Saturday, October 26, 2013

From today's Herald.

Just recently, I took a round-trip train ride from the east Borders to London and back. For reasons involving my own inability to plan anything, it was not even half as simple as it sounds. It was interesting, though.
            Anyone who means to go from Berwick and finds himself watching sheep being herded across the track at Barrhill on a fine morning in South Ayrshire probably deserves no sympathy. But for preposterously complicated reasons I had to get from the Borders to London’s National Portrait Gallery, then to Wigtown’s book festival, then to Glasgow, then home. As far as railways go, it was an education.
            Leave aside the fact that much of Britain is badly served. Old halts that once supported communities are long gone. In the Borders, we know this as well as anyone. In our context, all the fine talk of HS2, far less the gigantic sums involved, can sound faintly amusing. The idea that trains are supposed to connect people is as risible here as it is in Galloway.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

No overmatter this time. It wasn't worth preserving. This should be in the Herald on October 9. The perfectly correct spelling of dumfounded is preserved in defiance of editorial executives who couldn't find a dictionary if it landed on their heads. Also, because the front has shifted a little, there is Twitteration: @IanBell1916.

A friend who happens to be one of Alistair Carmichael’s constituents is slightly dumfounded to hear the new Secretary of State for Scotland described as a tough bruiser. By what process has the genial, well-liked and diligent MP for the Northern Isles been transformed?
            Michael Moore would probably have an opinion, but Berwickshire’s man isn’t saying much, for now. If you believe the instant spin, he was deemed to have come off worst in a debate with Nicola Sturgeon – for who has not? – and was sacked for a lack of “toughness”. The word is supposed to set the tone for the months ahead.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Ian Bell: The Complete Tweets.

Neil asked, so this is what there is (or was). The truncated ones were meant as jokes (until, amusingly, that ceased). According to their timing, I Iasted from 4.44pm, when the clock struck 13, on September 28 until 1.38pm on September 30. I got time off in between for subversive behaviour.
            Banned twice? I haven’t been banned twice since the Scotsman was a power in the land and all referees had Tynecastle season tickets.
            For a couple, it helps if you like Curtis Mayfield. If you don’t, I might not be the person you’re looking for.
            As a serious point, since Twitter claims not to monitor and I make a point of staying legal, what happened and why? Open to quibbles, as ever, from maquisards.

Monday, September 30, 2013

I'm no fan of Twitter. Didn't wish to indulge. But I was (half) persuaded. "Suspended" two nights in a row is making me wonder, though. Form your own opinion @IanBell1916. It begins to feel a little personal. Was it something I said?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

So I am persuaded, much against my better judgement, that Twitter might be useful in the months ahead. So I overcome my reticence. So I manage eight "tweets". Paranoia comes easily enough most days, but "account suspended" after just eight tweets? Small contest - no prizes - why would that be? If anyone's interested the thing is @IanBell1916. I

Friday, September 27, 2013

This continues where the previous post left off, more or less. A slightly shortened version should appear in The Herald on September 28.

Unionists have worked hard to give identity politics a bad name. They have not done too badly, either. Perhaps because they know where the arguments can lead, some in the Yes campaign have been content just to drop the issue. Even Nicola Sturgeon, deputy First Minister, is on record as conceding that “this debate isn’t about identity”.
            Can that be true? If nothing else, it leaves all the politicians and journalists who talk proudly of being “Scottish and British” in an odd position. That claim too is a statement, perplexing as it may be, of identity. It is a recognition of Scottishness by people who would otherwise damn “narrow nationalism” as inherently racist, wedded to grievance and stuck in the past. Add a bit of British, though, and all is well.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

‘For me, this debate isn’t about identity,’ she says. ‘I don’t feel we need to be independent for me to feel confident in my Scottish identity. I think Scotland is pretty comfortable in its identity. We won’t need independence to preserve it… If we don’t become independent it won’t disappear, it isn’t under existential threat.’
Nicola Sturgeon, deputy First Minister.
Guardian interview. August 24, 2013.

At other times, ‘identity’ has a much more specific meaning, referring to the ways in which people subjectively understand their place in the world, who they see as being ‘one of them’, who they see as different, and who they see as being against them. According to this approach, ‘Scottish identity’ is not an objective description of what Scotland is, but rather a psychological sense of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we value’...
Steve Reicher, David McCrone and Nick Hopkins:
‘A strong, fair and inclusive national identity’:
A viewpoint on the Scottish Government’s Outcome 13.
(Equality and Human Rights Commission research report 62, Autumn 2010).

