of terrorist attacks in the UK.

Remedy Scotland

One thing I have witnessed “first hand” is the anxiety – nay, terror – induced by the shocking MTAS system for appointing junior doctors. Various aspects of the mis-management continue to be discussed in the blogs and in newspapers, including the dumbing-down of the profession and the fact that some people are having to take on lower grade positions.

So, while I can concede that there are dozens of political groups that I could campaign for, I’ve lent my support to the junior doctors at Remedy Scotland by setting up a campaign blog for them. They have quite a focused campaign, with an achievable reform agenda, in a single policy area, so I am hoping that it can be quite incisive. Since so many people in Scotland will be affeced, a fairly disparate group of people will need to be mobilised. I am planning to utilise the full arsenal of Web 2.0 technologies to help spread the message. Expect blog buttons and such things very soon.

Do please visit the site and sign the petition. There is also a protest march planned for mid-July, in Glasgow.


Scottish Roundup and Rights Affirming Laws

In the absence of the stalwarty DoctorVee, I have edited this week’s Scottish Roundup. I actually found trawling through loads of politicians’ blogs quite encouraging. People have a genuine passion for making things better (although of course, they all have a slightly different conception of how that might be achieved). Yes yes, I know “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”… but so is the forked path to progress and prosperity.

I included in the round-up a post from Rhetorically Speaking, about the fact that the Executive have legislated in favour of women being allowed to breastfeed in public. Much has been made recently of Labour’s frenzied approach to law-making, with apparently a new law being made every three hours since they came to power. I wonder how many of these were laws that affirmed a citizen’s rights, as opposed to laws which took rights away?


Just spotted a post from Tim Worstall on the issue. There are some pertinent points in the comments. My favourite is from Little Black Sambo:

This is entirely consistent with the new understanding of law. The purpose of making a law is to “send a message”.

Instant ASBOs

It seems a couple of rather illiberal policies seem to have found their way into the Scottish Labour Party campaign.

The first, which is part of the manifesto, is to “retain the DNA samples of all crime suspects“.

A common argument from civil liberties campaigners is that such a policy effectively makes people into permenant crimminal suspects. However, I am not so sure that this would blight your outlook, in the same way that young ‘hoodies’ become demoralised by the feeling that they are always under suspicion. Or does the hidden nature of the suspicion make it more sinister? Either way, more worrying is the possibility that the DNA database could be comprimised: either accidentally, in which case a ‘false positive’ result could convict an innocent person of a crime they did not commit; or on purpose, with a person being framed for monetary or political gain.

One reason why our laws have been structured as they are, is to protect innocent people from mistakes, maladministration and malign intent. The careful procedures for the collection (and then destruction) of bodily fluids and DNA samples are in place precisely so that the chain of evidence remains intact, and therefore beyond question. Weakening this chain weakens the justice system.

The second policy is the Instant ASBO:

Scottish Labour this week revealed plans to create new ‘instant ASBOs’ to allow the police to take immediate action against the small minority who disrespect and undermine our communities, without having to go through the normal court process. The tough new measure will be available to use by new community policing teams and will stay in place until the offender can convince a court that they have changed and will not offend again.

This is a 180 degree reversal of the “innocent until proven guilty” principle. It is true that methods for establishing law and order could be made more efficient, but eliminating the very principles of law upon which our system is founded is the wrong solution to the problem. Its like being asked to solve a mathematical equation, and simply changing the answer to fit your workings out.

Laws with integrity, which everyone perceives to be fair and just, form bonds that keep communities together. What is so tragic about these proposals is that they will undoubtedly be subjected to their first test in those poor and ethnic minority and communities that (the politicians keep telling us) need a little more social cohesion. The first instant ASBO will not be issued on the red granite streets of leafy Newington, but on the grey concrete schemes of Sighthill. These policies will experience their first malfunction among the under-privileged youths that Labour is so eager to help. They will breed indignation and a sense of injustice long before anyone feels safe, free, or empowered.

The Independence Debate

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the launch of a Fabian pamphlet by Gordon Brown. Stronger Together puts the case for continuing the union between Scotland and the rest of Britain. Embarrassingly, Gordon and I were wearing the same tie, but that did not seem to put him off his speech.

There was a muffled scoff during the Q&A session, when Douglas Alexander suggested that, even though the SNP were ahead in the polls, the strength of the Labour argument (or rather, the weakness of the SNP argument) would shine through. Interestingly, however, it looks like this might be happening. According to The Times:

It is only in the past fortnight — largely because of previous opinion poll findings — that Scotland has had to ask itself whether the pleasure of giving Tony Blair a last kicking is worth the price of putting the SNP in office. It is not.

