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I hope you’ll find something in these pages to make you laugh, or at least leak some description of bodily fluids. I write about a broad range of nonsense, but find myself most often drawn to the absurdity of existence, the wonder and chest-thumping terror of parenting, and the world of TV & film. I also occasionally write for the mighty Den of Geek: https://www.denofgeek.com/authors/jamie-andrew

What others are saying about Jamie Andrew With Hands:

‘If I actually existed I’d go wild for this shit.’ – Jesus

 

 

 

‘If this website had been around a few years ago, maybe I wouldn’t have allegedly killed my wife. I didn’t kill my wife.’ – OJ Simpson

 

 

‘I didn’t kill my wife either, but I WOULD have if she’d tried to stop me from reading Jamie Andrew With Hands!’ – Dr Richard Kimble

Roy, Boy of Earth

A free, funny story for you and your kids to enjoy together at bed-time.

 

An alien boy had grown sick of the sight,

Of the food he was served every day, every night.

His tummy would rumble and grumble and churn.

Couldn’t they give a new chef a wee turn?

 

The things that he ate on his planet of Munch,

For breakfast, and dinner, and supper and lunch,

Were mushy black nuggets that tasted like sand.

All crunchy and gooey and horribly bland.

 

I won’t eat these nuggets,” he shouted one day.

Then jumped in a spaceship and went on his way,

Heading to Earth, where the eating was good

And he’d heard boys in jammies made wonderful food.

 

 

He zoomed into orbit, then dived to the planet,

Not even stopping to survey and scan it.

Crashed down on a roof like a hungry green Santa,

Dreaming of human washed down with cold Fanta.

 

He leapt in a window, he followed the snore,

(Which meant there was one boy, he’d hoped there’d be four).

The room smelled like sneezes, old socks and a fart,

Delicious, in other words: food for the heart.

 

In his hurry he tripped over toys on the ground,

Which hurled him, and bumped him, oh boy, what a sound!

The little boy woke, and rubbed hard at his eyes,

Which grew wide and excited and full of surprise.

 

Hello there, strange creature, well, my name is Roy.”

The alien scowled, “You’re my food, stupid boy.

I don’t need to know what your name is, you see,

You’re nothing to me but a new recipe.”

 

 

Are you from space?!” the young chappy exclaimed,

From which planet? And won’t you please tell me your name?”

There’s no point in that, boy, because humans can’t say it,

But if you really must know it’s Frass-Jassa-Mump-Frayvit.”

 

I’ll just call you, Frass, then, it’s so nice to meet you.”

The alien laughed, “Boy, I’m going to eat you.

I’ll chop you all up like a tasty risotto!

Don’t greet ’em, just eat ’em: that’s my planet’s motto.”

 

Roy let out a laugh, it soon filled up the room,

And hit Frass’s ears like a big sonic boom.

You’re laughing,” growled Frass, “I don’t think that you get it,

When I make you a sandwich you’re going to regret it.”

 

You’ll make me a sandwich?” said Roy, “Thank you, please,

My favourite is tuna, or pickle with cheese.”

No, no,” said the alien, ready to crack.

YOU’LL be my sandwich, my tummy’s next snack!”

 

 

Roy smiled a big smile, asked: “Why can’t we be friends?”

The alien prayed for this moment to end.

I feel like my words are all stuck in a loop,

But perhaps that will end when I make you some soup.”

 

You’ll make me some soup? Oh Frass that would be great.

Can you butter some bread up; I often have eight?”

No, no,” said the alien, “My soup will be YOU,

And I’ll mop you all up, with a slurp, bite and chew!”

 

Roy reached out behind him, and scooped up a bear,

And handed it over, while saying “There, there”,

Which made Frass so angry he wanted to squawk.

He’d never expected his supper to talk.

 

Now look, boy,” said Frass, “Let’s just make something clear,

I need you to listen, I need you to hear.

I’m not your best pal, not your mucker or mate.

I’m going to cook you; you’ll be on my plate.”

 

 

I’ll start with your cheek, oh my, c’est magnifique!

I’ll heat it up nice, with a fat plate of rice.

I’ll use a big wok… no a pan, no a skillet.

I’m drooling already… I want my cheek fillet!

 

I look at your nose, and my appetite grows!

I’ll make a big pie with your fingers and toes,

Then garnish it all with a sprinkling of lips,

Maybe throw in some ankles, some thigh-bones and hips!

 

One leg or two? Well, I’m going to have both.

I’ll carve them like turkeys, I give you my oath.

