The Great British Break-Off

Am taking a short break.

No essay for a week. Maybe ten days. Am off on a part business, part research trip. Will be in Gibraltar at one point and intend to ask Gibraltarians who’ll speak to me how they feel about Westminster’s betrayal of their loyalty to merry England, and the British pound sterling. 96% voted Remain. They should know, they live in Europe among Europeans.

Here’s a taster:

“It was a shock,” says Stuart Menez, who runs a small glass-blowing workshop in the centre of town. Mr Menez started his business 21 years ago, with start-up funds from the EU. Today his priority isn’t funding, but access.

“The biggest issue we’re facing is a free-flowing border, for people visiting Gibraltar and for the goods that we import. The raw material that we buy is exclusively bought from the European Union,” he says.

“It has to travel through the European Union to get to us. But if it faces a difficult Spanish border then we have a problem. In the same way it affects us being able to export our goods to the world. So the uncertainty covers every possible aspect of the business.”

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, ceded to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. Hours after the referendum result was announced on 24 June, Spain’s acting Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, said, “The Spanish flag on the Rock is much closer than before.”

Meanwhile, if you’re not interested in reading any of my backlog, and I don’t blame you, here’s an entertaining  intermission, a talented street musician:

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Hunt for Winderpeople – a review


Julian Dennison and Sam Neill, perfect casting

This is a delightfully unambitious film that amasses wisdom about family life as it tells its tale in its passage of rights way, packed with compassion, sadness and laughter.

The new Zealand film industry, like the Australian before it, is a wonder: from nothing one year to Peter Jackson and his all-encompassing Rings and Hobbit empire within a short space of time. Generous tax advantages helped it along, the sort of thing governments are elected to arrange to generate jobs and wealth, and as a bi-product, tourism.

I remember the first Kiwi film I saw as a stripling, Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career (1979). The ending had the heroine post the manuscript of her first novel to an Edinburgh publisher – it was an autobiographical novel, actually published. I marvelled how a film made on the other side of the globe had affectionate mention of my home town while we in Scotland felt embarrassed to include our cities in a filmed drama unless gangsters in Glasgow chopping off each other’s sporrans.

Then Smash Palace, (1981) was released, directed by the young Roger Donaldson, another revelation, this time about small town boredom. Within two years Kiwis proved they could make very good movies that would endure. Once We Were Warriors, (1994) dealt with booze drunk Maori’s and the damage they inflict on families and friends, but also their loss of culture. Later still came poetic drama. I can recall vivid images of the little Maori girl who wants to become chief of her tribe but custom and misogyny won’t allow it, and the beached whale she encounters in Whale Rider, (2002). It still haunts the memory.

First class New Zealand actors emerged from that avalanche of creativity. We got used to seeing the reliable cut-down Connery, Sam Neill, in good film after good film, his widest known success Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. He’s an actor deserving of a lifetime achievement award. And then there’s my talented friend Alan Dale famed for countless editions of Neighbours, everywhere on American television and movies, tantalisingly yet to get the major movie role, the one that exploits his considerable screen authority.

Maori actors don’t fair so well when they knock on Hollywood’s door. The charismatic Temuera Morrison is grossly under-used in  American movies, invariably demoted to second lieutenant in a detective drama, an actor clearly capable of better things.


I have a portrait taken against the camera that shot Lawrence of Arabia. It’s an army tank in comparison with today’s gear that shot Winderpeople

Sam Neill pops up in the latest New Zealand offering, Hunt for the Winderpeople. (‘Winder People’ is strangely printed as one word) based on the novel by Barry Crump.

It’s an out and out family film but with a lot of surprises, and some good performances. The dividend is the always impressive New Zealand forests and mountains as backdrop.

The humour is incidental and often black, rather than jokes crafted for adults so we don’t feel let down forced to take our bread snappers to a kiddy’s film. New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, (What We Do in the Shadows) expertly strikes a rare balance of dark humor and child-friendly identity themes. It’s a road movie and a coming of age film; so, don’t expect to find ground-breaking genre innovation.

Sam Neill plays Hec, short for Hector, a grizzled, tough-as-nails, rural survivalist with a back story of  prison sentence, and likeable weak spot for his loving wife, Bella, (Rima Te Wiata). Ricky, (Julian Dennison) is their overweight foster kid.

Teenager, fat Ricky is shuttled between foster homes, a “real bad egg”. He gets into trouble for minor things, like graffiti, spitting, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ricky’s child welfare officer, (Rachel House) has an annoying way of describing Ricky by his negatives, thereby inculcating a sense of failure and inferiority in the lad. But she meets her match when he’s farmed out to Bella as a foster parent. Bella is street smart. “Have your breakfast, and then you can run away.”

On his first day at their country home, Ricky watches in horror as Bella tackles and stabs a wild boar again and again, laughing as if it’s fun. The juxtaposition of human cruelty and good humour is a total shock for this city kid, but he quickly learns to bond with Bella, Hec, and their dog. For one thing, Bella has sussed him out.

