Tag Archives: Aberdeen

What people forget nowadays is that London was black and had a nasty smell

St Pancras – once a featureless black shape of nothingness

In Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust described how memories of his entire childhood came flooding back to him after he drank a spoonful of tea in which he had soaked a piece of madeleine cake. It was the smell and the taste which brought it all back.

“Suddenly the memory revealed itself,” he wrote. “The taste was of a little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings my Aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea. Immediately the old grey house on the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set and the entire town, with its people and houses, gardens, church, and surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being from my cup of tea.”

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that my eternally-un-named friend had been cleaning the top of a very old bedside table. She used turpentine and methylated spirits. I had not smelled them for years when my mother used to clean things. It brought back the smell of Brasso cleaner throughout my early childhood. My mother liked to collect lots of brass ornaments which needed constant cleaning.

No, my entire childhood did not come flooding back to me. I have a notoriously shit memory.

And no, of course I have not actually read Proust’s À La Recherche du Temps Perdu. I am not that mad. It goes on forever and it is nearly 1.5 million words long.

I looked it up on Wikipedia.

Things get better, easier and faster.

But the smell of turps and meths did remind me that period feature films almost always get the details wrong.

I saw a film last night which was partly set in London at the start of the 1960s.

Like almost all period films, it got details wrong. For one thing, as always, the men’s hair was too long. Until after the Beatles became successful, British men wore military-type short haircuts.

And – again as per normal – they got the buildings wrong.

When I came down to London for the first time, I came from Aberdeen, which is known as “the granite city” because it was built of grey stone and, in my childhood, occasionally sparkled in the sunlight.

Buildings in central London back then were black and featureless, covered in a layer of black soot. When I walked along Whitehall for the first time, it was a canyon of black.

In the early 1960s, they were talking about knocking down St Pancras station because – well, they were talking about knocking down anything old then and it was just this black, rather soot-smelly old building.

You could not see the gloriously OTT Gothic detailing or the fact it was one of the maddest buildings in the world. You did not see the brickwork and the twiddly bits. You just saw dull black sooty shapes.

Edinburgh’s old town, viewed from Princes Street, was just a hill of smoking black shapes, like the clustered remnants of a big fire.

I remember, as a small kid, being in a cafe at Edinburgh’s Waverley railway station. They still  had steam trains back then. Like all railway cafes back then – like all cafes – it was filled with smoke. It was a dreich day. Almost everyone in the cafe was smoking cigarettes in the enclosed space. Outside, in the main station concourse, almost everyone was smoking and that pollution mixed with some of the steam and smoke from the trains. The stone walls were – of course – black. If you touched them, your fingertips became black because there really was a layer of soot on the walls.

Outside, throughout the city, chimneys were smoking on the roof of every house and any factories around the town were belching out smoke. It was only later that a technology was developed to blast the soot off buildings.

Life gets better. Mostly. Slowly. And with setbacks.

Though most of it still stinks like an early 1950s St Pancras station.

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Comedian Charlie Chuck gets a sexual disease and is attacked in Germany

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Last night, Charlie Chuck performed at Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Herne Hill. Afterwards, he and his lady friend stayed at my friend’s flat in Greenwich.

This morning, I was chatting to him over tea and toast.

I was partly brought up in Aberdeen; my friend was brought up in various places including Lossiemouth in Scotland and in Germany.

A lot happened to Charlie Chuck when he was 19. He has memories of being in Aberdeen, Lossiemouth and Germany that year. This is what he told me over tea and toast:

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I was performing at the Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen when I discovered I had the crabs.

I felt a tightness against my groin and I didn’t know what it was. I were on the beach and I had me trunks on.

I looked down and there were these little brown things and I counted 43. I didn’t know what they were. I thought Blimey! and I scraped one off, which drew blood. I put the thing on me fingernail and it started moving and then I realised it were a crab.

I scraped all 43 of them off me and cracked them all on me fingernail like you did with nits – well, I did – but also, at the same time, my dick were starting to grow… it were getting redder and redder and were swelling up and I remembered sleeping on a settee with a girl from Birmingham in a derelict house about a fortnight previous.

