Car News: Freezing Windscreens

Your weekly look at all that sucks in the car world, plus some good bits


That time of year again

The heated windscreen was invented some years ago but few car manufacturers install them as standard or offer them as an extra. Every morning on these below freezing days hundred of car owners without a garage can be seen scraping ice off their windscreen, worried about being late for work.

A mystery why the Scottish government hasn’t had a wee chat with car makers about Scottish conditions, or bothered to make hi-rez jackets and bright reflective torso bands mandatory for Scotland’s freezing dark days. Scandinavian countries know what’s needed for bleak winters. In the 4pm dark, twice this week alone I spotted at the last second a pedestrian wearing all black beside my moving car, and once a cyclist swinging the girth of a roundabout, and finally a man street side, scraping the ice off his windscreen, his derriere at an angle ready to be removed by a passing truck.

Everybody knows how to remove ice

Car al fresco, placing a newspaper or cover over your windscreen at night only finds it sticking to the glass first thing in the morning. Better to own a spray can of ice remover. It may be worth heating your car up before you drive off and shifting the heater control to defrost to help it melt faster.

If your car is in your driveway, keeping it turned over until it’s heated up is safe and you can wait indoors. (You can have heated seats retro-installed in any car, a boon to bum and back for that cold start to work. They are cheaper than you think.) If parked in the street you have to sit inside it. By the way, a car idling for ten minutes isn’t good for the environment, so be prepared for glares and stares.

Before you use a car ice scraper to remove the ice on your windows, another effective trick is to apply a de-icer spray to the ice to make it melt faster. Never throw boiling water to the ice, this is sure to crack your windscreen. There are numerous de-icer sprays on the market that you can purchase, easiest from your local petrol station.

You can create your own DIY de-icer spray – try solutions of water and salt, water and vinegar, or water and alcohol spraying them on your windows. When combining water with a teaspoon of salt use the solution sparingly. Salt can damage your car’s paintwork used in excess. As an alternative, combine one part water to three parts vinegar for an equally effective spray, or a mixture of one part water to two parts surgical spirit.

Basic instinct

I tried scraping the ice off my first car using a sharp metal cooking spatula – it left the glass covered in inch-long cuts, sigh, a costly new windscreen the answer to an elementary mistake. Once your car has begun heating up, only then start chipping away gently at the ice using a proper ice scraper, usually made of plastic.

Be warned, if the ice on your car windows hasn’t been completely removed by the time you start driving leaving you with a letterbox area to see the road, you face the prospect of a fine if spotted by a passing police car. The UK government’s guidelines outline on adverse weather state you “must be able to see” when driving, and so “all snow and ice” must be cleared from your windows.


V&A novel car exhibition

A 1950s concept car inspired by fighter jets – it looks like a toy jet for an adult – and a contemporary prototype that could fly have gone on display in an exhibition that the V&A acknowledges may alarm some people. The show brings together 15 cars and 250 objects for what is the museum’s first exploration of the car as a piece of design. Elsewhere, the show shines light on misguided and patronising attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to get more women interested in cars. Chrysler’s solution in 1955 was the Dodge La Femme. (Worth a Google.) Designed by men – yes men, it was a pale pink car with simplified dashboard controls and accessories including a rain hat, coat, umbrella and pink leather handbag stocked with makeup and a cigarette case. In the late nineties Ford allowed a woman to design a car for the female of the variety and she did a superior job, but Ford never put the striking design into production. The exhibition reveals the electric car was around at the end of the 19th century, ideas about autonomous driving have been around since the 1950s, and flying cars have been around since Jules Verne. If you’re in London and like cars as ‘moving sculpture’, give it a visit. It closes in April.

Cyclists, get a life!

Hard to believe chippy cyclists think either a small rear light or none at all is all the protection you need to survive life in the fast lane. Small lights on bicycles are totally inadequate for winter road conditions, even flashing variety. Driving in the dark, trying to see out of misted or rain spattered windscreens is not easy. Even at 20mph, it’s easy to miss that cyclist shooting past on your blind side. If there’s anybody out there who can invent a better LED, and signal flashers built into the ends of handlebars, you’ll make your fortune.

SNHS car park

Had to make an emergency visit to the dermatology department of our national health service – for the information of my non-Scottish readers – a service separate and distinct from England, a bipolar land where the Tory party lies through its private dentures about not selling theirs to the lowest bidder. (Give Trump credit – he is honest about that issue.) Anyhow, no car park, so had to arrive an hour early and wait until a parking bay became free in a side street, sit there until close to appointment time, and then put £13 in the meter for three hours. Got a bit choked when I realised I’d been born in Chalmer’s Hospital on that very spot and here I was back again at the far end of life. Anyhow, behind the dermatology hospital, Edinburgh council has allowed massively ugly glass apartments built, and not a car park in sight. Great planning.

Happy motoring!




Posted in Transportation | 7 Comments

Ford v Ferrari – a review


Adrenalin and  true grit are the film’s core values

An idle boast: as the only independence blogger in the whole UK to bring readers a weekly news bulletin on what the iffy car industry is up to that affects our environment, economy, jobs, and engineering innovation, I am delighted to bring you news of a car movie that’s worth the price of the cinema ticket and an over-sized packet of popcorn.

