From Scotland With Love

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

Almost exactly five years ago, I was enjoying a three-week road trip in the US with a group of pals. These were the days before Bluetooth and aux cables so our driving music was restricted to CDs. Between the nine of us (and our two cars) we had only three CDs: a David Guetta album, a Black-Eyed Peas album and a mix-CD titled “Scot Rock”.

The Scot Rock CD had been prepared by the musically minded member of our group. It had the usual Deacon Blue and Proclaimers tracks but it mostly contained songs from Arab Strap, Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jet Packs, Belle & Sebastian, Idlewild etc. It was a cracker, actually, and I still regularly listen to many of those tracks.

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Like many people, there are some songs which take me back to very vivid memories. One memory which comes to mind every time I hear any of the songs from the Scot Rock CD is from one particularly long day of driving. I remember that the weather was not good but that all of us in the car were gazing out of our respective windows in that way which only happens while travelling.

Although none of the songs we were listening to were particularly about Scotland, they all seemed to capture something which reminded us of home. It was strange – even though we were all thousands of miles away and having a great time, it was clear that each of those tracks made us think about home. Although we were looking out at a foreign countryside, our minds were in Scotland.

That brings me on to the independence referendum. Some of you will be sick to death of this topic but hopefully what follows will be constructive.

Thinking back to how the Scot Rock tracks caused five guys to sit and think of Scotland in their own way got me thinking about how personal the referendum vote will be to all voters. For most of us, we are not just thinking about who will run the country for the next five years but what the future will hold for the place we call home. The future which each of us is thinking about will be entirely unique.

For example, when I think of Scotland, I tend to not think about castles, mist or saltires fluttering in the sky; I think of pipe bands at Murrayfield and walking home from Central in the rain. My vision of the future will derive from those memories and the particular way my brain has processed them.  Your vision will be based on your own memories and your own thought processes, which can only result in an infinite number of ways to approach what appears on the face of it to be a very simple question.

As most of us have lived here for a long time, it’s only natural for each of us to have a strong reaction to the question of whether Scotland should be an independent country. It’s probably an excellent thing that so many of us are passionate about our views. But when we’re dealing with each other, it might help if we remembered that there aren’t many things closer to each of our hearts than our homes. I wonder, with all that in mind, whether we might all be kinder to each other, regardless of how certain we may be that one view is right and one is wrong.

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I’ll leave you this week with a relevant Scot Rock recommendation and a Tash.

My recommendation is King Creosote’s One Night Only – it’s a track from his album From Scotland With Love, which was the soundtrack to a BBC film of the same name, made up of vintage Scottish footage and aimed at showing Scotland’s modern history in a new light.

Finally, the Tash. As one might expect of someone with credentials in music appreciation, the lad who created the Scot Rock CD has rocked a Tash for many years. He still does, even though he’s also developed a goatee type thang. Some of you will know him as Stuart, I know him as D-O-Double-B.

Have a great weekend folks!

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At the Copa Copacabana

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

My enjoyment of the Daily Mail Online got the better of me this week as I’ve been following the ongoing “beef” between Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber.

For those of you who aren’t following this scrap – hopefully none of you are – Bieber is alleged to have gone on a date with Bloom’s ex-wife and Bloom isn’t chuffed about it.

The two men (I use that term very loosely in this context) met in an Ibizan club, at which point Bieber apparently made an inflammatory remark and Bloom threw a punch. I imagine it was like the Barry Manilow song “Copacabana”:

“And then the punches flew and chairs were smashed in two;

there was blood and a single gunshot; 

but just who shot who!?”

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Unfortunately – this being a celebrity fight – no punches connected, no chairs were smashed and, unfortunately, both men lived to tweet another day.

I was conflicted about who to support  in this spat. On the one hand, Bieber is clearly very irritating. I’m forced to see his smirking face every time I check The Mail Online. However, Bloom behaved badly on several levels (a) he shouldn’t bother with Bieber; but (b) if he does feel the need to engage with Bieber, he should definitely have battered him, rather than swinging and missing – that’s just embarrassing.

If any of you are having a similar problem regarding who to support – again, I hope this doesn’t apply to any of you and that you have better things to think about – this photo should put the matter to bed:

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You may not be able to see it but the caption underneath the photo reads: “sunburnt and mustache”. The fact he thinks that scraggly mess is a Tash says it all – he’s lost any grip he ever had on reality.