I was playing in a band at the time. When I went to the doctor’s, the first thing he said to me was: “Are you seeing anybody else?”

I had met somebody else called Violet from Elgin so he told me: “Stay well away from Violet from Elgin.”

He gave me an injection and some stuff to put on, but I had to shave everything down there. All me pubes. He gave me tablets and he said, “When you get back down to Leeds Infirmary, get straight to the VD Clinic.”

Well I shaved myself and got rid of everything – my pubic hair and underpants and the crabs, which I’d kept – and I put them all in a briefcase and, when I was driving along a country road near Lossiemouth, I threw the briefcase out of the window.

Two weeks later, me dad in Leeds got a letter from the Lossiemouth police to say they had found something belonging to me because, when I threw my briefcase away, I’d left my National Insurance stamping card in it.

The police asked me dad: “What do you want us to do with what we’ve found?”

I remember my dad asking me on the phone: “What do they mean? You’d better go claim your stuff, hadn’t you?”

I said, “No, it were just rubbish.”

He kept insisting: “Send for it. There might be something else in there.”

I said, “No, there’s nowt else in there.”

I eventually got my National Insurance card back.

A lot happened to me that year.

I got attacked in Germany.

I were with an Irish girl called Kate from Cloughmills, County Antrim. She used to like a drink and, this particular night, I were carrying her back from the pub because she used to like a pint of whisky and orange – it were a quarter full of whisky topped up with orange – and, every month or so she used to go off her head.

So I were carrying her like a fireman’s lift across me shoulder and these two black American GIs came towards me and one of them just swung at me – they were sending the GIs to Vietnam through Germany at that time. He swung at me and he hit me on my left shoulder. He just missed Kate. It hurt and I didn’t know what it were but blood were coming from my shoulder.

He’d stabbed me.

There were some Military Police on main gates about half a mile up the road and I told ‘em I’d been stabbed. It turned out the two GIs had already stabbed a sergeant and they got about four years for assaulting an Englishman on German soil, so they were put in a German jail, not an American jail. But at least they didn’t have to go to Vietnam.

About a year before that, I’d also got attacked. I’d just done an audition for someone and I were in Bramley, in Leeds, and I were stood at this bus stop in a really colourful outfit with a boater on me head and a man come round in a car – I were only 19; he were about 35 – and he pulled up and said: “Do you want a lift?”

I’d been stood there for about half an hour, so I got in and he shot off really quick and straight away round the corner came his friend in another car. They started taking me to Bramley Canal and I were getting dead worried. I had a suitcase and in that I had my ice blue jeans and my hobnail boots and a lock-knife because I were a dustbin man at the time and I’d just gone from work to do this audition. But I was wearing all this Flower Power stuff for the audition – furry slippers and all that kind of stuff – so I looked a bit feminine.

As we started to get near the Canal, it were dark – it were 11 o’clock at night – and, as the driver slowed down to go into the fields, I jumped out. We were doing about 25mph, but I knew these guys meant business.

I ran like mad and got to a graveyard wall. I threw my suitcase over and clambered up this wall – I were fit at that time – I were really fit – and I ran into this massive big cemetery and I got behind a gravestone.

The two guys – big blokes – came looking for me and my heart were pounding like chuff. I were scared stiff. But they didn’t see me, so they went away.

I then got changed into me ice blue jeans, me steel toe-capped hobnail boots and got my knife.

I stayed in the graveyard for an hour.

There were derelict houses all around and, when I got back on the road, I started to make my way back to my sister’s place – she was renting a dentist’s surgery at the time – but I heard the two cars coming again. They were looking for me; they were after me. So I lay down on an island in the middle of this little road among a load of daffodils.

I could hear the cars coming and they stopped. I heard one of the men say to the other: “He’s around here somewhere,” but they left it at that and got in their cars again.

When they both disappeared round a corner, I ran like mad but I heard the cars coming again so I got in a doorway in an alleyway and they went round the corner again and I decided to go for it again and I were running like mad.

