Ghost Opponents


Max Headroom, Channel Four’s fictional artificial intelligence, actual played by a real actor, Matt Frewer, a show beginning in 1984. (Irony klaxon)

An odd tweet appeared on my timeline. There was something clunky, something unnatural about the sentence construction. I answered it warily. Back came a second lifeless response, both short staccato sentences. I did what I usually do before encouraging further dialogue, I checked the site. It was a computer, or some sort of bot.

There was a man’s face as avatar, smiling, and the usual brief  biography. I checked his credentials as far as I could – nothing. He didn’t exist. It was all fake. Artificial intelligence – rather like Scotland’s Tory party. I pulled the plug on it.

A second opponent appeared a day later, a woman this time, but the sentence construction was that of a man. Past participles were left hanging in the air like icicles. ‘She’ tried to ingratiate herself saying she was a Scot, a long-time resident in Spain, voted Yes to independence – not sure how she managed to do that in Spain – but was virulently against Catalonian freedom. Ironists are often the victim of their own irony.

I wondered how often that is the case, is still the case, in the debate English colonialism versus Scottish sovereignty, an argument waved along on as many false premises as false identities. Advice, first check your opponent’s site to see what it is they retweet and say.

There are companies devoted to creating artificial answering sites. They appear to be making good profits and expanding. Can’t be beyond imagination to suppose there are a few dedicated to spreading doubt and crapology among the Scottish electorate to the affect Scotland  doesn’t have the chops to survive without England as a crutch.

Tobacco lords

We are a long distance away from the days tobacco companies paid quack doctors and phony medical researchers to fake learned papers, and make fatuous statements, claiming there is no connection between smoking cigarettes and cancer. Those were real people not computers.

And before Twitter was exploited by crooks and charlatans, we had low-grade scientists and out of work writers paid to showers us, (pun intended) with propaganda that climate change is all the concoction of liberal and green politicians hoping to remove our rights as citizens to pollute the planet. Now it’s the turn of automobile manufacturers to tell us electric vehicles will be a disaster for society and a terrible drain on the economy.

From dawn to Musk

Doyen of electric transportation, Elon Musk, the man making roof tiles that are mini-solar panels, is the most recent subject of an extensive campaign of vilification, misinformation, and mechanical delays to his plans.

This is the man, you’ll recall, doing most to push lazy car makers to innovate. Merely altering a car’s design and making it bigger to attract new customers isn’t enough. Describing  a bigger car as having more room than the last model is not innovation. Musk was feted by the Obama administration. Today he butts his way through a barrage of attacks from right-wing think tanks, iffy lobbyists, fake websites and automobile illiterate commentators.

A ghost in the mother board

There exists a website dedicated to taking Musk down. It publishes a tirade of negative stories about him. (See foot of essay.) The site is similar to another anti-Musk site. The site is the product of an organisation calling itself ‘The Center for Business and Responsible Government’ (CBRG). Business and responsible government is an oxymoron.

The CBRG describes itself as a “non-partisan organisation dedicated to highlighting cronyism and its effect on American taxpayers and policy”. There’s that target again – your pocket. If they can make you believe you will get poorer by living in a cleaner environment, their job is done.

Here is the ghost apparent: they don’t exist except in cyberspace. Not one or the other. By an amazing coincidence both sites were set up simultaneously this summer, registered, as far as I can ascertain, to a domain-name allocation company in Arizona, USA. (Cue unmistakable twang of Ry Cooder’s Paris Texas theme.)


Elon Musk and his SpaceX project – I’d rather he explored the oceans of planet earth than making plans to get us off this one

Shepard Stewart the Stealthy

Wading through all the guff printed about Musk and his attempts to revolutionise  personal transport – and soon big rig trucks – and you come across his most trenchant critics, the journalist Shepard Stewart.

Stewart – no Scots connections whatsoever – writes for a piggery of conservative online news sites. In several articles Stewart attacked Musk for receiving billions in government subsidies “to make rockets that immediately self destruct”. Stewart branded Musk as you’d suppose – “a national disgrace”.

As Musk fought back hard and articulate on Twitter, his supporters did some digging. They discovered Stewart was an invention. Everything about him was counterfeit. He was a complete sham. Even his photo byline had been doctored from a LinkedIn profile of a tech entrepreneur.

To muddy the waters the revelation threw up a flurry of theories: that Stewart was created by speculators shorting shares in Musk’s companies, or that he was invented by rival rocket companies keen to bring his SpaceX company back to earth.  Once the truth was out Musk got on with his day, night and weekend job.

A contagious disease

The attacks appear to be part of a wider agenda against governments, the environmental lobby and liberals in general – an agenda reinvigorated by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. Documents filed with the US Internal Revenue Service reveal that two linked organisations are behind the attacks: the Wellspring Committee and the Annual Fund. Together, records show they large sums to the phony sites.


Billionaire Koch brothers. They don’t even bother to hide their political shenanigans, they are that cocksure

Koch brothers at it again

Few people I talk to know of, or have heard of, those two organisations, Wellspring, and the Annual Fund. They should. Wellspring is infamous. I have detailed them before in a past essay; so, here’s a reminder.

They are part of a powerful conservative political network who influence government policy the world over. You might not think they are troubled by little you going about your daily chores, but you would be wrong. They choose benign title to make us feel comfortable, such as “The Institute for the Furtherance of Democarcy” until you bread their guff and realise it out to be called “The Institute for the Enslavement of Scotland“, or “The Campaign to get every African Smoking Cigarettes”. (Such a campaign actually exists.) Their handmaidens are advertising companies, the scourge of truth and facts.

An investigation by the Center for Responsive Politics found that Wellspring was one of many organisations that in the past was used as a “dark money conduit”. Wellspring is owned and funded by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, David and Charles, to channel money to their ‘favoured’ causes, which have included climate change denial scientists, Tea Party activists and a host of other right-wing groups, including the Heritage Foundation.

Ghosts everywhere

Indeed, the rise of the far-right in the USA, and its popular movement, the Tea Party with its contradictory slap-dash policies, are attributed to the Koch’s efforts to stimulate and encourage anger at liberal doctrine and institutions. By careful combination of pseudo science and hokey philosophy tossed at the masses as Gospel their adherents gradually gained ground. Politicians picked up the crapology and ran with it. “The something for nothing society”, said Labour’s Johann Lamont, inadvertently doing the work of the Koch brothers without getting a grant. The other side, us, was caught sleeping. Liberals and socialists have not yet formulated a counter-doctrine for the modern age.

Knowing all that, no one will convince me that phony outfits in the UK are not receiving largesse laundered through Koch brother outlets, the kind of think tank charged with keeping Scotland linked to the UK and USA foreign policy and economics, servile.