For some odd reason this film is re-branded Le Mans – 66 everywhere else except the UK. Perhaps the studio – Fox – thought Brexit Brits insulted to see a French name atop a movie poster. That doesn’t stop it being as good as its predecessor, Rush (2013), also a conventional glossy racing saga with great camera work, superb sound effects, terrific performances, creating a grease laden reality.

The film was stuck in development for a long time, the nightmare that defeats filmmakers – such as myself – who have no wish to lose years of their life waiting for faceless guys in suits to decide if you eat or not. Director James Mangold became interested in making it as far back as 2010. It wasn’t until two years ago that he was brought on board to direct. He and the screenwriters decided to focus the story on the two main characters Shelby and Miles instead of the ensemble of previous drafts. Getting the budget down to under $100 million was a hurdle, but what’s on screen makes the most of every cent.

This is a film where manly men do manly things, and woman watch in awe of their manliness. In other words, it’s Hollywood’s bread and butter.

A film like this makes you wonder why people go to see mindless action men movies that teach us bugger all, except the galaxy’s greatest villains always choose America to land their spaceship, preferably the desert, only to be beaten to a pulp by men in silly costumes and tights that never need a zipper.


Damon and Bale, the latter back to skinny as a stalk of celery

The film bases its plot on the true story of how one man Carroll Shelby and his volatile pal of a racing driver Ken Miles built a car that beat the great Ferrari winning Le Mans, the Ford GT40, and won it not once but three times. Enzo Ferrari was not pleased.

Enzo’s company is still pre-eminent in the must-own lexicon of driver’s sports cars while Ford only reproduced the GT40 supercar. No man worth his leather leggings lusts for a Ford in place of a Ferrari.

What the film doesn’t tell you is how Ford reproduced the car in street legal production form for today’s market of rich men with too much money and not enough penis, a car a mere 22 back-killing inches high, and with less reliability than a go-cart. The gubbings that went into the Ford Le Mans car do not go into the domestic version.

Director James Mangold hasn’t just replicated the tone, structure and aesthetic of racing car flicks, he’s reproduced the excitement and visual quality too. Ford v Ferrari is a two-and-a-half-hour movie that, unlike Ford’s prototype racer, never drags, and doesn’t leave you time for a pit stop. He himself brings to the screen a good track record – Cop Land (1997) and Logan (2017).

There are any number of elements to this film’s high entertainment value: excellent production values, meticulous staging, and two warm and engaging performances from co-leads Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Moments are so visually and viscerally exciting they eliminate the nagging feeling we’ve seen this all before, just not so well made.

As Carroll Shelby, Damon brings his universal image of the all-American American, and that all-American can-do spirit to the role of the driver grounded by heart problems. He’s the man who accepts the Ford company’s challenge to build a Le Mans winning car to beat their hated rivals at Ferrari, after Ferrari himself called Henry Ford II, “a fat Henry Ford wannabe” – which he was. He calls senior Ford executive’s ‘sir’, in that respectful way Americans can convince you they’d never drop an Atomic bomb on anybody.

In later life, a celebrity often interviewed, Shelby was well liked, the man who put a pounding V8 engine under the bonnet of a British Ace Cobra car that transformed the hitherto sedate sports car market. He was known to be boastful and exaggerate his past achievements and his place in them, but was liked all the more for it.


Aficionados of race cars of yesteryear will revel in the site of the real thing

Bale, as sterling Brit engineer, and Midlands émigré Ken Miles spends a lot of the movie peppering his speech with phrases of the time such as “a face like a smacked arse”, arse pronounced in a close Birmingham accent. Miles was born in Sutton Coldfield.

“I’d rather die in a car than of cancer” he once commented fatefully, and did, in 1966, a scene unexplained in the narrative. It was a clear, brutally hot day, the track dry and Miles in good health. Nothing is mentioned of mechanical failure. The car, probably too light for its engine power, flipped, crashed, and burst into flames, throwing Miles out and killing him instantly.

Here, Bale is the headstrong, likeable racing driver whose independence of mind and free spirit clashes with the rigid corporate mentality of the sponsoring car manufacturer. Once more Bale has altered his weight radically for the role. According to Damon,  Bale had to lose seventy pounds before filming began. Bale tells he simply didn’t eat, an impressive monk-like discipline that I’m sure in time will affect his health.

Together, the chemistry of the two actors reminded me of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, but with less charisma. For the nosy, I wrote a television commercial for Newman in which he drove his own racing car. Newman was a racing car fanatic. He wanted all the detail of race track culture packed into the commercial. Mangold does that too with an eye for precise detail in his essay on fast driving and faster lives.


Catriona Balfi doing what wives do in racing films – domestic humdrum stuff

Good cinematographers, aided by ace digital wizardry can commit almost anything to the big screen. If Team Mangold employed CGI to pull the feature off, it’s not obvious. There’s no fuzzy images, or people walking stiffly in the background as in an animated backdrop. (The cast list of humans is huge! And some are the expected immigrant Scottish mechanics.) Phedon Papamichael as cameraman-in-chief is better known to me as the man who shoots the Espresso adverts starring George Clooney, but after this film will be in demand for some time to come.