But it turned out what they’d done was they’d gone round the corner and doubled back so they were coming towards me. I could hear my boots running on the road and I had me knife in me hand and the first guy pulled up in his car ahead of me and got out and I threw my suitcase at him with full force. It knocked him sideways and the other guy pulled up and were ready for me, but I were going at such speed and I’d got this knife and I shouted out, “I’ll stab you, ya bastard!” and he moved to one side.

But they still both gave chase.

I got to me sister’s door and, just as I did, there were a car that came and I started booting on the front door really loud with me hobnail boots and they ran off. They took my suitcase and off they went.

My sister let me in and the police were called, but I didn’t drive then, so I couldn’t tell them what type of cars the men had used.

They found my suitcase in the canal about a week later.

I was always streetwise anyway but, ever since then, I’ve always looked behind my back. I started doing karate to protect myself. Whenever I played any pubs or clubs after that, I was always aware. Still am.

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Germany, Scotland, Sex

The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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Filed under History, Politics, Wales

Why liars and the tsunami of history may yet lead to bloody civil war in Europe and Scottish independence

In 1985 I was on holiday in Uzbekistan.

Opposite our hotel, a new block was being built and its skeleton was showing massive cracks in the concrete. I asked an architect why this was.

“They are using the wrong type of concrete,” he told me. “The decision on which type of concrete to use in the building was made centrally in Moscow. They have a very cold climate in Moscow. This is Uzbekistan. We are in the middle of a scorching hot desert. They are using the wrong type of concrete because those are the decisions made by the bureaucrats in Moscow.”

The Soviet Union was partly an organisational disaster because it made centralised decisions for a nation which stretched from Uzbekistan and the Balkans in the west to Siberia and Mongolia in the east.

In 1991, Yugoslavia disintegrated, largely because, like the Soviet Union, it was a fake country with such disparate constituent parts that it never made a sensible whole. It just never held together as a single country because it was not a single country.

The UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and I remember the 1975 referendum in which English politicians Edward Heath, Harold Wilson and other pro-Europeans lied through their teeth and claimed we had joined an economic union which no-one had any intention of making a political union. The referendum was said to be about joining an economic Common Market.

The European Economic Community then became the European Union in 1993 and Eastern European countries joined after the fall of the Soviet Union. Turkey is likely to join, if it can get over its habit of routinely torturing people (or even if it doesn’t). There is even talk of Uzbekistan joining – a ‘partnership and co-operation agreement’ came into force in 1999.

So we have the ludicrous spectre of a new Soviet-style Union with a centralised bureaucracy increasingly making decisions on the same basis for towns and cities from icy cold Aberdeen (I was partly brought up there in a council estate on a hill, so don’t talk to me about cold) to the baking hot deserts of western Asia (I’ve been there).

And, give me a break, Scottish culture bears no relation to Balkan, Turkish or Uzbek culture, let alone Italian culture.

In Scotland yesterday, at the time of writing, the governing SNP (Scottish National Party) appears to have won a decisive victory in elections for the Scottish Parliament, possibly helped by the fact the opposition Labour Party seems to have mostly attacked not the SNP, but the Conservative Party which is virtually non-existent in Scotland. It would be as if Britain, at the start of World War Two, had decided to concentrate on waging war against Italy instead of Germany.

Presumably this own-goal disaster of a strategy was masterminded from London – another example of why centralised control is a bad idea.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has said he will introduce a referendum on Scottish independence in the next Scottish Parliament.

I used to think Scottish independence was a ridiculous idea because Scotland is not economically large enough to be independent but I have changed my mind because of the European Union.

Clearly I do not think we should be in the European Union but there seems to be no practical way to get out of it.

If Scotland were to separate from the United Kingdom and become an independent country, then financially it would gain massively from being a small country within the European Union – I worked in Ireland in the 1990s and saw the massive financial benefits that country had reaped and was still reaping from Europe.

If Scotland became independent I do not know what would happen in Wales but there is some likelihood that it would move towards independence from England (for – whisper it quietly – it is in the United Kingdom not as a separate country but as a principality of England).

