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August 26 was Women’s Equality Day.

Cor, typical women, eh fellas? Hogging all the equality. When do we get to be equal? Never, I expect.

It is a commemoration in the USA of the day in 1920 that the vote was granted to women under the terms of the Nineteenth Amendment. Good times. 1920 seems quite late to me, but we were only a couple of years ahead of that and our Representation of the People Act 1918 was in retrospect insanely restrictive. Women could vote yes, but only if they were over thirty. And a member, or married to a member of the Local Government Register. Or if they were a graduate voting in a University constituency. It stopped short of “must also be in the possession of a penis and really, really like James Bond films”, but only just. And because James Bond films hadn’t been invented yet.

Whilst America was getting on with Women’s Equality Day, over here in the country currently known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland August 26 was less noble. It was the day that the Better Together campaign, who are promoting the No vote in the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum, released their advert “The woman who made up her mind”.

(Watch it here if you’re hardy.)

There was an axiom in the advertising industry in the 1980s that if you, for whatever reason, were unable to make a brilliant commercial then your next best option was to make a spine-chillingly, anatomy-wiltingly bad one. The Shake n’Vac Principle, it was known as.

Is that what Better Together are aiming for here? An infamy so grotesque that at least, after the exact details of it have faded, the name of the perpetrators will linger in the brain, maybe resulting in a few accidental votes.

The advert has been comprehensively satirised online and I don’t propose to go over all that. The hashtag #PatronisingBTLady on Twitter will take you where you need to go. The serious bottom line for Better Together is how they have failed to win over people like me.

I am their demographic. They should have been aiming at me.

Born in England, and still sounding very English, I have lived and worked in Scotland since 1992. My family and my roots still lie south of the border, but I love Scotland. I adore the way I have been allowed to become Scottish by assimilation. The people, the landscape, the culture, the political progressiveness and tendency towards equality are what have kept me in Scotland long after my original reason for moving up here disappeared.

This is my home now. I enjoy the benefits and I contribute. I feel very included.

But two years ago I was basically a No voter. I was pro-Union. My scepticism about the SNP (national socialism, hmmm, something about that phrase) had evaporated in the light of their excellent performance in the Scottish Parliament, but I still didn’t support independence. I couldn’t see the point of it.

So what has changed?

Principally I started talking to people and I started reading things from both sides of the debate and what became starkly clear almost instantly was that there is no reason – not one single reason – not to be independent.

I have listened patiently to the No arguments and I have heard nothing that isn’t fear-mongering, negative, coercive and borderline abusive bullying. It frequently contradicts itself. I am particularly amused by their argument that Scotland is somehow both a parasitic entity and a highly-valued part of the union.

Gradually I started to become aware that the BBC, theoretically an impartial broadcaster, was showing a slant in its reporting as its own vested interests started to press down. The day before the new Doctor Who episode aired last weekend. for instance, the BBC carried a not-news story that people in Scotland would “probably” still be able to watch Doctor Who if it became an independent country.

Probably? This was at the exact same time that the show’s producers were conducting a world tour introducing Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman to Mexico, Brazil and Australia. Scotland is still going to be part of the world. Under what circumstances would we not be able to see Doctor Who? If there isn’t a post-independence renegotiation of publicly funded broadcasting then surely Scotland will still be free to buy in content like any other foreign market. So why was the BBC introducing a note of doubt at that point if not to destabilise and antagonise the floating voter? The thing is I don’t like being pushed around, and I suspect I am not alone.

In my experience the tone of the debate at a personal level and one-to-one on the internet has been considerate and calm. People who will be affected by the decision, whichever way it goes on September 18, understand that this is an emotional issue and that whether it’s Yes or No that finally prevails there will be a hell of a lot of repair work to do in the immediate aftermath.

The old media have been less measured unfortunately, and now that the reality of the situation looms I am beginning to see a lot of reaction from England that goes along the lines of: Well I don’t really fancy losing Scotland, I hope they vote No.

Two points here:

1) In what sense do you currently have Scotland? Don’t you think that a people’s decision (if it happens) to become self-determining should trump your vague desire to own something you don’t really seem to know too much about?

2) WE WILL STILL BE HERE! You will still be able to drive to all the people, places and things you think you like so much about us. The difference is we will be making our own decisions about how we spend our pocket money, and who we have over to stay.