The music is as percussive as one expects in heart pounding speed films, and the editing is of the highest order. The female roles are all women in waiting or nail biting wives, a disappointment, but then this is a biography of a specific time when women didn’t design racing cars, tinker with a race car’s engine or drive them. There are women race drivers doing all of that today, so I trust we will see one of their stories soon.

When the film shifts into a pseudo spiritual gear – lone figures set against waning sunsets – what is life if full of care moments – I switched off, but that misstep doesn’t last for long.

Should you take your wife, partner or girlfriend to see Ford v Ferrari? – only if you pretend they are going to see a domestic drama about a divorce between an American who married a hot tempered Italian.

  • Star Rating: Four stars
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, John Bernthal, Catriona Balfi
  • Director: James Mangold
  • Writer: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
  • Cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael
  • Composer: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders
  • Adult rating: 12A
  • Duration: 2 hours 29 minutes
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?


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Destroying Scotland


Regular readers know I take great pains to write informed and informative articles and essays, the latter as well researched as I have time to spare or can read my foxed notes of yesteryear. Empirical evidence is the best way to show one-and-one making two, which is to say, my ‘opinion’ is rarely baseless. I do my best to warn, and illustrate by example, the law of the perpetual colonial that demands we subordinate ourselves to the violence and deceit of the “principal architects” of Union policy and the doctrinal manipulation of the servants of their power.

As a creative writer of fact books, magazines articles and the like, and a lot of fiction for plays and screenplays based on fact, I am obliged to know and understand what motivates people. Knowing what comes next means observing human nature, assessing behaviour exhibited yesterday will surely manifest itself in a similar way tomorrow. This brings me to this week’s subject.

A jury for Salmond

Alex Salmond is a totemic figure in Scotland’s politics. He brought the nation to the brink of regaining liberty. He is due back in Edinburgh’s High Court soon for stage two of his case, his Hearing. If the case goes forward it will begin in earnest early next year.

The first question to ponder is where in Scotland will Salmond get a fair trial? One would have to be a hermit living off seaweed in a beached boat off Barra not to have heard of or read about Salmond’s ambitions for restoring Scotland’s nationhood. Every juror chosen will have an opinion on that score.

A jury is picked from an invited group of local citizens, names placed in a goldfish bowl so we can see how they are lifted out, and those named assume jury duty without cavil. Likely, prosecution council will want to know who has been, or is, a member of the SNP. Call it modern day McCarthyism.

A jury is expected to set aside all loyalties and prejudices to weigh the evidence for, against, or not proven. Judged by a group of your citizens, your peers, is a good system.

How can we be sure there is a balance of opinion on the panel?

What if a majority dislike Salmon and the thought of independence? How can we be sure a jury member is not a shill, or for that matter, one appear as a witness for the prosecution a paid agent of the British state? Salmond will need an Atticus Finch wielding a rapier. On the positive side, one or a few jurors will be admirers of Salmond. Hard not to think, as in Tommy Sheridan’s first case, individual jurists might be tempted not to let the rotten unionist press hang their hero.

Someone attending the case should keep a journal of events, it is history in the making.

The struggle for human rights is divisive

Nobody likes to give up their privileges or perks. Middle class Edinburgh voted No to liberty. Liberty is the freedom to choose. Edinburgh, home of our Parliament, and dozens of fat lawyers, voted against Scotland expressing free will by a majority expressing free will that violated human rights. We live with the dire consequences in an uneasy peace.

Salmond represented greater rights for Scotland. The press keep telling us he is a divisive politician, a Marmite man. Is it divisive for Scotland to keep what it earns, so that by due process, the elected administration can decide how it spends our taxes?

For the slow of learning, a sum could be set aside, used to help regions of England under flood water. Just a thought. That sort of sharing is called free will, voluntary, made with true representation, rather than Westminster’s version that steals chunks of Scotland’s taxes to spend on anything it likes such as wars. That is divisive.

The world is a pretty unfair place, littered with examples of acquisition by force. Salmond asked that we make a new accord with our acquisitive neighbour, an honest, fair and noble one, and that we do it by the ballot box.

England’s Britain

Some argue the people are the movement not the SNP, which is true, but that is to miss the obvious – the doubters, the Jeremiahs and Jonas will have their prejudices reinforced by smear and association, convinced the people’s champion is a scumbag, therefore, the desired ideal is tarnished. The British state is counting on half of Scotland remaining union adherents believing whatever is placed before them.

We are faced by an intolerant, regressive, mercenary, one-sided union that sees England lose its senses and swing to the fascist far-right, its corrupt institutions and tax laws intact, its power elite toasting each other at how easy it was to deflect the electorate from institutional high crimes and misdemeanours.

The Tory party is not the only adversary Scotland faces. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn joins the queue of colonials patronising Scotland with promises of broadband wealth, you can’t spend it on infrastructure, hospitals or education systems. Besides a smug smile, he was wearing a misguided gift from the child-youth charity ‘WhoCareScotland, the tartan scarf a modern weave entitled ‘Declaration Tartan‘, reminding us not him, of the Declaration of Arbroath. Irony is wasted on English colonials.