Their main goal is to reduce government powers in the dubious name of lower taxes, taxes the very thing they do not pay and we need to support a fair and caring society. I can’t wait until they too are ghosts.

Posted in Transportation | 3 Comments

Wind River – a review


Jeremy Renner, whiter than the white man but no snowflake

The jury must still be out on Jeremy Renner. He can throw himself off rooftops and onto shop awnings as many times as he likes for a television commercial, but he confused cinemagoers as the lead in The Bourne Legacy. He appeared to be the same character yet wasn’t. The franchise has not regained momentum since then though a staple reissue on late night television. I’m not sure what it did for his career. There may have been resentment from Matt Damon fans.

After he made a terrific impact in The Hurt Locker – for once, an original theme in a film – Renner never quite managing to find a role of the same intensity and emotional range as that film’s gung-ho bomb disposal expert. Perhaps the problem lies in him not having a memorable face or a distinctive voice.

Wild River delivers what the title promises: rugged landscapes, fast rapids, homesteaders fighting the elements, and tough men at one with nature. It has most of those elements, plus Indians and a lot of snow. (Indians dislike the term ‘American’ Indian.)

Ben Richardson’s cinematography is superb, expansive wide shots making full use of the grandeur of the country. Locations are panoramas of snow frozen remote hillsides held firm by fir trees, craggy mountain slopes shouldering hard packed drifts under big skies, Wyoming a beautiful forbidding place even 10 degrees below zero.

It is Taylor Sheridan’s directorial débute. He’s the writer of Sicario, and  Hell or High Water, a writer who knows how to take a controversial political issue and cloak it in an action genre to make it palatable, while making his social point. I still regard Hell or High Water as the best written screenplay of the last two years.

Sheridan writes like a poet: “The hardest thing to hunt is truth”, just one standout line among many from a screenplay of  maturity for most of its length. Main characters wrestle with moral problems and their own weaknesses. The smallest walk-on role is a fully-rounded human being, Sheridan unafraid to give support characters good speeches.

This screenplay is not his best compared to what we have seen so far. It reads a little like the project he had on his shelf before his first film was produced, one dusted down, polished and fine tuned for his début. That’s confirmed by the small number of cast on display and what seems most everything shot in one valley and its high ridges.

The great Graham Greene, a Six Nations actor

The ‘Wind River’ of the title is an Indian reservation. The story follows the efforts of expert tracker and marksman Cory Lambert, (Jeremy Renner) to assist tenderfoot FBI agent Jane Banner, (Elizabeth Olsen) investigate the death of a local teenage girl.

The rookie female, a Hollywood cliché, is here reprised given a little but not enough substance. Lambert’s normal job is hunting wolf and mountain lion, keeping both away from the herds of cattle and grazing sheep. She works in a city.

Why Lambert chooses to get involved gradually becomes evident in a single harrowing flashback. The shame is, it’s signalled well in advance. As evidence accumulates of one man’s brutality, or a group of men, we realise Lambert is fighting his own demons.

Lambert’s handsome Indian ex-wife also lives on the reservation – a rather too-neat plot connection and one that soon gets lost for no apparent reason. We learn his own daughter was killed, a searing memory that propels his lust for revenge and redemption. (Yes, this is another revenger’s tragedy.) Lambert can empathize with the dead girl’s anguished parents driven to the depths of despair.

The murdered girl is found frozen in the middle of nowhere. What was she doing so far from civilisation? She may have been sexually abused, but more interesting to Lambert, she appears to have been running away from something evil. What was it that terrified her so much that she was prepared to run to her death to escape it? Just before she escapes to the wild she turns to look at her boyfriend knowing she can’t save him, or he himself. Those moments are a Sheridan hallmark.

As with his previous screenplays Sheridan’s grasp of psychology is flawless. None of the major characters put a foot wrong, or say a word that would not come from their mouth. And he is just as comfortable writing about individuals thrown together in the snowy wilds as he is groups herded together in the dry Mexican desert.

I had trouble accepting Renner as the hunter and trapper for his interpretation lacked physical strength. This is a strange contradiction. Clearly, he’s a very physical actor. But he’s an actor that doesn’t take us by surprise. His hunter is serious minded, cool headed, thoughtful, always one step ahead of a potential accident and quick to avoid it. What Renner can do is emote, just enough for us to know that he hurts inside.

For her part, Olsen does her best as ‘Young Beautiful FBI Agent’ with naturally blonde hair. How much better if she’d been a feisty native Indian who’d lost touch with her tribe. The actress comes a cropper when called upon to shout commands in an effort to control a dozen rowdy oil workers. Her voice cracks and she crouches in a curious position just when she needs to show absolute authority.


A film actors life isn’t always a warm trailer and then home

The local police chief is played by the great Graham Greene,  stage, screen and television actor made famous for his bemused Sioux warrior in Dances with Wolves, the role that won him as Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. (He’s a Canadian Indian.)

I’ll let readers into a secret – maybe one to elaborate in my book Lost in La La Land. I offered him a role in a film set in the New Mexico desert as a native Indian guide who’s been too long a gabby Los Angeles bartender. In the story full-blooded Indians living on the  local reservation scorn his pseudo-warrior personality. Greene turned it down. He just couldn’t relate to it. I was crushed. I should have invited him to rewrite his lines, he’s that skilled. Mind you, actors are often put off by the director’s choice of cast. They like to work with actors they like and admire. Maybe that was the reason.

Greene has been around Hollywood for a long time, and its clear he’s capable of much more than anything Hollywood has given him in A-List movies. He’s commanded lead roles in small scale films, but it’s plain to see he has ability as yet unexploited.

In Wind River it’s clear his health isn’t what it used to be, but, as theatricals say, he’s a trooper. Sadly, though he’s in most of the scenes, he’s not given any real bacca to chew. His best line is advising the green FBI agent that distances in Wyoming are longer than you think because roads are few and far between. “You have to go fifty miles to do five.” he says to her in preparation for a long roundabout journey to reach a short distance.

In Hell or High Water, Sheridan took familiar archetypes and shook them by the neck with such vigour that the movie took on a profound gravitas. We were intrigued by their antics and interactions: the curmudgeonly sheriff, the bickering deputy, the loving rascally brothers and disappointed wives, even the diner waitress made her mark on our imagination. Their ambitions and flaws melded. We saw them as real people.

Here, archetypes are a means to a banal shoot out that dumps psychology and moral dilemma in one swift scene and goes for the Tarantino exit. Sheridan makes his political point, that native Indians, (like Scots) have been robbed of their birthright, given second best as a sop, but the film isn’t memorable enough, or powerful enough to have you join the struggle for native American rights.