I wonder how much of this is down to Brown and Alexander’s (and McConnell’s) powers of persuasion, and how much is down to a change in voter tactics, influenced by opinion polls. There is no doubt that in every election a kind of electoral Heisenberg effect occurs, whereby advanced polling that seeks to predict the result, actually alters it. I’ve often worried that this is anti-democratic, although I suppose making a choice is as much about who you do not want to lead you, as opposed to who you do. Recall once again the old adage about governments that lose elections, rather than oppositions that win them…

Much of the Fabian pamphlet focuses on the econmoic benefits that Scotland gains from being in The Union, and how much would be lost if the people chose Independence instead. This may be persuasive, but I cannot help feeling that the economic argument should not matter. Dyed-in-the-wool Nationalists and Unionists alike cite a greater, moral imperative for their point of view, whatever it happens to be. Never mind the administration costs of leaving the Union: I have more time for the argument which says that Scotland and England should remain together because we share common values (whatever they may be). Just like marriage, these links should be worth saving, even if greater economic prosperity were to be found through a divorce.

Likewise, I think the most honest Nationalist argument is that which says that the Scots and English are culturally different. It is their belief in this premise which motivates their political activity, not some economic calculation. As it happens, I disagree with them, as I tried to point out in a post at The Sharpener. I think the notions of Scottishness and Englishness have converged somewhat in these past 300 years. This is by no means proven, however, and the independence debate should be fought over this ideological battleground, rather than over some calculus of the North Sea oil revenues.

The Dalry Road Question

Originally posted on The Sharpener, reposted here to avoid link-rot.  Comments still available to view via

Apropos of nothing, a thought about Scottish Independence:

In the event of independence for Scotland (presumably following a ‘yes’ vote in a referendum, in the wake of an SNP victory in the Scottish Parliamentary elections), what would be the criteria for citizenship of the new country?

Now, I am registered to vote in Scotland (I even own a flat in Edinburgh, off Dalry Road). I would presumably become a citizen of the Independent Republic of Scotland, if it came into existence. However, I am at present a citizen of the United Kingdom, a country that will persist (albeit in a leaner form) should Scotland choose Independence. In that event, will I be stripped of that UK citizenship? Any mechanism to do so would, I think, be an odd an illiberal thing. In any case, having been born in London to British parents, I would be an unassailable candidate for dual citizenship, even if I did have to actively apply for it.

I imagine the reverse case would be true for the Scottish diaspora elsewhere in the world. They are citizens of other countries, but would be eligible for Scottish citizenship too. Personally, I don’t have a problem with a high proportion of the population having dual citizenship (I am, after all, a dangerous multiculturalist). But surely such a situation would be undesirable for the Nationalists. Gaining independence from the English, only to see hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people applying for dual citizenship, would seem to be a hollow victory.

What are the lessons from other partitions and secessions? The Scottish Nationalists claim to be ‘different’ from the English, and yet there are no clashes of religion, ethnicity, or language. Therefore the choice over which side of the border to stand is less obvious. And the reasons for drawing a border in the first place are less clear.

Crime on Colonsay

Beach on Colonsay

I was on the Isle of Colonsay last weekend. The dunes were unspoilt and beautiful. This picture shows a south-west view over to Oronsay in the foreground. That’s a ‘pap’ of Jura in the background, on the left.

The sky was clear on Bonfire Night, so we had a good opportunity to look through a telescope at another “magnificent desolation“, the Sea of Tranquility.

How odd, then, to hear that four days later, the peace of the islanders has been disturbed. There has been a crime on Colonsay! Apparently someone stole a couple of cars and went for a joyride.

I heard the news on the radio late last night, but can find no mention of it online this morning. I do not imagine that the perpetrators have escaped… so perhaps there’s been a cover-up on Colonsay too. Some friends of mine return from the Island today, so I will glean some more information from them over the weekend (unless, of course, they have been detained at Oban Police Station).

Update: I think I may have misheard. Armin Crewe’s Islay Blog has found some more details about housebreaking on the Island. The car thefts were a few years ago.

Meanwhile, my friends are stranded on the island. Poor weather meant their ferry never managed to leave Oban.

Hear No, See No, Speak No…

Of all the plays I have had the fortune (and, my God, the misfortune) to watch, none so turned me so upside-down as much as a bizarre, one-off performance I caught, quite by chance, in the latter-half of September 2005. The venue – the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh – had advertised the play as ‘an extraordinary experiment in light and sound’, which immediately alienated me. After another season trapped at the Edinburgh Fringe, yet another experiment in ‘light and sound’ gave the impression of vaccuous installation art-as-theatre that had numbed me for three lonely weeks.