Your eyes can be sprouts, then you won’t see you’re thinner,

Once I’ve gobbled you up like a hot Christmas dinner.

 

What to do with your teeth? Why, I’ll stuff them with cheese,

Then I’ll grill them with mushrooms and one of your knees.

I’ll fry you like bacon, I’ll braise you like steak,

And your eyebrows and eyelids I’ll bake in a cake.

 

 

I’ve said all I can, I can’t say any more,

All of this talking’s an arduous chore.

I hope that my meaning is clear on this day,

I say what I mean: and I mean fricassee!

 

Prepare to be eaten…

Roy, boy of Earth!”

 

Roy started laughing, he just couldn’t stop,

He thought that his tummy was going to pop.

And Frass stamped his feet, like a paw-thumping bunny,

And jumped up and down, shouting, “Why is that funny?”

 

Frass tried his best to stay fierce and defiant,

Even when Roy scooped him up like a giant,

And held him right up to the ball of an eye,

Saying: “How will you eat me, you’re two inches high?”

 

 

Oh… Erm…”, said Frass-Jassa-Mump-Frayvit of Munch,

Suddenly losing his hunger for lunch.

He wondered, with fear, what his wee life was worth.

And he said, “…please don’t eat me, kind Roy… boy of Earth.”

 

Roy didn’t eat him, he fed him instead,

Fetched him some honey and small bits of bread.

Which Frass gobbled up with the greatest of ease,

Before reaching his main course, some hot mushy peas.

 

Those peas were the best food that Frass ever tasted,

And finding them meant that his trip wasn’t wasted.

These things are sand nuggets, but tasty and green,

I’ll take a load home in my flying machine.”

 

 

So Frass said goodbye, and then loaded his ship,

Thanking his friend for a wonderful trip,

Roy said, “You’re welcome, and hurry back soon,

I’ll find you more peas than can fit on the moon.”

 

Frass was delighted, he’d found a new food,

On a lovely new planet where people were good.

He smiled to himself, feeling happy and fine,

I’ve done it,” he shouted. “It’s peas in our time.”


Thank you for reading ‘Roy, Boy of Earth’. Hard to believe the pictures were drawn by me and not a professional artist, right? RIGHT??  If you and your kids enjoyed reading my story, all I ask is that you donate a minimum of £2 to CHAS (Children’s Hospices Across Scotland). You can do this by calling 0141 779 6180 or visiting www.chas.org.uk/donate.

This isn’t an official CHAS campaign. CHAS isn’t affiliated with me or this website in any way. I just wanted to help the best way I knew how: by writing something silly. CHAS does such important, admirable work for people and children in heart-breaking situations that I’m sure none of you will grudge digging deep for donations – even a shallow dig for £2 is a tremendous help. Every penny counts.

Jamie on the Box

TV Review: Santa Clarita Diet 

Netflix’s popular zomcom is back for its third season, and it’s bloody good

Years ago I worked with a lady in her early sixties, who told me that the secret to her long, stable and happy marriage had been variety, pacing and always having something to look forward to. She and her husband courted, they married, they got a house, they had kids, they moved, they grew, they became grandparents – the beats of their lives perfectly timed and arranged to minimise monotony and banish boredom whenever it threatened to rear its head.

Variety, pacing, something to look forward to. See? The secret to a successful marriage.

It’s also the secret to a successful TV show. The best ones keep moving – quickly, powerfully and with purpose – forking off at just the right times and in just the right directions to keep the journey rolling forwards and the scenery fresh. In gourmet terms: giving you just enough to fill your belly, but never enough to make you sick.

Two recent shows that have been exemplars of this pattern are the super-slick, high-concept comedies The Good Place, and Santa Clarita Diet. The former is due a welcome return later this year, while the latter dropped its third season on Netflix at the end of March: even zanier, funnier, and gorier than ever before. This time around there’s also a surprising amount of heart to proceedings, and I don’t just mean the kind that’s ripped from a victim’s chest and snacked upon by the ravenous undead.

The aftermath of Officer Anne’s desert-based pledge to serve as Sheila’s disciple (season two’s cliff-hanger) is dealt with in typical fast and funny fashion, paving the way for this season’s trio of real and credible dangers: the FBI, sniffing around Eric and Abby’s explosive political statement; the Knights of Serbia, an ancient order dedicated to the eradication of the undead, in town to ply their post-fatal trade; and Dobrivoje Poplovic, the Serbian colonel who wants to capture Santa Clarita’s ‘zombies’ and subject them to a fate worse than… well, undeath.