Bieber cannot possibly be this week’s Tash and a counter point to his disgraceful attempt is required. If Bieber took the ex-wife of this week’s Tash on a date, I think we can all rest assured that a punch would fly; Bieber would be thrown to the floor (hopefully smashing a chair into two in the process); and no gunshot would be required. This weeks Tash is The Dancing Destroyer, The King of Sting, The Count of Monte Fisto, The Prince of Punch, The Master of Disaster, The One and Only Apollo Creed!

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Have a great weekend folks! That is, unless you’re reading this, Bieber – I hope you have a shocker you absolute roaster.

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The rhythm of my heart is beating like a drum

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

With so many readers in Scotland, this week’s TF could only have one subject: The Commonwealth Games.

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Many of you will have reservations about the games because of the historical context, the sporting context and the cost. However, it’s sunny, the Games are here, and it seems wise to make the best of them. If nothing else, the Games really seem to be letting Glasgow flourish and it’s worth enjoying the atmosphere, bars and restaurants all around town, even if the sport isn’t for you.

The talk of the town so far has been the opening ceremony. The majority opinion seems to be muted contentment, with only a bit of criticism from some in relation to the opening “tour” around Scotland by John Barrowman and Karen Dunbar.

One highlight for me was that the volunteers brought in chairs for the athletes after they did their dance routine. If the commentary is to be believed, the inspiration for that came from an experience which one of the show’s director’s had at a Scottish wedding. Apparently, there was a shortage of seats at the wedding reception but the local folk saved the day by going home and bringing their own chairs back for the guests.

I have no difficulty in believing that, after I attended a wedding in a remote location near Inverness a couple of months back.  The locals insisted in giving the visitors lifts back to their respective hotels and cottages. They didn’t expect anything back in return – they just wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The fact is that the real character of Scots can’t be found in the caricature portrayed by John Barrowman. It’s in the small acts of kindness and hospitality that we tend to do for visitors. We saw our true character in the volunteers who danced and welcomed the athletes on Wednesday night. We will also see it during the next two weeks as the same volunteers keep the Games going by giving visitors directions, officiating and generally doing long hours for no pay just to support a worthy endeavour.

Given all of that, this week’s Tashes must be people involved in the Games.

The first is Prince Imran, the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, who was unlucky enough to be the person tasked with opening the Queen’s Baton. I have to say that if I’d been Prince Imran, and I couldn’t get the Baton open, I’d be telling the Queen to open her own Baton. However, he’s clearly a more patient man than I and he dealt with the problem with a smile and the help of Sir Chris hoy. It was fitting really, after all, how many times has a Scottish sports team failed to carry out a simple task even after plenty of practise?

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The second Tash can only be Billy Connelly. Surely Glasgow’s favourite son, he has all of the characteristics required to become one of TF’s all-time favourites: wit, grit, intelligence and a charitable streak. Pure class:

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I doubt the Big Yin would be cynical about the Games, I reckon he’d just get stuck in and enjoy it. I hope you get the chance to do the same.

Have a great weekend folks!

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Closer To The Edge

Good morning Tash Appreciators!

I’ve been enjoying two-wheeled racing of a faster kind than usual this week after being captivated by the Isle of Man TT.

For the uninitiated, the TT is a week-long series of races on different classes of motorbikes. The main course – the Mountain Course – is around 37 miles long and involves riders screaming along normal roads, inches from curbs, lamp posts, garden walls etc, at speeds approaching 200 miles an hour. The fastest riders get round one lap at an average speed of over 130mph. To understand just how fast these riders go, you really have to see them:

The other night, I watch a documentary about the TT called “Closer To The Edge”. The film followed Guy Martin (some of you may have seen him in various programmes over the last few years) and his quest to win a TT.

Martin is entirely focused on racing. He’s very exact in how his bike is set up – which is understandable when there’s so much riding on it – and he distances himself from any kind of commitment in order to ensure that as few people as possible will be affected in the event that he is involved in an accident.

The reason that Martin takes such drastic action to avoid commitment is because of the other side of the TT – death. Almost every year, someone is killed while racing. According to Wikipedia, 242 competitors have been killed since 1911. In Closer To The Edge, Martin narrowly avoids serious injury when he crashes at 170mph and his bike explodes. In the same race, one of the other competitors clips a curb while going flat-out and is thrown about a hundred meters from the road, via a stone wall. His list of injuries seems to include every bone in his body but he somehow survived. As I was doing a bit of research about the TT, I read that someone died in today’s main race.