However, a good friend of mine had two complimentary tickets to the event. Being the kind of person who assumes that a complimentary ticket usually means a second-rate performance, I would normally have made a snide remark at the offer. But my friend happened to be deaf, which for some reason made me less inclined to turn down her gesture. I accepted the ticket, and braced myself for not just an evening of boredom, but an evening of boredom with someone who would not be able to hear my whining plea to walk out early.

The Studio 3 space was small, as was the audience. This I had anticipated, because the event was clearly the one performance in every run which is signed for the deaf. Hence the complimentary tickets. Reading the programme before the lights dimmed, I noticed that the play did actually include a deaf character, so I assumed that the play, whatever it was about, would be of particular interest to Joey. I resolved to stay until the end, and try to enjoy it. The programme also included a slip of paper which explained that not only was this the signed performance, but it was also the audio-described performance. I remember thinking that someone in the scheduling department at the Traverse had clearly been pushed for time, and decided to shove all the disabled people in together. The Deaf, the Blind, and me. Great.

The set was sparse and disorientating. The audience, all fifteen of us, stood in a semi-circle along one side of the room, while the actors, all five of them, came and went from behind two or three sheets of gauze. Each actor played just one character, with none appearing to have more lines than the others. Dressed in white shirts and blouses, with neutral black trousers, they lacked a certain distinction of character, and sometimes it was difficult to remember who was who… especially remarkable since one of the actors was black. Another character, a charismatic artist named ‘T’, was revealed to be blind only in the second scene, the first time in the play that he had cause to actually get up out of his chair. This twist was well timed, coming as it did after a particually verbose monologue from the same character that threatened to send the whole play into an arid exposition on the nature of perception.

The plot, confusing at first, fell into a decent rhythmn when it was finally allowed to gather pace, towards the end of the first half hour. The pain of some characters unrequited love becoming most apparent in those scenes where other characters were oblivious. In the interactions between the pale young girl and the older man, most poignant were those scenes of contrived social interaction, where what was being said and what was meant were two very different things. The slightly cliched plot device of having a sixth character created entirely ‘off-stage’ slightly punctured the overall coherence of the story in my opinion. However, the dark reason for the absence of this friend, the man at cause of all the heart-ache, was only hinted at, leaving the audience guessing and adding a layer of uncertainty to the piece.

At just over an hour, the story was wrapped up with a rather weak final line (“I thought you knew each other?”) which sounded incomplete to me. The absence of the sixth character was never quite explained, but the couple in love achieved some kind of closure, if not happiness. The philosophising of the first section never returned and I applauded with enthusiasm, more at the discernible talent of the actors in creating believable characters, rather than because any profound statement of human nature had been achieved. We retired to the bar.

Sitting awkwardly among the punters, the conversation meandered onto other subjects – the play, I considered, not being controversial enough to provoke debate. However, as I was returning from the counter with another whiskey and soda, I had to avoid one of the actors from the play, the one who had played the middle aged man, who was on his way home. I smiled as I squeezed passed. Back at the table, Joey nodded towards him, and said something so odd, I was sure I had misheard.

“I wonder what happened to the little boy we never saw?”

She was talking about the play again, but clearly this was a mistake. The the absent character was definitely a man, an adult, but Joey had called him a “little boy”.

“In the play? You mean, ‘the man we never saw’?” I corrected.

“No, the little boy. The person who they all talked about but who wasn’t on stage.”

“That was a man. An adult.”

Joey looked puzzled, and slightly offended, as if I was making fun of her. She could see from my face that I wasn’t joking. To resolve the matter, she turned around and tapped a bald, bearded man on the shoulder. He was also deaf and she apparently knew him. Either that, or she at least knew he was deaf. They signed a quick exchange, before Joey turned back to me. “It was definitely a little boy.” she said. They both stared at me, waiting for a response.

And so the short, yet fantastic detective story began. At first, it began with a simple disagreement over the facts of the story, but it soon became clear that the woman signing the translations for the deaf audience members had been referring to the “boy” off-stage, while those of us with proper ears had been lead to believe that person was a man. I was tempted to write it off as a mistake, until the man with the beard signed something at me. Joey translated.

“He says, ‘if it was a man’ then how come they were so worried he had left them?’”

It was if they had seen a different play. The key elements were there, of course. A tale of unfulfilled love, the same essential character. But the story Joey and the Beard had percieved had taken on a profoundly different tone. Rather than worrying about what sinister motivation had removed the sixth character from the scene (A prison sentence, I had half-conjectured), they had been concerned for the well-being of a missing child. There was even, Joey said, the strong possibility he had been murdered. I was baffled that something so fundamental to the story and the characters could have been missed, or altered. I excused myself and made for the toilets.