Instead of one country (the UK) being part of the EU, there would be three countries with three votes but the same outlook on almost all issues – an outlook shared by the island of Ireland (which is going to unify eventually, however it happens).

Quite what happens to Britain’s ‘voice within Europe’ and to the British Armed Forces at this point, I can’t even begin to get my head round. But we may yet live in interesting times as I cannot see a vastly enlarged European Union lasting very long without a Soviet style acrimonious break-up or a Yugoslavian type civil war.

Edward Heath, the lying cunt who took us into Europe may yet be the British leader who created a very bloody civil war within Europe.

We can’t escape the tsunami of history.

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Filed under History, Politics, Scotland, Travel

Exclusive extract – “Killer Bitch – The Novel”

NB THIS BLOG POSTING CONTAINS POTENTIALLY OFFENSIVE SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL.

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When the movie Killer Bitch was released last year, it was also going to be published simultaneously as a novel but, when the main supermarket chains and main bookshop chains refused to stock it, the publisher pulled publication of the unfinished book a week before the manuscript was due for delivery. The supermarkets and bookshop chains had not read any extracts from the book and apparently rejected it on the basis of the movie’s pre-release notoriety. This is how the book started… My thanks to James Joyce…

Text is copyright 2010 John Fleming

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CHAPTER ONE: THE NAKED GIRL WAS BOUNCING ON TOP OF THE NAKED MAN 

The naked girl was bouncing on top of the naked man, riding his cock to orgasm. The man was a porn star. Hustler magazine had written that he was one of the 50 Most Influential People in Porn. The man was groaning; the girl was screaming; the film camera was quietly whirring; they were on a bed in a room in a warehouse in an industrial estate in Woking, near the M25 motorway that runs round London. The warehouse was used as a hardcore porn studio. There were about 20 sets standing in the empty warehouse: a supermarket, a dungeon, a garage with a yellow Reliant car from BBC TV’s Only Fools and Horses, a Colonial office with a Union flag and a portrait of the Queen on the wall. But this was just a bedroom. There were two bedrooms with two beds in them. This was the red room with the pink bed.

As the man felt the sperm pulse and vibrate up his cock and the video camera watched by the left side of the bed, the naked girl riding him slipped her hand under the pink silk sheet and pulled out a curved jambiya dagger with a polished rhinoceros horn handle and a double-sided blade. The pitch of her screams changed. Higher, sharper, like the curved blade of the knife. High. Sharp. Then down in a curved stabbing movement. The man was confused as he saw a single silver flash of the curved blade before it plunged into his chest and tore into his flesh. His orgasmic groans turned into a single long high-pitched scream.

He felt the white semen pumping out of his cock. He saw the red blood spurt out of his chest, splashing up onto the bouncing perfectly-lit breasts of the naked, now banshee screaming, girl. He felt the sharp pain in his cock and the sharper pain in his chest and then the curved knife was rising again, its blade covered in his own dripping red blood.

“You fuc… aaaarrrgggghhhh!” he screamed as the blade went into him again, closer to his throat.

She stabbed him eleven times; he died on the fourth stab.

She could smell the stench of his insides when she slashed his chest open.

He was Number 3 on her list.

When she had finished, she collapsed on his bloodied, gashed body, gasping for breath.

“You done well,” the cameraman told her.

* * *

Outside the bedroom window, rain was falling. It was falling on all of the British Isles. It was falling on all of England, on Scotland, on Wales, on the island of Ireland, on all the thousand or more islands huddled together in the water off the North West coast of Europe. Water fell out of the sky like a drunk God pissing on his own botched Creation. In Cumbria, in North West England, the rivers overflowed and a policeman was killed when the bridge he was standing on collapsed into the swollen river below. He had four children. So it goes.

Outside the Highland city of Aberdeen, in North East Scotland, on a windy, rainswept Friday night, a junkie called Bill Burrows was sitting in a closed slaughterhouse, waiting to meet his dealer, when two men he had never seen before burst in and one of them shot him without a word. The slaughterhouse already smelled of battery acid and iron because of all the spilled blood from the slaughtered animals and the smell did not change when he died. About two pints of blood came out of him, as it does when you shoot someone. A spit in the ocean in a slaughterhouse.