As always, Santa Clarita Diet deals zippily with its many perils and conundrums, putting them front-and-centre just long enough to wring the maximum amount of interesting and hilarious moments from them, but always wrapping them up and burning them off before they threaten to become humdrum.

This season’s enduring philosophical and ethical question centres on the morality of immortality, specifically if it’s ever right to pass zombiehood on to another person, even with their consent. As the season unfolds it’s clearer than ever before that the power of life over – and life after – death is a heavy burden to bear, for biter, bitten and bystanders all.

Good old Gary

Jonathan Slavin is brilliant as former mental-patient Ron – a maniacal, bug-eyed cross between Peter Capaldi and the Dean from Community – who dupes literal talking-head Gary into biting him, before going out proselytising in the name of zombiehood. Despite Joel and Sheila’s very active opposition to Ron’s reckless behaviour, Sheila has a crisis of conscience when she meets Jean, a prickly old lady with a terminal illness. Jean’s prickly because she won’t live long enough to see her first grandchild born. To bite or not to bite. That is the question… the question that Joel and Sheila have very different answers to.

And Joel finds himself under increasing pressure to join the ranks of the undead, so he and Sheila won’t find themselves separated by his inevitable natural death. Will they or won’t they renew their wedding vows to read ‘Til undeath do us part’?

Incidentally, having loved and admired Timothy Oliphant as seasoned tough guys in both Deadwood and Justified, it’s a joy to see how good he is at comedy. He’s pretty much done a reverse Brian Cranston.

One of the many brilliant things about Santa Clarita Diet is how the big questions about and dangers to Joel and Sheila’s marriage are dealt with as if they were the sort of minor irritations more typically encountered on tea-time soap operas. In Santa Clarita, as in real life, we absorb the horrors of our lives and shrink and tame them until they seem as ordinary to us as Uncle Frank farting at the Christmas dinner table. The very funny juxtaposition between the absolute, blood-splattering insanity of the undead life-style and Joel and Sheila’s sanitised, almost cliched existence in middle-class suburbia is made funnier still by the couple’s tendency to react to the misfortunes and people around them with the forced jollility and fixed smiles of a cutesy couple in a 1950s sitcom.

Laughs, gore, fun, shocks, head, heart, soul: Santa Clarita Diet’s third season has got the lot. Not to mention a healthy, hefty dollop of empowerment.

While representation in media is important, the recent glut of male-to-female character transformations on the big and little screens has felt less like a cultural revolution and more like an effort on the part of media financiers to adjust to the shifting demographics of cinema attendance and merchandise spending. In short, they’re going where the money is. And all the while radical feminists, right-on lefties, chauvinist assholes and slobbering incels battle each other beneath market capitalism’s steely glare…

Santa Clarita Diet proves that you can approach the whole subject of gender and representation without being gimmicky; without even making it obvious that’s what you’re doing. It’s quietly subversive; a highly polished, very funny, wildly entertaining show that just happens to have strong female characters at its helm. And not strong in a ‘look, I can bench-press a body-builder, and I know 6 kinds of karate’ sort of a way, but strong in a ‘we’re regular women surviving and keeping our family afloat in these unique and highly dangerous circumstances, and sometimes we fuck it up’ sort of a way.

Sheila and her daughter are the lynch-pins of the show: strong, flawed, fierce, funny, likeable women who drive the action forwards through a combination of their tenaciousness, kindness, curiosity, compassion, intelligence, impulsivity and thirst for activism. In contrast the men – while also very likeable, and occasionally heroic in their own bumbling way – are neurotic, over-cautious, angst-filled, and frantic. Joel and Eric evoke the Jay Pritchett and Phil Dunphy dynamic, except both of them are Phil Dunphy.

Toxic masculinity – whether it’s located in lecherous lotharios, serial abusers or actual Nazis – is always punished, and always fatally. It doesn’t get much more right-on than a recently empowered woman literally devouring the very worst the patriarchy has to offer. I look forward with great relish to see how the squeamish and squirrelly Joel reacts to joining the ranks of the post-living.

Here’s to the variety and exquisite pacing of season four. To Joel becoming Sheila’s newest pupil, to Abby embarking upon a fledgling romance with Eric whilst rising through the ranks of an ancient order of zombie-killers, to Sheila’s new ass-kicking team of an old lady, a camp coward and a reformed zombie killer.

Definitely something to look forward to.