And what happens when Captain Corbyn in his train back to London passes across the Scottish border to England? Does he take off his tartan scarf and put on a pair of Morris dancing clogs?

The British state, MI5, GCHQ, the 77th Brigade – the latter recently ensconced in, and when discovered decamped from, an abandoned Fife factory, Fife, for god’s sake! – they know how to hold onto information until released for the greatest effect.

Whether you think the charges made against Salmond are right or concocted, they arrive timed to undermine the mass movement for self-governance, now consistently polling well over 50% of voters. Trashing hope must be brought to bear in profound ways.

A prediction

Two woman made accusations of sexual crimes against Salmond, both encouraged to do so by two civil servants, one woman against her better judgement. (There is a decidedly odd additional charge of a fracas at Edinburgh Airport tagged onto the list of charges.) The British state won’t leave it at that. It has to layer the cake. The brief is, do what you think will achieve the necessary state of reality. Doubt must be supplanted by certainty if it is to cause despair and widen distance.

Supporters of a free Scotland should be prepared for a new allegation, one that reinforces there is merit in the original charge sheet, a new revelation proving Salmond a devious scoundrel worse than Back Door Boris, guilty before he enters a court. It will have to be along similar lines as the earlier charges, something sleazy, for Salmond isn’t a Tory politician who uses taxpayer expenses to pay for a personal duck sanctuary, or keeps offshore accounts to hide his money from the taxman.

So, why not throw in a new sex accusation, or an affair, or mix it up with exaggerated stories of SNP MPs or MEPs hanging around male toilets, bad boys looking for lost boys. Being pantomime season, let’s have an SNP MP caught dressing up as Widow Twanky walking inside a children’s ward holding a bag of sticky toffee, that corrupter of teeth.

There are so many imaginative things the creeps of colonialism can conjure up without a Harry Potter wand, or a bung from JK Rowling. The death of a child in a Scottish hospital is worth a ton of black propaganda to the opponents of Scotland’s progress, the one washed up on a Turkish beach is ignored. The harrowing image of that drowned child has not stopped British immigration repatriating women and children. Hypocrisy is the virtue of our times. How about a close pal of Salmond accepting a bag of money from Russians, or accepting a peerage despite knowing the SNP does not do that on principle?

You couldn’t make it up? I just did. It is that easy to destroy a man’s reputation. The reasoning here will surprise no one who has the slightest familiarity with history, or elementary understanding of the structure of British power.

It is not really Salmond’s image that is being destroyed, it is Scotland’s self-image. 



Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 9 Comments

Car News: Brexit what dunnit

Your weekly look at all that sucks in the car world, plus some good bits


Man of surprises, Elon Musk, Tesla’s unstoppable boss, has said categorically -stressed here for the benefit of doubting union readers – Brexit uncertainty played a defining role in the firm’s decision to build its first European factory in Germany rather than the United Kingdom. The tear away entrepreneur also revealed the firm’s European battery plant would be built on the outskirts of Berlin.

Musk said: “Brexit made it too risky to put a giga-factory in the UK.”

Sounds sensible in more ways than one. Despite being up against the giant German brands, Mercedes, BMW and VW, now moving over to electric vehicles as fast as their savings allow, they are way behind Tesla – thus, there’s room for co-operation and not just competition.

The European market is best sold new cars from a place in Europe. Had Scotland been independent, a member of the EU in its own right, we could have been a contender.

Scotland is a perfect location to build safe modern, durable vehicles for export to England and beyond, a factory starting with a green field site. This is yet another example of how, tethered to Westminster’s regressive and repressive rule, we are only a fraction of the nation we could be, patronised when told we ‘punch above our weight’.

The US electric car maker also plans to locate a research and development base in the German capital. Musk announced the Berlin decision at a car industry awards ceremony on Wednesday night – [US time] hosted by the German tabloid Bild. 

“Some of the best cars in the world are made in Germany. Everyone knows that German engineering is outstanding, for sure, and that’s part of the reason why we are locating our giga-factory Europe in Germany. We are also going to create an engineering and design centre there.”

Two years ago Musk played down the effects of Brexit assuming the UK would get some of solid new relationship with the European Union, but insiders are saying he grew more and more alarmed as events progressed.

Musk had previously said that if there was sufficient demand a factory could be built in the UK. Tesla also planned to build an Research and development base in the UK and that too has been cancelled.

If anything is a warning to England’s suicidal isolationism – make England insignificant again – the rise of electric cars and production switching – excuse the pun – to Europe is one dramatic flashing red light alarm.

Like other small car start-ups, such as Tucker Cars, immortalised in the Francis Ford Coppola film Tucker – The Man and His Dream, Tesla has been the victim of massively sustained, one might conjecture co-ordinated, vicious attacks from traditional car makers in the USA scared stiff at what they say they welcome – competition. Their investment in companies making petrol and diesel engines shaken, catalytic converters and exhausts redundant, they have played as one expects from precedent, dirty.

Fake Twitter accounts dropping negative analysis and comment daily into social sites and car magazines, and paid auto journalists screeching anything from, nobody will buy the cars, through warnings of batteries just as pollutant as combustion engines, finishing with, the company will never last, have been the staple welcome since Tesla’s inception.