Splashing water on my face, I became aware of someone behind me. Looking into the mirror above the sink, I noticed a man in dark glasses stagger out of the cubicle. His walking stick betrayed him as blind, and I offered to get the door for him.

It occurred to me that I needed an ally in my argument with Joey. “Did you just see that play in there?” I demanded.

He chuckled at my insensitivity, and nodded. “They gave us some ear pieces, with a narrator telling us the actions. Fucking weird. Can you help me back to my table?”

I sat him down on the table next to ours, where Joey remained seated with the Beard who had joined her. They were furiously signing in utter slience, while the bar chattered around them. I waved at her, and they stopped signing. “This guy saw the performance too.” I mouthed the words slowly. They looked at him, as if waiting for some kind of revelation.

“Odd bit of fun, wasn’t it?” He was from Essex. “Don’t know why those two didn’t just knob each other and get it over with, but still.”

“I should have thought it was obvious, the strain they were under.”

He looked at me (or rather, he turned his head in my general direction, the eyeline was slighty off, but I couldn’t mention it). “You what?”

The riddle had become a conundrum. The blind man had been in the studio with us, but the audio description had given him yet another angle on the play. The action he described was more frantic, more angry, and more farcical than what the rest of us had witnessed. He had come away from a performance that was satire. It had made him smirk.

It was obvious that the director and the actors had been a part of this triplicity. They had been putting extra information and false descriptions into the audio feed, and the translator performing the sign translations had blatantly been mistranslating the story. It was irritating that I had fallen for such a plot. I was particularly annoyed that I hadn’t managed to spot the different reactions on the faces of the other audience members. Why had I not seen the blind man smile, or Joey gasp, at moments when I was cringing? The company had been playing with us, and I didn’t like it.

“Well this is really not on!” I said eventually. “They’ve been telling you the wrong story. They shouldn’t play with people’s disabilities like that. Its mean.”

Joey knocked on the table. “But we saw the right story, not you. We didn’t need a translation for Miranda’s part, did we?” Miranda was the deaf character that Joey had been interested to see. Half the time, the actress spoke normally, but signed at the same time. In a few scenes she simply signed to another character, apparently her brother, without speaking. He always answered her properly, but her words were spoken by the interpreter, the woman at the side of the studio who usually translated the rest of the play back into signs. I could not even remember what the translator looked like, but it was beginning to seem as if she had some diabolical hold over the entire performance. Not only had she deceived the deaf people, she had deceived me too. Joey had a point.

I rescued myself. “Well, they definitely fooled you,” I said, turning back to the blind man.

“I suppose so. It took me a little while to recognise that one of the characters was deaf! They never told us that, and I only worked it out when I heard the bodies moving in the one place, and the voice for that Miranda girl coming from off stage.” He chuckled and felt on the table for the stick.

I didn’t say anything then, but I knew he was wrong, and that I was wrong too. This man had heard body movements from the other side of the room, movements I had not noticed because I was too engrossed in my own, critics eye-view. Perhaps scenes that I assumed were heavy and brutal had an underlying spring in their step that only a blind man could hear. Perhaps the key moments in the scene were not the confrontations that distracted me, but a slient resolute expression that only the deaf would see. It was not that the performance had been audio described, or sign interpreted. It had been vocally and visually translated for me.

The show had a run of only three nights. I attended the third. The magazine I wrote for had huge lead times, and in any case was struggling to break out of the niche market it had dropped into, so I never had a chance to review it. It was ignored by the tabolids, of course, but a couple of the broadsheets summarised it in a couple of paragraphs, giving it three stars and using words like “standard” and “interesting”. Someone told me that Mark Lawson on the radio had called it “pedestrian,” but I didn’t hear the programme so it might have been something else.

There has not, to my knowledge, been a revival. I am left with a perennial weed in my stomach, the feeling you have when you suddenly realise you have seen something fantastic, but did not realise at the time. You look back, but it’s gone.

All that remains is the memory, bliss and agony, of the moment we finally stood up, put on our jackets, and went to leave the bar. I suddenly remembered the innoccuous final line of the play: “I thought you knew each other?” I imagined that line, in the light of the master plan we had revealed. I considered the alternatives witnessed by Joey, the Beard and the blind man, and suddenly the various possibilities of the story were open to me. Far from being weak, that final line had brought those parallel stories together. With all the clues in place, that line revealed exactly why the sixth character was missing. Too late.

I winced for breath as we emerged into the breeze on Lothian Road. The Deaf, the Blind, and me, struck dumb.