It’s awful when your kids fight; it’s worse when they don’t

When Christopher, our second child, was still wibbling about in his mother’s yolk, a fish-faced lump of stubby proto-limbs, our first-born, Jack, was already manifesting signs of fraternal protectiveness. He’d rub his mummy’s tummy and tell us how much he was looking forward to his baby brother joining the family. This reassured us, even though he was clearly just parroting back at us the many words of enthusiasm and encouragement we’d chirped into his ears.

In the beginning, things were great. Jack doted on his baby brother, and seemed to harbour zero resentment towards the little guy for jumping on his being-born bandwagon. I know ill feelings and jealous reactions don’t always manifest themselves straight away, but I know they can because of my sister. When I was born, my then eight-year-old sister didn’t shit for a month. The child psychologist said her wildly conflicting feelings of love, anger and jealousy were playing havoc with her insides. She was bottling things up, physically as well as mentally. In a weird sort of a way, the shit she stubbornly refused to release represented her love for me. Love won, in the end. As it always does. I guess you could say I literally loved the shit out of her.

My partner and I realised, as Christopher developed more and more autonomy, that it had probably been easy for Jack to love his brother when he was nothing more than a tiny creature who spent his days either asleep or variously shitting and screaming, because there was no competition between them. Sure, there was competition for time and attention at a basic level, but we always strived to mitigate Jack’s ill-feelings as best we could by giving him plenty of one-on-one time with each of us, not to mention oodles of cuddles with his brother. We wanted Jack to see his brother as a part of him, and a part of the family. An addition, an enhancement, not a replacement.

And it was a success. Maybe Jack wasn’t considered the cutest kid on the block any more, and maybe the greatest share of the ooos, aaaaaaaas and cooooooos now went to Christopher, but Jack was still king. A ruler of absolute power, at least as far as the Kingdom of Little People was concerned. And if the going got rough? If Jack grew tired of this wide-eyed, swaddled little jester? He could simply walk away, go someplace else, be by himself… with brother, no brother, with brother, no brother, as quick and easy as an optician replacing lenses in those weird Meccano glasses they put on your face at the eye test… better with, better without, with brother, no brother. The best of both worlds.

Unfortunately for Jack, Christopher became mobile, and discovered that he didn’t have to live life passively like a leaf on a river. He could be the river. At least until he learned how to be a boat… I’ve really lost the thread of this multi-part metaphor, haven’t I? And why didn’t I say ‘flow’ instead of ‘thread’? This is what happens to your mind when you spend the better part of a year shouting endless variations of ‘LEAVE HIM ALONE!’, ‘LEAVE EACH OTHER ALONE’ and ‘STOP FIGHTING’ at the future WWE stars your children have become.

Christopher, although absolutely bloody adorable, is fearless for his size. He’s always ready and able with a hoarse rebuke or a swinging slap. Thanks to Jack’s campaign of brutal dominance, Christopher learned to fight back at an incredibly early age. He’s a honed, toned battle-machine in a way that Jack never was, or needed to be. If Christopher is occasionally a little monster, then he’s a monster of Jack’s creation [nothing to do with us, you understand, we’re just the parents].

That’s not to make the mistake of assuming that Jack is now the helpless victim in the face of his brother’s revenge-based brutality. Just the other month we heard Christopher screaming, and ran upstairs to find a chunk of his hair matted with blood. Jack had clonked Chrissy over the head with a bulky Chief Wiggum toy, not realising that the sharp points of the policeman’s hat made him more of a blade than a chib.

Different numbers of siblings, and different combinations of genders and ages, make for wildly different sibling relationships. A young girl rounding off a squad of elder brothers might become a tomboy (I hope it isn’t now considered a hate crime to use that word); a young boy at the end of a big litter of sisters might find himself traumatised for all the rest of his days, god help him.

My sister’s role and status as related to me shifted with age, mood and circumstance. Sometimes she was my protector, sometimes my aggressor. Sometimes she was a second-mother, sometimes she was a mother-fucker. But everything was built on a bedrock of love. For every act of torment there came a larger act of kindness. She may have told me there were dead flies in my sandwich to make me hand it over to her, or occasionally bent my legs over my stomach and attempted to pin them behind my head, causing pain that was suggestive of a particularly gruesome interrogation by the Spanish Inquisition, but she also took the rap for me. Hid things for me. Stood up for me. Absorbed the strikes of lightning for me.

When I threw a pillow and broke a bendy, retractable ceiling light of which my mum was especially proud, Alison took the blame. When I was struck with the crippling fear of death, frightened and sobbing, it was her bed I crawled into for peace and reassurance. So I can forgive her for teaching me how to do the fingers and then sending me off to show mum, who went predictably apoplectic.