Cave and Ellis’s semi-Indian chants give an impression of native spirituality but here too the music is not as memorable as you’d expect. All the same, the whole enterprise makes for a good police thriller.

As I said, a project probably written before Sheridan’s previous scripts were produced. Wind River is well worth a visit for the Wyoming scenery and a pudgy Graham Greene giving us his world weary police officer.

  • Star rating: Three stars
  • Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene,
  • Director: Taylor Sheridan
  • Writer: Taylor Sheridan
  • Cinematography: Ben Richardson
  • Music: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
  • Rating: R
  • Duration: 110 minutes
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Hassan Hustle


The struggle is between Scottish civic nationalism and English racist nationalism; the Union Jack ought to be the St George’s Cross

There’s an overwhelming feeling of deja vu watching professional miserabilists, flatulent unionists, reactionaries, and anti-democrats tell us what a gargantuan waste of time and money is Holyrood Parliament, Scotland’s platform of democracy, just as they did on its inception. Bigots should follow Sophocles, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

Among the press pack is Gerry Hassan who seems superficially Scotland’s man until you deduce his jottings are painfully muddled and cryptic. His air of neutrality soon falls away. He praises Holyrood’s existence yet, like Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy, it makes you uncomfortable. Something isn’t right.

I’m an academic, don’tcha know?

He terms himself “writer, commentator, and academic”. Academic is a pompous title. You’re a researcher, a lecturer, or a head of a department. Hassan was a research fellow in cultural policy studies at the amalgamation of teacher training institution and technical colleges that is the West of Scotland University.

Hassan suffers from a serious literary handicap: clear, concise thought eludes him. His sentences are opaque and convoluted, some a tortured paragraph long. One idea intrudes upon another. I defy anybody to make sense of this paragraph without reading it at least three times:

“Second, and more important in exploring the possibilities of such arrangements, is the presence of political will (and goodwill) to see them a reality. This seems to be lacking from one part of the equation, the UK government, rather paradoxically in that the UK’s political elites have often celebrated their adaptability in governmental and constitutional manners. The UK government has so far, post-Brexit, shown no interest in pursuing a flexible and hybrid approach – a constitutional response so regularly championed within the UK – through a serious consideration of what a geographically differentiated Brexit would like within the UK, as opposed to sector-by-sector deals.”  Scotland, the UK, and Brexit’ written in collaboration with Russell Gunson. (Both are involved with ‘think tanks’.)

In the cause of academic standards to which Hassan ascribes, I’ll critique his abridged Holyrood Guardian article as if a first draft, which to be frank, it should have been.


Hassan (left) with Lesley Riddoch, and on the far-right, Kenny Farquharson  (Warning: Hassan is much closer to Farquharson that he appears)


Hassan’s  ‘praise’ for Scotland’s Parliament


“Devolution has been a success. Present tense, please. There are no serious calls for the Scottish parliament to be abolished or for a return of direct rule from Westminster. In the face of the massive power grab that is the Great Reform Bill, that statement reeks of complacency. Ruth Davidson and the Tories long ago made their peace. Is this sardonic humour? Colonel Davidson has turned herself into an Exocet missile aimed at Holyrood.

The Scottish public now view the Scottish parliament, rather than Westminster, as the most important political institution. True, but it helps if you tell us why. Scotland already has an informal independence of the mind in how it talks, thinks and acts. It always had a contrarian voice but without institutions through which to express it.

Many good things have happened: land reform (limited; right-wing interests blocked more radical aspirations) and the smoking ban, and a Scotland more at ease with itself on gender equality, sexual equality, sectarianism and multiculturalism. But in a politics supposedly about difference, many of these gains have been about making Scotland more cosmopolitan and like most other western countries. ‘But’ implies those qualities are bad. You’ve just suggested mature governance a good thing.

All of this isn’t quite the brave new politics promised in 1997. Really? The new Parliament exposed Labour as the Tory Party, and just as devious. Electing the SNP was courageous, all things considered. They gave Scotland the plebiscite denied for 300 years. Much of Scottish politics looks like politics elsewhere, including Westminster. A banal observation. The debating chamber’s seat layout was designed to avoid  confrontation. Opposition parties revert to the confrontational to hide their lack of policies. Political power sits not with the Scottish parliament, but with the Scottish government and civil service. Real power remains with Westminster. There is an (sic) adversarial party politics and the remorseless centralisation of public bodies, such as the creation of Police Scotland (introduced by the Labour Party)  with little obvious gain. You’re expected to show proof. Scottish ministers gather more and more power into their hands with few checks and balances, or obvious benefits. Unsubstantiated. Holyrood is faced with a daily barrage of brutal criticism, and its powers are few and hobbled.

Beyond this there has been little devolution dividend: (SNP Bad?) economically, socially, in public services, or in relation to what groups have power and influence. Misrepresentation of historical record. This could have embraced a distinct take (is “take” the language of an academic?! More the language of Call Kaye) on public service reform that widened the life chances of the disadvantaged, or tackled the systematic exclusion of working-class children from the opportunities they deserve. A gratuitous sideswipe at the Scottish education system without evidence. By disassociation do you count yourself no longer a successful working class individual created by that very educational system?

The SNP until now has been able to ride two horses at the same time. It has positioned itself as the party of the insiders: (outsiders, surely?) of getting things done, delivery and competence. At the same time it has posed as the party of change: (‘posed’? It is avowedly anti-status quo) of social justice, fairness, the champion of social democracy. You’re beginning to sound a mite sour.

This balancing act – of incumbency and insurgency – worked wonders for the party in the late, hectic stages of the 2014 indyref and the aftermath of the 2015 UK election. But after 10 years in office it has begun to look less and less sustainable and plausible. Opinion I suspect based on the latest trope portraying the SNP as a ‘tired’ administration. Readers are looking for originality of thought, not right-wing orthodoxy.

Large parts of institutional opinion, and Labour in particular, didn’t want devolution to bring about change, but merely to refresh the shop window while leaving the business behind it untouched. Excellent The piece ought to have started with this. Devolution was for Scottish Labour about shoring up its northern citadel, and contributing its bloc to Westminster Labour governments. So, the forces against change are still powerful?

Labour mini-devolution amounted to an apologetic politics, and was eventually viewed as ineffective by most voters. It was one reason the SNP won in 2007. Time has shown the limitations of the SNP, (those limitations are placed on the powers of the Parliament, ergo, all administrations are confined) which raises questions about where the politics of change will come from, and who can most successfully adopt the party’s mantle. You really can’t be asserting the SNP have not made a difference and are on the way out?