Later, when the youngster sees some horses he asks to ride one. “Why ride them? Let them run free and eat grass”, says Bella knowingly. Ricky begins to respect Bella’s honesty and warmth – she hugs everybody – and admire Hec, her backwoodsman of a husband.

Events overcome the trio – I won’t spoil the plot change, other than to say there’s an hilarious funeral with a sermon about junk food.


The more you see of New Zealand, people and topography, the more it seems like Scotland

To avoid his child officer, Ricky escapes into the wild to keep from being sent back to foster homes. Deep in the forest he plans a life living off the land with his dog Tupac. But he’s no Bear Grylls and soon finds himself way out of his depth when it comes to basic survival skills in the natural world.

He’s tracked and found by Hec (by heck?) who gets injured, delaying their return to civilization long enough that the authorities come looking for them with a set of mixed-up motivations. As the days slip by they become famous, on new bulletins and newspaper front pages. The story grips the nation.

By this point we are well and truly hooked into the story, which is just as well because it slips gently into the relationship between Hec and Ricky, that is, between oil and water, generations apart, Hec in full beard, Ricky not yet seen a shaving razor. By adventure and misadventure they begin to rely on each other’s strengths to see them through the ordeal. On the journey they meet wacky characters, and learn life’s lessons, the most resonant,  how to be better humans.

My criticisms lie with inappropriate pop music introduced at various moments; a tendency for some actors to fall back on stereotypes, probably a fault in the writing, and that the tone of the story errs on the frivolous side, yet somehow it holds together despite the naivety, and the add-on ending plain soppy.

There’s also any number of problems in a dog as co-starring actor. Dogs keep looking at their handler off camera, and the director can forget to include it in scenes where the audience expect to see it. And so it is with Wilderpeople.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a road movie with no road, a kid’s movie with just one kid, a socio-political film with glimpses of small groups of people, a film about all of us bound up in only two people discarded by society. There is a fairy tale mythology about it. At its end, as the authorities close in, we care about the fate of our two protagonists. As Hec himself would say “It’s magestical.”

Another win for another New Zealand movie.

Star Rating: Three and a bit stars
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Julian Dennison, Rachel House, Rima Te Wiata, Oscar Kightley, Rhys Darby
Writers: Taika Waititi
Cinematography: Lachlan Milne.
Music: Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Scott
Duration: 101 minutes
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The Bus That Lied


Just one of the many brazen lies the British public were fed as an inducement to leave the European Union. The English NHS has been told make do or mend

I’ve more to say about the wording on that bus later.

The other day, wondering how England will manage to prosper in a new relationship with its Treaty partner without subsidy from Scotland, I came across a speech made by  the disreputable Tory politician Liam Fox.

I say disreputable on account of his past behaviour as an ambassador of the British government, a serious error of judgement that hasn’t stopped the purblind Theresa Mays elevating him to Cabinet office as International Trade Secretary.

Fox was talking about the World Trade Organisation – WTO. His speech had little to say, meant only as a sop to those anxious about what will happen to commercial companies when Brexit hits them. This specific line caught my attention.

“The UK is a full and founding member of the WTO. [When we leave the EU] there will be no vacuum.”

Happy, clappy Dyson

Fearing my ‘nationalist-bent’ mind might morph that into, “Trust me. I’m a Tory politician who will benefit personally by making money out of arms deals”, I wrote it down for accuracy. The habit of searching for the humorous side had Dyson appear out of his Chinese factory in imagination, “No vacuum? But I wanted out of EU to sell loads more of the over-priced things!” (Dyson was an arch proponent of junking the EU. He lost his case at the European Court in the Hague against adding labels to his products to show energy efficiency falls once used. This disagreement united Dyson with Ukip.)

The rest of Fox’s speech is waffle fit only for a demented unionist’s blog.

As I understand it, what Fox is saying is, once out of Europe the United Kingdom, meaning England, will honour its obligations to international trading agreements.

That begs the question: does Fox know what he’s talking about? Ninety-nine per cent waffle indicates he doesn’t.

Westminster’s involvement

By her remarks and indifference May makes clear Scotland is guaranteed to get treated as a supernumerary to the entire accomplishment of leaving the EU, ergo, England will fight its corner and no other but call it ‘for the good of the whole United Kingdom’, as if the United Kingdom is still united.

The critical goal for May and her motley crew is, they must have all alternative trade avenues in place before the end of the Article 50 process.

Rules? What rules?

Fox is ignorant of the rules of trading. By a ‘no vacuum’ he’s suggesting the UK has tariffs and schedules already in place separate from those we currently share with the EU. As a filmmaker fruitlessly frittering chunks of my life away communicating between nations to raise finance, I can state categorically we don’t have a system separate from the EU. The EU system is our entire department store of choices.

Fox has uttered two falsehoods, that we have a system we can switch to in its entirety, and that there will be no legal vacuum. Not a good start for a cabinet minister, even one as blatantly unreliable as Fox.