Siblings fight, siblings grass, sneer and prank, but they love. At least in my experience. (Love you, sis)

Jack and Christopher’s age gap isn’t sufficient to make a second-tier father out of Jack, but their relationship is definitely changing, evolving, growing – away from violence and towards something else entirely. Something great, but something terrible, too. Our greatest hopes for a loving, peaceful union between the two brothers are in the process of being made reality, but it’s a boon that carries barbs. What I’m trying to say is: they’re joining forces.

While whirlwinds of fists and kicks still occasionally erupt from them with the barest of warnings increasingly they’re a team – though not always one where its members enjoy equal standing. Predictably, Jack is the puppet-master. He’s realised the esteem he’s held in by his brother, and the influence this affords him. The fine-print of their accord is less like ‘Why fight, when we can embrace fraternal harmony?’ and more like ‘Why fight, when this pliant young whippersnapper can be the willing and able instrument for my evil bidding?’ They’re like Batman and Robin… if Batman was a total shit.

Jack now wants his little brother to share bedtime stories with him, to lie like best buds and greet the world of sleep together. We often walk past to find Jack whispering in his brother’s ear, usually thinks like ‘Get the pencil and draw on that wall’ or ‘Go slap mummy’s bum’, but, you know, as far as conspiracies go, it’s incredibly sweet.

Last week we’d asked the boys to go upstairs and tidy their room. We knew the chances of them actually tidying their room were a million to one, but – cards on the table – we just wanted ten minutes’ peace. While I expected the room to be actually slightly messier at the end of those ten short minutes, what I didn’t expect when I went to check on their progress was to find water pooling on the floors and carpets, dripping down the walls, and running down the light-bulb and lampshade of the hall light. Christopher stood in the upstairs hall with a giant pump-action water-pistol, his clothes soaking wet, as Jack retreated from his ear with a big goofy grin on his face.

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, and they decide to be best pals? I’m sure we’re going to spend the next fifteen years praying for a return to war.

Jamie on the Box

TV Review: Puny Gods

A half-time appraisal of American Gods’ second season

Last week I said that Ricky Gervais’s new show After Life was greater than the sum of its parts. This week I’m here to tell you that American Gods (Starz, Amazon Prime) is less than the sum of its parts.

Two seasons and five episodes in, I’m yet to make a meaningful connection with its main story or its characters. That’s not to say that it’s a bad show. It’s not. It just doesn’t inspire awe or devotion, which is a grave sin indeed for a show about old Gods battling new for their share of mankind’s awe and devotion.

On the plus side, American Gods looks fantastic. The direction and cinematography are always exquisite; the weird hybrid worlds of man-and-God-hood are mesmerisingly realised and intricately rendered. There are no clunkers among the central or peripheral cast either, whose performances range from perfectly serviceable (Ricky Whittle as central cipher Shadow Moon; Peter Stromare as Czernobog) to terrific (Orlando Jones as Mr Nancy) to tremendous fun (Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney and Emily Browning as Laura Moon/Dead-wife) to, appositely enough, God-like (Ian McShane).

Securing Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday/Odin was a major coup for the show. Like most discerning pop-culture fanatics out there I’d happily watch Ian McShane in pretty much anything: a ten-hour-long art-house movie called ‘Ian McShane Sleeps Peacefully for 12 Hours’; the new 22-part Netflix documentary series, ‘Ian McShane Silently Making Cups of Tea Before Surrendering to the Inevitability of his Morning Shit’. Anything.

McShane is captivating and commanding; his face hangs rich with menace, even when he’s playing relatively benign characters – not that he’s called upon to play many of them these days. His cat-and-mouse/man-and-God game with Shadow has provided most of the best lines and moments in the show so far. My only worry is that Shadow has been denied depth and agency for so long that the de facto star and audience proxy is in danger of being eclipsed by the far more dazzling ensemble around him.

I said American Gods was less than the sum of its parts. But, boy. What parts. The show has a masterful line in cold opens: beautiful, brutal chunks of phantasmagoria that blend fact and fiction, truth and legend, love and horror; powerful polemics on race, greed and corruption; haunting paeans to loss and pain. We’ve had Vikings slaughtering each other on distant and unforgiving shores; Mr Nancy addressing a doomed galley-ship full of slaves; the sad story of Techno Boy’s electro-literate musical prodigy, and, most recently, the tragic tale of a black man being snatched, strung up and burned by a confused and hateful mob, only for his death to carry the flaming torch of hatred far into the future. Each of these artfully-crafted short stories packs more of a visceral, lasting punch than some whole episodes or seasons of other shows.

