Thursday, January 21, 2010

'The Snarl' misfires again at FMQs

A truly Alice in Wonderland set of questions from Iain 'the Snarl' Gray at Holyrood today. Like PMQs, FMQs is a forum that can be used to vastly increase the publicity for a particular cause or topic that might otherwise be destined to languish, unloved, in the shadows - but only if one of the opposition leaders chooses to favour it. Iain Gray today chose to use this formidable power to shine a bright light - nay, a sheet of technicoloured laserbeams - on two footpaths on the Balmoral Estate that the public are legally entitled to access. You might think that the only conceivable purpose to be served by bringing these paths to wider public attention would be to encourage their use, to evangelise for greater public access of some fabulous country paths. Er, not quite. Gray was in fact criticising Roseanna Cunningham for not keeping the paths secret enough, thereby endangering royal security. At one point he even earnestly chided Alex Salmond - "I advise the First Minister to take royal security seriously". Oh-kaaay, Iain. I'll try very hard to keep a straight face the next time you talk about the need for more 'joined-up thinking' in government, I promise...

So a truly vintage performance from 'the Snarl', which clearly did the trick on me because I must admit I hadn't previously been aware of this issue, or of the footpaths. A quick internet search suggested that it was the Daily Record that had uncovered the dastardly Nat plan to "promote" the footpaths, and had then fearlessly broken the news to its hundreds of thousands of readers. You really couldn't make this up - although perhaps we should just be grateful the Record didn't also provide a helpful map pointing out the precise location of the paths, just to illustrate how dangerous it would have been if the "red-faced Nats" hadn't been foiled.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

He'll be the toast of Netherdale tonight, I tell you

So sad to hear about the passing of Bill McLaren, one of the handful of greats who turned TV/radio sports commentary into a kind of art form. As with his peers, it was very often not so much what he said but the way he said it - the rhythms of his voice were magically in harmony with the rhythms of the game. As an example, his commentary on Wales' last-gap winning try against England in 1999 (which handed Scotland the last ever Five Nations Championship) was little more than a staccato repetition of Scott Gibbs' name - "A-burst-by-Scott-Gibbs, Scott-Gibbs-is-through, Scott-Gibbs-has-scored" - and yet somehow was the perfect piece of commentary.

In a sense, McLaren's legacy lives on, with two of the people he partnered in the commentary box, Eddie Butler and Jonathan Davies, now having developed into fine commentators in their own right. Even if Jonathan Davies does have the annoying habit of excitedly shouting out "numbers", only for absolutely nothing to happen...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The inimitable Mr. Cameron

About a billion, zillion years ago - to be more specific it was probably about 1993 - I recall seeing the impressionist Rory Bremner being interviewed on the much-missed (ahem) weekday morning show Good Morning With Anne and Nick. He was lamenting the gradual erosion of his potential 'material', with the vivid political characters we'd been used to, such as bushy-eyebrowed Denis Healey, spluttering Roy Hattersley, and hush puppy wearing Ken Clarke, gradually being supplanted by a new generation of bland, made-for-TV politicians such as - and the examples he offered seem bizarre in retrospect - John Patten and Tony Blair. Those two could hardly have had more contrasting futures ahead of them - I doubt if more than about 2% of the population even remember who John Patten is (excluding those who think he's the former governor of Hong Kong), not withstanding the fact that the late Peter Cook found him so objectionable at the time that he wanted to consign the Tory Cabinet minister to Room 101. But of course Bremner could not have been more wrong about Blair, who was to become a staple of his show for the next decade and a half. Just a year later in 1994, Bremner had not only perfected the voice, but was also expertly capturing the basic rhythms of primordial New Labour-speak - "Tea for two. Of course, of course, tea for two. But, also...two for tea."

Fast forward to the present, though, and David Cameron is proving a very different kettle of fish, in spite of (or perhaps because of) his status as a Blair tribute act. More than four years after he became Tory leader, Bremner's impression of him still sounds more like Peter Mandelson (and strangely even has echoes of Keith Floyd) than Cammo himself. The satire doesn't have a lot of bite either. Jon Culshaw's Cameron is a little better, but still doesn't quite hit the mark, and the whole 'Where Does David Cameron Go At Night?' concept seems more than a touch random. A similar problem exists with a new website called David Cameron Facts, which consists of user-generated spoof 'facts' about the Tory leader. A great idea, but to my dismay none of them really made me laugh. People are shying away from the obvious target - poshness - and the problem is when you take that out of the equation all you're left with is a bland, essentially fictional character created for the media, which doesn't offer much to get your teeth into. Even after twenty minutes of thinking, the best I could come up with as a submission of my own was this -

"David is actually a very ordinary guy, but as part of a secret mission was required to attend Eton, acquire royal ancestry, join the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, and marry a millionairess – because in this country you’re not allowed to become Prime Minister until you’ve learned about how the other half live."

Unfortunately that's about five times as long as most of the other 'facts', so probably won't make it in. So if you think you can do better (shouldn't be difficult and heaven knows somebody needs to) you can submit your own Dave fact here.