It’s true, the UK is a founding member of the WTO. I’ll give him that, a fact he probably stumbled upon by accident. Some of my Remain colleagues who are film financiers point out the obvious that founding an organisation is not the same as being a full member of it.

For the uninformed

The UK used to belong to GATT – the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the WTO’s predecessor until the WTO came along. Schedules are descriptions of a country’s tariff and subsidy arrangements with other countries. Most of them are hostile to my non-arithmetic, speak plain English brain, but what they do is set an agreed rate on specific items in a specific country, a varied or set rate – such as ten per cent on cars.

That is why European car manufacturers here and our few indigenous ones are screaming blue murder. To know tariffs is to be in a position to price their cars and quantify export costs. Tariffs can vary: 10% on the first ten thousand sprockets, and only 5% thereafter, a method that avoids penalising a company selling lots of its products.

The UK doesn’t have its own schedules.

We use EU schedules. We need to extract our schedules from the EU schedule, which is actually a highly complicated and gargantuan task. We can’t just delete EU schedules, as some Tories have boasted, and start again. That invites a nightmare of an operation. There are thousands to get through, and thousands more of quotas, each one hard pressed by their respective trade desperate to know what the new tariff is so they can keep trading.

Don’t do as the EU does, do as the EU does

The only quick route, the easiest solution, is to replicate the same tariffs we have with the EU. In which case, why the hell did we leave the EU to do our own thing?

Nothing changes

All the crapology of wrestling control from Europe and placing it in the hands of caring, sharing England is so much hooey.  The UK is forced to keep things as they were because that’s the only way to avoid a disastrous swap over.

And we can’t ask EU states severally to alter their rates to suit us. EU member states like what they have. Why should they alter them for dear old Blighty, the nation that has given them the finger?

We’re not taking back control.

We are about to get mired in a reorganisation certain to put small and big business, as well as careers and jobs on the line. (My one is US based. I argue for others here.)

Don’t forget the small matter of the EU already a functioning member of the WTO. We can’t just ‘do our own thing’ without the EU getting truly annoyed. And believe me the EU is in no mood to accommodate England’s desire to rekindle pride in old Empire ideals.

Middle England has thrown Europe into the clutches of the far Right and neo-fascists, while May presides over some of the most repugnant ideals I’ve heard in my lifetime outside General Franco’s rule. No wonder each days see a hardening of attitude by EU member states.

And that’s not all.

Where is our army of trade negotiators and accountants needed to process the gargantuan transfer? Where are the experts to open and close discussions with China over their cheap steel exports? Do we really think China will just nod sagely, bow, and say, okay, go ahead, block our steel, or add massive tariffs so we can’t sell it in the UK.

Where is our sooper-doper legal teams to compose the new contracts for thousands of tariffs and contracts? At the very least we have to be in a position to announce provisional tariffs, at the very least.

No matter how cocky is May and her cohorts, the very people they represent will be the ones to give them the first bruising, big business and corporations, banks and financial institutions. You can hear their grumbles already.

Meanwhile, Liam Fox continues to show how shallow and inexpert he is, and how xenophobic Middle England is in for a painful shock. For all their bellyaching they might remain where they were, but much poorer.

A list of betrayals

The English NHS isn’t getting an illusory £350 million.

The slogan on the bus mentions nothing of the money that flows back to the UK. If you look closely at the photograph above the two statements side-by-side imply £350 million will be channelled into the English NHS system. But that’s not what it says. The two statements are a non sequitur. Where on that bus does it state the NHS will get that amount? Was it composed too mislead? You can bet it was.

Moreover, it doesn’t make clear Scotland has its own NHS. How’s that for fooling some of the people some of the time?

Money might be spent on building a new Royal Yacht. (Are you still laughing at the back?)

The pound in your pocket is losing value.

Expats in sunny Spain and elsewhere might not get their pension delivered as usual.

Gibraltar, as well as London, swathes of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe. Gibraltarians, Brits to a bulldog, and probably a Barbary ape too, are livid they have been abandoned by Westminster.

Theresa may refuses to say whether or not European leaders and economists are correct asserting whatever happens the UK must pay the EU a minimum of £18 billion Euros as a golden handshake. That’s your taxes, dear reader, the taxes Europhobes said they could protect and nurture. And there’s worse to come. The Bank of England forecasts greater inflation. Nothing but bad news that was supposed to be good news.

Well, dear Middle England, how do you like them apples?

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Inglish, as Spoke ‘n Wrote


It seems the sign writer ran out of paint to complete the ‘R’ – until you see the first word

Mr Spelling Bee

As a writer I get asked to spell words by as many adults as children, not in a formal way, just en passant. I don’t claim to be a walking dictionary, and often experiment to create new words that the ill-educated consider ‘wrong’. It’s called creative writing.

Writers and journalists are expected to be highly proficient in the job of putting letters, sentences and punctuation in the right order. No surprise, like any other flawed human I make errors and get memory blocks on certain words.

“You’re a writer” said a plumber. “Spell ‘containerised.” He reminded me of the road painters who sprayed ‘Manetenence Deppo’ at their garage door for Maintenance Depot.