Like FX’s series about lesser-known X-Men, Legion, American Gods is often a triumph of style over substance. At times the series feels like a patchwork of uber-cool vignettes; mini music-videos and visual slam-poetry that’s been stitched together by a mad Swedish auteur. That, believe it or not, is a compliment. I only hope that the narrative ups its game so the show can coalesce into something truly special.

Later this weekend we go from Gods to monsters, with season 3 of Santa Clarita Diet

Jamie On the Box

TV Review: After Life and after death

Ricky Gervais’ new show on Netflix, and the season nine finale of The Walking Dead

You can trace a loose autobiographical line through most of Ricky Gervais’ TV characters, from the cauldron of arrogance, delusion and fragility bubbling away inside of David Brent, to the sudden success and equally-sudden disillusionment of Andy Millman, right through to the pain, bitterness, contempt and disdain of Tony, the main protagonist of Gervais’s new Netflix series After Life.

Tony used to be a fun-loving man. He was content to coast through his small-town life as a journalist on a bargain-bin newspaper, because he was lucky enough to be married to his best friend, Lisa, a woman who made his life feel complete and worth living. Since her untimely death, Tony’s lost all sense of purpose, and now the only thing stopping him from killing himself is the existence of his pet dog. He’s miserable and angry, and doesn’t just want the rest of the world to know it; he wants the rest of the world to feel it, too: his co-workers, his boss (who’s also his brother-in-law), his postman, the local sex-worker, the local heroin addict, his own father. All of them.

He doesn’t care whether he lives or dies any more, which makes him unpredictable, unpalatable and pretty much untouchable. He’s free to take up heroin, threaten school-children, tackle criminals and tell people openly and unabashedly exactly how he feels about them. Don’t worry, though. Like all of Gervais’s characters, there’s just enough humanity lingering in Tony to guarantee his eventual redemption – though I wouldn’t characterise it as deserved. His grief takes him to some pretty dark places, most worryingly to a suicide by proxy that lightly skirts the fringes of premeditated murder.

After Life, then, is something of a tonal mishmash. It’s A Wonderful Life meets Groundhog Day by way of Trainspotting. The comedy possesses elements of both the farcical, rage-filled wish-fulfillment of Curb Your Enthusiasm and the grotesque absurdities of The League of Gentlemen, with generous portions of Gervais’s own time-tested, world-weary shtick leveled into the mix.

Some of the situations are so cartoonish and the characters within them so buffoonish and broadly drawn that they seem painfully incongruous when set against the many scenes of real grief, sadness, depression and anger. Paul Kaye’s rubbish therapist and Diane Morgan’s dippy office worker (or Kath Pilkington, as I call her) in particular, while very funny characters, don’t feel ‘real’ enough to exist inside a show so pregnant with death, pathos, suicide and sorrow. Many of the characters seem like their only function is to be totems and stress balls dotted along the trail of Tony’s spiritual journey to redemption, a journey that culminates in a sickly-sweet ending that’s somehow just the wrong side of twee.

But do you know what? It works. It shouldn’t – and it sometimes threatens not to – but it holds together, much greater than the sum of its parts. It made me laugh – boy did it make me laugh – and it made me feel real, unbridled emotion, many, many times. While it’s true that Gervais populates Tony’s world with a legion of convenient idiots, Gervais is at his funniest when he’s tearing the world a new one, and meeting insanity with molten sarcasm – so who cares? His antics at the school gate, or in the cafe ordering a children’s meal, or trading caustic barbs with his workmates had me laughing so hard I could hardly breathe. On a few occasions I almost laughed and cried at the same time, especially when Tony visited his dear, demented dad at the nursing home to tell him he loved him.

Gervais doesn’t always exhibit tremendous range as an actor [I should clarify: as a comic actor, he’s terrific], but he’s surrounded himself with great talent here, exceptional actors who add range and depth to the show, and bring out the best in him. David Bradley does so much with so little as Tony’s dad; Penelope Wilton is exceptional as Anne, the widow with whom Tony strikes up a warm relationship through their regular trips to the cemetery; and Ashley Jensen brings grit and humanity to her all-too-brief role as the hard-working nurse who looks after Tony’s dad.

I don’t know what Gervais has in store for season two – now confirmed – but I’m looking forward to it. There’s definitely life after After Life.

