Shamefully I rarely give the Sunday papers anything more than a cursory glance, so today it was a pleasing luxury to take a wee bit of time to read through the various sections of a paper. I was pleasantly surprised to be quite so entertained.
Being a bloke, I love lists. So here’s one to counter all the negative stories about the imminent demise of newspapers – and half a dozen thank-yous to the people who produce Scotland on Sunday:
1 – Very naughty of me not to pay more regular attention to the works of my old mate Aidan Smith. A great writer – and a tremendous interviewer. I loved the revelations he teased out of chanteuse KD Lang for the Review magazine, not least his opening gambit and the startling admission it elicited:
I DON’T know how to say this to KD Lang. Every time I read about the strange period in her life when she was Hollywood’s favourite – make that only – lesbian, I think of The Elephant Man. Specifically, the scene in David Lynch’s film where John Merrick is fawned over by Victorian society ladies congratulating themselves on allowing a freak into their lives. But I needn’t have worried. “That’s exactly what it was like,” says Lang, possessor of one of the great pop voices.
Oooh. How’d he get away with that one? Absolute class. I also caught up with various other Aidan musings, inlcuding his entertaining take on the upcoming BAFTAS and how they might be afflicted by a dose of Tinsel Town excess, since the denizens of Hollyweird will probably be denied their usual outlet, with the screenwriters’ strike threatening the Oscars.
However, best Aidan-ism of the day was in his weekly telly review, On The Box. Last week I was kicking myself for missing former sinister Tory Michael Portillo and his documentary, How to Kill a Human Being, seeking a truly painless form of execution. So Aidan’s take on the programme was doubly welcome:
The former Tory minister thought he’d found a solution with hypoxia. “That looks like a coffin fitted to a giant spanner,” he said. Indeed it did. Before being spun faster that the Merry Mixer at Butlin’s in Ayr circa 1969 – yes, that fast – he was told the centrifugal force would induce a feeling of greyness (no John Major jokes, please). Then, in an altitude chamber, the feeling would change to self-confidence (OK, gags about Portillo’s 1997 Enfield Southgate rogering are permitted here). Finally, he would experience euphoria, just before lights out.
Marvellous stuff – and this flick through Review also brought another unexpected pleasure: a chance to see Aidan in his latest array of designer teeshirts, since I rarely catch him in the pub these days. I note he’s currently favouring Fred Perry style collar and three buttons over the classic crew neck with pithy/arty slogans that used to be his stock in trade.
2 – Still with the Review section, I can commend you to the Film Of The Week page and the SoS movie critic, Alastair McKay. Not a man I know. Nor do I know very much about movies. However Alastair clearly does. And he knows a bit about writing too. So, just in case I get invited to any urbane dinner or cocktail parties any time soon, I’ll be memorising the best parts.
Pick of the bunch yesterday, was in his assessment of latest Johnny Depp vehicle, Sweeney Todd (four stars, no less). After setting the scene, by describing how uber thespian Alan Rickman imbued his character (a London judge) with a high degree of campness, he later let rip:
Through a neat trapdoor beneath the barber’s chair, he plunges his customers into the basement, where they are propelled through the bloody cogs of a giant mincer (no relation to Rickman).
Fnar – and indeed – Fnar. And I thought the chattering classes were meant to be PC? All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this review which manged to be both highbrow and well-written – yet totally accessible. No banishement to Pseuds Corner for Mr McKay, then.
3 -It’s the Review section again. (Wooh, haven’t I come over all artsy?) it was pleasing to see a sci-fi novel as the main feature on the Books Review page. Iain M Banks is one of the finest sci-fi writers of a generation and literary editor Stuart Kelly managed to sound fairly effusive about his latest work, Matter.
The reality is the sci-fi and fantasy genres are an abomination to most literary luvvies. So well done SoS for breaking the mould and being brave enough to feature a field of writing loved by millions, but ghettoised by literary snobbery.
That said, I couldn’t help but suspect the whole thing was a sop to the author, who also writes non sci-fi as plain old Iain Banks, and is one of Scotland’s pre-eminent men of letters. Certainly the introduction to the review read: “It may not be one of his ‘proper’ books, but the latest Iain M Banks shows why sci-fi is the perfect foil to literature.” Oh dear. I wonder how Messr Banks feels about having his latest piece derided as not “proper”.
Hilariously though, the best thing about this review was the hint of panic at one point where Mr Kelly must have sensed his literary credibility disappearing faster than a starship at warp speed and tried to get back on to more familiar territory with this belter:
If all that sounds like polysyllabic technobabble, just imagine the situation in Kenya, with NARC and ODM in negotiation with the PAC, the UN and the Council of Elders, and everyone wondering if the CIA or the FSB or “extremists” might be involved, and what the People’s Republic make of it all. Back on the feudal 8th Level …
The term you’re looking for is actually polysyllabic pseud-babble, Mr Kelly. But you’re not getting away that easily. Like it or lump it this is a book about wee green men, laser guns and very fast spaceships. And now all the other critics know you’re a closet sci-fi fan.
4 – It was a feast for the eyes in Spectrum magazine. A cover photo of goregous Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria was bound to lure me in. However, what really got me going was the photo essay on Scottish post offices.
Not Because I’m some postal anorak, but ecause of its photo of Wester Hailes post office – a place I haven’t visited in 20 years. Apparently this soulless hole won “Best Main Post Office Branch” in 2006. Which is surprising because it was a dreary, depressing place when I was growing up there and the pictures suggests it hasn’t had any sign of a makeover in the intervening decades.
But coming from Wester Hailes, it isn’t too often you get a chance for such a wander down memory lane – so I enjoy it whenever I can.
5 – So the main paper, where among the varied news and opinion offering, the main thing to catch my attention was the Best of the Blogs section. Today’s focused on an enjoyable online rant about greed among Scottish GPs – written by a retired QC called Ian Hamilton.
Since I’d stumbled upon the very same site earlier in the week and thoroughly enjoyed the sarcastic humour I’d already added it to my own blogroll. It’s alwasy nice to feel ahead of the game.
6 – And to finish my hearfelt half dozen it was to the business section – or more specifically to the Barfly diary. There I was pleased to find a mention for one of my new clients, Eagle Couriers, for their part in delivering almost 100 bouquest from a flower shop which, unfortunatley, went to the wall. Hopefully the first of many mentions to come.
And that’s just the edited highlights – I’d forgotten newspapers could be this much fun.