Pedants rule

Fowler’s ‘Modern English Usage’, a one-time bible for grammarians, actually advises we revert to the Greek and pronounce  the ‘p’ at the front of pseudo. Things are getting silly.  To those learning to write I usually say spelling and grammar do not matter, so long as your meaning is clear. To which grammarians answer, if meaning isn’t clear its because of bad grammar and poor spelling.

Who doesn’t feel cheated taught by primary school teachers the strict rule of ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’, only to discover later in life any number of exceptions: neighbour, weigh, weight, freight, sheik, deign, vein, caffeine, and so on, and so forth.

For my own part, I have to check renaissance, and millionaire to see where the double letter lands. One ‘n’ or two ‘s’s’? Actually, millionaire can have two ‘n’s’ if you like it that way. There are many instances where a word has more than one way to spell it. Judgement can be written with or without the ‘e’. And there’s another thing: how to write the plural of the single letter ‘e’ without it looking distinctly odd on the page. Write it as ‘es’ and its singular. You have to stick an apostrophe in the middle – ‘e’s’.

Classic stumbles are Cholmondely, pronounced ‘Chumley’, and Mainwaring pronounced, Mannering. But to my credit I can spell Balquhidder without a hiccup.


Memory fail is most often active when trying to think of synonyms. I can spend an hour going around ‘block’ until I reach the word I really want, which is halt. (We must halt the spread of odious unionism” is better in meaning and scansion than, “We must block odious Unionism.”) And I remind myself that strictly speaking you get irritated by something or someone if already annoyed.

I console myself in the knowledge the worst grammarians are automobile journalists and property agents. They have a jargon all of their own, and one copies the other blindly. Thus cars are described as ‘flexible’ as if the seats bend when you sit on them. Property agents misuse the same adjective to describe the layout of homes when they mean ‘versatile’.

Commas are a matter of taste

“When should I use a comma?” is another regular question. Well, in truth there is no single answer to that. My guide is, read over the paragraph and drop in commas to make the sense communicate. In reality I play safe with commas. I sprinkle them like rain, liberally, wherever possible, in my prose, to stay on the safe side.


Most of our howlers are in written English, but we can  surpass ourselves in speech, too. We cringe when using the wrong word. Some politicians have caused mirth saying ‘breakfast’ meaning to say ‘Brexit’, a clumsy word designed to trap the unwary.

The first time it occurred for me was during my final year at primary school. It took some courage to ask my favourite teacher if she was free for the next dance, but when I approached her nervously it came out as, “Miss … are you vacant for the next dance?”

Her howls of laughter echo inside my skull to this day.


The famous ‘your’ and ‘you’re’

Spelling and grammar minefields

On one occasion a film colleague noticed I omitted the apostrophe from ain’t throughout a piece of screenplay dialogue.

“You can’t write it that way. It has a comma!” [He was wrong. It has an apostrophe.]

“Listen” I shot back, “James Joyce wrote can’t and won’t without an apostrophe, so I’m in good company! Pay attention to the bloody quality of the script and not the grammar!”

In everyday speech we omit grammatical accuracy for immediacy of meaning. We break up sentences, fracture them, recast, hesitate, and repeat words.

For the English-born listener with no ear for Scottish accents it can be daunting holding onto the sense of whatever is spoken in a Scottish native tongue. A composer friend handed back a video of Billy Connolly. “I can see he’s a very funny fellow, but I cannot understand a word he’s saying.”

Verbal hurdles

No matter our education, we pay little or no attention to grammar when communicating verbally, (Oxbridge dons overlook perfect grammatical sentences in their speech) but weirdly we adopt written language in speech when it isn’t necessary.

How many times have you heard a pundit or politician answer a question by saying ‘eg’ rather than for example? Or start to count on their fingers as they make a list of things, “Well, ‘a’ we can do this, and ‘b’ we can do that.”

There’s a risible fashion for miming air quotation marks. You placed both hands in the air with index and middle fingers flicked twice to indicate parenthesis, or express cynicism at something somebody had said or written. If conveying sarcasm, you accompany your quotation mime by rolling your eyes to the ceiling.

The split infinitive

How do you avoid the infamous split infinitive? The answer is you don’t have to if you don’t want to. The problem of the split infinitive only arises when the infinitive appears with the preposition to, and an accompanying adverb, or adverbial phrase. If you put adverbial words between the ‘to’ and the verb, you split the infinitive. Still, to pedants using a split infinitive can mark you out as uneducated.

I avoid the split infinitive only because it makes a sentence sound clunky.

The glitch is in the relationship between English and Latin. In Latin the infinitive appears as one word. You simply cannot split the infinitive in Latin. We dropped Latin grammar when men wore tights and cod pieces. The exception is public schools, such as Eton.

In any event, the rule is, there is no rule. Treat the split infinitive as a preference.


For the want of a comma her butt grew bigger

English not Scottish

My primary education was severely wanting in anything remotely connected to cultural education. I was chastised for saying “aye” instead of yes. I was told to lose dialect words, such as ‘siver’, the Edinburgh word for the drain in a road gutter, ‘stank’ in Glasgow.