Every single rider I’ve seen being interviewed says that they know the risks and that it doesn’t put them off. That’s despite many of them having families. When speaking about a competitor who has died, almost all of them say: “he died doing the thing he loved.”

My question – and I don’t know the answer to it – is whether it is ever folly to do something you love? Is it possible to dare too greatly?

Most weeks, TF talks about living to the full and taking a few risks. Is that naive though? How many of us would roll the dice on our lives or livelihoods or happiness in order to chase a dream? If we would, how do we decide when the dream is worth chasing and when we’re better off accepting that some dreams don’t come true? What if the dream isn’t fully formed in your head but you know that you need to do something differently? These are questions which bother me incessantly these days.

As I say, I don’t know what the answers to these questions are. I’d be interested to know what you all think.

As one might expect of a section of the population who live life to the absolute limit, Tashes are commonplace among the motorcycling fraternity. It’s been a tough choice, but here are this week’s Tashes:

Glenn – the Biker – from the Village People:

Glenn Hughes of the Village People

And Paul “Senior” Tuetal, of Orange County Choppers and the Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper”:

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Have a great weekend folks. If you’re interested, the Senior TT (the main race of the week) is being shown on ITV2 at 9pm tonight.

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Good Samaritans

Good morning Tash Appreciators!

I was out on my bike last weekend (fear not, this is not a cycling related TF) when I fell foul of some glass on the road and punctured a tyre. The scene at the side of the road was not pleasant:

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While I stood trying to look like I knew what I was doing, several other cyclists offered their assistance. Naturally – being a bloke – I assured them that I had the situation under control and bade them on their way. Some of these good Samaritans, however, saw through the facade and made meaningful attempts to assist me. As it happened, even with able assistance, my ineptitude shone through and I had to call for a lift. Incredibly, two people offered to pick me up and I was soon safe at home, hell-bent on becoming an expert in changing a tyre.

As it turned out, the good Samaritans were not just on the road up to Whitelees last weekend.

In the centre of Glasgow, as the iconic Glasgow School of Art seemed to be entirely lost to fire, members of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service worked tirelessly to save what they could.

I’m sure they did so at some risk to their own safety and you might think that, as soon as the risk to people had been reduced, the fire fighters would prefer to avoid any risk to themselves. Apparently that wasn’t the case. Even though the fire spread through the building from top to bottom, 90% of the building was saved; as was 70% of its contents.

You have to ask why these fire fighters would work so hard to save inanimate objects (however culturally important) when doing so might put their own safety at risk. The Assistant Chief Officer on the scene answered that question when he said:

“We are of course very conscious the Mackintosh is a world-renowned building that is a key feature of this great city, and that the artworks it stores are not only valuable but also cherished… We are acutely aware this period is the culmination of years of endeavour for students and that their irreplaceable work is inside the Mackintosh.”

I thought it was interesting – in a week when a substantial proportion of the population voted for the latently racist and patently hateful UKIP – that I saw two examples of people go out of their way to help people they didn’t know.

What prompted the help in these cases was solidarity among folk who have common interests in a particular sport and a particular city. More than that, the fire fighters also went above and beyond what could reasonably be expected of them just because they knew that the students had put a lot of effort into their work.

Leaving aside the policies of UKIP, an issue which bothers me persistently is the attitude or feeling which UKIP creates. All of UKIP’s policies seem to be premised on the supposedly shocking state of British Society – “Broken Britain”, as the Daily Mail likes to put it.

Sure, there are aspects of society which are objectionable, but when I see folk helping out others just because they think it’s the right thing to do, I am reminded that people are generally well-intentioned, pleasant and just like “us”. I reckon you’d have difficulty in finding a UKIP supporter with anything close to a positive attitude about society as a whole; they’d rather predict doom and poverty.

I’ll end this week’s TF with two photos. The first is of a “thank you” which was left for the fire fighters outside Glasgow’s Central Station:

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And the second is this week’s Tash – Charles Rennie Mackintosh – designer of the Glasgow School of Art.

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Have a great weekend folks!

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Tick Tock

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

I was struck this week by the reaction of many people to the death of Bob Hoskins. Overwhelmingly, the first reaction of people mentioning the news was to describe his or her memories of one of his roles. That’s true for me as I immediately thought of his portrayal of Smee in Hook – a film that many of us remember fondly:

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Remembering Hook started me thinking about Peter Pan and J. M. Barrie’s story more generally. I have to say, I didn’t think too much about the plot when I was younger. My understanding was essentially: boy v. Pirate = good fun. It strikes me now that maybe I should take a closer look.