Change is coming to Scotland. If not by the SNP, are you waiting for the cavalry to arrive? The decline of deference, (to Westminster?) demographics, (too general a term) Brexit, the squeeze on public spending and the wider age of disruption make this is a certaintyVague phrase.Wider age of disruption’ means what, exactly? The SNP gave Scotland a distinct voice, (Holyrood gave people a voice, SNP gave people a political force. For example, the SNP protected the universal principal in higher education – the very right that you enjoy) but the next decade could be shaped by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, Davidson’s newly energised Tories, or a Corbynised Scottish Labour. Or the influence of the DUP, or blocked from the Single Market, or Holyrood struck by a meteor, and so on, and so forth. Nothing in the future can be taken for granted. That’s why it’s called ‘the future’! I think you mean to say, Scotland’s political model can’t be determined accurately in the long-term. What is different in that compared to every other nation state on the planet?

Happy anniversary, Scottish parliament. ‘Parliament’ needs a capital letter. We celebrate your existence, not as an end in itself, but as a catalyst for further change.” ‘Further change’? Shame you didn’t elucidate on what change Scotland needs.

This draft has the taste of a David Torrance mouth wash. You begin by stating devolution is a success and then go on to argue it is not a success. You concentrate on the SNP with wild assertions and innuendo to the detriment of honest scholarship. Amazingly, you make no mention of how the advent of Holyrood has given people hope, or how Westminster schemes to undermine hope. Scotland’s Law Society state, even in non-devolved areas, the Great Repeal Bill can “remove the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament”. This work is lazy, contradictory, cribbed from your Scotsman article of December 2014. You get marks for not demanding Scotland’s Parliament closed down although you could be accused of making a case for it. Very disappointing.  3/10.


As a political commentator Hassan is not a disagreeable man; every so often he proves he’s human by his vanity and his meanness. He’s the railway passenger in the First Class carriage with a Second Class ticket. He lost a bet with the editor of the Wings Over Scotland website, belatedly sending the money to a charity of his own choice, robbing his winning opponent of the debt.

Hassan’s is the only political website I’ve seen that sports not one but two self-portraits on its masthead. There’s vanity and there’s pride. I’ve no objection to pride so long as it is used to defy those dominations and powers that enslave Scotland’s freedoms.

Scotland’s voting system was designed specifically to keep the SNP from ever gaining power – the kind of authoritarian contrivance that would have General Franco award a medal. Revealingly, Hassan asserts Yes voters don’t speak for Scotland. I have news for him – they  damn well do. Full democracy is for everybody, No voters and non-voters too.

Challenge his protean opinions and he will counter independence is not a “black or white issue”, a favourite phrase, yet he says without the slightest embarrassment “Scotland can become independent or remain in the UK”, an Hassan happy to trade in black and white.

English nationalists regard Scots largely as foreigners, different in values and mode of thought, but see Scotland’s power elite people sharing their ideals. Remove the SNP from Scotland’s Parliament and you have the British status quo reinstated. Hassan appears not to understand the precariousness of Scotland’s minimal freedoms one iota. He arrives veneered with an academic qualification and spectacles, one lens tinted blue the other red. He affects a Pecksniffian stance on Scotland’s future.

Hassan smirrs us with specious alternatives, the plausible-impossible, and pious clap-trap. The Hassan Hustle is all bustle. This is a man who hasn’t mastered his fears. By the standard of his ‘commentating’ his academic degree must be a Ph.D. in Posturing.


Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 8 Comments

The Fall and Rise of TVR


The shiny new TVR Griffith, 200mph starting at £90,000

To be absolutely cautious and err on the safe side, this essay ought to be entitled the rise and fall, and probable rise again of TVR – maybe. If there is a better example than TVR of the strengths and weaknesses of the British car industry I can’t think of one.

For those unknowing of  the sportscar company’s existence that took its initials from its founder TreVoR Wilkinson in 1947 here is a brief history: It manufactured lightweight sports cars made of fibreglass using another manufacturer’s engine.

It rose to prominence in the mid-eighties offering what none of the big manufacturers could offer, powerful sports cars at a relatively cheap price, giving buyers a lot of bang for their bucks, and styling that was knock out bonkers.

At the start of the new Millennium the owner who had taken it to knew heights, but not reliability, a chain smoking scientist who disliked unions, Peter Wheeler, sold the Blackpool-based company to a zit-ridden young Russian who barely knew  how to ride a tricycle never mind run a car company.

The company went into financial free-fall. Beaten by his lack of expertise in everything except dilettantism, Nicolay Smolenski sold the title to a syndicate of British, (as far as one can tell) businessmen under the leadership of Les Edgar. After delays, Edgar moved the company’s manufacturing base to Wales, (I wish Scotland’s government had offered an inducement) and some tax hand outs, (ah, well, maybe not) and has now produced TVR’s first sports car in over a decade, the Griffith.

I confess

I confess I owned a TVR once. It was not wonderful to drive when it went, which wasn’t all that often. A low purchase price was arrived at by using very cheap parts, important parts such as fuses. But it was breath-taking to look at. The proportions were perfect, the only annoyance a useless cleft in the doors to make fitting them easier. Cars are not art, but there is art in the making of them. They are notoriously difficult to get their design to work harmoniously. TVR had a habit of bringing out show stoppers.

The car I owned was the second iteration of the Griffith, a Griffith 500 LE. It is the only car that has made my heart beat faster, and the heart of almost every man who saw it. On seeing it for the first time I was riveted to the spot. I thought I was in car heaven. I chucked my savings and borrowings at it, a stupid thing to do for a British car.

“When I think of TVR I think of bad taste” said a fine artist educated in sophisticated aesthetics. She was right. TVR had a way of producing way, way over-the-top designs, and then allowing customers to camouflage them in dual or triplicate flip-paint to out-do the designer. Flip paint is fine for a high-end handbag, or a waistcoat, but a whole car?

On the plus side, switches, handles and bezels were fashioned in real billets of aluminium. TVR employed crafts folk in the instrument and leather departments. No silver sprayed plastic for them. No leatherette or vinyl for a TVR cabin. The fibreglass body did not rust. The rumble of its venerable V8 engine loosened fillings. Oh, joy.

When the car was delivered it was clothed in five different shades of red, the maker’s paint shop not understanding that using the same colour of paint for everything will appear a different shade when infused with different materials: plastic, woollen carpets, leather and metal. I had the interior recovered in black leather with red stitching.

The seats were rock hard. It hated being driven around corners. The lift off targa roof panel was a pig to store in the boot and an entire piggery to put back on again. An iffy ECU meant it broke down in very public places. Its tubular construction rusted just sitting in the garage. Frustrated and embarrassed, I sold it within two years.

Oddly enough, I was never called a wanker by a pedestrian when I drove it, unlike today’s Aston Martin owners. That happened when in a humble Mazda MX5. You could call me a champagne socialist back then but that would be misleading. I never had money. I have a habit of giving money away when I earn it.