When I entered drama tuition I was told sternly to lose my Scottish accent, or expect to lose my career in theatre. (I wanted to direct, but that’s another story.) Those tutors who warned me were both of English birth and sadly Scottish too. Colonised habits die hard.

I recall the furore over Glaswegian journalist Cliff Hanley’s entry to BBC Scotland’s morning radio news programme. The complaints poured in from all quarters of society, thousands of them, from Glaswegians to posh Jocks, all railing against a non-BBC voice. What was the BBC thinking? Snobbery and pomposity flowed as thick as molasses from listeners expressing outrage.


Think before you ink

Only the Queen speaks the Queen’s English

Later, when I worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, I was astonished to discover English actors speaking Shakespearian lines and sonnets in their local tongues, Somerset, Devon, Suffolk. The artistic director Trevor Nunn explained that local accents enrich characterisation. “That is the reality those actors bring to the role. Why should I demand a BBC accent and have everybody sound like a blueprint of voice tuition?”

English accents and dialect words are what make Shakespearian verse rhyme. Without it the verse doesn’t scan. That revelation coincided with the entertainment world opening the door to working class playwrights and actors: Arnold Wesker, C.P. Taylor, John Osborne, the multi-talented John Byrne; in actors we got the Welsh Stanley Baker, the Scottish Sean Connery, and the English Albert Finney, to name too few. Class barriers were breaking down.

Arriving full circle

Today, fashionable actors speak with plummy voices once more, and are educated at Eton. Presumably they’re no longer expected to make Shakespeare’s verse rhyme.

We are left with Scottish politicians who want people to think they had a full-blown English public school education, cold showers and all. That need for illusory status is another manifestation of what’s become to be known as the ‘Scottish cringe’, the feeling that as a Scot you are of less worth than people of the UK’s other nations.

When it comes to affecting an upper crust English accent the former MP, Malcolm Rifkind, who left his career shrouded in  ordure, is top of the list of worst offenders, his strangled vowels reminiscent of a chicken in labour. There are plenty more to choose from, but once you listen to how he speaks you’ll recognise his inferiority complex manifested in others who aim to govern the rest of us as if educated to do just that.

As for people like me who spend long periods in the United States and return with a creeping pseudo American accent, the less said the better … dude.

I now ‘boldly’ hand this essay over to grammar pedants…

(An abridged version of this essay was published in the September edition of iScot – support the march to full democracy, order a subscription.)

Posted in Scottish Politics | 15 Comments

Deepwater Horizon – a review


A moment captured from the real Deepwater Horizon disaster

Here is a film in which Peter Berg the director is desperately keen to honour the men and women who served on that fated oil exploration rig in the Gulf of Mexico, twenty-five minutes from the Texan coast, and who were caught in the inferno.

Executive produced by one of its stars, Mark Wahlberg, the director is given a fairly conventional scenario to turn into a gigantic effects movie. In the end, though he does a masterful job of recreating lives in extreme jeopardy, aided by superb editors, the real issues are criminally glossed over.

This is Raging Inferno based on a true disaster. Movie stars are not in it to look superhuman heroic, but to play real people who were injured or died.

To the true story. BP-leased, Transocean-owned deepwater drilling rig that in 2010 exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 souls, causing mayhem, and environmental catastrophe that devastated the region. It’s an uncomplicated story told in visually and verbally complicated moments, and to the director’s credit he sticks to his simple theme, and handles it all with apocalyptic glee. This is spectacle on a grand scale.

Save for the survivors coming home, we see nothing of the aftermath, the environmental disaster and its lingering consequences. That’s tossed away in a one-line sentence at the end of the movie: “Over 400 million barrels of oil spilled into the gulf of Mexico.”

This leaves the intelligent cinemagoer disconnected from the drama. You keep asking, we know men died, and many were saved, but what of the oil  spill, and all it did to harm people’s lives, countless livelihoods reliant on harvesting sea, wetlands and estuaries, death to countless marine creatures, and the flora and fauna of the coastline?

BP failed to cap the broken gushing underwater pipe for over eight-seven days, by which time the earth’s bounty had become the earth’s bringer of death.

Various investigations and demands from President Obama blamed BP as the main culprit, the oil rig staff as secondary guilty party, but the film makes no mention of the infamous Haliburton, owners of the rig, pals to Vice President Chaney who kept his millions in shares while in the Oval office, and the biggest profiteer in the Iraq invasion.


Kurt Russell is a hard boss in a world of hard men who wear hard hats

The film begins with the expected, it centres on one senior oil rig worker played by Mark Wahlberg, his stay at home wife, Kate Hudson, and cute little daughter, who by sheer coincidence presages the rig disaster with a can of coke on the kitchen table. You just know his wife is going to suffer impotently from afar, having previously expressed nothing but carnal lust in bed, carnal lust preparing breakfast, carnal lust saying goodbye as he goes off to the rig, and carnal lust over Skype to his computer screen in his rig cabin. That’s an awful lot of carnal lust – the woman as sex object.

