Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Friendly old girl of a town
'Neath her tavern light
On this merry night
Let us clink and drink one down
To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Isn’t Danny Kaye great. He was the creator of some of the most spectacular pieces of reassuring schmaltz ever to grace the silver screen. Happy endings were a speciality. Comforting bits of crap. Is that what the Copenhagen Treaty will be too, a reassuring waste of time, or worse, a disastrous distraction?

Are we honestly expecting all the deeply vested interests involved to suddenly see the light, or rather the dark of the looming climate catastrophe, and change their positions by 360 degrees? It just isn’t going to happen, is it? Never. No way. It’s going to take something truly awful to scare the shit out of us all before our collective fingers will be pulled out.

Our climate is now in uncharted territory, doing things we’ve never seen before, breaking records. The climate record is showing us that things can change very quickly once the system’s equilibrium has been disturbed. In months, not decades or centuries. Time is not a luxury we can afford.

When will we act? When the shit hits the fan, of course. Will it be Katrina’s very big sister wiping Miami off the map? Or the halt of the Gulf Stream? What about a sudden 4 degree warming caused by massive rapid release of methane, not a nice gas at all. Whatever it turns out to be it can happen at any time and when it does it will probably be too late to stop runaway global heating.

Should we not be getting real, accept what our most eminent scientists are saying and start preparing for survival in a much hotter world. Copenhagen seems to be business as usual, well intentioned tinkering around the margins, the appearance of action masking inertia. A dangerous distraction indeed, as the world waits. I fear that we don’t have long to wait.

Monday, 16 November 2009


A good mate of mine, call him Barry, was having a nip to drink himself better, after spending a couple of days under the weather. As he raised the amber tincture to his lips and caught a waft he grimaced. ‘It’s no like me take the grue to whiskey.’ he winced. What a great word. Grue as in gruesome. The horrors. A bit like boak, to retch. Kind of.

The language in this part of Scotland is particularly rich. The Lothian’s has always been a cross roads. From the Beaker People onwards all sorts of cultures and their languages have passed through, leaving verbal vestiges behind. The Romany and Travellers are fairly recent arrivals but their influence on local vocabulary is pronounced.The phrase ‘barry gadgie’ is a good example. It translates as ‘really nice guy.

These words and phrases aren’t dead. They’re still widely used in everyday speech. But rarely written down. The Scots still seem to have an inferiority complex about the language they use. The modern Scots language is rarely used in the media or the arts at the moment. That’s ‘shan’, a shame.

It seems that homogenised conformity has become the norm, in our schools. But we risk losing more than just a few words. A culture is crucially defined by its language. Look at how many words are ‘untranslatable’. Plenty. A popular word in the Dutch language, a tongue very near Scots, is ‘gezellig’. The closest English translation is ‘comfortable social interaction or space’. But any Dutchman will tell you this doesn’t capture the meaning in their culture.

If we lose words we lose a wee part of our culture. And I’ll be scunnered if that happens, pal.

PS; Almost forgot to mention 'gam'. Just because.

Monday, 9 November 2009


In a local that I frequent there’s an older guy who drinks there regular. He’s always been the perfect gentleman to me. Polite and respectful. One day I asked another habituĂ© what his name was. ‘Thrush is what we call him’ came the rapid reply. Chortling into my pint I asked ‘Why do you call him Thrush?’ Smiling he said ‘Because he’s an irritating cunt.’ I almost spilt my beer. Almost.

Nicknames are great. They’re kind of an expression of collective consciousness, humorous in this case. OK, somebody has the ‘original’ idea but it’s through use by others that it becomes funny. The nickname is an agreement between those that know the nicknamed. Not so much chosen as imposed. They can be revealing.

There’s this guy I’ll call Tim Stark. Lovely fellow. Do anything for you but has had some annoying habits. His first question, at the time, when he met a fellow joker and smoker was ‘Have you got any grass man?’ At the time Motherwell was having problems with their pitch. No grass at Fir Park. So that’s what he got called. Fir Park. He hated it as much as his mates loved it. But it fitted the moment.

Naming is an interesting process. In Holland, during the Spanish occupation, the population were forcefully subjected to censuses. The rural population didn’t really have fixed surnames, so they just made some up for the bossy Spanish. They wouldn’t know what they meant anyways. My favourite surname from that time is Koedooder. It translates as Cowdeader.

Or there was Jimmy Zero. He was a handicapped hawker but considered really unlucky by his fellow hawkers. Superstitious, if they saw him they believed they wouldn’t make any money that day. Hence Jimmy Zero. Poor sod. Or Barnacle Brown because he was hard to get rid of. The list is endless.