My Griffith and cool registration plate. The car is worth £10,000 more than when I sold it

English mechanics at work

I had reason to visit the factory a few times to service the car, and once to interview its then dynamic hero, owner Peter Wheeler. Each visit was an eye opener.

You could tell it was a struggling hand-to-mouth company the second you stepped foot onto the old floor carpet full of holes in the dirty reception area. This was a place where mechanics had hands swathed in grease and Swarfega.

After chatting to Wheeler about his plans for the company and complimenting him on the way he had improved build quality – which he had done immeasurably – he and his PR assistant invited me on a tour of the factory. Production was similar to that other all-British car maker, Morgan, maker of pre-war models in ash wood and aluminium. Not a robot in sight. Bucks were trundled from one shed to another to begin the next process of  build or refinement. Workers hung around chatting and drinking mugs of tea.

I was shown the new Griffith being shaped, as yet unannounced. To my astonishment Wheeler and his staff left me there, free to photograph the new model for competitors or a quick photo sale to newspapers. They went off to lunch, or a meeting. It was that casual and relaxed a place.

In the months to come Wheeler turned out a dizzying array of flashy eye-catching models all actually based on the same car and engine. His company remains in automobile history books. It took 1,500 deposits for its new Tuscan model at a motor show, the most any car company had registered for any one model at one time.

Getting into the North American market eluded TVR. Their safety standards were just not good enough to meet USA regulations, and they didn’t have the cash to improve them. In good old stick-in-the-mud mechanic stubbornness Wheeler always averred his cars had all the safety equipment a driver needed – the footbrake. It was a crass comment. He overlooked inexpert young drivers and polishing queens with little or no experience of driving powerful sports cars killed when their TVR spun 360 degrees on a barely wet road and collided with tree. Insurance companies listed TVR top of the list for accidents.

A terrible error

Wheeler made one fatal mistake. A man of tremendous energy and independence, (good word) he took the decision to create his own engine, one created and fettled by an eccentric mechanic. It was a chocolate engine. He first put it into the TVR Tuscan. When I arrived at the factory for my car’s annual service there was two Griffith’s waiting at the service bay, and 13 Tuscans. All was not well with TVR. A small company can’t survive a recall on that scale.

TVR then went into decline, its passionate and faithful fans left to weep in torment. Wheeler gave up the ghost in more ways than one leaving a spoilt son of a Russian oligarch to squander his pocket money on it and when bored, eventually let it fade away.

Nevertheless, Peter Wheeler was a pioneer. No sooner had TVR fallen than  major manufacturers began to copy what he had been doing, namely making car interiors an exciting place to sit in. Cheap hard plastic began to disappear in place of expensive soft textured plastics. Instruments were designed to please the eye as well as being practical. The aural characteristics of a car were deemed as important as its looks.


The interior of the latest Griffith, a riot of over-design, a TVR tradition

TVR renaissance

The new boss, Les Edgar, announced that the resurrected TVR would produce its first car priced £55,000. The new car is priced at £90,000 before extras, a huge disappointment to all but the extremely well-heeled.

TVR has moved its ethos from making sports cars for the masses, to making sports cars for the Monaco set. But he has chosen two things wisely, the engine, a tried and tested Cosworth V8, and the engineering designer, Gordon Murray, God’s own car engineer.

Internal specifications first:

They car has a pleasing if conventional shape to most other sports coupes, contemporary but not avant-garde. It sports side-exit exhausts, sculpted front wheel arches, and a swoopy body. The rear end looks like all TVRs, the designer went on holiday after the door shape was agreed. But there’s no creaky crazing fibreglass to repaint regulary.

It boasts a trusty – at last! – atmospheric 5.0-litre quad-cam V8, the unit in Ford’s Mustang, but thoroughly overhauled for duty here by Cosworth to deliver more power and torque. It’s dry sumped to lower the centre of gravity, and has 50/50 weight distribution.

There’s no ultra-modern transmissions or flappy paddles behind the steering wheel. This is a TVR remember. It’s back to basics time. You get a gear stick – a stick shift to my American cousins.

This  Griffith uses a Tremec Magnum six-speed manual, (how manly!) with a custom lightweight flywheel and clutch, and bespoke gear ratios. With a dry weight of 1,250kg, the new car is extreemly light, and boasts a power-to-weight ratio of 400bhp-per-tonne. This should thrust the Griffith into full-bore supercar territory, where forward motion begins to turn surreal: 0-100mph in six with a 200mph top speed – and you have to remember to change gear yourself.

Guarantees of a great engineer

In key areas the new Griffith is revolutionary. It’s the first production car to deploy Gordon Murray Design’s iStream technology, (he of racing car,  Le Mans, and McLaren legend) which simplifies the manufacturing process while introducing carbon fibre and delivering the sort of structural rigidity TVRs of old could only dream of. Any car designed by Gordon Murray is a cast iron investment, if that’s how you view personal transportation and have the money to feather it.

The chassis consists of a carbon composite bonded to steel and aluminium, with body panels also in composite. The iStream tech gives the Griffith notable crash performance: the energy loads are directed through front and rear crash structures, leaving the chassis intact. It also has a fully flat under floor.

The suspension uses double wishbones at either end, with adjustable coil-over dampers and concentric springs. The 21st century further intrudes with the TVR’s steering: it’s fully electric. The Griffith does also have ABS and configurable traction control, now a European regulation; Johnny Foreigner at work again trying to save lives, the interfering sods. Peter Wheeler must be turning in his grave.

The braking system uses six-piston aluminium calipers and two-piece 370mm diameter ventilated discs upfront, four-piston ally calipers and two-piece 350mm vented discs at the rear. This, the price, and the attention to detail, all point to a very specific philosophy, a sports car for the wealthy – a complete reversal of the original company’s ethos and imperative. In other words, it is a TVR in name only.

Whether anybody will want to buy one in preference to a McLaren or a Ferrari is another matter. The company returns when manufacturers are moving over to all-electric of hybrid cars, and cities are banning loud vehicles. How long before TVR announces its first SUV, following other once-upon-a-time sports car manufacturers?

As our plethora of right-wing fast car obsessed automobile magazines are apt to spout, “it’s just great that TVR exists.” Aye, well, we’ll see how long that lasts, but I wish it well.

Posted in Transportation | 2 Comments

Monologues of Demagogues


Bell Pottinger’s anonymous London offices

Demagogues, there are so many overflowing with racial resentment you can pluck them out of the air – or any BBC chat show – pull the pin in their back and hear them cackle pre-recorded racist tosh. If you broke them in half you’ll find neo-fascist in hard sugary letters all the way through them.