The two men dragged his half-dead body into a large freezer at the back of the slaughterhouse and left it there until his corpse became a solid block of dead meat. If you want to cut a body up, the thing to do is to freeze it solid; that way, there isn’t so much of a mess when you cut it up – no blood spraying and squirting. It’s much cleaner.

On Sunday night  the two men came back and took his body out of the freezer when The X Factor talent show was on TV; they lay it on the floor and hit the solid, frozen joints with a sledgehammer to break it up at the shoulders, the elbows, the knees, the ankles; then they chopped the body up with an axe. They took the body parts to a huge pressure cooker in the slaughterhouse which could take 50 or 60 lbs of meat at a time and they cooked the dismembered body at very high temperature at very high pressure – 25 pounds per square inch. After an hour, the flesh, the bones and everything except the teeth had turned to gel. On Monday morning, they took the gel to a farm 30 minutes away and fed it to the pigs; there were 200 pigs; they ate everything by the end of the day; Bill Burrows’ teeth were thrown into a nearby river.

Five days later, the police realised he was missing and the last place he’d been seen was near the slaughterhouse. They found a book lying on his bedside table at home: Slaughterhouse Five. The press went wild with the story for two weeks afterwards – they wrote about the Slaughterhouse Five killings. The story staggered on for two weeks but interest in a tabloid tale with no leads and no puns waned and was blown off the front pages by police inaction, political corruption and glamour model Katie Price’s decision to go on the reality TV series I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Bill Burrows had been Number 4 on the unknown killer’s list. Cut up randomly.; soon forgotten.

* * *

On  the outskirts of Penzance in Cornwall, an elderly man stumbled erratically along a muddy path in the rain, trying to run for his life. His killer strode relentlessly behind him. The elderly man stumbled into the out-building of a farm. A bemused horse in a field watched human life pass by in the rain. The elderly man tripped and fell, sodden and defeated, in a corner then slowly got up again. His killer strode in and stood opposite him. They looked in each other’s eyes. The elderly man looked at his killer in disbelief. The killer looked at the elderly man with resignation. Neither spoke. The killer pulled the trigger six times. The elderly man was jerked backwards against the wall by the force of the bullets, then slumped down dead. His eyes flickered once; he heard his own last sigh. He was Number 2 on his killer’s list.

* * *

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Filed under Books, Crime, Movies, Sex

Bad language in Scotland?

Last night I went to a very interesting talk at the British Library by author and publisher James Robertson about The Guid Scots Tongue.

It was a bit like Scots comic Stanley Baxter’s legendary series of Parliamo Glasgow sketches in his 1960s and 1970s TV shows. But with genuine academic credibility.

James Robertson seemed to confirm that Old English developed into Middle English south of the border and into the “Scottish” language north of the border and that, ever since then, people have bemoaned the ‘fact’ that Scots is dying.

I remember Melvyn Bragg saying in his ITV series The Adventure of English that, before Henry VIII, English was a dying language only used by the underclasses. The upper ruling elite spoke Latin and Norman French. But, when Henry decided to split from the Roman Catholic Church so he could knob the wife of his choice, he created the Church of England and commissioned ’The Great Bible’ – the first authorised translation of the Bible into English not Latin. This was distributed to every church in the country and rescued English from its decline and possible extinction.

Last night, James Robertson pointed out that, when King James VI of Scotland took over the English throne in 1603, became King James I of England and brought the Scottish court to London, one of the things he did was to commission the 1611 translation of the Bible into English – the Authorised King James Version of the Bible – which was distributed to every church in England, Scotland and Wales. Ironically, it was never translated into Scottish and this strengthened the hold of the English language in Scotland.

My mother’s grandmother could not speak English until she came down out of the hills. She was born and brought up in the Highlands of Scotland and spoke Gaelic – pronounced Gaah-lick not Gay-lick. She only learned English when she came to the village of Dunning in Perthshire. Or, some might say, she only learned “Scottish” when she moved to Dunning.

