Musical Monday #2 – A love letter to Caledonia

 A traditional Scottish breakfast. Kind of. Needs more bacon.

A traditional Scottish breakfast. Kind of. Needs more bacon.

It’s not very often you can say your first heard a song when it was advertising bad beer and it ends up being something that reaches deep into your soul and touches you every time you hear it.

Yet that’s exactly the case with Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia, a song that evokes so much feeling that I went for half a decade without listening to it because it caused me to break down. More on that in a bit.

The first version I ever heard wasn’t sung my Scottish folk legend MacLean, but by Frankie Miller during an advert for Tennents Lager.

Miller’s version is rockier than MacLean’s original version and there’s a growl that suits the advert – but ultimately not the song. It was probably a couple of years later – remember this is pre-internet days where you couldn’t find an answer in just a couple of seconds – when I found out who wrote the song and heard the original version.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX9h558Tz1E&w=640&h=480]

And while it’s great it’s still not quite there. MacLean was quite young – just 24 – when he recorded it. He was overseas and yearning for Scotland again. But his voice in 1978 still had a ways to go. It was when the song was sung live that it came… well, no pun intended, alive.

That first happened, if my poor memory doesn’t fail me, on Hogmanay 1991. I had gathered with friends in Fochabers for some not-quite-traditional new years drinks (I was only 17 and a good boy!) and Dougie appeared on one of the shows around midnight. His voice was better than in the original by quite a bit but it’s still not quite the ultimate version. I can’t remember if it was the last thing I heard in 1991 or the first thing in 1992, but that version was what stuck with me for two decades.

The reason the song means so much is because it never fails to make me think about Scotland. It’s true that you probably never appreciate what you have until it’s gone and that’s certainly true of my homeland. I didn’t think about the pristine beaches, the purple heather hills, the postcard perfect scenery until it wasn’t going to be outside my door anymore. In fact I couldn’t be further away on the face of this earth than in New Zealand.

I first cried hearing this song shortly before I moved here. It was at a gathering of friends and I had the song on a CD. It started playing and I just couldn’t keep it in. Knowing I was going to miss these amazing people, that Scotland was no longer going to be my home left me bereft. It was too late to do anything but for those five minutes I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. It hurt. And it hurt for a long time after.

When some of those same friends visited Auckland a few years later we sat around, guitars in hand and I heard the start of the song being plucked. And that was enough to set me off again. Having them there, knowing that it was only temporary? My heart was crushed. And so began my self-imposed exile, until I happened upon, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest version of the song.

I’m sure there will be some who disagree with me, someone who prefers the integrity of a younger Dougie MacLean, or the wistful, more mature sound of a live performance in the 1990s. But nothing captures the feel of the song like the version sung on the occasion of his lifetime achievement at theRadio 2 Folk Awards in 2013.

The crowd on the stage is a who’s who of folk music, Scottish and further afield. MacLean doesn’t sing all of the words, ego free he hands over the best of his greatest creation to others. Karine Polwart and Kris Drever (I think) are the first to break out from MacLean’s lyrics but it’s, unsurprisingly, Eddi Reader who makes it her own. But what really gives this the power is the fiddles – and then the haunting sound of the whistle shortly before three minute mark.

If I’ve composed myself to that point then as soon as that low Gaelic wind starts I’m in tears. Just writing this now and I’m having to wipe my eyes.

I dare you to watch it. And I double fucking dare you to not feel that stirring in your heart.

If I had to listen to just one version of one song every day for the rest of my life then this is it. Every time I listen to it I fall in love with it just a little bit more. There’s something new, a nuance that wasn’t clear first time. It’s everything a song should be and more. And… well, that’s enough from me actually. Because there’s only one appropriate set of words to close this article and that’s from Dougie and guests – so turn up the volume and bathe in its celtic glory.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmxqjzCxNEE&w=854&h=480]

Sunday Life #1 – Wrestling with depression

Depression doesn’t discriminate – rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, it can hit everyone and often with little warning.