Captain Hook (his first name was James, you know) was a swashbuckling and cruel pirate. He plotted and schemed against someone who was a good 40 years younger than him. However, he was terrified by one thing: the tick-tock of a clock in the belly of a crocodile i.e. his doom:

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Before he died, Bob Hoskins gave his daughter 11 tips to follow in life, which she then listed on her website. These tips were: laugh; be yourself; be flamboyant; don’t worry about other people’s opinions; get angry; whatever you do, always give it a good go; be generous and kind because you can’t take it with you; appreciate beauty, take pictures and make memories; don’t take yourself too seriously; never, ever, ever, ever give up; and love with all your heart.

I think James Hook could have used those tips. Rather than using the tick-tock of the crocodile as a reminder that life is sometimes short and that he should get on with making the best of it, Hook became resentful and hostile.

As for us, regardless of whether we hear it or not, time is always ticking away. It may not be a crocodile that gets us but none of us will be here forever. I guess the dream we should all have is to move onto our last great adventure in the way which Bob Hoskins seems to have done. To do that, we should maybe remember something which J.M Barrie says in the book:

“Perhaps we could all fly if we were as dead-confident-sure of our capacity to do it as was bold Peter Pan that evening.”

I am aware that several Appreciators are having problems with confidence these days. They are wondering whether they should take the path which they know will lead somewhere safe (albeit somewhere where the may not necessarily want to go) or the path which turns away into the unknown. I would recommend taking a bit of both Peter Pan’s and James Hook’s attitudes into account when making that decision: hear the clock ticking; be conscious of the fact that we all grow up/old; but have the confidence in yourself to fly.

I think it’s time for the Tashes. The obvious example is Dustin Hoffman, in Hook:

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Usually, such an excellent example would suffice for one week. However, I was surprised to discover that J.M. Barrie rocked an absolutely superlative Tash, so this week is a double-helping of Tash-based goodness:

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Have a cracking weekend folks!

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If at first you don’t succeed

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

I had not intended to follow up on last week’s TF straight away but I had also not expected the reaction that I received. The people spoke and their answer was:

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Here are a few examples of the responses (I have paraphrased in places to take out some of the stronger language):

“Re TF, what you are doing is laudable but nationalism is not something that can be argued dispassionately. It’s a matter of faith. Your average nationalist cannot be shaken from the belief that he is right (he loses his ability to reason when he cedes his individualism to the “nation”). Folk lamenting the lack of debate are missing the point: nationalists cannot debate. They look for arguments supporting their prejudices (same as folk who deny global warming).”

“It’s a disingenuous debate and I’m saddened by your willingness to try to take the politics out of an inherently political debate. There is no independence on offer, stop pretending that there is.”

“I know you are trying to broaden it out but the issue of the day is whether we have an Independent Scotland or not. I don’t think your thing is impartial because it implicitly accepts the premise of Nationalism. You’ve been beaten in the dressing room.”

“This weeks TF is a real self indulgent effort…”

There were other comments too and I’m grateful to everyone who responded.

The point about faith is particularly interesting. In a world that is only able to operate thanks to logarithms and science, faith can be seen as a synonym for irrationality and as something that is unhelpful when it comes to decision-making.

I can see the merits in that point of view, but if our lives were ruled by logic, would it not be a terribly lonely and uneventful place? Would we risk heartbreak by entering into relationships with people who, at least at first, are strangers? Would we have children? Also, to what extent do we base our “logic” on notions that we don’t fully understand? For example, how many of us use modes of transport that rely on the internal combustion engine or aerodynamics without really knowing how or why they work? How many of us understand how and why modern medicine operates? These are all things I don’t understand but in which, I suppose, I have faith.

It’s also not accurate to say that only a “yes” vote is based on faith. A “no” vote will also involve faith; just a different kind. I also don’t accept that we can’t have a conversation which involves faith. I think that we need to tailor the way we talk to each other in order to take into account where folk are coming from.

To conclude, I don’t think that we should go into the voting booths on 18 September and make a decision based on faith alone. After all, we wouldn’t get on a plane if it’s wings looked a bit rickety and we wouldn’t take medical advice from a doctor who was drunk. The point I’m trying to make is that faith does have a part to play in the independence discussion.

For the sake of offering all points of view (and to preempt this being thrown in my face), I’ll leave you with a contrary view from this week’s Tash: Friedrich Nietzsche

“Faith: not wanting to know what is true.”

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Have a great weekend folks!

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