The Yes campaign has grown wary of the word identity, no doubt because Unionists like to treat ‘identity politics’ as a term of abuse. If it can be yoked to ‘grievance’, so much the better. Then the claim of independence becomes the preserve of the parochial, the obsession of the self-interested. The politics of identity is reduced to the small-minded creed of the selfish. It is also, says the perennial heavy hint, one step away from racism.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A book of mine will be published in the United States next month. Two cheers for me. Pegasus, the publisher in question, is a devoutly independent operation. This is no small feat in any part of the world. In New York, it’s tough to achieve. That deserves another cheer.
            The book and its successor were issued by Mainstream, an Edinburgh publisher that in recent years has managed to be both independent and a partner of Random House, the gigantic and loveable multi-national. Random House has its towering headquarters in New York, but is owned in turn by Bertelsmann, the German media conglomerate. So where does that leave me?
            Here I am, a Scot, writing a couple of fat books about an American within what Hugh Andrew would probably call an Edinburgh-corporate-New York “nexus”. I am also a Scot who will be voting for independence the minute the doors open. According to Mr Andrew, I’ll be endorsing  something that “represents the worst of all worlds for our writers and culture”. Professionally speaking, I’ll be cutting my own throat.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Only a year remains. Just 52 weeks, 12 months, four seasons and 365.256 days for the planet to nip around the sun and back again. Still time for a couple of speeches if anyone’s in the mood. Doesn’t history fly when you’re having fun?
            In reality, the semi-educated guesswork as to Scotland’s future will probably begin next spring, when the finishing post is bigger than a speck in the distance. By then, we will have a better idea of the quantity of shots left in the referendum lockers. For now, the truly tantalising question is whether the No campaign can keep its scare-a-day production line going for a full year.
            What remains? No part of Scottish life has been left untouched by the horsemen of the Better Together apocalypse. You name it and it has been laid waste, metaphorically, by the representatives of austerity Britain. In the process, they have tested the limits of fiction several times over. So here’s a serious question: can they run the disaster movie for yet another year, or do they think they have accomplished their mission?

Friday, September 06, 2013

I meant to ask him about those opinion polls, but he decided he had better things to do. He went to sleep again.
            It’s an interesting technique. When something matters, when it becomes urgent – with a biscuit-shaped kind of urgency – his entire body responds like a single nerve. When the rain’s on, when he can’t be arsed, when nothing is demanding his attention, you can find him on the sofa.
            A bit like an electorate. The happy notion that we are all “engaged in the debate”, or worried perpetually over “the quality of the debate”, might keep a few in my trade going for a while, but it’s a myth. Most of us, most of the time, have lives in need of attention.
            Only rarely do we respond like a single nerve. That’s as it should be. If not, we wind up yelping over he-said-she-said. That’s when manipulation starts. That’s when social media are mistaken for life. That’s when the thinking stops and the shouting begins.
            Those who want our support need to find that single nerve, reflexive and electric. A steady drone is an invitation to find the nearest sofa. Pavlov was wrong about this. We don’t care on cue.
            But hold on, he’s up, just about. This lazy ingrate does stretching like it’s an Olympic event. So what about those contestable polls?
            “Any random sample of stupid people answering stupid questions designed to provoke stupidity produces a result in favour of stupid.”
            You sure?

            “You asked, thicko.”

Thursday, September 05, 2013

After a busy day, he’s managing an entire parody while fast asleep. He’s dog-tired. I’d have to poke him awake to get him to sneer at the joke.
            Should you wish to understand the world in terms of types, however, the dog is interesting. That vain mutt is an English Pointer. What’s more, he is, reportedly, a “vanishing breed”. Still more, he has only one instinctive trick: he points.
            He was born below the border, in Northumberland. He crosses that line all the time. He is very fond of those people and those places. But let him run impatiently on the sand and turf he knows as his own: something thrills him. Then you see a rollicking animal complete in his landscape.
            More metaphors, then? Why not? The dog has an unvarying sense of self and place. He has a fixed idea of home. Take him away and he’s happy enough. He has lots of fun. Bring him back, though, and he points always at his patch of the planet.
            It would be a mistake to draw anthropomorphic lessons from the household deity. It would be an equivalent mistake to believe a word from a Secretary of State for Scotland, poor rescue beast. The third mistake would be to understand yourself only in terms of place and chance.
            But I am where I am. You choose and are chosen. When the dog points into the wind, I know he is smarter than I am. When you become attached to a place, ideas follow, then emotions. These things about our lives should not be denied, or venerated. But hell, he’s awake.
            “Do you think you could leave off the licking for once? I’m in the middle of something.”

            Dog says: “What? Them? They’ve had their parts licked often enough.”

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The dog just bounced back from one of those health things they call a scare. For a couple of weeks, we thought we had lost him. If we got lucky, they said, it might be no worse than the loss of a tongue, a jaw, or whole irradiated throat.
            If not, we should “prepare for the worst”. There was worse?
            Instead, we paid for a lesson in what it means to be uninsured in a world full of price points, in which Oscar Wilde on cost-and-worth has been put beyond parody, in which there is no NHS for dogs. What remains are feral types asking why an NHS could be cost-effective, as a “burden on the taxpayer”, for anyone.
            The dog, little bastard, refused to succumb. With a head full of dope he was probably as funny, in a fuckem kind of way, as me sober. I won’t lean against your leg while attempting a straight line, but he’s better-tempered. At the end of it all, the diagnosis said there was probably a “foreign body” under his tongue.
            “Dog,” I said. “You’re a metaphor.”
            “What else is new?” he said.
            “Besides, according to that nice lady who had her fist down my throat, these things ‘have a way of finding their own way out of the body’. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have chewed on the crap in the first place.”
            “So you want to talk about metaphors now?”
            “Naw,” says the dog. “Show me the new polls instead. Then tell me how stupid you are, compared to me. What is that stuff you people swallow?

            “I might have evulsed a George Osborne on your carpet there, by the way. You might want to mop that up.”

Monday, June 03, 2013

According to the haphazard logic of Conan Doyle, the dog that doesn’t bark is supposed to tell you something. Sir Arthur’s glittering career could probably tell you a lot, were you attentive, about the kinds of creature a Scot on the make can wind up becoming in a foreign capital.
            My dog, being a lazy hound, just barks in a routine way. Sometimes he says, “I think that might be trouble. Better have a look”. Mine is not a stupid dog. He is not often wrong.
            Everyone chases the noise, the racket. Everyone follows the argument they think they understand. Everyone, furthermore, ends up chasing the heady stench of the argument placed beneath their noses. That’s not wise, necessarily.
            Two of the grand distractions are called “Scotland” and “England”. No one involved with real power gives a crap about either. If they mean to prevent a northern fragment from asserting a democratic right over the southern part, that is simply because money is at stake.
            They’ll give all the good dogs a feint and a lure, though, with tales of hatred, treaties, coinage and grannies seized by border patrols. Reason it through. It’s just offal for the hounds, chum chucked in the water, a means to prevent debate. The intention is to stop thought.
            Meanwhile, my dog is barking his head off.
            He says that the mistake is to be taken in by those “Blow for the SNP” drolleries. They are meant – and, my, how well they succeed – to drag you into a muddy dogfight. My mutt invites you to wonder what is going on in the meantime in your country.
            A game rigged before it even begins. Notice, for example, how no point offered has anything to do with the point at hand while they talk currency theory. For example: who has legal title over Scotland’s assets?

            Some nights, when the wind is up, my dog just prowls the house, looking for trouble.   

Monday, May 06, 2013

It feels like exactly the wrong moment to be starting this again. On the other hand, that poor, forlorn dug in the picture has probably been left on his golden beach for long enough. If he stares seawards for much longer, something fishy is liable to wash up.
            Let me tell you about me and him. I didn’t give the animal a name. The person who knows more about art than me saw a tiny head in a cardboard box on a cold day and decided that this was Echo. His vote arrived about five seconds later, along with an ability to put a physical lump into your life, furniture, attention, wages, bedclothes and spine.
            He’s a gregarious, haphazard, clumsy and loving animal. He’s a metaphor waiting to happen. He doesn’t know how to fight. When his hackles come up, Echo is a bit baffled about where they came from. But he doesn’t care to be pushed around, or to have his good nature abused. He’s ashamed of himself when he’s been in a fight. Echo wants to like other creatures.
            Yesterday, he took me for a walk. God knows, I needed it. Echo has a trick for knowing what you need, sometimes, and a shake of the head when you reach a spot, far above the glittering fields and the endless sea, of filling his lungs and emptying out. “Fuck it,” he says. “What else is necessary?”
            For me, I want a land fit for affectionate dogs that mean no harm. Just a patch of the planet where no one is picking stupid fights that force my dusty, forgotten hackles to rise. It’s not too much to ask, is it?
            Just to be left alone to walk my dog in a society that does no deliberate hurt to anyone, or anything, to any child or any hope. When did that become improbable? I am not some part-time Coriolanus. I don’t want the fight. But don’t keep on poking me with that stick.
            The dug and me differ in two respects. He’s never had to wonder why a fight could matter. For him, the sun and the rain and the fields will always be there tomorrow. He doesn’t imagine that his few acres could even deserve a struggle.
            My sweet Echo wasn’t raised in a scheme. He would throw down his existence for what he loves. But he doesn’t know how to answer when the world gets serious. So here’s that metaphor: my poor, trusting, affectionate and gentle country doesn’t know what all we bad dogs from the schemes always knew.
            Bring it.