  “Chris Cornell@P&L”  by   Andreas Eldh   is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

“Chris Cornell@P&L”  by Andreas Eldh   is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yet still there’s something massively shocking about someone in the public eye taking their own life. The untimely demise of Chris Cornell this week really shook me up. The last time I remember feeling like this was when Wales football manager Gary Speed took his own life.

I was working for Yahoo! New Zealand at the time and I wrote a heartfelt blog that seemed to resonate. I was proud of it yet still surprised to see it being used by others in New Zealand as a good example.

At work I was congratulated on the blog, it was mentioned in a weekly e-mail to staff across Australia and New Zealand – and yet something bothered me about it and I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then as I pondered the answer to life, the universe and everything in the wake of Cornell’s death it came to me.

It bugged me, I realise, because people thought I was brave for doing it. And that’s the problem. Depression is still a massive issue because people are still scared to talk about it. Not everyone, but a lot. And why wouldn’t you be? Why would you tell an employer that you suffer from depression knowing there’s a chance they’ll think less of you – or even discriminate? Could it stop you from getting promotion? Could it make you a target if there are redundancies? Will people talk about you behind your back?

And why wouldn’t they when there are their political parties proudly standing on platforms knowing cuts they make will impact on mental health services. Cuts that could kill you, your best friend, your hero, your mother or your child. That’s how little some people think of us.

I wasn’t brave for saying I had depression, no more than I was brave those times I had pneumonia or the flu or the shitty cold that left me under the weather. Yet because some people are ginormous fucking arseholes it might appear that I’m brave to some. And it will continue to be like that while those arseholes have power.

I’ve had experiences at both sides of the spectrum. At Yahoo! New Zealand they were great. I had to take the odd day off because of my depression and it was never questioned. I never felt my job was at risk because of it and no-one ever treated me differently.

The opposite was true at another place of work.

I had a boss, who shall remain nameless, for whom depression was cured by getting some fresh air at lunchtime. I was low, not quite as low as ‘oh my god, I could step off the edge and the pain would be over’ low but low enough. I needed a few hours off to compose myself – I wasn’t putting anything at work at risk and I could have lied, made up a doctor’s appointment or a family emergency. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt and admitted my depression. It was dismissed, a fly swatted away by someone who didn’t appear to believe depression was that big a deal.

The reaction, in hindsight, was exactly what I should have expected. And, although I have no way of proving this, I believe I almost lost my job after my 90 day trial (a legal mechanism in New Zealand that allows employers to ditch employees after 90 days with virtually zero recourse) due to it. In the end I waited two days to be told my job was safe, only pushing me further into my depression.

Yeah, I understand why people don’t want to admit it, even to a doctor. Why they’re scared to and why they feel they have no-one to turn to. Why they feel alone and no-one understands. I’ve been there many times. As you may have been too.

Things have improved for me over the last couple of years, so much so that there are times when I’ve felt like I’ve put the Black Dog far behind me. Deaths like Cornell’s remind me that it’s never truly gone but waiting for that opportunity to bite again. I’ve recommitted to myself to never taking it for granted and to live for every glorious new day – and when it does come back to try and remember that this is how it can – and will – feel again.

No-one is immune. This insidious, heart-breaking, shitty fucking disorder can affect everyone – and just because someone seem okay, or are even fully functional doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. Chris Cornell played an amazing gig, and gave little indication there was anything wrong – and yet his wife and kids face life without their loved one and – on a much lower level – us fans mourn a voice of a generation.

Thank you Chris Cornell for sharing your gift with the world. For cheering people up at their moment of need, for giving pleasure to many and for reminding us never to make presumptions about someone’s mental health.

But also for giving us this opportunity to support those who show empathy and care in dealing with anyone who suffers. It’s the least we can do.

Saturday Sport #1 – What is sport?

What is sport?