Maybe my middle-aged has me jaundiced about continuous sexual coupling without exhaustion but there were moments I wanted to shout, go and do some damn work! Fluff a few throw cushions, anything, for gawd’s sake.

There’s nothing light and fluffy about these early scene because Berg imbues them with gravity. In fact, there’s a surfeit of it, from the smallest role doing his job well, to the rig’s master and safety engineer Kurt Russell taking on the visiting BP officials over their supercilious skill at cutting corners. Admired by his men, he likes things done correctly, and warns a casual approach will turn out bad. And so it transpires.

The movie really begins flying when things start to go wrong with the test bore, and walls and pipes begin rattlin’ and roarin’, rivets pop, oil and gas gush in all directions, doors fly off their hinges, and men are thrown backwards into the next room, or down a corridor into oblivion. Mercifully the Speilbergian cliché of signalling impending doom, liquid rippling in a glass, is avoided.


Wahlberg (right) takes direction from Berg (left)

The Deepwater Horizon rig is an aging pile of steel and gantry riddled with problems. BP executives, eager to get moving after falling 43 days behind schedule and $53 million over budget, show how much a global company is a tyranny.

They instruct nothing needs fixed though they themselves see phones dead, computers blacked out, and toilets don’t flush. (I made up that last one.) BP cuts corners to save a pile of cash, and humans in the way are just so much annoyance.

Among BP’s biggest mistakes: sending home early the team that’s supposed to test the cement used to plug up the bore well. This gets Kurt Russell  so mad he indulges in a verbal sparring battle with Malkovitch.

Watching it I had moments of deja vu. It’s the seaside head of police in Jaws arguing with the mayor that no one should go in the water while a ‘person’ chomping shark is out there and still hungry, with the Mayor saying nonsense, let it eat cake, the town needs the money from summer tourists.

Berg handles the tension and tightens the pace extremely well in three second cuts and jump cut takes. The process to Armageddon is followed in excruciating detail.

Kurt Russell is perfectly cast as the no-bullshit safety veteran Jimmy Harrell who likes to see all the boxes are ticked and no statistic and analysis falsified. Stud muffin Mark Wahlberg plays to his strengths as Mike Williams, the smartest guy in the room who knows when to keep his mouth shut.

We are on the side of the blue collar workers from the moment the film titles are done, the men ever-ready with a quip and a lewd joke. Here the baddies are baddies, and the goodies drink beer.


BP commissioned a propaganda documentary showing a dozen sea otters rescued and rehabilitated to show how well they had ‘cleaned up’

The film is topped and tailed by excerpts from the actual investigative committee that looked into the origins of the disaster. There lies the the real story, the politics of greed, of companies who prevaricate and lie, and the small people who are the casualties.

BP faced a slew of different legal battles relating to the April 2010 disaster, suffering the setback in its multimillion dollar court battle with six institutional British investors, who claim the oil giant did not come clean about the scale of the disaster. They allege they lost “substantial sums as a result of BP’s misleading statements” over its safety policies, and the difficulty it faced in stemming the oil spill.

As of 2013, criminal and civil settlements and payments to a trust fund had cost the company $42.2 billion. In September 2014, a U.S. Court ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill because of its gross negligence and reckless conduct. In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history.

Well, did you know that? The film gives us less in order to give us entertainment. The question is, how much do you love seeing men getting blown to bits covered in oil?

Berg’s next movie is the Boston marathon bombings. I hope he concentrates on the chase to catch the villains and not on the agony of the victims.

  • Star Rating: Three stars
  • Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovitch.
  • Director: Peter Berg
  • Writer: Mathew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand
  • Cinematography: Enrique Chediak
  • Composer: Steve Jablonsky
  • Duration: 107 minutes



Posted in Film review | 2 Comments

Car Phone Blues


“Beam me up, Scottie!” My flip phone. Used for calls and texts

I use an old-style flip-phone, the kind first seen on Star Trek. This causes a great degree of mirth in family and friends. To them, I might as well be using a quill to dip in ink, the kind of man who still tucks his jersey into his pants, and swipes his T-shirts on river rocks as a free laundry mat.

Almost all my friends and colleagues use iPhones of one type or another, some with expensive cases as a personalised extra. My excuse for not using one is, I’m too mean to buy one, take out annual contracts, and generally get screwed by Apple. My flip-phone is incapable of taking over my life, even when driving.

For the nosey

The model is heavy-duty Samsung purchased in Los Angeles, a ‘Rugby’ Samsung, given that name because it’s so rugged bounced off the tarmac a few times (as has happened) it’ll survive better and last longer than lightweight versions.

I bought it stateside almost ten years ago. The battery life is five days used continuously. It takes decent photographs. (There are no naked mistresses on it.) To tell the time I look at the window on the front. I no longer wear a wristwatch.

I use it for calls and texts. And the odd photograph. Full stop.