It’s still happening, nicknaming, but the internet is changing things. What kind of a name is Huggan57, for fucks sake? I prefer Dirty Don, but that was a long time ago.

Portobello beach

Between high and low water marks where
sandpipers strut staccato on the shiny
soaked sand land that is no man’s, common
and unclaimed; the clams’, the curlews’ and
the worms building bings of tubes rising
at the sea’s flat retreat among contrasting
conical pits, watery and waiting in the thick
of the tough brown kelp and soft sea coal.

The rhythmic rushing slam of waves, the sharp
smell of seaweed as reeling herring gulls harrie
loudly overhead, berating those below as an
elegant pitchy cormorant skims the waves’ foamy
crests winging its own way to the next diving watch
beyond the lone child challenging the lapping tide
trying to grab a big open crab shell floating
just out of reach on that timeless shore,
the soft strand of Portobello beach.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Talk is good, thought is better.

We, the human race, are conducting an uncontrolled and mostly unconscious experiment on ourselves. OK, we’re also seriously messing with the planet but now it appears we’re also fucking with our own heads too. Seriously. What I’ll call hyper-communication is changing the way we think, maybe even the way we can think.

There are over 4 billion mobile phone connections worldwide. Tens of billions of calls and texts are made daily. It’s hard to put a global average figure on it but my own straw poll people send or receive 30 or 40 texts and calls daily. Add in emails, 247 billion daily worldwide, and the average person manages just minutes of concentration before being interrupted.

In the past time was given to considered communication; a letter was carefully formulated, a phone call planned and undertaken. No more. There is no time. The dynamics of modern life demand instantaneous response. Considered or not. Concise or not. Hyper-communication is devaluing information.

In the past decisions were made on the ground, based on the presented realities of the moment. In action. Now they’re a call away, abstracted and uninformed by the situation. Decision making processes are being digitally deferred, centralised, controlled. A digital dictatorship somewhere down the line, maybe?

Unconsidered communication could lead to unforeseen consequences in the way we can physically think. The brain, like any system, follows the path of least resistance. Like any tool used in the wrong way it gets broken. It no longer functions in the same way. Sudden intellectual evolutionary pressures as we are experiencing now are novel. And totally unpredictable.

The mind is a muscle. It needs to be used, flexed. Otherwise it withers, weakens. Epigenetics suggest that events parents’ experiences can directly influence their progeny, down several generations. We appear to be able to write own DNA, in a strange way. But we’re writing randomly, communicating without consideration and unknowingly passing on unknowns to our descendents.

Communication has made us what we are. Human beings. Unconsidered communication is clutter. What this clutter will do to our consciousnesses and those of our kids’ is anyone’s guess. Let’s hope for the best.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Venus Syndrome

I’ve got this dream. It’s a nightmare, really. It involves the effects of runaway global warming. It can’t be stopped and the temperature soars, boiling the oceans and scorching the land. Life is extinguished. The tectonic process stops. It’s called the Venus Syndrome. And it scares the shit out of me.

Now I am an optimist, people tell me. But I do like to know what the odds are, in everything I consider. Like, what’s the best that could happen and what’s the worst. Global warming. What a fluffy phrase that has become. Almost comforting. Warm is good. Maybe what we should be calling the phenomenon is ‘uncontrolled potentially catastrophic global heating’.

The worst case scenario goes a bit like this, I think. Rising ocean temperatures suddenly cause trillions of tonnes of subsea methane to be belched into the atmosphere rapidly raising global heating by several degrees. This in turn leads to a massive increase in the methane and CO2 released from the tundra, raising temperatures still further.

The Amazon and the Taiga burn. Everything burns. All the ice melts, very quickly. There are mass extinctions. The oceans begin to evaporate and the water vapour strengthens the greenhouse effect. As the temperature climbs all life is snuffed out. The surface temperature of our sister planet Venus is 450 degrees Celsius. Gas mark 12.

Oh, and it’s too late to do anything about it. The process is now unstoppable. Like yeast farting in a sealed belling jar, we're doomed by our own emmissions. It’s now a case of when not if. Oh, shit.

Anyways, that’s my nightmare. It’s worth considering, surely, if only to focus the mind on the need for real action now, not the ‘wait and see’ approach our leaders follow. Maybe it will take a major disaster, a mega disaster before real action is taken. I just hope it won’t be too late. And I really hope it’s just a dream.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Fart Knocker

In company he'd knock one off
In silence, slink away.
'Who dropped that? Dirty rat!'
He'd hold his nose and say.