  “A well-used football.”  by   Joe Lodge   is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

“A well-used football.”  by Joe Lodge   is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s a heartbreaker, a gatherer of arseholes, homophobia and sexism all mixed up in a ball of hatred bound by flags of all colours and alcohol. It’s the worst of humanity, cheating to win, taking payments under the table, deliberately crippling other players. It’s survival of the fittest, $250k a week, destroyed by television, beholden to gambling and punched into young minds that it matters. It’s a load of balls, a grass stain on the world, an itch that can’t be scratched and a false feeling of superiority. It’s the dregs of society, lording it over your neighbours, smacking the television, spewing of bigotry and an elbow in the guts. It’s the stench of sweat, a jockstrap of emotion, a knife in the back and a killer of dreams. Sport is nothing.

But…

BUT.

It’s also beautiful, intelligent, wondrous and magnificent. It’s an unexpected victory, a last second winner. It’s a hug with a stranger, a bond otherwise never formed. It’s a Davie Cooper dribble, a united front in times of tragedy, a joyous gathering, a playing field leveler. It doesn’t discriminate. Songs are sung in harmony, it brings cultures together and forces prejudices to be faced. It’s the biggest day of your life, an autograph in a book, a Cup Final of emotions and an opportunity for anyone to succeed. It’s uplifting and never judgemental. It’s a shared language, a uniter of countries, a triumph of will and a game-changer. Sport is love, sport is life. Sport is everything.

And…

AND.

It’s all of these all at once. You can’t separate the good from the bad, but you can try and be only one of them.

Choose carefully.

Fictional Friday #1 – With apologies to Roddy Doyle

A: Awright pal, how’s it goin’?

B: Fucken shite, big man. Totally gutted. 

A: How? Yer sister stop given ye blow jobs?

B: Yer a funny fucker, eh? Naw, she stopped when she saw yer maw given me a swatch o’ her fanny doon the street a few weeks ago.

A: My maw? She’s widnae be seen fucken died wee a pasty prick like you! Your maw, though? Ah always like how she makes me a piece and jam when she’s finished tuggin’ me aff. That’s why I’m a big fat fucker.

B: Forty years old and still slaggin’ ma maw, eh? You’re never goin’ tae grow up.

A: You’re one tae speak. “A swatch o’ her fanny?” Fuck off. Nah, mate. Am a cunt, and a funny one at that.

B: –

A: So how come yer so fucken miserable?

B: How come?

A: Aye! Whit’s maken ye look like ye found a lump on yer bollocks this mornin’?

B: Fucken Rangers. Only went and lost at hame tae Aberdeen. Sheep shagging bastards. First time in 26 year.

A: 26 year, eh? So they last time they won in Glesga was aboot the last time you were last able to see yer tiny cock withoot lookin’ in a mirror?

B: Aye, aboot the same time yer left eye and right eye last baith pointed in the same direction.

A: Fuck me, that long? But you must have expected it, though. They’ve been utter fucken mince all season.

B: Of course, but it disnae make it any easier to take, man. Honestly, Ah’ve had shites that were less of a coward than our fucken midfield. One old cunt, one fucken hairband and a tube fae Arsenal who looks like he’d rather be daen anything other than playing fitba. Ma arse is mare mobile than him and ye’ve seen ma arse!

A: You should dae whit ah dae, pal, and chuck it. Find somethin’ better tae do wi’ yer Saturday afternoons. Besides pumpin’ yer maw.

B: Ah thought aboot it. But I just cannae. It’s been too long and they’re a part o’ ma life. It would be like cuttin’ ma extremely long and fat boaby off. And ah’ve got hopes for Big Pedro.

A: Big Pedro? Funnily enough that’s what I call ma boaby. And ma boaby’s probably got a better chance o’ winnin’ the league next season.

B: – 

A: Aye, that’s what I thought. Anyway, isn’t the season nearly over? At least ye’ll get some respite right?

B: Ah fucken wish. They play their first game o’ next season in just over a month.

A: Still, a lot can happen in a month, right?

B: Aye, but no that much. So how’s things wi’ you anyway?

C: Excuse me for interrupting you pair of cunts, but can ye’s no see there’s a fucken queue? You goin’ tae pay for that cans of piss or stand there gabbin’ all night?

Grappling with Thursdays #1 – Stop taking it so seriously, man

Believe me, I’ve heard it all.