Tesla has survived this onslaught of mostly baseless negativity, this year rebounding from a rocky start to a reported surprise third-quarter profit of $143 million USD, sending its stock price soaring more than 17% in after-hours trading.

The electric automobile company’s revenues of $6.3 billion narrowly missed analyst expectations, but adjusted earnings per share of $1.86 far exceeded expectations of a supposed loss making entity. Tesla attributes the turnaround to cost control efforts, noting that “operating expenses are at the lowest level since Model 3 production started”. (Model 3 is illustrated above.) It also claimed to have “dramatically improved the pace of execution and capital efficiency of new production lines”.

Aside from batteries, Tesla will also build its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles in Berlin. Production is expected to start in 2021. Considering their exterior design is uncluttered and aerodynamic, there’s probably no need to adjust shapes for a few years yet.

Musk told the awards audience: “I come to Berlin a lot – Berlin rocks!”

He didn’t say, “Ich bin ein Berliner”.


Bus lanes forever

Edinburgh council is canvassing for views on its idea of extending bus lanes from rush hour peak times (twice daily but not weekends) to almost all day, 7am to 7pm, all week. This is meddling for no real benefit. Bus lanes are pretty well free of cars during the day and need no extension. Blocking off an entire lane, reducing roads to one lane, causes tailbacks, cars sitting engine running pouring into the air noxious exhaust fumes. By all means encourage drivers to trade up to compact electric cars, and fix road surfaces to stop people buying SUV’s to cope with a myriad potholes and washboard tarmac, but don’t alienate an entire section of ratepayers, some, like me, who use bus and taxi, and leave the car at home.

Eyes wide shut

That time of the year again when it gets dark at 4pm and drivers and cyclists continue on as if in brilliant sunshine, head and side lights off. I followed two young lads two miles who were driving a trendy new Citroen, boom box blaring, flashing my lights behind them and hitting the horn, finally pulling alongside to point out the absence of lights. Cyclists chance it. They’re everywhere, those with a death wish, and the smartest with two rear lights, one on the bicycle, and one on their hat or rucksack. Flashing lights are best from a driver’s point of view. My latest slogan is “Get a Life – Get a Light!”

Which SUV?

People who know of my other life as an auto journalist, ask for advice on car choice – SUV’s being the most frequent. I refer them to vehicles that suit their budget and driving needs. This one is new, a safe place to be. Brand new Mazda CX-30 – a niche car maker with a good record of innovation and low prices – has been awarded the highest-ever mark in Euro NCAP’s main crash-test, scoring an hitherto unknown 99 per cent in its adult occupancy assessment. The result means the CX-30 beats previous high scorers including the Alfa Romeo GiuliaMazda 3Volvo XC60 and Volvo V40, all of which were awarded 98 per cent. If only miles per gallon were 100 to the litre they’d be as good as an electric car.

Happy Motoring!



Posted in Scottish Politics, Transportation | Leave a comment

Corrupting Education


There is renewed interest in the efficacy or otherwise of removing charitable status from Britain’s private schools, (also known as independent schools) many of them in Scotland. There origins lie in wealthy Victorian philanthropists following the philosophy of John Stuart Mill spreading their wealth locally, investing in the community, gifting institutions for the education of the poor and the destitute. Once the government took over that responsibility, private schools switched their role to fee charging institutions, but retained their charitable status. Critics want the schools closed permanently. Reaction to this idea is finance based not educational based: claiming the state system will be unable to absorb the cost of the intake.

UK private schools don’t rely solely on fees to exist and pay the upkeep of massive old buildings, or for building new extensions. They have trusts and they accept gifts of money to reinvest in the school. This leaves them open to dark money. They also derive benefit from government assisted bursaries. Paying no tax helps enormously to balance the books if a not-for-profit school.

Our universities have a similar dilemma, forced into becoming commercial companies, slotting students into preordained roles that suit corporate needs. Learning for the sake of learning is jettisoned.

Money buys places

Readers will be aware of number of American big name actors who were jailed recently for paying phony companies and insiders to concoct exam paper passes, often in sports, exam results good enough to have their children accepted for top colleges and universities. In a few cases they admitted to hiring someone to correct the answers on their son or daughter’s university entrance exam. This is corruption by any definition.

The curious things is, such malfeasance is done for reasons of status, not for intellectual improvement. They accept the myth a private education is better than a state education. What is true, is private schools offer a community where an elite minority meet another influential minority, and are taught and learn to remain in that circle as adults for their personal advancement. Private schools perpetuate the English class system.

Private doesn’t mean brainy

Despite a belief to the contrary, research shows private schools do not turn out students of superior intellect to state schools. It remains conventional wisdom in many parts of the education world that private schools do a better job of educating students, with superior standardised test scores and outcomes. There is no truth in this assertion.

False beliefs leave our educational system vulnerable to unwarranted change or regressive policies detrimental to the learning health of our children. We listen to right-wing charlatans bemoan the state of Scottish education as they do of Scotland’s health service but we don’t connect corruption and greed with our schools and universities.