When I worked in Leeds in the 1980s I travelled up to Scotland for the weekend every couple of weeks and was constantly aghast, and slightly embarrassed, at the number of times quite well-educated colleagues would ask me whether or not I needed a passport, and did I have to change my money? It’s 200 miles I would tell them. Go up and have a look. I don’t think any of them did.

But even in ignorance of the realities of Scottish life a misplaced sense of proprietorship persists. And the absurdity of it is rarely acknowledged. When David Bowie used the platform of the Brit Awards to urge Scotland to stay, the way you would talk to a scampishly disobedient pup, he was applauded. Look, said Better Together. We’ve got David Bowie and you’ve only got some bloke out of Hue & Cry.

The fact that David Bowie is an Englishman living in New York and that the bloke out of Hue & Cry was born in Scotland, lives in Scotland and has spent his life working in Scotland and therefore actually knows what he was talking about somehow slipped the media’s attention.

This is not everyone in England of course. Far from it. I have been moved by how many people have regarded Scotland with envious eyes, and have been able nonetheless to say, Go on Scotland. Fucking go for it. We would.

And that brings me to my final point.

Who wouldn’t want to be independent?

Whatever you think of Westminster, and I personally think it is at best stultified, but is more generally a cataclysmic collection of treacherous, self-interested, black-hearted, simpering Fauntleroys and cackling Harkonnens, whatever you think of it you cannot believe that is good. Nor even that it is the least bad way of doing things.

In their excellent book The Spirit Level (2009) Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett use masses of quantitative data to show over and over again that everybody benefits from a more equal society. Inequalities bring obvious disadvantages to those at the sticky end, but they make society worse for those at the affluent end too, counter-intuitively.

In the same way, the current union does nobody any favours. Scottish independence is not a threat to anyone in Scotland, quite the contrary. But also it doesn’t threaten anyone in what would remain of the UK. Without a Scottish political drag England and Wales get to express themselves much more democratically. The change, challenging though it would inevitably be, would be good for all of us.

I understand inertia. I understand resistance to change. Change is uncomfortable and scary, but that is where growth lies. Personally, socially and globally. It would be arrogant to say that the world is watching Scotland, but there are certainly parts of it that are taking an interest, and it is only when looking at the referendum from that perspective that I got my big shock.

There is nobody out there who, if placed in a similar position, would say “No thanks. I can’t be bothered.” If Scotland votes No I think there will be a lot of people internationally who will regard the country as weaker and less vigorous than they ever thought. But that isn’t important.

If Scotland votes No there will also be the difficult job of explaining to subsequent generations toiling under whatever non-devolved reforms the freshly empowered shower at Westminster bring in precisely why they did not seize the one opportunity they had to throw off the shackles. But that’s not important either.

The important thing is that the referendum offers an opportunity to be self-supporting. To be our own people rather than beholden to the shambolic blackguards who currently get to tell us what’s what.

Forget everyone else. If you have a vote look at yourself. How much responsibility are you willing to take for yourself? Some or none?

Pride

Six and eight are good numbers aren’t they? All curvy and sensuous on the outside, but sensible and even within. I like six and eight. Good proper numbers. Not like that seven. All pointy and full of itself.

“Ooh look at me. I’m the highest single digit prime number.”

Smug, spiky, septimal bastard.

That’s just me though. Everyone else, it seems, can’t get enough of it. Brides, brothers, dwarfs, samurai, they all love seven. And (and here we reach the point of today’s edu-ma-cational presentation) so did the compilers of the things for which we will be damned, for they determined that there are exactly seven Deadly Sins.

I don’t have many ways of taking money off people. Pretty much just working, really. That’s all I’ve got. But were I of an unscrupulous, money-grubbing persuasion I think I would be tempted to try these things:

1)   Betting people a pound that they can’t spell the word MINUSCULE.

2)   Betting people a pound that they don’t know the first of the Ten Commandments. (I’m talking about other people here. You obviously know that it is “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” It’s amazing how many people will go for “Thou shalt not kill” which is waaaay down the charts at this week’s number six.

3)   Betting people a pound that they can’t name the seven deadly sins. Even if they have seen David Fincher’s fine crime thriller Seven.

Again you probably know this, but for my own entertainment let me list the seven deadly sins: Pride, covetousness, lust (the only one which is also a Dwarf, though in the film he uses his street name Doc), envy, gluttony, anger and sloth.