In-car use

My car has Bluetooth which is perfect for safe, hands free phone calls. The Parrot aftermarket  installation offers the facility to speak-call a number, but the box of tricks to run it is large and heavy, and usually needs screwed under the dash to stop it falling out.

Every time the car is serviced the Bluetooth needs rebooted because service staff have disconnected the battery for some reason, a real pain in the ass because I don’t notice the omission until I need to call somebody while I’m on the move.

Pay as you go.

I believe, but expect I’m wrong, no phone company can keep track of me, although I suspect some sort of spy-in-the-sky can if MI5 thought me a person of interest, which I hope I am if my work on behalf of Scotland’s liberty has not been a damn waste of time.

Except for an annoying habit of delivering texts sometimes a day late, it’s reliable. (Which is to say, not a hundred per cent reliable in an emergency.) I don’t want forced to answer e-mails. And I certainly do NOT want to go chasing Pokémon, Bogeyman, betting sites, or get addicted to moronic games concerning disappearing sweeties, or squat Italian plumbers who can leap over bombs and dragons. For entertainment I watch instead countless pedestrians step off the kerb into the line of traffic while glued to their iPhones.

Bad drivers

I can’t speak for readers, but I notice lots of fellow drivers reading text messages or texting while driving. It’s a stupid thing to do, yet there have been instances my phone has rung and I’ve tried to answer it as I was negotiating traffic. Mea culpa.

Here’s a list of why I’ll stick to my Jurassic flip mobile and not buy an iPhone


I have no need to remember a password. Flip open the phone – make your call. Flip open the phone – check your texts. Having no Apps means no need for multi-passwords. Signing into the iTunes store: Apple ID? Password? User password? System admin password? Password for password? Forgot? Given up? Gone to get a sledgehammer?

No advertising

I never receive any cold callers or unwanted advertising, with the annoying exception of Virgin telling me if a fork out another £10 right now I can enjoy a million free texts between 2am and 3am weekends, or something like it. And no one tells me my phone is way, way out of date – LOL – check no one is smothering laughter in the tube train; so, time to buy the latest sooper-dooper flat phone, thin as a photographer’s model, that’s every so slightly bevelled, and now combs your hair. “Get the new larger pocket iPhone  – you can land a helicopter on it!”

Endless hardware upgrades

My office desk drawer, and my car glove compartment has only one phone lead in it, the one used for charging in Scotland, and abroad, in places such as England. It is not crammed full with obsolete iPhonesd, iPods, iPads, MacBooks, chargers and cables, or a tangle of headphones of various colours. Last person I saw wearing headphones was the idiot who stepped off the pavement without looking, just as I turned my car into her path.

The Ringtone

I chose a cricket chirruping quietly. When I don’t want that ringtone it vibrates. The phone doesn’t make the same ringtone as others causing me to reach for it in crowd situations when no one has called me. It doesn’t shout ‘HELOOOO!”, or make a knocking sound like an angry chairperson at a rowdy meeting. It chirrups. Now and then a person standing nearby will say, “What’s that?” And I answer, “My pet cricket”. And when my phone rings it doesn’t have everybody around me reach for their iPhone.


If I want to know the weather I look out the window, at the sky. A relative uses an up-to-the-minute iPhone which she changes every year for the latest model. She can even tell where a plane is and what is its expected time of arrival. I think she also has an App for telling how many geese have flown overhead in formation, and how many tadpoles eggs will hatch from a given spawn.

The cost of phones

The cheapest iPhone is almost the deposit for an apartment. Most of the world’s population can’t afford one. The cheapest iPhone is, I think, about £400. The cheapest flip-phone is about £30. Repairs cost £10 or £20. Your iPhone repair starts at £200. Cracked screen? A bargain at £100. I don’t have any expensive accessories. Flip phones do without expensive upgrades.

I am not Sparticus

I am not slave to Apple’s manipulation of the market and its products. My phone’s batteries do not combust spontaneously when not in use, unlike Samsung’s Galaxy 7.

I don’t feel alone or lonely if not glued to my phone’s screen, hoping someone will call to tell me I exist. Nor do I call them to say I’m texting from my cinema seat and the film hasn’t started, or Isle 7 in Tesco, and have they seen the price of tinned rice pudding?

I believe by keeping my flip phone and having a no hands car phone I am not depleting the world’s resources, exploiting poor workers in Mexico or South Korea, or placing other drivers lives in jeopardy.

On the other hand, I won’t cure malaria or cancer because I have all your money.


Posted in Transportation | 1 Comment

A Conference Speech


Theresa May and husband at the start of the Tory Party Conference held in Birmingham at a police security cost of an estimated £2.5 million

On leaving Europe to the wolves, England’s current prime minister – that chore has no relevance to Scotland’s ambitions and so forfeits the right to be classified as ‘UK prime minister’ – Theresa May said: “This is the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign, independent country once again.” Now, there’s a familiar phrase.

The main problem with it is the obvious one, the UK is not a country.