The goal of political attack on our health service is to gain control of the SNHS and hand it over to the privateers on the promise private investment offers greater benefits to state owned services. Like education, there is no evidence to support this contention. The question arises: should we apply the same wary cynicism to claims of a better education service run privately as we do claims our health service is better run privately?

Transparency International

I turn now for my thesis to Transparency International, a voluntary organisation working for liberal values. They took a detailed look over 400 cases of corruption, at the multi-million pound spending habits of corrupt members of the global super-rich, those with vast amounts of excess, tax-free wealth to squander on multiple homes, super-yachts, private jets, people who send their privileged progeny to elite private schools. This is where society’s peccadilloes get interesting.

Transparency International, its raison d’etre exposing corruption, found more than £300 billion of suspect funds were funnelled through UK banks, law firms and accountants before being spent on items such as a £1 million Cartier diamond ring, masterpiece art works from Sotheby’s, and a £50,000 Tom Ford crocodile-skin jacket with matching crocodile-skin handbag from Harrods. How’s that for self indulgence?

The suspect cash – which often comes from corrupt officials’ embezzlement of hundreds of millions of pounds from the state coffers of poor countries – was also found to have been spent on a £200,000 Bentley Bentayga driven by the 22-year-old son of the former prime minister of Moldova.

The filthy four hundred

In its forensic analysis of more than 400 global bribery, corruption and money laundering cases in 116 countries, Transparency International’s report found 582 UK firms or individuals had helped rich people bring suspect funds into the country. The money was paid through some 17,000 shell companies, 1,455 of which were registered to at the same serviced office above a wine bar in Birmingham.

Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, has a few hard and direct things to say:  

“We’ve known for a long time that the UK’s world-class services have attracted a range of clients, including those who have money and pasts to hide. Now, for the first time, we have shed light on who these companies are and how they have become entangled in some of the biggest corruption scandals of our time. This should act as a wake-up call for government and regulators, and deliver much-needed reforms to the UK’s defences against dirty money.” 

Seeing how the rich spend money on themselves, it comes as no surprise to know they will fork out similar sums to have their sons and daughters educated in elite institutions. If they cannot gain entry by their intellectual capacity, their parents will try to buy their way in, and often do.

Follow the money

How do the obscene indulgences of the rich link with our education system? Lets start with England. Almost £3 million was funnelled to private schools, including elite places such as Charterhouse, Harrow and Lancing College. In 2010 alone Charterhouse, in Surrey, which describes itself as “one of the great historic schools of England”, received £300,000 of funds linked to a scam called the Troika Laundromat scheme to move £3.5 billion out of Russia, according to Transparency International.

British universities, including the London School of Economics – an institution riddled with cases accepting dirty money – the University of York, University College London, and Scotland’s own University of St Andrews were paid more than £500,000 each. The payments all came from shell companies with bank accounts at institutions that have since closed owing to mismanagement and money laundering failings.

But not Scotland

We cannot argue corruption has yet to infect Scottish education. In Scotland we have worrying examples of the Labour party, pals with contractors, presiding over jerry-built secondary schools. These schools were commissioned on onerous PPP contracts (public private partnerships) costing tens of thousands more in interest repayments over twenty years than the original building cost to create. Who puts an entire nation in hock for decades and calls it a good deal? (PPP: a long-term contract between a private party and a government entity.)

In those cases, the investors creamed at least 40% off the top of the funds before handing what was left to a builder to erect the school, schools designed by cheap architects with cheap materials that won’t last the length of the corrupt contracts. No wonder so many contractors cut corners and we saw gable ends fall into playgrounds.

Banks are up to their necks in  sleaze

Vast amounts of tax free money are funneled through iffy companies to banks, large deposits made from overseas companies, including in the Cayman Islands and Turkey. Large cash sums get paid into the corruption mired HSBC bank. Understandable rich young students can afford to drink Dom Pérignon at parties.

For offspring that may not have been clever enough to get into top schools or universities on their academic merit, the researchers found that more than £300,000 was spent on “educational consultants helping to secure places at the most prestigious institutions”. They includes Scottish institutions of higher education and top private schools.

In a United Kingdom run by the Tories we can and should expect corruption made legal. Britain is one of the most corrupt nations in the western world. We will hear the familiar excuse spoken more often than in the past, “it may be immoral but it is not illegal” 

Nobody should assume bad behaviour is confined to a few rotten apples. It matters not a jot what we feel could be improved, radicalised in Scottish education – and I have plenty ideas of my own on that topic not shared by our government – if we don’t control how we manage our schools and universities we stand to lose one of the most envied systems of education in the world.

Under a Tory administration every aspect of Scottish values and ethos will be subjected to constant assault from the forces of corporate greed. Experiments in teaching methods aside – and there ought to be room in any child-centred system to  try new ways of encouraging exploration – our egalitarian education system must be protected as assiduously as our health service. The only way to do that is by Scotland regaining full independence, and in so doing establish a system of close scrutiny and development.