“You know it’s fake?”

“You just like watching near naked men grapple each other.”

“You’re fucking stupid.”

Each of those statements has their own degree of truth to them, but the weird thing is I’m not sure it happens for any other form of entertainment. Despite having written many thousands of words about television no-one has ever come up to me and whispered “you know that Arrested Development isn’t a documentary, right?”

But I’m long past the age of caring what other people think and I wear my wrestling fandom on my sleeve. Not literally – yet. That’s going to come later this year when I get a badass Undertaker tattooed on my right arm. At the moment it’s done via a multitude of t-shirts that help support those who I get the most joy from. And I love the community feel, of taking about wrestling with friends and fellow fans.

That’s not to say wrestling fandom isn’t without its issues. There’s a degree of self-entitlement I don’t see in other media, unsuprisingly centred around online forums. There were examples just this week when, on WWE’s premier show RAW, the hated Roman Reigns – who I’ve written about before – won clean over fan favourite Finn Balor.

 By Miguel Discart from Bruxelles, Belgique [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Miguel Discart from Bruxelles, Belgique [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As predictable as rain in Auckland in April, many on the Squared Circle subreddit couldn’t contain their dismay. Some were done with the WWE for good, some claimed that WWE were trying to destroy Finn, that he had ‘jobbed’ or had been ‘buried’ by Roman, none of which were remotely true.

The match was a good one. In fact it’s one of the better matches I’ve seen in the last few months. It told the story of two strong wrestlers, both of whom got a lot of offence in. But, as with most matches, someone had to win. Last time they fought Finn won – a result that surprised many but made sense in the overall storyline. This time it’s Roman who went over, drawing an over-reaction that would put most wrestlers ‘selling’ a move to shame.

The one thing all of those who rushed to complain missed, without fail, is taking one single moment out of a whole storyline and giving that the power to determine everything is always going to end in disappointment. I’ve done it myself – but, I hope, not to the level I saw on Tuesday (NZ Time).

Does Roman Reigns beating Finn Balor on Tuesday make sense? The answer to that can only be found out when we know it’s ultimate destination. Either winning a single, one-off match makes sense as both are wrestlers at the top end of the company and more than capable of beating any other. But we’ll only know for sure when the Fatal Fiveway at Extreme Rules is finished. The winner goes on to face Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship – and my money is currently on Finn Balor to emerge victorious.

Long term it’s widely accepted that Roman is the ultimate destination for the title but it’s not supposed to happen so quickly. An injury to the formidable Brawn Strowman may have forced the timetable to move – but it would be a surprise I think, if he claimed victory at Extreme Rules and went on to face The Beast Incarnate.

Finn winning would, ultimately, make Roman’s victory this week way less meaningful and definitely not something to get so worked up about.

Of course, it would be remiss of me to not point out that some of this is the WWE’s own fault. By anointing Reigns so visibly so early in his career they made him a target. And rather than adjust to that situation they’ve largely dug their heels in and persisted. So much so that when Strowman, a ‘heel’, tipped over an ambulance with an injured Reigns in it, the crowd cheered for him and chanted ‘Thank you Strowman’.

Reigns would be a great heel, potentially one of the best in the modern era. But he’s currently positioned as a ‘tweener, a hero for the kids and someone to dislike for the grown-ups in the audience who take it too seriously. Like me, except I like Reigns because I’m a bloody-minded dick.

And so there we are – the first of many Grappling with Thursdays is done. And by somehow writing another 750 or so words on wrestling I’ve both proven and disproven every point I’ve made about taking it too seriously.

Before I disappear in a puff of logic (thank you Douglas Adams) let me offer you this. If you’re not a wrestling fan and wouldn’t dream of paying for the WWE Network streaming platform then grab a one-month free trial and watch every single WWE 24 released thus far. This show alone makes it worthwhile and gives you the kind of behind-the-scenes footage that the teenage me would have given up masturbation for. The storytelling, the editing, the music? It’s perfection and as good as the majority of documentaries you will watch this year. And then you can watch Total Divas!