The UK is a union of nations. If independence is such a freeing of constraints for England’s parliament, you wonder what threat they see in Scotland becoming a sovereign and independent country once again. No amount of rhetorical blather from May can alter the fact that she had no Plan A let alone a Plan B for dumping Europe.

The extreme ferocity and a deal of sadism visited upon Scotland’s legitimate wish to govern its own affairs, abuse from all sides of English intelligentsia, has a purpose.

What scares them?

It helps to understand the colonial mentality if you reverse the politics and, painful as it will be, see things from their point of view, that is, Scotland as England’s hinterland.

The exercise in colonial thinking offers a fascinating insight into their reasoning. It could be Theresa May writing a paper for Cabinet discussion, or her main address to the Tory conference, the draft penned by any of her trusted advisers and civil servants.

‘Those Pesky Scots’ – the speech

Popular movements are not good for a nation’s stability. The main enemy of our ambition is Scotland’s indigenous popular movement, people such as over-zealous independence supporters, habitual kilt wearers, SNP members, intellectuals, writers, university students, business companies, and non-Tory party affiliated landowners, all those who attempt to withhold or steal our resources that happen to be in their country. Hence, Scots in general are people who oppose our interests, people to be persuaded to our thinking.

Scotland has entered its second Enlightenment. This is very inconvenient as well as regressive. It destabilises our plans for expansion in all sorts of ways. Immediately to mind spring plans to capitalise on ditching the European Union, plans for our southern regions, putting at risk major projects such as renewing our Victorian sewers, rebuilding the House of Commons, implementing plans for a High Speed Train to the north, and indeed, plans for a Northern powerhouse, regeneration that need Scottish taxes and oil to subsidise it.

Our attempts, aided by our newspapers and media, to present Scotland’s reawakening of romantic ideals as the mischievous machinations of an eccentric minority, paints our legitimate reaction as unduly intolerant, plain fearful of the outcome. Nevertheless, as Scotland is part of the UK, and so part of us, we are forced to regard Scottish political assertiveness as internal aggression.

We cannot use force to keep people in check, as we did in the past with, say, Ireland, and our other colonies. We cannot kettle an entire  territory. We must be subtle in how we isolate troublesome groups to constrain protest.

Scots, and migrants who identify with their goals, are stupidly concerned with vague and idealistic objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. We in England have those systems in place already, or at least enough to satisfy us we are free citizens. And as England is Scotland, and Scotland is England, indistinguishable one from another, Scots should be content too.

Scotland, even with its backwardness and  stubbornness, finds it difficult to understand that its function is to complement the industrial and financial needs of the rest of the UK. Moreover, we cannot engage in new military adventures abroad if we have part of the United Kingdom setting its face hard against invasion or partition in nations that regard our territorial rights, or enforcing democracy, as against international law.

Scotland exists to serve the needs of the groups that dominate our societies and create our wealth, I mean banks and investment houses. The major danger posed by these indigenous enemies is that unless they are stopped in time, they may spread the virus of independence, freedom, and concern for human welfare infecting English regions.

We do not want our barrel of apples infected. That will threaten the stability of our Great British Plans. Consequently we are obliged to prevent the rot from spreading. The threat of rot and infection is a serious one, which requires serious measures. It is the defence of our highest values, our realm, our sceptred isle, in the classic English manner the world has come to know and respect.

To overcome these threats, we must resort to discipline and sanction. One considerable means at our disposal is the Barnett Formula whereby Scotland provides our Treasury with all it earns annually, and in return we give it an allowance. That can and should be reduced step by step, until the people squeal in pain, and realise they have no substantial means to sustain an economy. Standards will fall as will their appointed representatives that hoodwink their voters into believing their exists a heaven on earth, a ‘perfect’ society.

Another tool we have is the way we calculate Scotland’s income and expenditure, known as GERS – Government and Expenditure Scotland. We can use that to show Scotland has little or no income sufficient to support an independent outlook. There is nothing more potent than the fiscal argument. It serves to mould Scots and English attitudes.

Lastly, there is the exterior threat. It includes terrorists either working from abroad, or more potently, ‘within our midst’, migrants and refugees, in addition to European countries especially France and Germany, and also Russia, nation states intent on world domination.

Meanwhile, the threat of democratic politics can be met in the natural way. We must portray Scotland’s ambitions as replicating early post-war fascist ideals, goals built on false grievance, an inability to pool and share.

There is only one sensible answer to the Scottish question. We must invoke the rotten apple theory in all its forms as much as possible. What Scottish nationalists threaten will harm the potential success of our social and economic development, and possibly our deep and abiding friendship with our greatest ally, the United States.

The virus that may spread contagion is what we can call the “demonstration effect,” which can cause the rot to spread as others seek to emulate Scotland’s belligerence. Spain will have none of it. Spain agrees with us. Conformity has to be our goal if we are to  grow and prosper. The UK as a country is sovereign and independent. We cannot have a region of the UK declare itself autonomous.

That threat to our well-being is as we describe. It is “the threat of a good example.”

I commend this policy to the conference.

(The term ‘threat of good example’ is an American term first used in the Fifties.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments