Popular Essays – 2018

378.jpg

With the UK Government determined to cut us off from the rest of the world and implement rationing, a cute robin perched on holly seems a superficial image to wish readers good will. The little boy is a survivor – so far – in the battle of Aleppo, Syria.

Gie’s a brek, pal

Grouse Beater is taking a winter break. With the possible exception of reviewing the Australian born historian John Guy’s filmed version of ‘Mary Queen of Scots‘ the only reason for this site not to relax over the festive period will be some sort of unforeseen political shock – which can happen in the form of a total power grab by the British state.

Grouse Beater’s Twitter timeline will continue, open to all but the abusive. I need free of academic pursuits to reach the bomb shelter and not be at my keyboard when Tory and Labour drop more Brexit bombs.

For good or ill

Over adult life I have come to recognise Man is a strange amalgam of good and evil, angel and devil. And women are often no better nor worse. None stand categorised as all-white or all-black. The angel can become irrational in a moment of blind panic and the devil can rescue a drowning child in an act of unthinking self-sacrifice.

Even the worst of us is capable of a kind act, only when you are confronted by blind fury it’s very hard to remind yourself the disher of vitriol might be having a bad time at home and taking it out on you. And in that regard…

Making a futile gesture

It’s been an interesting year. The least attractive part of it was the SNP’s wild swing of its disciplinary cane. A political party rightly praised for being radical and progressive has an antediluvian department of corporal punishment, Room 101. Charged with protecting the SNP’s reputation it actually tarnishes it, the anonymous group reminiscent of black arts operators. The Bringers of Wrath are unaccountable and oblivious of honest character. So grotesquely unqualified and inept are they to judge any situation they’d throw a drowning man both ends of a rope.

In a nutshell, the SNP hierarchy prove they lack strength of leadership to denounce unjust accusation tossed at them by opponents. Instead they adopt the short-term remedy of a knife in the back and then have the casualty expelled for carrying a weapon.

Paving the way for opponents to repeat the felony is no way to boost the morale of the troops. It follows that it would be folly for me to lend the SNP my imprimatur knowing I am liable to be wounded or worse by ‘friendly’ fire.

The age of unreason

Descarte, generally held to be the father of modern philosophy, rejected everything he could doubt for he wanted to know what was real and what was illusion. He preferred he was certain something existed before he believed it. Of course, he couldn’t doubt his own existence because if he didn’t exist he could not doubt. He said, “I take as a general rule the things that we conceive very clearly and very distinctly are all true.” Soon, like the SNP’s rodeo clown Fiona Robertson, Descarte was conceiving all sorts of nonsense. He threw intellectual caution to the dogs.

Eventually he formed an idea of God as a perfect being, and as such God must exist. Well, I know the SNP exists, not as a perfect entity but as a community of diverse minds driven by a single ideal. It is an historic force for change but the change is in ourselves to make. On the other hand, Scotland’s constitutional independence does not exist. And that is the goal devoutly to be wished. If the SNP can’t or won’t attain it we must by other means.

A new day dawns

The sun has reached my study window a portent of renewal to come. I finish the fifth year of supporting restoration of Scotland’s democratic and constitutional rights as I began, a committed individual not associated with any political party. I must thank all readers here and abroad who stayed the course and who forgave work written in haste. I proffer special thanks to those who recognised a gross injustice and spoke out about it.

The short list

To that end I’ll finish the year with a short list of the most popular essays, the high fliers, an accolade achieved by reader numbers, worldwide. Some past essays I thought ready for filing were rediscovered by readers and circulated a second time, one Car News among them. I write about the car industry because politically it’s a great bellwether of the state of our political integrity, and our environment and economy.

If some essays are new to you and look interesting take my advice and choose the company of friends first this festive time. Only if hankering for diversion read them. Encouraging a solitary Internet life is not my aim. There’s always next year … I think, though with Brexit looming I can’t be certain, as Descarte might have concluded.

 

******************************

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in General, Scottish Independence Referendum | 19 Comments

Can Nicola Sturgeon Twerk?

374.jpg

Supreme Court Lady Hale’s kind language said, Scotland you were suckered – again!

This is supposed to be festive time but I can’t think of a grimmer one for many a year.

Scotland’s First Minister is treated as if Ada Hegerberg, winner of the first World’s Best Female Footballer Award, asked by the ceremony’s host if she could twerk. Ms Hegerberg punished the infantile penis-driven host by doing the right thing, insulted, she walked away. We, on the other hand, twerk to ingratiate ourselves with our dominant ‘partner’, Scotland a nation happy to humiliate itself by indulging in vain, impotent, wan politics.

Brexit isn’t the opera, this week’s humiliation is only the overture. We are in for years of political conflict, deadlock and economic chaos.

If Scotland had voted to reinstate self-governance we would not be facing the years of disaster that a No Deal Brexit will bring, ceaseless pain beloved by xenophobic Tories and wee UKip Englanders dreaming of empire, a fantasy also welcomed by Captain Corbyn who has never liked being part of the EU. So much for international socialism.

We’ve reached the sterile stage where we hope enough non-Scots will scunner our No voters to vote Yes – not by sound argument for progressive democracy but swayed by England’s folly. Not by our  integrity or our example will we be praised.

The British state will fight viciously to retain control of Scotland’s wealth, every penny, every barrel, every VAT payment. It has already begun. Westminster has enumerated the powers it wishes to take back. It is doing it now. My countrymen lend it a helping hand. We can look forward to a Union Jack slapped on everything and our forehead too.

We are owned.

All this was predicted by the wise and the worldly before we voted on September 2014 if we showed any nervousness, and doubts about our renaissance as a nation state.

One very smart Channel Four correspondent summed up in a single minute’s interview some of the wounds Brexit will inflicted upon us by our caring neighbour. She said this:

“From the very first day of a No Deal Brexit all the basic rules that underpin huge parts of British society will cease to exist, and this will be far reaching and profound, such as, the planes in the sky, our visas, our medicines, our haulage. And if you take that last subject, haulage, it sounds straightforward. We forget that we actually need permission to take British trucks in and out of Europe and if we crashed out we’d be limited to only 3,000 trucks a year which represents only 5% of out current haulage journeys. And we won’t be fine with WTO rules! [World Trade Organisation.] WTO rules are hugely restrictive. The WTO Club is a global club with preset tariffs and preset quotas. Take, for example, cars. We have zero tariffs on cars going into Europe. Under WTO rules it would be 10%. Currently we have zero tariffs on clothes and shoes. Under WTO rules it will be 12%. Some tariffs are much higher. Some beef products attract 90% tariffs. We are only talking about tariffs we are not yet talking about regulations. The point is, we can’t control how Europe treats us if we crash out. Of course, we can offer zero tariffs on goods coming into Britain to make it easier and cheaper for consumers in the supermarkets, but what Brexiteers are not telling us is, that if we bring tariffs down to zero for goods coming in, under WTO rules we would have to apply that unilaterally, and the consequences of that is how are we to strike deals with places such as Australia if we have nothing to bargain?”

I look at Corbyn and I look at Sturgeon and I wonder if there’s a difference between them for both wait to take a constitutional decision until after Brexit does its worst, a case of let’s see how long the patient survives before we send in Air Ambulance.

They both make pronouncements about defeating the Tories but do the opposite. The SNP allows the Tories the advantage by default. Labour bangs the Dispatch Box at Westminster glowing at the Tory benches threatening to bring down the government and then abstains. Think about it – why should Labour take power now? Better to leave Theresa May to bring home a toxic No Deal Brexit and only then volunteer for power. Let the electorate suffer. That’ll teach them to vote Labour next time.

Labour will not join the SNP to defeat England’s neo-fascism because it is determined Scotland remains a British colony. Like the Tories, Labour knows corrupt authoritarian rule brings benefits. What is Sturgeon thinking she’s achieving offering olive branch after olive branch to the Labour Party when she should be explaining, arguing, pleading to us to understand the benefits of self-governance? They don’t want to listen. We do.

The saddest part of all is how many Scots are comfortable among the unionist gangs. Twas ever thus. Did Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh make a genuine or a calculated error? Macintosh wrote an official memo saying the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Scotland) Bill – known as the “continuity bill” – was “not within legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament”.

The Bill was passed under emergency procedures with only the Tories and a single Lib Dem MSP voting against it. The Bill was entirely legal, bar one short clause.

The Bill was drafted as an alternative to Westminster’s EU Withdrawal Bill, which MSPs refused to give their consent to following a row over how powers currently exercised from Brussels will be subsumed by Westminster after Brexit. In other words, the Bill is a mechanism to stop Westminster taking back powers from Scotland. Somehow, no one at Holyrood thought the Bill would be rendered ineffective after the fact by Westminster.

Macintosh made an historic error of judgement. His gave UK law officers the opportunity to apply to the Supreme Court to provide “legal certainty” about whether our Bill was valid. That delayed matters while Westminster sneakily drew up its blocking plans. The sleight-of-hand was so easily predicted yet somehow not by the SNP.

Of course, we know by experience that we will play the game again to lose again.

England does not play by fair democratic rules. It never has. You don’t get to rule an empire by playing Mr Nice Guy. If we ever attain the status of a nation state again what do we think we will achieve in the negotiations for new terms of association and trade when we act the dumb partner now?

How many times does a man need robbed blind by the same con artist before he realises something isn’t right with the friendship? How long before Nicola Sturgeon stops being the ingenue and walks away – like Ada Hegerberg?

Sturgeon has been out-maneuvered any number of times by Westminster’s duplicity. I defy anybody, any historian, to give an example in which Scotland managed to take a step forward that was not ultimately diluted, thwarted or over-ruled by Westminster.

We did not elect a Scottish government to save England from itself at our cost. We must be one of the few nations in the world that elects and pays people, newspapers too, to tell us day in, day out we are too insignificant a nation to button up our own overcoat. You can see wee Englanders smirk as they watch us wear mittens tied to our sleeves with elastic in case we lose them.

Walk into any Irish pub in Dublin and proclaim to the ensembled drinkers Scotland will be a nation again, just don’t pause for applause. The laughter will be immediate.

 

********************************

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 18 Comments

Car News – Free Public Transport

A weekly look at all that’s rotten in the car industry, and some good bits

383

Luxembourg City, they liked it so much they named the capital after Luxembourg

Luxembourg is one of the smallest landlocked countries in Europe. It has no navy or airforce. Born out of the French empire it’s a Grand Duchy. The capital is unimaginatively named Luxembourg City and like Edinburgh has a castle on a rocky outcrop at its centre. In fact, there are lots of castles. Restaurant Chiggeri in the City holds the Guinness World Record for longest wine list: 1,746 different labels at the last count. (I just threw that in to sound more knowledgeable than I am about Luxembourg.)

Like it or not, Luxembourg has been the tax haven of choice of many corporations and mega-rich individuals around the world since the 1970s. Its tagline could be ‘Global Capitalism R Us’. It thrives as piggy bank for the wealthy because of economic stability and huge tax incentives, a magnet for companies. In fact, its half-a-million residents, about the same number as Edinburgh, owes its population size to foreigners who account for nearly half of Luxembourg’s population.

It has a parliamentary democracy that helps produce lots of Nobel Prize winners, yet is most famous for being very small but not as small as Liechtenstein. Well …..

Luxembourg is independent. And sovereign.