Watching on Wednesday #1 – Couch Potato redux

Once upon a time, not so long ago I wrote a television review blog called Couch Potato for Stuff.co.nz. It was, generally, a fun thing to do. They paid me a small amount that made a big difference when I initially separated from my now ex-wife and finances were tight. But it’s fair to say that I wasn’t the most liked of contributors – because I steadfastly refused to separate television from the society it operates in.

This manifested largely via negative comments on the blog, most of which I could dismiss. Some crossed a line but I’m incredibly proud of what I did and I still use some of those shitty comments as a means of keeping myself focused on things I find important. (You can read some of them in From Parts Unknown).

There were a couple of moments when I doubted myself and came close to chucking it. One was just the sheer weight of comment negativity dumped on top of my personal life at the time. I was persuaded by one of my heroes (who shall remain nameless) to keep going because they felt it was important that my different point of view was heard. That kept me going for quite a while.

The second time was when a journalist at the same outfit as me used a (deserved) negative review I gave of a show to suck up to its star, holding me up as someone who seemingly just tried to bring down successful people. It was low, untruthful and allowed me to see just how much I was actually respected. Which was zero.

And that’s fine. Respect has to be earned and, frankly, if I needed the respect of someone who would write that about me then my life was in a worse state than I thought. But I stand by what I did because I did it for what I felt – and still do – are important reasons.

When one of my favourite television shows, Nothing Trivial, used a gang-rape plot in their two-hour finale I wrote a scathing commentary highlighting the lack of thought put into that particular storyline – and the danger it played in potentially stopping other young woman who had something happen to them in real life from coming forward. Reading it again now I actually feel more angry that this wasn’t picked up and dealt with appropriately. It ruined the ending of a great show and shows that television SHOULDN’T be excused from criticism because it’s not real.

But something else happened after that, something I’m not prepared to go into further, except to say I know it was read by important people, including those involved in the making of television shows in New Zealand. I don’t know if it had any long-term impacts but if it makes them think for just one second about not doing it again in the future then every one of my overly-verbose columns was worth it. And I’m damned proud of it too.

 Tama and George from  Find Me A   Māori   Bride,  from Māori Television.

Tama and George from Find Me A Māori Bride, from Māori Television.

Which brings me to today and the point of Watching on Wednesday. It’s to write about something I love, television, but do it on my own terms, which will include societal impact. Much like I did when I wrote Couch Potato but without the extra money! Which brings me around to Find Me A Māori Bride.

If you read my review from the first season you’ll see I enjoyed it very much. I’ll go as far as saying it was the best comedy in New Zealand last year, followed closely by streaming sensation Auckward Love. Season two of the show just started airing on Māori TV and is available to stream around the world. And, of course, it’s been virtually ignored by the Kiwi press. This is for a couple of reasons, in my opinion.

First, Māori TV is seen as not being important enough to write about. There’s a societal racism, some deliberate, some not, that means it’s harder for shows like this to be taken seriously. I’ve seen criticism of the show, though. Mostly used to try and make a (shitty) political point and clearly often from people who have never watched the show. It’s sad, but not a surprise and requires a much bigger shift in attitudes than New Zealand seems capable of.

It’s not necessarily the fault of those who write about television, though – and that’s because the number of people doing just that looks to have dropped over the last few years. This is understandable given the massive changes in the industry but merely highlights the importance of a fully-functional press for everyone. Not covering these types of shows is no judgement on their quality, but on our overall media environment. Why spend column inches or internet pages on this when you could have five stories about The Bachelor instead? As an online editor I know from first hand experience how easy a decision that is to make.

I was no loss and don’t claim to be – but I’m hoping that by writing just once a week I can make one person look at things in a slightly different way. Actually that’s being overly optimistic about my reach and ability to influence – so I’ll stick with giving those who enjoyed my Couch Potato blog somewhere else to read my ramblings. There were at least a couple.

Watch Find Me A Māori Bride on demand on the Māori Television website.