Now we move from the dead, to the undead. The characters of AMC’s zombie juggernaut The Walking Dead spent the season nine finale walking through a winter wonderland, but instead of sleigh bells and snowmen, the emphasis was very much on hypothermia and zombies poking out of the snow to eat them. Most seasons of the show have ended with either a jaw-dropping cliff-hanger or some form of ultra-violent wrap-up, so it was a refreshing change for The Walking Dead to drop pace and close out with a quieter, more thoughtful coda. Since the big shock had already dropped in the penultimate episode (“Don’t tell him, Pike!”) there was time and room for mournfulness and soulfulness.

‘The Storm’, despite pitting our survivors against nature itself across a wide and deadly canvas, contained – amid the howling horror – a lot of strong character moments: Michonne made some tough calls, the freeze between the King and Queen kept deepening, Negan continued his evolution from deadly to cuddly, and a simple snow-ball fight made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Aesthetically, ‘The Storm’ is radically different from anything the show’s attempted before; and it’s haunting, beautiful and horrifying in equal measure. Very apt, too. You can almost hear the words of Robert Frost’s snowy, death-tinged poem scoring the group’s slog through the unforgiving wilderness:

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.’

With the exception of a messy stutter-step to accommodate Rick Grimes’ exit, The Walking Dead has been back on track this season, recapturing the ever-spiking, uneven hit-rate of its hey-day (which goes a little like this: two great episodes, two good episodes, three mediocre episodes and one awful episode, repeat, and not necessarily in that order).

While the show is still stitched through with that same wobbly mix of logic-defying decisions and plot-before-character (sometimes even cool-thing-happening-before-plot-AND-character), it’s managed to claw its way back out of the grave it found itself rotting in throughout its seventh and eighth seasons to become a show to be reckoned with once more. The whisperers have been terrific – if occasionally implausible – villains, injecting a welcome air of threat, unpredictability and menace back into the narrative.

It remains to be seen whether season nine will prove to have been the catalyst for the re-animation of The Walking Dead, or simply ‘one last scare’ before the final head-shot. For now, though, we can tip-toe ahead into apocalypse with a sense of cautious optimism.


Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 4, Eps 1 – 3

Part 15: The Unicorn Meets the Eagle (or ‘America… f*** yeah!’)

Wherein Claire and Jamie are slaves to fortune, and others are just slaves

The shape and boundaries of Outlander’s story changed in steady increments throughout its third season, building to a wave (a literal one) that swept the show off its axis and into the raw, thumping heart of America’s pioneering past.

Drawing purely on internet chatter from the many Outlander fan groups I follow, season four’s new direction seems to be the site of the greatest schism yet between fans. Some consider the season to be an evolution, others a metamorphosis (from a butterfly back into a caterpillar). Some see it as a revelation, others an abomination. The fans have split into factions as surely as the two warring sides at Prestonpans or Culloden, a fierce, head-on battle for Outlander’s heart and soul. The question keeps coming up: is season four a blossoming, or a blooming disgrace?

So far, I can’t see what all the fussing and fighting is about. Sure, the show looks and feels very different in many ways, but it’s still solidly and undeniably Outlander. As a litmus test I spent the duration of ‘America the Beautiful’ playing a game of Outlander bingo: pointless Claire monologue? CHECK! Soft-core pornography? CHECK! Occasional bouts of yukky, stilted, over-literary dialogue? CHECK! An irredeemably psychopathic bad guy? CHECK! Hanging; misery; betrayal; death; wonky accents… BINGO!

Characters may live, characters may die; characters may come, characters may go; here, there, back, forth, but there’s one absolute constant in the world of Outlander.

Rape.

We’ve already established that the old world was a minefield of sexual assault (plus ça change) with defilements and debasements round every corner, so kudos to Diana Gabaldon and the writing team for always finding new and inventive ways of putting a fresh spin on the horror. I swear that Diana’s rolodex must be a veritable encyclopedia of assault-based flights of fancy. I wonder what ideas lurk in there yet to be employed? Hot-air balloon rape? Man serially abused by evil trees? Elks held in sexual captivity?”

This time around the horror belongs to young Ian, who admits to Jamie he’s still traumatised by the Bakra’s blood-soaked predations. The knife to his neck was but the final straw in a campaign of bodily terror that saw his spirit broken, his pride punctured and his memories hijacked, all of it garnished with a liberal sprinkling of shame.