These subdivide into the ones I like to call the good ones (lust, gluttony and sloth), the bad ones (covetousness, envy and anger) and the inexplicable one. Pride.

What the hell is pride? It is touted where I live as a bit of a virtue if anything. Pride in your nation. Pride in your heritage. Pride in your culture.

Where I live is Scotland, and what I technically am is English.

What I actually am is half-Scottish, half-English. My Mum’s lot are Irish Catholics via Glasgow. My Dad’s lot are Vikings (with a pinch of Roman) from Yorkshire. But nuance is nuance, and it doesn’t always play in a pub environment. So, what I go for is yes, I am English. What of it?

Fortunately I haven’t been on the receiving end of much grief in my years up here, but there has been some. And, if I challenge it, it’s invariably thrown back at me as a lack in my sense of humour.

“Excuse me,” I might mention. “You seem to be repeatedly plunging your sgian dubh into my duodenum.”

“Ah, f*** you, you c***,” they might reply. “Can you not take a bit of banter?”

And the whole thing is about pride. The pride of being Scottish as expressed through an irrational, but vaguely historical, hatred of the English.

I love the diversity of my background but it is none of my doing. If I were 100% Scottish, that would be none of my doing either. You’re born where you’re born. Taking credit for it is silly. Hating other people for not having been born in the same place is mad.

Is it not enough that I love Scotland so much that I made my home here? That I work and pay my taxes here? Apparently not. Hey, and furthermore, ho.

This lunacy reached this point a few years ago:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/03/animal-welfare-rspca-sspca

In summary the Scottish Society For The Protection Of Animals were complaining about the RSPCA (the equivalent organization in England in Wales) of benefiting from donations they felt should have been theirs.

Cruelty to animals in England was being prevented, but at the expense of the prevention of cruelty to animals in Scotland. Is this right? Is there a substantive difference between English animals and Scottish animals? Over to you, High Brains.

***

There is, I have realised now, another way I could relieve the credulous of a pound: By asking them “Pride goes before… what?” Mostly, I like to imagine, they would say, “A fall! Pride goes before a fall!”

The actual quotation is “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Enjoy your money-making. Watch out for the haughty spirits now.

Inverness Film Festival 2010, Final Day – Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Honeymooner, Symbol

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a divisive film, almost provocatively light in anything you could conventionally acknowledge as plot, incident or character development. Happily I am a fan of the recent trend towards deeply decelerated Slow Cinema. Just as well really. Here’s a summary: Boonmee, close to death with collapsing kidneys, is visited by the wraith of his dead wife, and the non-human ghost monkey form of his missing son. As death approaches he takes himself off to a cave where, he remembers, the first of his incarnations was born.

Er, that’s it.

I understand that there was something of a backlash at the Cannes Festival this year after Uncle Boonmee won the Palme d’Or. I can dig this. It’s not Toy Story 4 by any stretch of the imagination. It’s hard to recommend to anyone who’s not acclimatized to long, meandering films that may or may not mean something. The best I can say is that my own personal thumbs remained untwiddled.

Ghost monkey business

The curse of the unavailable print struck again with Uncle Boonmee unfortunately. “Our” copy of the film was apparently in Köln rather than Inverness so we had to make do with a less than perfect promotional print.

The PR company’s logo remained in the top right corner of the film right the way through, and we got regular onscreen prompts reminding us that we were watching a promo copy. Hey ho.

On the plus side: ghost monkeys and a talking catfish. I am very easily pleased

Honeymooner, my next film of the afternoon is Uncle Boonmee’s polar opposite. An indie British romance about a guy dumped just before his wedding and his two blokey-blokey male pals. I’m not a gong-banger for North London hipsterism, and my sympathy is not particularly aroused by the piffling woes of attractive, talented, wealthy twenty-somethings, but there was something beguilingly bittersweet about the movie’s candour.

When you get down to it there just are not that many British films dealing maturely with men’s emotions, and it was nice to see a film whose primary concern was the feelings of its male characters. No pantomime male infantilisation here. Plenty of exploration of the duplicitous manipulative side of women though.

It is a bold endeavour, and I became very engaged with writer/director Col Spector’s representation of the film in the Q&A afterwards. He talked extremely bluntly about how difficult it can be putting a film together in Britain. Kudos to him indeed for bringing this in (with huge use of deferred fees) for 43 grand.