Soapbox Tuesday #1 – Just fucking stop it

I’ve been a political geek for a long time now – certainly back to my early high school days in the late 1980s. As with most people my parents’ political persuasion played a part in where I put myself on the political spectrum – but I quickly found my own path. My first event was a hustings for the Moray electorate during the 1992 UK election campaign. I was there to cheer on Margaret Ewing, wearing my SNP badge – and probably thinking about how clever I was. I asked a question – about higher education if my memory serves – and from there I was hooked.

  “Displaying the courage of her SNP convictions, Colinton”  by   Ninian Reid   is licensed under  CC BY 2.0   

“Displaying the courage of her SNP convictions, Colinton”  by Ninian Reid   is licensed under CC BY 2.0  

My time in student politics, as Depute President and then President of the University of Abertay Dundee Students’ Association was the highlight of my political career. It coincided with a place on the National Union of Students (Scotland) executive committee, an eye-opening experience that I remember fondly even now.

Some of the people I worked with went on to become elected politicians in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments – but I could see the writing on the wall from early on and knew it wasn’t for me. For a start I was just too bloody opinionated. And I just couldn’t maintain – or wasn’t willing to commit to – party lines. I found my niche, as someone who could work with all sides and come up with a workable compromise. I’m still very proud of the work my fellow independents and I did to break the Labour domination of the elected positions at NUS Scotland, however briefly. But most of all it was fun.

Age hasn’t changed me, of course. I’m still the same and proud of it. It certainly doesn’t make me better than anyone else, and I wouldn’t claim thus. It does make me less blinded than a decent portion of society, particularly in Scotland. And that’s where it gets really interesting – because I’m something of a Pavlovian political prole.

From my earliest days I’ve been a Rangers fan and that doesn’t sit well with my political beliefs for a lot of people. They were my first love after Tina from Blue Peter and Rentaghost – and have lasted longer than both. I had a season ticket for a few years and even now, 17903.84kms from Glasgow, I still get up in the early hours of the morning to cheer them on. They’re as part of my identity as swearing and XXXL t-shirts. Rangers also comes from my parents – in this case my dad’s side of the family who were Ulster/Scots protestants. But none of that mattered to me. They were my heroes and I didn’t believe in any god – and I certainly was no fan of the assumed unionist politics of the 45,000 who packed Ibrox every week. I once stood outside in the snow rather than watch Rangers being beaten 5-1 by Aberdeen in the mid-80s – that’s how bloody minded I was. Okay, I still am.

It wasn’t until I was a bit older than I realised it was naive of me to think I could separate the two. You can’t, no matter how hard you try and no matter what your stated beliefs are. And that’s because Scottish society is, ultimately, divided. Religion, politics, football, favourite Beechgrove Garden presenter – it doesn’t matter where you draw the line you’ll get division. And it gets even more complicated than that – there’s an old joke that says if three Rangers fans were marooned on a desert island there would be four Rangers Supporters Clubs before the end of the month.

And there’s a kernel of truth in that – because we (as a society) allow our differences to define us rather than focussing on what unites us.

I’m still a paid up member of the Scottish National Party (SNP) because I strongly believe that an independent Scotland in Europe would give Scottish businesses the best hopes of success and allow a Scottish government to prioritise the welfare and care of all our people over tax breaks for the most wealthy in society. That’s a political position and, of course, that’s up for anyone to shoot down, disagree with or argue against. But try having that debate between politial parties, football fans or just between a handful of people in a pub and it all goes to shit.

In the last few months I’ve been called both a cybernat and a yoon – both descriptions used to try and play the man and not the ball (as if there wasn’t enough sport references in here already), unsubtle attempts to belittle an opponent.

I’ve been told I can’t be truly left wing, republican and a supporter of independence if I’m willing to publicly support Rangers. I’ve been dismissed because I tried to call out a prominent SNP supporter for repugnant statements on the Hillsborough disaster and his deliberate misgendering of Chelsea Manning. I’ve been told that ‘the other side do it too’.