Then broadly smile while innocents,
Red-faced and all, denied.
In fact, he was the Fart Knocker,
From whom you cannot hide.

He'll drop one at a wedding,
An extra thoughtful gift.
Just after the ‘I do's’
You'll smell a nauseating rift.

He'll stand there, grin blamelessly,
Oh him, he never lies.
In fact, he is the Fart Knocker,
From whom you cannot hide.

A crowded bus? He'll cause a fuss,
Gassing all surrounding seats.
He'll look round, shake his head,
As passengers all retreat.

Then sit down, noxious clown,
His face aglow with pride.
In fact, he is the Fart Knocker,
From whom you cannot hide.

So if someone in your throng,
Detects an awful pong,
And then shouts, 'Who let that out?'
Looking round sidelong…

Stare straight back, big smile crack,
Make it good and wide,
Say: ‘In fact, it is the Fart Knocker
From whom you cannot hide.’

(Dedicated to all on the 26 bus,
10.45 am on 4/5/09. Sorry!)

Questionable Time

I was having a coffee yesterday morning when the friendly chef, seeing that I was reading a newspaper, asked me ‘Do you think that Griffin should be on Question Time?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘he appears to have, like all fascists I’ve ever seen or heard, sociopathic tendencies. These should be treated not promoted. ‘Yes,’ the chef came back with, ‘but will you watch it?’ I thought for a moment, ‘Yes, I will.’ I said, chuckling idiotically at the apparent paradox.

I did watch it. Questionable Time. The BNP leader did not disappoint. His performance was as cringe worthy as his answers were devious. He was at times paranoid, irrational, disingenuous and delusional. He seemed to see the world as an essentially hostile place and wanted to protect ‘Britain’ from imagined threats from ‘others’. I was saddened by this sorry man.

Why do some people think like this? What is fascism? Is it an unconscious societal response to a perceived existential threat, a reaction as old as human society itself? When threatened the hedgehog curls itself up into a spiky ball. Is fascism a society pulling itself into a protective iron fist?

Once a fist has been shown a fight usually ensues. And once the human survival instinct kicks in a society can become irrationally aggressive, starting of an unstoppable sequence of events that usually provoke first civil war and then, as in WW2, a much wider conflict. Then the original insecurity becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

If ideas are like viruses then fascism is an infectious disease. It is an idea that spreads rapidly in times of great social pressure, affecting all but infecting those with a predisposition, the chronically insecure. The fearful. All humans have insecurities. They are an essential part of us being who we are. But most people understand and cope with their anxieties to a functional extent. Occasionally the fascist infects someone with pre-existing sociopathic tendencies. These then act as carriers and social amplifiers of the infectious agent. Full blown fascism appears to be fatal, sooner or later.

Fascists are suffering from a sociopathic disease. Yes, it is just another aspect of the human condition, but then so is paedophilia. These people are ill and should be helped with care, kindness and love. But they are also infectious and dangerous to the vulnerable. Isolation, understanding and treatment are required, not promotion, aggravation and contempt.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A budgie without a beak

Who said that ‘the only constant in life is change’. Pretty bloody obvious, that one, whoever it was. I prefer ‘nothing sucks seeds like a budgie without a beak’. But that’s by the by.

So, change. It sort of sneaks up on you. Everything appears to be ticking over nicely when, bang, you get nutted by a new reality. The Scottish drinking culture has changed.

Many local pubs are closed or quiet. Some are now bookies or bistros. We even have one that’s now a community arts centre. What’s happening to the Mackamikaze drinking culture here in Scotland? I think it’s gone underground.

Supermarket special offers, Sky Sports and the smoking ban are sending Scots homewards to drink again. Behind closed doors the bevvy flows. But now instead of a few pints and a couple of nips, it’s a case of beer and a litre bottle of vodka.

It seems, freed from the social constraints of the pub, folk are drinking themselves into oblivion in the comforts of their own home. Instead of us really tackling Scotland’s drinking it’s just been hidden. That may give the appearance of successful social engineering but what the long term consequences will be is anybody’s guess.

Yes, the Scottish drinking culture has changed but at the cost of social cohesion. People are being increasingly isolated, lessening their sense of community. Instead of social interaction they’ve got digital interaction. Instead of mates they’ve got Facebook ‘friends’. Hyper-communication has devalued information, making interpersonal relations less considered.

Pub is an abbreviation of public house. Public house. A home for people, away from home. It needs to be changed, for sure; the hard drinking edges taken off with food, families, activities and entertainment. I fear that by driving the problem from the public eye to the private home will only cause it to ferment unseen and untended. We will just have to wait and see exactly what it brews.