Shinboru

And then back to the domain of the doolally with my last film of this year’s festival Symbol, or if you prefer Shinboru, a patently ridiculous and yet deeply, deeply loveable Japanese film.

In Mexico a family goes about their everyday business, cute kid, his termagant of a mother, his gentle granddad, his father who is a masked wrestler and his sister who is a chain-smoking nun.

Simultaneously a Japanese man wakes up clad in clownish yellow patterned pyjamas in a featureless white room. We follow him in a bizarre Scott Pilgrim meets Tomb Raider quest to get out. These two stories are intercut despite seeming to bear no relationship to each other at all. They do converge eventually however, in a way for which the word “unexpected” seems barely sufficient.

In all honesty it is completely purposeless writing about this bonkers film. I might as well do you a little dance about it. It is tremendously absorbing though and I commend it to you highly.

And there ends this year’s Inverness Film Festival at which I had fun in abundance.

Thanks Paul. Thanks Eden Court.

Same time next year?

23/01/10

Who loves short blogs? We love short blogs.

It’s Mr. Perfunctory tonight, partly because I’m getting up early tomorrow to head out for an actual walk in the actual countryside with actual people, but mostly because the only thing of note that happened today is something I am not allowed to write about.

I did a bunch of work. I played some Little Big Planet. There was some exciting F.A. Cup football involving Leeds (who scraped a draw with a fifty-fifty penalty in the dying seconds of added time – I was very calm and dignified in my reaction). And apart from that… the other thing.

I will tell you this much. It was a visit from my friend Joolz, or Jock as she came to be known some time ago after an incident with a former colleague’s bad hand writing and a staff rota compiled early in the morning.

Joolz brought jam. Jam of her own devising, no less. She was on her way back from getting her eyes checked and delivered it with the words “Sorry I took your jam to the opticians.” And you have to admit that that’s a better opening line than everything ever apart from “Ah, Mr. Bond. I’ve been expecting you.”

The thing is that Joolz made it very clear that I wasn’t to write about her at all, and the jam’s presence seemed to be attached to this in what I can only describe as a quasi-legal way. I think the laws governing preserves and pickles may be different in Scotland from their English counterparts, but I’m still worried that if I type one word about her I may have to forfeit the jam, and it does look very nice.

Marrow Jam it says on the label, though Joolz did explain that it was in fact made from very large courgettes. Marrows. Courgettes. I don’t know vegetables. Just tell me it’s Plant Jam and I am very happy to spread it on my toast.

It’s a shame I can’t write about Joolz though because she is amazingly wonderful in every way and certainly provides a very compelling argument that all will work out OK with Homo sapiens in the end.

Still a promise is a promise, so no more about Joolz. I shall not tell you that she is like a cross between Magnus Pyke, Rosamund Pike and an actual pike (the best bits of all three). Nor shall I tell you about the sky-clad ancient rituals she and her partner (Hello Roddy!) get up to round their remote country home, luring luckless drivers down the twisty track with ghosty lights only to sacrifice them by burning them in a giant wicker puffin to appease the gods of the Beauly Firth.

It’s a shame though. You might have been interested in that.

Wow. I am in so much trouble now.

***

In a good week for DVD releases one of the overlooked highlights has been the 1968 Hammer movie The Lost Continent. I saw this film back in the seventies on a black and white portable TV as part of a Hammer season the Beeb were running (I think) and I had long since resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to see it again. But no, here it inexplicably is available in the shops for money. I feel almost personally catered to, like that time I found they’d released Richard Stanley’s Hardware on Blu-ray. “Flipping heck,” I thought at the time. “They are only ever going to sell one of these, and it’s to me, now!”

The print isn’t great, but it’s serviceable, and The Lost Continent was pretty low on aesthetic accomplishment anyway. Perhaps the slightly scruffy presentation is the best way to see it. It’s not a cineaste’s film is what I saying. However if you want English B-movie actors fighting giant molluscs, carnivorous weeds and the descendants of the Spanish inquisition in a massive ship’s graveyard in the Sargasso Sea then this movie has much to offer you.

It’s demented and cheap, but it’s fun and unusual and certainly light years away from the processed screen cheese that passes for entertainment a lot of the time today.

It’s based on a novel called Uncharted Seas by Dennis Wheatley, and fans of metafiction will be delighted to see that one of the film’s characters is reading that very book in the early scenes. If only he’d finished it he’d have found out when he was going to die.