NOTES:                                                                                                                                                      1. There exist in Scotland and England valuable experimental private schools for the gifted, such as musicians, and for the troublesome, schools I admire and would not include in the categories I list in the essay. One in Scotland was Kilquhanity House in Castle Douglas, a free school closed in 1997, its curriculum based on the work of the notable Scots dominie AS Neill. More here:

2. How English state schools are undermined:

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 2 Comments

Car News: Drop that Phone!

Your weekly look at how the car dominates our lives, plus some good bits



Have you got into the habit yet of pulling over to the kerb to use your iPhone? Not yet installed a hands free unit, such as a Parrot, or a phone incorporated in a radio? I see tradesmen using theirs while on the move. Private car owners tend to use theirs while waiting at the lights, head down to hide what they’re doing, not noticing the lights have changed to green. 

Well, new sanctions are on the way. Legislation on using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is to be tightened up to close a loophole that has allowed people to take photos and videos behind the wheel. I didn’t know of this escape clause.

The current legislation prevents drivers from using a hand-held mobile phone to call or text, but the law is set to be updated in spring 2020 to reflect advances in smartphone technology. The revised laws will include using hand-held phones to browse the internet, film, take photos, or scroll through playlists. Photographing your girlfriend draped over the bonnet in a bathing costume while on the move appears exempt.

The one exemption is 999 calls. You can make 999 calls on a hand-held device while driving if it’s not safe to stop, or in my case, telling the police of an aggressive driver  (maybe drunk) veering about on the motorway.

The fixed penalty for driving while using a hand-held mobile phone is £200 and six penalty points. Courts can also fine car drivers up to £1,000, and HGV and bus drivers up to £2,500 in addition to issuing a driving disqualification. That is set to double. The Department for Transport (DVLA) said the review will be carried out “urgently” with further proposals “expected to be in place by next spring”.

As we know from catching that glare from the driver parked next to you, using a hand-held mobile phone or sat-nav while driving is illegal. Tell the police officer you were lost and was checking a route map, or trying to phone your wife in hospital to see if the baby is born, is no excuse. Want to use your sat-nav? – fix it to your dash or windscreen, preferably not right in front of your nose.

You’re able to use your phone if you’re safely parked, but this doesn’t apply to being stopped in traffic or queuing at lights – using your phone in these cases is illegal. If you’re stopped by the police because you’ve tried to beat the system – you’re busted. However, those of us who use hand-free phones can still be stopped by the police if we seem distracted, not in charge of the steering wheel! 

The original law around driving with mobile phones was enacted 16 years ago, before smartphones were widely used. Only texting or phoning on a mobile phone were punishable offences, and a number of cases have seen drivers get off on this technicality. For example, in July a man was convicted for filming a crash, but the case was overturned because he argued he wasn’t using the phone to communicate.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – a politician with an iffy reputation – said: “We recognise that staying in touch with the world while travelling is an essential part of modern day life but we are also committed to making our roads safe.” Some busybody road safety groups – the kind that thinks hanging and flogging not enough of a deterrent – are campaigning to have hands-free phones banned altogether Fine, I use a flip phone!

The action comes following a report by the House of Commons’ Transport Select Committee urging Westminster to introduce tighter restrictions on stupid drivers.


The daily rip-off

Private parking firms – the emphasis is on private – are on course to stick around nine million fines on motorists this year – an increase of more than a quarter. Official figures show that in the first half of 2019-20, management companies sought 4.32 million sets of vehicle keeper records from the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency at £2.50 a pop, a nice wee earner readers probably didn’t know existed run by our always affable profiteering public service. The DVLA rules enable private parking firms to issue ‘penalty’ tickets of up to £100 to drivers and pursue them for alleged infringements on private car land. Some firms are unscrupulous in hounding drivers for payment. The data suggests tickets are now being dished out at the rate of at least one every four seconds helping to line the bank account of the DVLA. With the agency charging £2.50 to issue private parking firms with a driver’s details, it stands to make £21.6 million from selling on information over the 12 month period. The DVLA says it is allowed to disclose details of a vehicle’s keeper under data protection laws. Aye, right.

In the wrong order

This week a Canadian man died during the famous London to Brighton vintage car rally when, mistaking a turning, he drove down a slip road onto a motorway, and carried on in the wrong direction against oncoming traffic before being hit by a truck. His wife is in hospital with serious head injuries. He is not the first to die in that annual run where vehicles rarely get faster than 30 mph, and not the first to take a motorway slip road the wrong way. His 1903 Knox Runabout, a tiny, open-cabin vehicle with a single-cylinder engine and max speed of 35 mph, was destroyed.

A near accident

Two days ago my old car broke down, clutch failure. A low loader arrived. As the winch reached its biggest load, the car at 25 degrees, the cable snapped, letting out a sound like rifle fire under the chassis. It ran backwards down the ramp and gathering momentum, rolled down the slope. The driver-operator was so stunned he didn’t move. I ran like hell and managed to grab the front, dug my heels into soggy leaves on the tarmac, and after a few more hair-raising feet stopped it. Ah, the benefit of owning small, light vehicles. On inspection I could see the cable was down to two steel strands where it met the hook, the owner damn slow in checking his equipment. One hour later a new low-loader arrived, by which time I’d made the acquaintance of the house owner nearby who came out to help, and told me he had the world’s biggest collection of old Bentley’s. Drama follows me everywhere.