And I can’t be a Rangers fan if I support the SNP. Check out any political posting on FollowFollow.com and, as Billy Connolly once said, I’m as welcome as a fart in a space suit. (And by mentioning Billy Connolly I’ve now proved to those same Rangers fans I can’t possibly be a Rangers fan because Billy supports Celtic. That’s how it works.) And I’ve been told that ‘the other side do it too’. Sounds familiar, right?

It’s bizarre, insidious and, honestly, I’m sick of it. Another independence referendum in Scotland is bound to fail because not enough people will be willing to actually engage in the arguments and make a decision based on them. What do independent economists tell us is most likely to happen? Why are we so unwilling to give up the pound for the euro? Why do we believe it when we’re told we’re not big enough to go it alone when there are other, smaller, more successful countries than us with less resources open to them? No, people will blindly support one side of the other because they’re protestant, catholic, Rangers supporters, Celtic supporters, misognynists, racists… the list could go on and on.

My anger and angst over this has been prolonged due to the despicable Brexit campaign last year (the very definition of a factless argument, way more so than the Scottish independence referendum campaign) and the hastily-called UK election in early June. It’s time that our political leaders – both on this side of the world and in Scotland – did something about it. Because they have to be the ones who make the first steps. It’s their angry rhetoric that helps drive people to embrace the division. Disagree, and debate but do so while keeping what binds us at the forefront. And this applies to politicians of all sides – no-one can claim the moral high ground here.

And the same is true for those who are willing to dismiss someone’s entire being solely on the basis of sport, religion or favoured name for a morning roll (everyone knows it’s a buttery). I embrace Celtic fans who support independence even though I don’t like their football team because to do so would be idiotic. I embrace Rangers fans who don’t want independence for the same reason.

This, of course, does not apply to people for whom hatred is their raison d’être. We see this reflected today in the racism and xenophobia of the right in the USA, UKIP and even in the likes of the dog-whistle politics of Winston Peters in New Zealand. That needs to be called out at every single opportunity and not be allowed to be ignored by the likes of Labour, both here and it the UK, because politically it’s an acceptable move.

I wrote earlier that I was naive – and from everything I’ve written here you’ll see that I still am. Because I don’t think there’s a political or societal will to do what I believe is right for most people. There’s too much money and too much of our identity bound in it for people to take a step back.

And, ultimately, we’re all going to suffer for it.

Musical Monday #1 – Kirsty MacColl’s Innocence

I figure that even if you’ve never met me, or read more than half a dozen things I’ve written you’re probably already had enough of my Jimmy Buffett fandom – so I want to start Musical Monday with the second most important musical artist in my life – the wonderful Kirsty MacColl.

As time progresses I’ll be writing much more about Kirsty, her music, her tragic death, my pilgrimage to Soho Square and more – but I wanted to start… well, at the very start. And that’s with the first song I can recall ever hearing of Kirsty’s – Innocence, from her album Kite.

Okay, that’s not quite true. It wouldn’t be until quite a bit later that I found out she had written They Don’t Know which Tracey Ullman took to number two in the charts. And I’m almost certain I had heard New England but didn’t make the connection until much later.

But I do remember making a trip to Elgin library in 1989 when I was 15, which is where I found an album of hers for the first time. Remember this was before the internet so finding new music wasn’t as simple as looking up related artists on Spotify. If you were like me you listened to some chart music and whatever was played on the stereo at home – and Kirsty didn’t feature in either of those.

It was in Fochabers, my tiny home town in the North East of Scotland, where I first fell in love with libraries. The local library was run by Mary and Vicky and every time I went in I felt like I was the most important person there. I got extra books, they always had recommendations for me, they never fined me – and often they kept back a book they knew I’d like. As time progressed I graduated to being able to remove the tapes I wanted to borrow from the music library from the giant, complicated tape monster in the middle of the main room.

But the library was small and, as much as I hated to, I started to cheat on Mary and Vicky by taking a bus into Elgin instead to check out the much more impressive library. And that’s where I found a music collection much bigger than I could have imagined.