Scotland take note: For a small nation it wields a lot of influence. Luxembourg is a founding member of the European Union, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), United Nations, NATO, and Benelux. It is also the site of the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Auditors, the Statistical Office of the European Communities (“Eurostat”) and other vital EU organs. The Secretariat of the European Parliament is located in Luxembourg, but the Parliament meets in Brussels, sometimes in Strasbourg. Senior readers will remember Radio Luxembourg was the first to broadcast pop music to the UK shunned by the BBC. At the last count there were 30 registered film production companies, some are English companies.

A secular state, by all accounts the population of Luxembourg is very happy. So, what do Luxembourgers have to complain about? Traffic. Lots of it.

With most inhabitants owning two vehicles of some sort you’d expect roads to be busy and you’d be correct. They’re gridlocked a lot of the day.

Traffic congestion is a major problem. Luxembourg receives approximately 170,000 cross-border commuters from neighboring France, Belgium and Germany on a daily basis. A study published in 2016 found drivers in Luxembourg City, frittered away their lives thirty-three hours a years stuck in traffic. The last census saw 647 cars for every 1,000 inhabitants. (International Road Federation.)

383.jpg

There’s nothing like an evening’s quiet drive. This is nothing like an evening’s quiet drive

In an effort to reduce traffic congestion and the environmental impact of cars, Luxembourg announced plans to become the first country in the world to abolish transportation charges. Young people under 20 years of age already travel free on buses, trams and trains but this is a bold move.

The country’s coalition government led by Prime Minister Xavier Bettel promises to remove fares on trains, trams and buses nationwide by next summer. A clever clogs in a government office calculated that it cost almost as much to collect fares – staff, ticket machines, turnstyles, and process them than profits garnered from passengers.

Will it reduce the number of cyclists? (Cue first homicidal cyclist to post the comment cycling is healthier!) Luxembourg City has well laid out cycling grids, so I don’t see cyclists switching permanently, only in the worst weather.

Driving a car is often a selfish task. Avoiding the envious stares of cold, wet and late for work stragglers waiting at bus stops is a manifestation of the selfish gene. Your car is your private compartment, heater and radio on, often carrying empty seats. (My Smart has one empty seat. It helps reduce my feelings of guilt.) Not having to endure the hustle and bustle of old, young, and the looney on peak-time city buses is a blessing for some.

However one issue Luxembourg authorities will need to face head-on – how to handle First or Business class. Will passengers be charged for privileged seats and meals? Might it mean deletion of posh classes? That leaves the problem of drivers ‘just passing through’ Luxembourg. Why make room for more of them? I can foresee battles ahead.

The move to free transports marks a victory for the left-wing Socialist Workers’ Party and the Greens. They campaigned on a promise of increased environmental protection and improved public services.

Scotland has free bus travel for pensioners. Could free transport for all be a contingent of an independent Scotland? Bettel’s coalition government is also considering legalizing cannabis in addition to the introduction of two new public holidays, including “Europe Day” on May 9. That’s what an independent country can do.

Next election, which party will be the first to put those items in its manifesto?

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

VW hikes prices and reduces models

Regular readers will know one of my hobby horses is too many cars flooding the market place. Overproduction causes communities to expand and rely on the local manufacturer for livelihoods. A sales slump, and everybody is a casualty. Volkswagen will slim down its model portfolio, streamline the number of variants offered and increase vehicle costs in a bid to improve profitability. The price hike is surely one result of Dieselgate fines and VW’s loss of customers. VW sold almost 84,000 Golfs in Germany in 2018 with more than 58,000 models in different configurations. VW intends to remove poor-selling engine and trim variants. VW will axe 25 percent of its engine and gearbox variants in Europe, concentrating on the high-demand variants, to simplify production.  This is part of VW’s “pact for the future,” to reduce costs by 3 billion Euros by 2020. I guarantee other major manufacturers will follow suit, indeed are planning cuts now.

Scotland’s favourite cars.

A bored moment found me looking at which cars sell the most in Scottish cities. We like to think ourselves endowed with individual taste yet we tend to buy what others buy. Taking the capital first for the top selling models, Edinburgers bought all sorts of VW Golfs, the VW Tiguan SUV, Land Rover Discovery, Nissan Qashqai and Ford Fiesta. Glaswegians bought similarly but the Mercedes A class was in their top five – probably there by Uber taxi drivers – and it preferred the VW Golf R. Dundee doesn’t much like Mercs and instead does as Edinburgh does by putting the Kia Sportage and Audi 3 in its top five. Inverness likes the SEAT Ateos, and Dumfries the Skoda Kodiaq.

Expect the unexpected

In time good drivers develop a sixth sense about the driving habits of other knights of the road, those in front and those behind. I am usually right in thinking the one in front will run backwards on the road’s slope at the traffic lights soon as he or she releases the handbrake. I keep at least a car’s length behind them, enough to swing left or right out of harm’s way. This annoys the hell out of the driver in the queue behind me who has the weird idea that if he can push me to close the gap it will shorten his travelling time. What I can’t predict is the behaviour of the drunk driver. It’s festive time, folks. Be wary. This is the time of year when our feelings of affection for our fellow mankind are tested to the limit – and some of them are pedestrians! The Brexit fiasco and a laggard Scotland dragging its feet over a second referendum will drive anybody to excessive drink.

 

******************************

 

Posted in Scottish Politics, Transportation | 2 Comments

England as a Colony

393

England’s saddest hour

What a strange time we live in. Narcissistic celebrity MPs strut and pose for personal gain. The times are precarious, the scene nauseous, the principal characters repulsive.

Tory serial dissembler Boris Johnson describes the United Kingdom as a colony of Europe. England, the nation that possessed the greatest empire known in civilisation, a colony? Scotland is a colony and to some extent Wales, but England? What could he mean? He meant England is a colony of Germany. We are privy to a wave of English self-absorbed unhappiness over their self-inflicted troubles.

Boris and his ilk get off with mouthing nonsense because Theresa May is not a strong leader. In fact, she has no personality at all. To this day, I have no idea who she is or what she stands for, her convictions switch week by week.

Who’s the colony here? Us or you?

Scotland as a colony of England is rejected by those who believe in Britain as the best place to live. They cannot accept the notion of political and civil constraint because they judge freedom in superficial ways, in choice of goods and schools and which beer to drink, proof to them they live in an open and free society.

To our history: over 400 English regiments garrisoned to quell the natives, the banning of Scots and Gaelic languages, no tartan or Highland dress allowed, no owning anything that could be construed as a weapon, outrageous taxes levied against the populace, destruction of infrastructure, and eviction from land tilled for generations.

Today the Scottish Anglophile either does not see or warmly welcomes any number of political and cultural restrictions patrolled by an antagonistic media and menadious, aggressive unionist politicians.

Self-abasement

As a creative writer my imagination goes into overdrive. I get troubling images of a German dominatrix dressed in Nazi uniform, whip in hand, standing astride a tied and gagged England, Mr Al Bion grovelling at her feet squealing, “Hard Brexit, hard, harder!”

An outrageous idea? Why are they putting themselves through this hell, and the rest of us? It wasn’t so long ago that we watched a television dramatisation of Len Deighton’s fanciful 1975 novel SS-GB, Britain as a Nazi colony. And there was a series set in Guernsey under Nazi occupation, Enemy at the Door. Television viewers are used to episodes of the nostalgic Dad’s Army and ‘Ello, Ello’. Both depict pantomime versions of European stereotypes. The History Channel runs endless repeats of The World at War, and countless documentaries on how the plucky Brits beat the nasty Huns. Why those subjects continue to fascinate the English sensibility is perplexing when we have so many others to choose from that convey contemporary issues? Do Little Englanders really believe EU membership was edging us back into that Nazi nightmare?

British autocracy welcomed fascism in the 1930s, in Italy, Germany, Spain, and England. That authoritarian doctrine fitted comfortably with the English class system of survival of the fittest, expanded to protect their possessions and privileges against invasion by revolutionary Bolsheviks.

Russian revolution in full spate, our own King George V couldn’t bring himself to save his own cousin and his family, Tsar Nicholas II. At first he wrote asking that Nicholas be given sanctuary in England, but later withdrew the offer realising Nicholas might confuse the British proletariat enough to see him as contender for the Crown; best leave Nicky and his family to the mercy of those dreadful socialists. (You won’t find that uncomfortable detail in the English version of Wikipedia’s history of the revolution.)

Is class at the root of the English malaise? It has its tentacles in so much else in society. Could it be the English aristocracy will not defer to European superiority in anything? No earl, baroness or knight was ever underdog to a Herr, Señor or Signore. Perhaps England feels in joining the Common Market it married beneath itself.

End of an empire

Is England’s diminishing influence analogous to the Roman empire? Was the end of the Roman empire glorious or a whimper? Without doing serious research I know from 485 BC (Rome itself had fallen in 476) the Senate was based somewhere in Constantinople, its power whittled down to patricians no longer allowing commoners to take part in the government. They then took control of all civil and religious matters, rather in the form of Westminster excluding Scotland from Brexit negotiations while it disassembles the welfare state that Scotland wants to protect.

Civil wars erupted all over the vestiges of the Roman empire between the traditionalists and the republicans. I have in the back of my mind one of the final acts of the Senate was to agree a statue could be erected to a minor senator, rather like Tory MPs who suggested there should be a statue to Margaret Thatcher. (I’ll stop here before scholars mug me on detail and divert readers from my analogy.)

If ancient historians are to be believed, the Roman Empire lasted just over 2,000 years from the days of legendary founders Romulus and Remus. A rough calculation of the British empire’s days might be 300 years beginning from the Act of Union until 1945. After that we can see a gradual disintegration of the United Kingdom as an homogenous state, life get less and less unequal while politicians talked of a better tomorrow.

If we take the formation of the United Kingdom as we know it from Ireland’s independence in 1922, then against all effort by it neighbour, Scotland is likely to regain freedom as the UK reaches its 100th birthday in 2022. A hundred years, not much of a run to mull over, not even for a friendly game of county cricket.

Teaching other nations how to live

I am sick of hearing Englishmen telling me how to live. I hear it in televised news, in radio discussions, read it in the press and on Twitter, patronising bollocks about why my country needs their input. The condescension isn’t only aimed at Scotland. It is tossed at any country England’s parliament decides is today’s existential enemy, or impoverished socialist state that should have known better than to reject extreme capitalism.

England is falling apart at the seams, stuffing all straw, their argument straw men. I’m told better to be British than Scottish. How odd. One day English display superiority, the next they express an inferiority as part of a Europe. They cannot come to terms with the approaching reality of becoming a small country. English decency, a quality ordinary English were once famous, is junked for xenophobic nationalism and bigotry.

If England cannot exercise its fantasy of showing other nations how to impose law and order it has decided it isn’t going to be a friend to those nations. Over the past decade we watched Westminster replace blacks and Asians with Brussels as whipping boy. The thinking is as obvious as a pimple on your nose: all bad things afflicting British life will vanish overnight if we get rid of Brussels bureaucracy and out of the European Union. If there’s a better example of mass delusion I’ve yet to see it.

How could England descend so rapidly from the nation that taught other nations good manners and chivalry by playing cricket, to one of ferocious xenophobia faced by a productive and prosperous Europe? Racism had to lie at the heart of the English psyche.

Is England a defeated nation in the image of one of its past colonies, “on its back, trotters in the air”, in the memorable phrase of actor Danny Dyer? It’s an amusing concept.

Britain in bondage

I am unable to get my head around Boris’s Britain surrendering to the disgusting domination of an erotic EU. “The EU is pursuing a similar goal to Hitler, a powerful superstate”, he said in 2016, telling us that as far as he was concerned the EU is Germany, and Germany is still the homeland of the Nazi.