There is Nigel Farage, running around Europe glad-handing far-right extremist parties while denouncing European unity – most nations would have confiscated his passport by now; Theresa May telling Scotland to keep its nose out of the United Kingdom’s business as if Scotland has no part to play in the United Kingdom; Boris Johnson, his mouth full of crotch-rubbed cricket balls, telling Europe to keep its nose out of England’s affairs simultaneously demanding the EU negotiates a trade deal to keep poor England afloat.

And in the background there is Trump giving Britain’s racists the confidence to crawl out of the toilet bowl, unblocking the U-bend to flush away Muslims and migrant workers. The power elite who stole the nation’s taxes and hold tight to our wealth, sip their Prosecco smug in the knowledge they have Brits blaming anybody and each other for the perilous state of the nation.

In a talk, novelist John Le Carré, former MI5 and MI6 employee, about as far-right in political sympathies as one can get without having written Mein Kampf, castigates Trump for his 1930s-style fascism. “It’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There’s an encouragement about.” Johnny Foreigner is a fascist. Big surprise. But there’s always an Englishman to stop him in his tracks.

Where was the criticism of his own nation?

A surfeit of democracy

It isn’t enough to deny Scotland a second plebiscite on autonomy. Westminster’s neo-fascists plot a method of denying Europeans in Scotland the right to vote in another referendum lest they secure Scotland’s long-halted freedoms. Non-Brits living in Scotland must become non-persons at the earliest opportunity.

If a semblance of a democratic system is retained to appease the Bitch of all Parliaments, a system whereby long-term residents can register to be given a vote, they are to be frustrated from doing so by any means possible. Our choices are to be severely limited. This is the way white supremacists in the USA dealt with black Americans trying to exercise their democratic rights in the early part of last century.

The symbol of Bell Pottinger

Is there a difference between the shockingly unethical conduct of PR firm Bell Pottinger and the unethical conduct of unionists during and after Scotland’s first Referendum? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

For the uninformed, Bell Pottinger is a corporate PR company with close links to the Tory Party, the same breed that helped brief against Scotland’s hopes for a democratic society.

The company was expelled from the Public Relations and Communications Association, the industry regulatory body, for whipping up racial hatred in South Africa on behalf of its client, the Gupta family, accused of corruption on a grand scale. The scandal has forced Bell Pottinger’s chief executive, James Henderson, to resign, followed by an exodus of clients. The chances of it surviving beyond Christmas are extremely remote.

When the disgraced bank HSBC withdraws its account you know Bell Pottinger must stink to high heaven. But here’s the thing: what it did was immoral but not illegal, exactly what was said of corrupt banks who stole our national wealth to sustain their existence.

The same self-serving reasoning was given for black propaganda thrown at Scotland, often staged by flaky think tanks, two-bit advertising agencies, and phony political movements. One such ‘movement’ was the No Borders ‘mass movement’ campaign. The movement was more or less one man and his bowel movement, one nice man in a nice house, promoted by another nice man from the nice BBC, neither hung out to dry for their false claims. Apologists say what they did was not racist, only misguided. Aye, right.

What Bell Pottinger undertook to do on behalf of its clients in South Africa was stir up racial tension. It did it to take the heat of some skulduggery by the Gupta family and its links with government contracts. By all accounts Bell Pottinger has a history of taking on unsavoury clients and briefs.

In the UK the pawns of Westminster stirred up as much racial tension as they could muster against Scotland bedevilled as they were faced by a resolutely civic campaign for greater rights. Their cheapest gob spit was to call sound political argument in favour of self-determination anti-English.

There’s no difference

What was the unionist ‘Better Together’ campaign by a thinly disguised cabal composing and disseminating racist fabrications to a willing press and media, damning  pro-independence historians as Braveheart eccentrics and the man in the street as ‘sweaties’, a racially offensive jibe at Scots.

That’s how fascists have worked down the decades. Separate a dissenting group, a ‘tribe’ and then eviscerate it. Make the population focus on its imagined misdeeds and not your nefarious behaviour. The Better Together campaign was the equivalent of a low-grade PR consultancy taking on a commission from the UK government. It used neo-fascist tactics. It stirred up racial hatred to divert attention from their hidden agenda – in the UK’s case, retain control of Scotland economy and above all, its oil.

Those well-paid monotheists think we have a surfeit of democracy. They conspire to marginalise and if possible criminalise legitimate political aspirations.


Farage shakes hands with Germany’s far-right alternative, Beatrix von Storch

They all live happily ever after

No leading proponent of that anti-Scotland campaign resigned in disgust at what was done in the name of colonial power. The conduct of that campaign might have been immoral but it wasn’t illegal. Ask Orkney Lib-Dem MP Alistair Carmichael, tarred as a serial dissembler by the courts but still an MP serving his servile constituents. Alistair Darling was elevated to the Lords as a peer of the realm. Their ‘sacrifice’ is legitimised.

When a Scot supportive of a corrupt system does it, it magically isn’t racist. Both Darling and Carmichael will reject outright the accusation of neo-fascism, but that’s what it is. They believe in a breed, a superior race.

Bell Pottinger is another corporate PR company that together with Westminster consider the huddled masses have enjoyed an excess of democracy. England will decide if we are European, or an entity called otherness.

A race against time to dominate and control.

Let the Scots in. Keep the Scots out. Stay with us and lead us. Stay out of English affairs. A great wee nation that punches above its weight. A whiny wee nation that is too uppity for its own good. You need England to subsidise your feeble economy. We need Scots to fight in our wars. And so on, and so nauseas, good cop, bad cop.

Racism. It’s unacceptable to call it tribalism unless you’re a miserable journalist of no conscience working for the right-wing press, or a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament. They forget people who spoke of races and tribalism in Germany back in the Thirties were almost always Nazis.

That thing called otherness

We Scots like to think that the fear of otherness will dissipate so long as we commingle one with another. And there is some truth in that assumption. Polish people have been here and accepted since the 1850’s as Scots have been in Poland. Italians are well integrated into Scottish society. Indians and Pakistanis, Islam or Hindu, find life in Scotland to their taste. Hong Kong, Cantonese and Han Chinese generally shun full integration but are a welcome part of the Scottish diaspora. Nordic people feel at home.

We have over 370,000 English for the most part happily domiciled in Scotland, a good many – so analysts aver – voted against Scotland protecting itself and the rest of us from the vagaries of otherism. We have no campaigns to expel them.

There are no billboard trucks running around cities advising non-Scots to buy a ticket to travel home. There is no General Amin telling Indian and Pakistanis they have 90 days to pack up and leave. We are as far way from blood and soil nationalism as Earth is from Mars. Scotland welcomes new blood. But it needs to check it isn’t importing viruses.

Blood and soil and a little compost

Westminster thinks it can impose centralised power over its ethnic constituents and still call Britain the United Kingdom, while keeping a straight face.

The wealth of India fuelled England’s industrial revolution. How many English can tell you that? You’ll not find any school teachers teach students of that fact let alone any Tory politician admit it. As far as England is concerned, it got wealthy all by itself.

They will claim in the twentieth century Scotland’s oil had damn all to do with keeping the British economy afloat. If you believe that, you are just the sort of gullible fool our colonial masters value. As Dean Acheson memorably put it, Britain lost an empire and has not yet found a role. And so it appears determined to hang on to Scotland.

I am tired of  Tory politicians pretending they are a superior race, a superior intellect, a superior culture. English who detest what’s happening need to make themselves heard. Fair minded English are everywhere as repelled as we are at the conduct of their nation, but they need to get themselves organised. Those professing they will move to Scotland to avoid the worst excesses of xenophobia have to do more than look for an escape. They should protest, tell their MPs they won’t take the crap anymore.

Europeans among us are tarred as foreigners. We are told to be scared of North Koreans, of the Chinese, of the Japanese, and yet again of that auld cold war enemy the Russians. England would have us be accustomed to conquest by force. History is ready to repeat itself.

Racism is the order of the day.

English racism is never-ending. It’s everywhere like death watch beetles in lime trees. Some of my countrymen are smitten by the disease.

We want dialogue not monologues from demagogues.

We are all brothers, shout Anglophiles and English politicians in an effort to shame our humanity. We shout back, aye, but we’re men too, and as men we recognise lying bastards when we hear them!

We don’t give a damn if you think ‘No’ means no to full civil rights. We do not want sucked into your colonial mentality – we want a new arrangement without confinement. When we say we want full democracy and the right to exercise it we mean it!

It is time for a new alliance with the English State – and what a hellish state it’s in.



Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 11 Comments

A Smart Vision

smart vision EQ fortwo

At last, a vehicle designed for the 21st century that looks like the 21st century

When the Swatch Watch inventor Nicola Hayek took his design for a micro car to VW, had it rejected by VW, but persisted until Mercedes Benz took on the project, we got a funky vehicle fit for our cities. Like the Mini before it, it was a small revolution.

Three of them could fit on a single parking bay, side-by-side. There was more passenger room than most SUVs. It offered excellent mpg. The body didn’t rust, it was plastic, panels you can lift off if damaged and replace with ease. But our city fathers made no effort to accommodate the hamster on wheels, and the mounting number of pot holes put off buyers from bouncing around, pitched and tossed.

Preferring supercars costing over £100,000 right-wing automobile magazines laughed at it – they are still laughing. Mind you, the latest iteration is plug-ugly, that perfect original shape ditched in preference for something that looks as if a BMW Mini melted in the sun.

Then Mercedes stopped making the great little Smart sports car and brought out a four-seat version of the two-seat wonder, Smart ForTwo, just when you thought they were nurturing a sub-brand where all models had two seats. Today they announce, correctly in my view, the Smart brand will be all-electric in a few years, but first here’s a starter.


Glass that alters from transparent to opaque at the flick of a switch

Mercedes name the concept Smart Vision EQ Fortwo. But it has a downside. So far, it’s only a self-drive version – obvious by the lack of a steering wheel. While I am a devotee of electric car development I don’t like the idea of a vehicle driving itself anywhere. If they invented a bed that made itself up every morning I’d be happier.

The centrepiece of the new concept car is an advanced Level 5 autonomous driving system. This is where it gets silly. You can summon it using your iPhone.

“In the future, car-sharing users will not have to look for the next available car – it will find them and collect passengers directly from their chosen location,” aye, right. And I suppose it will open and shut the garage door, or if parked in the street and blocked in, move the offending vehicle out of the way.

Unfortunately Smart considers the adoption of autonomous driving technology in the development of its Car2Go scheme a key component in its growth plans. These days a Smart model is hired every 1.4sec in cities around the world through a customer base of more than 2.6 million. The company says internal studies predict the number of users of car-sharing schemes worldwide will increase fivefold by 2025 to more than 36.7 million customers. I’m surprised. Currently buyers choose the cheeky Fiat 500 before a Smart.

Hinting at plans by Smart to take its line-up exclusively electric in the future under Mercedes-Benz’s EQ electric sub-brand, the Vision EQ Fortwo features a rear-mounted electric motor and 30kWh lithium-ion battery offering a range of “well over 300km”.

smart vision EQ fortwo

This Smart doesn’t make the error of the first, too wide opening doors

Conceived around a pod-like safety cell that provides clues to how Smart plans to evolve the high-strength steel Tridion structure used by all of its models since the company’s inception in 1998, the Vision EQ concept features a one-and-a-half-box exterior design that is expected to influence the styling of the next generation of Smart models. The overall appearance is more rounded than existing Smart models, the dominating features being its heavily curved roofline, large wheel houses and ovoid-shaped doors.

This Smart solves the door problem of the last Smart on a car that is supposed to be space saving. The doors open scissor fashion. The two round electrically operated doors pivot backwards parallel to the sides of the car over the rear wheels, revealing a large aperture through which to climb aboard into the flat-floored cabin. No more swatting that passing cyclist off his wheels squeezing by on the inside.

To give the micro car maximum stability it continues the design of previous Fortwo models by placing 18in wheels at each corner, providing it with the largest possible footprint in a move aimed at maximising interior accommodation. At 2699mm in length, 1720mm in width and 1535mm in height, the new concept car is the same length but 50mm wider and 25mm lower than today’s third-generation Fortwo.


The current ugly as sin shape – German aesthetics at their worst

There are some new electronic goodies to enjoy. A graphic within the headlights mimics the blinking of an eye when passengers approach, while the grille can display messages to prospective car-sharing customers.

As with today’s Fortwo, the new concept car receives a defined bonnet with the front end structure used as a deformation zone for added safety. The rear end receives a deep, two-piece glass tailgate and high-set LED tail-lights that are designed to carry either a conventional look or provide information on traffic jams or possible delays.

Inside, the self-driving Vision EQ Fortwo features a minimalistic cabin without a steering wheel, pedals or traditional controls. Functions are controlled via smartphone or voice control. With space for two, occupants sit on a lounge style seat featuring a retractable centre armrest. If they keep the seat design it’ll be a first – seats you can actually clean under with a hoover, and even retrieve that pen of pound coin by hand!

Inside on the dash is displayed on a 24in high-definition monitor mounted beneath the windscreen. Smart envisages the doors of the new concept to also display information, such as news, local events and weather, turning it into a mobile billboard.

Well, so far, so good. But they can keep the self-drive gimmick, unless it can go to the shops, get my week’s food, or drive me home after a good night at the pub with pals.