I can’t recall how much it was to borrow a tape – I’m guessing 20 or 30p, but I took full advantage. And one of those, picked at semi-random, was Kite. With a few exceptions, my preference is for female vocalists – it started with a crush on Debbie Gibson and continues today with Marketa Irglova, Bjork, Nellie McKay, Joanna Newsom and more. And that’s how I happened to choose Kirsty’s tape – there was a picture of her on the cover and her name sounded familiar and a little bit Scottish-y or Irish-y. That was enough for me. And this was the first song I heard:

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qZ2KFRaYtA&w=640&h=480]

It’s a great song and gives a fantastic insight into Kirsty MacColl as a writer and a singer. There are high-pitched melodies, a sense of humour and a withering take on some aspect of life – all of which appear many times in her music.

That first chorus is a thing of beauty:

Oh innocence has passed you by
A long long time ago
I was the fly upon your wall
And I saw what you know
Your pornographic priestess left you for another guy
You frighten little children and you’ll always wonder why
Always wonder why

I mean ‘pornographic priestess’? Kirsty’s way with words never fail to conjure an image in my mind and by the time finishes I’ve got a strong idea of just who this person is, this man who seems to have taken one liberty two many with our warbling heroine.

The rest of the album was medicine for my soul. Her acerbic, almost misanthropic at times, glorious lyrics still make me want to cheer, laugh and cry every time I listen to them today. And Kite isn’t even her best album. In fact I’d put it in fourth place behind Electric Landlady, Titanic Days and Tropical Brainstorm.

But that will have to wait for another day. Search for Kite on your streaming music source of choice, or even better pick up a copy of her album from your favourite second hand music store and envelope yourself in the brilliance.

Whether it’s the country homage of Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!, the excellent cover of The Kinks’ Days or the haunting but beautiful Mother’s Ruin you’ll find something that resonates, a lyric that nags you to think more about it, a feeling of life that feels more real than any other singer I can name. And weep for a life lost way too early and a songwriter of undoubted genius unable to gift her music to us any more.

Forceful creation

I have one of those weird relationships with time – I crave more of it do all the things I want to do, yet when given the opportunity I’ll almost certainly waste it by doing nothing for hours on end.

 Less of this, more of writing

Less of this, more of writing

Yesterday, for example, I could have written for this website, worked on one of the many novels I’ve started, done some more work on my memoir, talked to old friends, sold some stuff on Trade Me… you get the point, the list is nearly endless. So what did I do, I hear you ask?

Of course I sat and streamed the entire Season 2 of Masters of None on Netflix. Now you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to find out what I thought about that but it got me thinking – if I leave things to my own lazy self then I’ll never achieve anything. It’s time to put this out there in the hope by going public I’ll shame myself into writing more. And losing weight, but that’s another story!

So starting today I’m instituting a daily blog – some days will be just a couple of words, others will be thousands, but I’m committing to putting my virtual pen to this virtual paper and doing what I desperately want to do but haven’t managed yet.

You can break down what I write about into a few general categories:

  • Music
  • Wrestling
  • Politics
  • Reading/Writing
  • Sport
  • TV & Movies
  • General life

Handily there are seven things on that list and seven days in a week. Okay, that might not be entirely by luck – and by including ‘life’ as one then I can pretty much write about anything. But fuck me, give me a break. The intent is there!

While I try and come up with better labels for the content I hereby declare the following days of the week exist as part of You Had To Be There.

  • Musical Monday – for my thoughts on music old and new (but almost certainly always old)
  • Soapbox Tuesday – ramblings from my left-wing, liberal perspective
  • Watching on Wednesday – this will be a little like my old Couch Potato blog on Stuff.co.nz
  • Grappling with Thursday – for all my wrestling reckons
  • Fictional Friday – books, some of my writing or just recommendations to read Chris Brookmyre? Who knows!
  • Saturday Sport – with significantly less breasts than the UK newspaper of a similar title
  • Sunday Life – whatever doesn’t fit anywhere else. Probably.

So there, dear reader, I have committed to you to give you something to ignore, skim over, ridicule or to not your head with every day until such time as I realise this was a terrible idea. So probably the end of this week.