Third-rate Tory MP Nicholas Ridley (who remembers him now?) lost his post describing the EU monetary system as “a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe”. Tory and Labour politician have lined up since to tell us Europe is a land of control freaks. They backed it up with so much hot air you could inflate the Hindenburg with it, or maybe that’s not the best comparison.

Ridley was condemned by the perceptive who understood he spoke for a large section of the Conservative movement. People such as Ridley, and Enoch Powell with his ‘rivers of blood’ speech, were the precursors of Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson, the neo-fascists we thought one-off cranks. How wrong we were.

They’re behind you! No they’re not! Yes they are!

Everything that afflicts English society now it brought upon itself. Everything – destruction of its national health service, communication systems in too few hands, the encouragement of national banks as gambling casinos, poverty and illnesses such as rickets not seen since the Fifties, corporate monopoly of everything, gross financial inequality, food banks, massive over-spending on hubristic projects, the rise of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, shambolic, painful exit from European cooperation, war after war to give England a false sense of purpose feeding its delusion as a world power.

Scotland is the last colony of the British empire resisting England’s overweening, volatile love-hate relationship. We ought to have been the first to leave its political debauchery. Independence from England’s sadism and self-pity can’t come soon enough.

 

*****************************

NOTE: This essay is Part 2 of The English Nationalist’: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-nbC

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 7 Comments

Car News: Buying a Banger

A weekly look at all that’s rotten in the car industry, and a few good bits

384.jpg

Dealer or private seller, the sticker price isn’t the actual price

There’s an old adage among restaurant owners which says always eat where the chef eats. That advice can be applied to almost any profession, always go to the doctor your doctor uses; always use the hairdresser your hairdresser uses; always use the funeral director- no, hold on. That one doesn’t fit.

What is true is, buy a high mileage old car your car dealer will buy for his own use. If anybody knows a good, safe bargain, a car dealer knows. ‘I’m looking for a cheap reliable second-hand car, got any ideas?’ is the most asked question I get from friends who know I know from bitter experience the minefield that awaits the unwary buyer.

Three basics to guide you: first choose a car for your needs, second, buy one with a known dependable engine, and third, buy a car least prone to rust if kept outside. Add to that, never buy a smoker’s wheels. You can’t get rid of the nicotine pong.

No matter how uncomfortable you feel, haggle with the seller to get the price down, and always have £500 set aside as a contingency for replacing worn parts. Sellers sell when there’s one repair too many for their budget. They all have a lower price they’ll agree to.

Check the car’s history to see when the last service was done, if over a year budget for a new service. Check tyre wear, and look for signs of leaking oil. It might be a cheap thing such as a cylinder head gasket, or expensive. the gearbox. All interior marks on plastics or fabric tears can be repaired, all dings and dents in the bodywork can be fixed if you’ve a mind to do it.

Space is limited here so I’ll concentrate on family vehicles. My choices assume you have at least two bread snappers and a cordless hoover in the form of a dog.

The models I recommend – not diesel! – are either the one before last or two before the current style. Car makers learned quickly how to exploit our need for one-upmanship; even a mild redesign to nose and dash has us hankering for the new model and ditching the old. Most people avoid the old model, the smart buyer’s opening for a bargain. Some old models can be uprated with the new headlights and grille, but if you’re not concerned with fashion, save your money.

None will punch a hole in the wind, so don’t expect them to cause gasps of envy from neighbours. On the other hand, your neighbour will have burned thousands of pounds in VAT and sudden devaluation buying a brand new car, leaving him to ponder the smug look on your face. The cars I recommend are fine and dandy in snow and ice. They are all practical, designed for harassed parents with more duties than there are hours in a day.

383.jpg

The venerable Toyota RAV4, forerunner of all SUVs – lots around to choose from

Toyota’s RAV4. Okay, hands in the air admission. Regular readers will know I’ve owned a few, all three door variety, but the five door is a fine dependable car to own. There are 1.8 and 2 litre engines, manual or automatic. Toyota runs a discounted parts and service for older models to retain customer loyalty, but the engines are easy to fix by competent mechanics. The rear seats fold down or can be lifted out – a pain to store – offering a vast loading area. You can get two child seats in the back plus one youngster who doesn’t need a seat. 35 mpg is attainable in town, more on motorway journeys. The oldest model hangs the spare wheel on the back door, the newer one inside. Interiors wear well but spend time looking for those with leather. Anything between 100,000 and 110,000 thousands miles should cost no more than £4,000 fully loaded. Over that mileage look at £1,500 or less. A talented Mexican furniture maker I know has one now passing 350,000 miles and it’s still going strong. (Alternative: Honda CR-V – not as handsome as a RAV but as cheap as promises made to Scotland by Westminster.)

383

Almost any Volvo is worth a look – this is the XC70 estate

VOLVO XC70. Scotland used to be Volvo’s biggest market outside Sweden. These days we’ve swapped estate cars for SUVs, a shame because an estate is better value. In earlier days I used one of Volvo’s stately barges for every sort of task, to shift children, go long trips, carry stripped pine doors, flagstones, shopping, and get to London and back. It never ever let me down. Bought by Ford in the Nineties, resold when Ford got into debt, Volvo downsized its cars, a good thing in my opinion. Their proportions are better now. 10 years use is as nothing to a Volvo. Load area is huge; you can shoot ducks in the back. A 2009 Volvo XC70 D5 automatic with 125,000 miles, full history and important cambelt change at 100,000 miles is the one to look for. Don’t pay more than £5,000. (Alternative, Skoda Octavia Estate 1.5. One of VW’s bargains even new. The unassuming choice.)

sdr

The Subaru Outback – a classless car with some oomph in its belly

Subaru Outback. A young friend asked me to find an estate car yesterday to replace the Ford heap of junk that had given up the ghost at the side of the motorway. It was a happy parting of the ways. It had caused him a small fortune in breakdown repairs. A quick scan of the second-hand pages in the Autotrader’s internet site discovered two being sold off by Scotland’s Forestry Commission. They’d seen hard days driving up and down and over forestry track in the Highlands, but built to last with a rugged engine they needed only an interior clean and exterior polish to make them sparkle. His budget was £5,000, his above average annual use over 15,000 miles. I bought one for £3,750 and a full tank of petrol, only 72,000 on the odometer. A very happy father of two, he’s yet to see a part needing replaced after a year’s use. (Alternative: Skoda Yeti. Yes, another Skoda, not as fast as the Subaru but amazingly versatile especially in four wheel drive version.)

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

The spy in your car

New car safety laws proposed by the European Council will require all new cars to be fitted with data recorders that will log information such as the car’s speed or the state of activation of the car’s safety systems before, during and after a collision. No divorce from the EU will block the innovation because the cars we buy are, for the most part, made in Europe, the few made here destined to be sold in Europe. If approved by the European Parliament, the laws will require all new cars to have intelligent speed assistance systems, a good compensation for the brain matter missing in bad drivers. ISAS will inform drivers of prevailing speed limits and, when used in conjunction with cruise control, automatically adapt to the speed limit. It will not be possible “to switch off or suppress” the speed assistance system. The Black Box is a-coming.

Winter lights

This is the time of year when you discover how many stupid drivers have one headlight beam pointing up to the night sky, or see any number of show off drivers blinding you headlights full-on plus fog lights, and not forgetting the driver who dislikes headlights altogether, who relies on the Pole Star as guide. Blind drivers are sometimes in modern cars where the dash illumination comes on automatically soon as the key is turned, fooling the unwary into assuming front and rear lights are switched on. The rest are idiots driving without due care and attention. The one light up, one down syndrome is a mystery. Why don’t they notice when behind a car in slow moving traffic? Get yer lights fixed!

Death of wing mirrors 

Audi is sounding the death-knell for traditional wing mirrors by replacing them on its first ever electric car with all-seeing hi-tech video cameras and screens. The new Launch Edition of Audi’s e-Tron SUV is the first mass-production car to ditch conventional reflective mirrors and replace them with a live video stream on screens inside the vehicle. Instead of the driver looking through their windows into wing mirrors, the £82,240 five-seater SUV has replaced them with streamlined side-mounted video cameras and a live feed embedded inside the doors. The cameras automatically adapt their view to cope with motorway driving, turning and parking. The driver can even use the touch screen to zoom-in on specific trouble spots. £82,000 for that facility? How much if I just turn my head left and right and do without the cameras?

 

***************************

Posted in Transportation | 8 Comments

Shoplifters – a review

384.jpg

A game of happy families

Among the also-rans and drift plastic of so much Hollywood trash how pleasurable to bring reader’s attention to a five star film, the last of that ilk I reviewed ‘Son of Saul‘ the riveting study of Hitler’s death camp. I gave it five-plus stars. It is that rare thing, a film of high originality and searing truth.

This year, 2018, the winner of the Palm d’Or in Cannes hits our screens, surely Best Foreign Film when the Oscars come around. Shoplifters is not an American independent production, nor British, nor European but Japanese. Like their cars, the quality of their films is reliable.

There were expressions of surprise when this quiet, gentle work of art from Hirokazu Kore-eda won the fabled prize, but that first impression soon faded into acceptance that the finest films can slip past us without us spotting their lasting qualities immediately, especially when surrounded by work of a similar strength.

Shoplifters is a human drama of the kind Scots filmmakers are apt to make but inject too heavy a dose of miserableness – usually focusing our attention on a youthful individual or small cast surviving in poverty surroundings, the work invariably autobiographical. Kore-eda describes his film as “socially conscious”. Sounds Scots to me.

However, Kore-eda is first and foremost concerned with adult issues, constructing low-key nuanced studies of human nature. He came to prominence in the mid-Nineties, over the years delivering wee gems as passively as he films them.

Shoplifters rises easily to the giddy heights of a masterpiece. You will not find any action men, cold killers, adulterers, gun toting psychopaths in his story, only two very gentle and understanding police officers.

Kore-eda has been steadily amassing a fine portfolio of carefully crafted studies of human nature and behaviour in crowded domestic situations, people faced by forces they can barely control. He began his career in television and has since directed more than a dozen feature films, getting on with his day job, you might say, including Nobody Knows (2004), Still Walking (2008), and After the Storm (2016).

I first noticed his work when he won the Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for the superb Like Father, Like Son. I found Shoplifters to be flawless.

384.jpg

The epitome of the family unit – or is it?

The film creeps up on you. It yields its pleasures stealthily. Kore-eda follows his character’s everyday routines, so that his narrative proceeds at the winding pace of life. Knowing this should not put readers off seeing the film. Every little scene grips you. The accumulation has you rooting for each and every one of them.

We are presented with, what appears on the surface, a well- adjusted happy family. They live on the edge of an unfashionable corner of Tokyo in a house barely big enough for one person, nevermind the five that live there somehow finding space for all public and private things we have to do in a group. They get on with humdrum duties, brushing their teeth, waiting in line to use their one bathroom, going to work, not going to work, facing redundancy, shopping, cooking, reading the newspaper, watching television, telling each other anecdotes of the day’s encounters.

The story is a concoction of real-life incidents Kore-eda collected over years. He’s a story-teller par excellence. Based on true news items, Kore-eda’s collection centers around an atypical working class household, an ordinary family, one that’s fallen on hard times.

The father, Osamu (Lily Franky), works as an odd-job labourer, but he and his young son Shota (Kairi Jyo) still have to pilfer groceries from the supermarket to survive. Osamu (Lily Franky), the pater familias, is a master shoplifter now training his teenage son to follow in his footsteps. Osamu’s wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), works at a bar is also adept at thieving. Her sister Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), works at a peep show for an online pornography company dressing up as a schoolgirl, short black skirt, white Bobby socks and all. Granny is addicted to pachinko slot machines, eats sloppily, and mourns the proliferation of liver spots spreading over her skin.

Life takes an unexpected turn when they find a young child, Juri (Miyu Sasaki) cold, hungry and miserable, playing alone on a first floor balcony. Thinking her rejected and beaten by her parents – they over-hear violent squabbling from inside the apartment, the child quivering in fear – they take her home. You and I might call that kidnapping. The family call it adoption. Either way it is stealing.

To our surprise, revealed one scene at a time, we see almost every minute of their daily lives and how one interconnects with the other once they’ve taken Juri in as the newest recruit. Gradually, through offhand comments and occasionally surprising actions, the connections between these individuals start to seem a lot less cut and dried.

Are Osamu and Shota, who are well-coordinated shoplifters, actually father and son? The son seems remote from his father, uncertain of him. And is there a darker past between Osamu and Nobuyo, who seem so affectionate and tender toward each other? As the story unfolds we begin asking more questions of what we are witnessing.

Kore-eda eases us into this affectionate environment on the margins of society and then slowly, subtly unpicks every weft and weave of the tapestry he’s taken time to create. He portrays all this in a low-key perambulation, refusing to give us any high drama, or sudden shocks. No one is in despair screaming blue murder.

This is not soap. This is a family finding life is against them, one disaster after another.

Hirokazu Kore-eda

Hirokazu Kore-eda with his Palm D’Or

Quite frankly, this is so beautifully observed, so universal in its application, I found myself tearful too many times. The cast members never seem to be acting. The youngest children, especially, are quite wonderful. They play as if seasoned movie stars. The last time I saw child actors play so naturalistically was in Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.

We are privy to the six central characters internal yearnings while together they’re warm and funny, enjoying each others’ company, questioning each other’s day and motivations, separate they’re exhibiting personal doubts and uncertainties.

Lily’s Osamu is the good natured Ando’s Nobuyo is pragmatic. Kiki brings a luminosity to grandma. (The revered actress died soon after the film’s completion.) Matsuoka has an introspective hopefulness, especially when she bonds with a nice-boy client she’s met in the porn rooms who might make a good partner. Both Jyo and Sasaki bring quite breathtaking depth to some the film’s most powerful moments.

Society calls these people criminals. They are not criminal. Again, we call them immoral and anti-social: they lie, cheat, steal and swindle; they inveigle little Juri into their schemes. To my mind, their motivations in welcoming the girl are above reproach. She is an abused child, after all, and they want to make her happy.

This is not Dickens’s Oliver Twist led by Fagin. This is life as most of us have experienced at some time or other and hopefully escaped. Some of us never do.

384

A typical family on a day’s outing at the beach

Kore-eda allows the actors to tease out complex characters with the greatest emotional economy. Sakura Andô is particularly strong as the mother, a hugely funny woman who enjoys a good laugh and giggle, who will work any angle to get by. Scenes shot at a seaside retreat are poignant, a lasting memory for family that is, at base, expressing eternal unhappiness. This is a very humane little masterpiece.

The great Japanese master Akira Kurosawa solved the resistance of the American market to japanese films, in particular his own, by buying a cinema in Downtown Los Angeles. From that moment on his undoubted gifts were recognised in the west.

To our shame Shoplifters is playing in one cinema in Edinburgh in the whole of the UK.

  • Star Rating: Five stars
  • Cast: Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo
  • Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
  • Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
  • Cinematographer: Ryûto Kondô
  • Composer: Haruomi Hosono
  • Duration: 1 hour 42 minutes
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 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?
Posted in Film review | 4 Comments

The English Nationalist

384

Nigel Farage, hard core English nationalist to his string vest, married to a German

I am apt to describe colonialism as English for the conspicuous reason it was none other than England that built one of the greatest empires in human history, erecting their Union Jack logo on the perimeter fence of each new land bank they had possessed with force or a string of cheap beads.

True to type, some opportunistic Scots signed up as skilled tradesmen, brickies, sparkies, chippies, barmen, to help the English build their whiter than white Jerusalems, and we sacrificed a few of our best guarding their adventures in the property trade.

When did the Englishman’s Englishman first appear? I submit it appeared from the hand and imagination of William Shakespeare, but he had a wealthy sponsor, a Scotsman.

Scotland’s history as a nation begins around the 12th century, England somewhere in the middle of the 14th century. English historians aver England is the oldest nation on the planet – well, they would, wouldn’t they? – but it wasn’t until William Shakespeare dipped his quill into a pot of ink that a definition of an English patriot began to be recognisable.

Musical chairs

Some years ago I produced and directed a musical about the 1922 General Strike. Guy Wolfenden composed the score, some rollicking good tunes too, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s musical director.

Guy had a very English sense of humour, droll. I gave him a recording of Billy Connolly, a gift returned. Cambridge educated, he wrote, “I can see this man is very funny, but I cannot understand a word he says.” Guy taught me a lot about staging musicals and even more about Shakespeare. He taught me Shakespeare made the English, English.

In Shakespeare’s tragedies we get a shape emerging of Englishness. There is in all of them a collective sense of belonging to a land worth fighting for. He gave the Englishman a recognizable identity. Will Shakespeare created the English man’s identity, he designed English exceptionalism.

You understand why English promote their national playwright so assiduously dedicating not one theatre company to his work but two, and three theatres, the RSC in Stratford upon Avon, and two in London, the National Theatre and a recreation of the Globe Theatre at Bankside.

For all the romantic aura that surrounds Shakespeare the rebel poet and playwright, Will was a royalist. He became a royal servant, his company given the prestige of being appointed the King’s Men. This had a significant influence on his work.

Is there a Scotsman in the house?

In the grand tradition of dumbass Scottery, it was a Scot who commissioned Will to fashion a likeness of the finest Englishman in his plays, a Scotsman who wanted to make England and Scotland one land, James the VI of Scotland, and the I of England and Ireland, son of Mary Queen of Scots, progenitor of the Union of the Crowns ending centuries of Anglo-Scottish rivalry. (He got that last bit wrong.)

In his nine history plays Shakespeare left us with an indelible impression of Englishness in the form of the heroic adventurer and the heroic failure. There’s the schemer and there’s ambitious above his ability. His English men are as well-rounded as his women.

Women are depicted as cheery floor scrubbing wives, hard bitten feisty lovers, demented princesses, passive aged wives of kings, scheming wives of kings, or magical fairies, but it’s his men who stand out in the memory, with the exception of Lady MacBeth.

Will’s Englishmen listen to the advice of clowns, they ruminate on their fate, they fight for England’s honour, they make futile gestures for the sake of a warped ideal, and they don’t need Johnny Foreigner to tell them how to do it.

England my England – so bug off, Jock

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day!”

Henry V, in Act IV Scene iii 60–67.

The word England appears over 200 times in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan plays, a record for any prodigious playwright in any age. (Count them!) Once Jimmy Five O’One takes the throne, Will tones down the ‘England above all else’ rhetoric and substitutes ‘Britain‘.

‘English’ appears over 130 times in his early plays reduced to under 20 in his Jacobean work. Once the Jacobean era is in full swing ‘Britain’ features almost 30 times, before that only twice. This is a writer who knows which side of his bread is buttered.

Will Shakespeare gives us Englishmen as comical, thick farmhands, vain courtiers, salty sea captains, earls and sons of earls, kings of conscience, feckless princes, fat and thin men quathing mead in Ye Olde Coach Tavern, joky, opinionated, slapping the buttocks of serving wenches men of bluff and bluster, characters predating Nigel Farage, Prince Charles and Carry On films by four hundred years.

‘English’ – now you see it, now you don’t

Sublimating English into British takes a lot of careful placing and skill. Shakespeare made it work very successfully. This brings me to the two great wars.

Most of the First World War was England against the Ottoman Empire, a war to protect the British empire, really the English empire. (Glasgow had its own Empire where many an English comic died an agonising death.)

Returning infantry from the trenches, profoundly disenchanted with the blunders of incompetent, vain generals who caused the deaths of millions, saw Churchill invoke the patriotism of ‘the indomitable Brit’, Tommy, Taffy, Mick and Jock, a mythical image created to encourage enlistment in another European war.

By 1945 England and Britain had become synonymous but in reality both meant England. Neither Scotland nor Wales had any say in how the war should be conducted, just as we have no say in withdrawal from Europe. Brexit is an English decision.

In post-Brexit Britain, House of Commons MPs quote Shakespeare’s Henry V speeches, “once more unto the breach, dear friends, one more”, invoking patriotism of old. It reminds us of Lawrence Olivier’s 1944 stage-to-screen adaptation, a propaganda catalyst to inspire us to protect Blighty against the ‘Hun’.

Does he speak English?

Of course, any definition of an English nationalist cannot be sustained if it includes people with a skin tone darker than a caramel. English are not colour-blind.

The French, England’s auld enemy and Scotland best ally, are as bemused by English cultural contradictions as we are. They know it took William the Conqueror and a few thousand Norman pals to make England English, in a Norman sort of way.

The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of England’s birth. Covered head to foot in heavy chain armour with a huge bronze helmet on your head protecting every part of your skull, ear nose and neck included … you get an arrow in your eye killing you instantly.

That’s ironically comical. And it’s very English, Harold, an heroic failure.

The Union is dead

That contract England made with Scotland worked well for the building of an empire, but it is worthless now faced by the rise of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, aided by a sour handful of ugly Northern Ireland MPs, pushed on by the sheer crowd pleasing confidence of republican Ireland.

Coinciding with discontent in the nations of Britain, the rise of English nationalism is inevitable. I for one do not begrudge England its chance of revolution.

The English are looking for a community of St Georges, where the Tolpuddle Martyrs can mix with Gordon of Khartoum, and Scott of the Antarctic can sip a tin of tea with Sir Ranulph Fiennes, all wrapped up in endless boozy nights singing ‘Rule Britannia‘, that cultural contradiction the French so enjoy.

Contemporary Englishmen, the pundits, the British state journalists, the man in the street, each argue we must allow English to recreate their own democratic community in their own image. Fair enough.

Seventy years of increasing prosperity and peace a member of the European Union has little or no meaning for the neo-Englishman. His greatness rekindled, he’s a knight of the realm waving a plastic toy sword, the Rees-Moggs, who stand tall, unbending against a tide of refugees and migrant workers, all the time being terribly nice.

All outward ambition gone

England gave up the desire to rule France having raided Scotland’s wealth and forests to fund that goal. Symbolically England is doing that self same thing again in the form of dumping the EU to reduce their multi-ethnic community to English-only.

That the dishonest and deluded among them have cherry picked all the worst qualities and ideals in their headlong rush to be English is their error to remedy, not ours. Perhaps this essay should be entitled ‘The English Patient‘ after Michael Ondaatje’s novel. It will take time to find reason again for there are enough good English folk capable of that fairness they were known for who will manage to clear the air of the worst of it – one day.

Meanwhile the English prime minister runs around the country blind to all around her, a rabbit with myxomatosis, bumping into walls, making incoherent squeaks of Britain’s renewed greatness, when all the time she is talking about England. 

“Who will speak for England?” shouted the Daily Mail headline. English people are choosing to be English. We should be happy for them. We Scots have a different society to fashion, truly democratic, inclusive, though we share similar feelings of patriotism.

******************************

FURTHER READING:

The essay the first part of a two-part article: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-ndV

Published elsewhere on this site is a few informative essays on British colonialism.

Posted in Scottish Politics | 11 Comments