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Hotel Salvation – a review


Every frame is beautiful to look at without scenes of poverty made seductive

Autumn is in the air and at last we’re free of summer’s turgid block-busted turkeys, now approaching all the good stuff held back by the studios for New Year’s awards. The first into your local art house is a delight, a study of old age and compassion.

The film is a wonderful débute by its writer-director, and also his father who is the producer. Mukti BhawanHotel Salvation is written and directed by Shubhashish Bhutiani and produced by Sanjay Bhutiani. The film mirrors its creators. It stars Adil Hussain as the son and Lalit Behl as the father in the lead roles, the film subtitled for English speaking audiences.

Hotel Salvation tells the story of an elderly Indian who coerces his son to accompany him on a death trip to the Indian town of Varanasi. His father plans to die in the Salvation Hotel, a cramped, paint peeling, slatted bed, mouse infested garret without facilities. You cook in your room, you light it with candles, you wash in the river at the foot of the steps.

You have fifteen days to pass on to the next life, or vacate the room for another  ‘guest’, so says the curmudgeonly Mishraji (Anil K. Rastogi) owner of this down-at-heel hotel who claims to know when all his residents will die — but won’t tell them.

I’d like to think you don’t have to be middle-aged, suffered a serious life threatening illness, or in your dotage to appreciate the nuances of this magnificent study of life’s ebb meeting death, but it will help.

This film is what the business call a potential cross-over project. It has all the elements to pluck the heart strings, and by word of mouth, maybe move from limited release in art house cinemas into multiplexes. Mrs Brown (1999) starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly was one such small scale project, the kind Miramax used to grab when shown at film festivals. This one deserves the same path.


Hotel Salvation, about as salubrious as sleeping in an empty skip (dumpster)

Readers brought up on the Hollywood two-second take, a technique originating in the eighties to give false impression of energy and pace, or Peter Jackson’s swirling, restless camera work, will wonder if they can sit through a wide-screen feature that holds the frame for the length of each conversation.

Discourse is not cut up into sections, chatter beginning in the street, and then in the office atrium, continued in the lift, to be carried on along and around corridors. Characters move into and out of a static composition. There are panning shots later, but Bhutiani has in the main chosen the perfect style to tell us the story.

Large chunks of the film are spoken in hushed tones. I found them to be most affecting. Intensely attractive, they pull us into the lives of the characters, at times immensely moving. The ambling pace allows us to observe and to understand and to empathise.

The feature is billed as a comedy, and indeed some of the dialogue is very amusing, the little things in daily life that bug all of us, that trip us up. An Indian audience will laugh uproariously when they recognise themselves in similar situations, but the comedy isn’t broad enough for a western audience to cause us to laugh out loud. There is, however, an hilarious scene that  achieves laughter. Mid-narrative between the father, and his wife and daughter they try unsuccessfully to conduct a difficult discussion using an unstable connection in an Internet café. Each response over the computer screen is perfectly timed, aided by an expert piece of film editing. Outside that moment everything is understated, and all the better for it.

The comedy is there to avoid falling into the trap of artificial tragedy, over-wrought  emotions, and hair tearing despair – better known as soap. Along with the son, the film invites us to embrace death as natural occurrence rather than a cause for torment.

An Indian comedy full of emotional depth and paradox, Hotel Salvation describes the tragicomic ordeal of an over-worked modern son who is forced to set his job aside and accompany his elderly father to the holy city of Varanasi to, presumably, die. “How do you know you’re dying?” asks the son of his ailing father. “Because I don’t have the energy to live anymore” answers the father in a matter-of-fact way.

All adults have days when they wake to a derelict morning, when life seems futile. We cannot face the day’s tasks nor want to. For the very elderly each day is a physical effort. Like an old, worn out wild animal that knows its time has come, we look for a suitable place to lie down and die, that is, if spared a sudden death, or an agonising death, unable to choose the manner of our own departure.

The look, pace and humanity of this work reminded me of the great Bengal writer-director Satyajit Ray, though never quite attaining that giant’s ability to make a modest story achieve Shakespearean proportions. But it runs a close second. I think it misses greatness by not lingering long enough of any one character, but instead moving between the whole family. Perhaps it’s the lack of close ups, or a dearth of natural sounds, such as wind through shutters, or a child crying. There is an absence of children, the symbol of life renewed.

Like Ray’s subjects, the story is simple and unadorned. Justifiably, this well-made first feature won Bhutiani the Unesco award for peace and human rights in Venice this year.


Father and son contemplate the inevitability of death, a river that merges into the ocean

Adil Hussain gives us a good interpretation of harried middle-aged accountant, Rajiv, a man obsessed with counting investment money for his clients – a possible pointer to India becoming an economic power house. He barely has time for his family, which includes his wife and teenage daughter, the spry, idealistic and rebellious Daya, a captivating performance from Lalit Behl.

His father is a dignified old fellow of seventy-seven years of age who has a prophetic dream about his death, and decides it’s time to await the end in the holy Hindu city on the Ganges. In this regard, the film illustrates the traditional Hindi philosophy of death and freedom from entrapment and attachment. When you die you take nothing with you. You leave behind your worldly goods for family and friends to use.

This is not the glitzy world of British star casting we saw in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, nor its it an all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood musical. Everything is observed from the wry viewpoint of a modern Indian, one who has lost touch with the revered traditions of the past, and indeed with reality.


Our lives are chores and duties punctuated by ritual and tragedy

The humour is feather pillow-soft, never falling into pathos or morbidity. No funeral pyres are lit, no smoke rises to the heavens, no people fall to their knees and weep. This is a film where even a sleepy dog scratching a flea behind its ear does so in a dignified way. Bhutiani rejects cliché. He takes us by the hand through a difficult, stressful moment in all our lives, how we handle the death of a loved one. The film has an immense dignity – try claiming that of current clap–trap from Hollywood this year.

Like the film itself, Tajdar Junaid’s music is minimalist, appearing only when needed, and sparingly placed. There is surprise in the choice of Western guitar and orchestral accompaniment when the sound of Indian sitar would have been the obvious choice. Cinematography by Michael McSweeney and David Huwiler brings out the warmth of the sun and the elegiac sunsets.

Who would have thought a scenario of life on the edge of death, made on a modest budget, could achieve depth, affection, and tenderness, that offers spiritual satisfaction.

  • Star Rating: Four stars
  • Cast: Adil Hussain, Lalit Bel, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Palomi Ghosh Navnindra Behl
  • Director: Shubhashish Bhutiani
  • Screenwriters: Shubhashish Bhutiani, Asad Hussain
  • Cinematography: Michael McSweeney, David Huwiler
  • Music: Tajdar Junaid
  • Duration: 102 minutes
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