Historically in Scotland, after a certain point, Gaelic was the language of the Highlands and so-called “Scottish” was the language of the Lowlands.

I have never believed there was such a language as “Scottish”. To me, it’s clearly a dialect of English (as opposed to Gaelic which IS a different language). Wikipedian debate will no doubt run for decades about it.

If you disagree, haud yer wheesht, dinnae fash yersell aboot it and try no to be too scunnered.

Most languages, dialects and accents are a dog’s dinner of sources. Fash apparently comes from the Old French fascher and ultimately the Latin fastidium. Scunnered apparently has its origins in Middle English. Nothing is pure, not even Baby Spice. Only the French try (unsuccessfully) to keep their language pure.

I was born in Campbeltown near the Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland. My home town pipe band played on possibly the dreariest song any Beatle ever wrote. When I was three, we moved to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. My parents had friends along the coast in Banffshire where the locals speak to each other in an almost totally incomprehensible dialect which theoretical academics now apparently call Buchan. I call it bloody incomprehensible.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, I think I saw a comedy show entitled 100 Shit Things About Scotland though I can’t seem to find any reference to it. Maybe I just imagined the whole thing. But one of the 100 shit things about Scotland I thought I heard was the fact “There are some accents even WE don’t understand”.

Bloody right. Buchan fer yin.

When I was eight, we moved to Ilford in England – it is theoretically in Essex but actually on the outer edge of East London. Over the years, I’ve lost my accent; I never chose to.

So what I’m trying to tell you is I’m interested in language. Perhaps you guessed that.

On the version of the recent Census form distributed in Scotland there is, for the first time, a question about whether you can read/speak/understand not just Gaelic but also the so-called “Scots” language – though how many supposed Scots language variations there might be I cannot even begin to imagine. The words people use in Dundee, Glasgow and Thurso are very different.

There are some great common words. Dreich is almost un-translatable into English in less than an entire paragraph. Crabbit is just a great and appropriate sound. As is Peelie-wallie and many others. But there are amazingly diverse words all over the UK – Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have wild variations in words, let alone Tyneside, North Norfolk, the Black Country and Devon. They are not separate languages, though.

English is a wonderful language because it has so many variants and has hoovered up so much from other languages – cascade, table and situation are all unchanged in spelling from the original French but pronounced differently. The arrival of radio, movies and then television may have homogenised the English language and be slowly eliminating a lot of dialect and accent variations but, with English now the de facto world language, there are going to be hundreds of variant languages growing up in coming years to rival past pidgin English.

Indeed, this seems to have already happened with BT call centres in India. I don’t know what they are speaking, but it’s no form of English I recognise.

Perhaps I am just mare than a wee bit glakit.

Several times in bookshops, I have picked up Irving Welsh’s novel Trainspotting and looked at the first page then put it back on the shelf. It looks too difficult to read, though lots of English people have, so it must just be wee me. I remember at school in Ilford, for some extraordinary reason, we had to read Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Antiquary and I found it incomprehensible in places; heaven knows what my English classmates made of it. They never said. Must be just me.

When I edited Scots comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Darkwhich reads a bit like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and the movie Gladiator – the two of us had to decide how to write quoted dialogue which could be printed on the page, as she was brought up in East Glasgow where dialect, slang and strong accents prevail. Should we write it with all the dialect words intact or spell words phonetically? Both of those would mean it might be difficult for readers in London, let alone New York or Sydney, to understand.

Eventually, we decided to slightly Anglicise the dialogue but to include Scots words which would be easily understandable to non Scots… and to print some words phonetically so there would be a feeling of accent – for example, we printed the “police” as the “polis” throughout, because that is how it is pronounced in Glasgow and it is a distinct yet not too confusing word. It felt like you were reading genuine Scots dialogue, even though it was slightly Anglicised. I was wary of using the Glasgow word close, which means an indoor stairwell, because, in Edinburgh, it means an outdoor alleyway.

It’s a sare fecht.

Look, I could go on for hours about this. Think yourself lucky it stops here.

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