Happy motoring! 



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Monos – a review


Monos – where the editing is odd the images are stunning

‘Monos’ is Spanish for monkeys. That out of the way, the next thing to report is, critics who say a new talent has emerged in cinematic art are correct, even if it is Alejandro Landes’ third film. But whether he can learn to tell a joined-up story is another matter.

Monos concerns itself exclusively with a group of child-like, immature teenage guerrillas keeping watch on an American woman hostage in two remote locations, a rain swept, muddy mountaintop amid ruins, and a sweltering jungle living in improvised huts. In narrative attack, wealth of locations it is a tour de force. I have yet to see anything like it emerge from Scotland though we have just as dramatic a terrain, and just as many military incidents to tell of. In story, it is compared with Lord of the Flies, but without a satisfactory ending, and Heart of Darkness without the eloquence of dialogue.

The blistering third feature by Colombian-Ecuadorian filmmaker Landes starts with training rituals that are in turn silly, amusing and physically punishing. Its characters are eight badly attired but booted teenage guerrillas serving the orders of a mysterious force known as the Organisation, stationed to wait for further instructions beyond guarding both their prisoner (Julianne Nicholson), and a loaned dairy cow name Shakira. The country isn’t identified, nor why the teenagers are instructed to guard their prisoner; we assume it is for a political ransom.


A raggle-taggle band of misfits

The adolescent main characters is a roll call of noms de guerre. They are tall, brooding Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), childlike Smurf (Deiby Rueda), hot-tempered Bigfoot (Moises Arias), sexy warrior princess Lady (Karen Quintero), Dog (Paul Cubides), Swede (Laura Castrillon) and Wolf (Julian Giraldo). All but one of the actors,  Moisés Arias, are amateurs, first timers, including the milking cow. They are stationed at the cloud-scraping top of the world in the Andes, armed with assault rifles, some food, matches to light a fire, and an inexhaustible supply of bullets none appear to carry with them.

Their base of operations is an inhospitable mountaintop fortress beautifully filmed in rain and mud and black earth by director of photography Jasper Wolf as though it’s an island floating in the clouds. The arrival on horseback of their adult drill sergeant, a minuscule but muscular oddity of a man, amplifies the surreal, fantastical quality of Landes’ vision as framed by Wolf.

For the first thirty minutes, perhaps it is forty-five – it felt too long – my heart sank at the repetition of scenes. The terrain is bleak. The teenagers play games, laugh over silly pranks, argue, wrestling in the mud for status like mating bull seals on a beach, eat and make love, badly. Just as I began to think that this was the sole location, the troop come under fire, attacked by a barrage of bombs that come from nowhere. They grab their prisoner and make for the safety of the jungle below.

The scenes on the mountain top are cut non-linear fashion, we jump from one moment to another without any apparent logic. Once in the jungle, the narrative flow coalesces into a more satisfying, if conventional, chase story.

Intensifying proceedings is Mica Levi’s extremely strange score – I could hardly identify a normal instrument; it might be composed for electronic gadgets – veers from jittery menace to relaxing effects tunes. The music adds to the film’s feverish dream quality; you are aware of it when it appears. I admit that particular descriptor may be overused when referring to a film with ethereal imagery, but somehow the score suits what we see, only there’s not enough of it.  


Landes has filmed anything that is out of the ordinary

Hallucinatory detours and several heated moments of violence enhance the feeling that the characters are in a perpetual waking nightmare. The biggest ambiguity issues from Landes withholding his political stance, and not offering an explanation of the ‘Organisation’. Is it a military force for good or evil? A political stance is absent. 

Child soldiers stuck in a daily routine of monotonous military exercises, and play acting, later placed in scenarios where they’re forced to defend their lives, aren’t likely to be privy to the political machinations underpinning the cause they’re fighting for. As youthful actors they have little technique to show us internal motivation. The film depends heavily on action and plot twists.

There is not a clear-cut explanation for the modern conflict we are witness to, and that’s frustrating. You are left accepting it as an allegorical tale and nothing more. 


Kids gone wild

As life in the jungle with a bolshy prisoner taller and stronger than most of them, gets harder and harder to endure, food scarcer, their brief losing its meaning and its appeal various characters break ranks, their discipline disintegrates, no longer a fighting unit, but separate individuals looking after number one.

What did I make of it? – a visceral experience, visually memorable, but politically too obscure to be fully satisfying. A story of mediocrity given authority. As mentioned earlier, the ending leaves you annoyed, accepting sometimes the bad guys win.

Monos is derivative, Apocalypse Now and a survivalist adventure like The Revenant, and yet with a life of its own. Best thing to do is sit back and enjoy the images and not think to hard till later about what it means. I am not sure if the director knows. At base it is a white-knuckle ride into the heart of darkness.

  • Star Rating: Four stars
  • Cast:  Sofia Buenaventura, Moises Arias, Julianne Nicholson
  • Director: Alejandro Lndes
  • Writer: Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos
  • Cinematographer: Jasper Wolf
  • Composer: Mica Levi
  • Adult rating: 15
  • Duration: 1 hour 42 minutes
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?
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