Is it really any wonder that the Outlander fandom idolises Jamie? He’s a thoroughly good egg, isn’t he? Jamie is more progressive, patient and understanding than many social-justice-seeking millenials I’ve met. “Some ghosts can only be banished by naming them and their misdeeds aloud,” he tells Ian, shooting for spiritual guidance and in the process stumbling across modern psychology and the healing science of talk therapy. Jamie’s own experience with sexual violence has given him greater empathy for people in general, and victims of sexual assault in particular, but more than that: he’s a man who’s always been several hundred years ahead of his time (give or take a few ill-judged slaps).

Black Jack Randall may be dead, but his spiritual successor is alive and well in pre-revolutionary North Carolina. Step forward Stephen Bonnet, Outlander’s latest dastardly villain. Bonnet’s a mad, bad Irishman with the nervous, twitchy energy of a thousand Rik Mayalls, but none of his zany, humanising humour. There’s something more shark than man about this greedy, thankless scoundrel, who repays vulnerability with attack, and kindness with death.

After Hayes hangs for a crime of passion, Bonnet – next in line to swing – takes advantage of a diversion caused by Hayes’ angry, grief-stricken pal to flee his own pendulum-based destiny. Claire and Jamie later discover that Bonnet has hitched a ride in the back of their wagon, and against their better judgement agree to hide and harbour him, smuggling him past squads of redcoats.

When they next encounter Bonnett, he’s a robber, rascal and all-round rotter. He boards Jamie and Claire’s riverboat with his crew of criminals and proceeds to beat, terrify and humiliate his saviours, taking Jamie’s gems and Claire’s wedding rings, and even slitting the throat of the aforementioned grief-stricken pal to whom Bonnett indirectly owes his life. He’s… well. How shall we put this?

He’s a bit of a c***, isn’t he?

I wasn’t entirely sold on the use of Ray Charles’ ‘America the Beautiful’ over the scene of the boat rampage. While I understand that the juxtaposition of the song’s cheery melody with the visceral horror unfolding to its accompaniment serves to amplify the senseless horror of the attack, I really needed and wanted to hear the angst, the screams, the threats, the slits, thuds and cracks. Not because I’m an irredeemable sicko, you understand (although in many ways I am). I just felt that the music both dulled the magnitude of Bonnet’s betrayal and softened the impact of the violence. I wanted to see, hear and feel it the way Jamie and Claire did, no holds barred. I wanted to share the totality of their pain, anger and thirst for retribution.

[Granted, though, there was something irresistible in hearing a song about America, performed by a black man in segregation-era America, playing over a scene that typifies the violence upon which modern American was built.]

It’s clear that Bonnet has much in common with the fabled scorpion who hitches a ride on the back of a too-trusting frog, but team Fraser’s not exactly lacking for stings. I’m sure there’ll be a reckoning, and soon. But I fear that before that day comes, Bonnett will do much worse to the Frasers and those close to them. Much, much worse.

So far, barring the obvious robbery-homicide, the very worst thing that Stephen Bonnet has done is… speak. What is it with this show and accents? If they aren’t always going to hire Scottish or Irish actors to play Scottish or Irish parts, they should at least seek to hire actors who can turn their tongues to multiple dialects with ease. Ed Speleers is a good actor, but his Irish accent is a little… off. It isn’t in the same league of aural atrocities as Geillis Duncan’s ear-murdering lilts, but it’s just out of alignment enough to hamper the suspension of my disbelief. I’m sure the people of Minnesota, Rhode Island, Durban and Tokyo aren’t all that bothered about a few stray Oirish (sic) intonations, but I know one picky, prickly Celt that sure as shit is.

Ditto Aunt Jocasta. Now, Maria Doyle Kennedy is a talented actress, still in the midst of a long, varied and successful career – and I adored her in Orphan Black as the world-weary, murky, but deeply maternalistic Mrs S – but her Scottish accent is too clipped and staccato to scan as wholly authentic. Again, it’s just… just… a little off. Ever so slightly. But enough for each syllable to boom in my ears like a bomb.

Anyway, enough nit-picking. It’s time to… well, whatever the opposite of nit-picking is. Putting nits back? Making nits great again? Establishing a comprehensive nit-breeding program? WELL, RELEASE THE NITS, because I think that the fourth season’s second episode ‘Do No Harm’ is among the best the show has ever done.

It’s exquisite: a harrowing tale of conflict, prejudice, hatred, hope, despair, tragedy, ignorance and helplessness, for which there are no easy answers and from which there is no method of escape for Jamie or Claire that won’t leave them drenched in the blood of innocents.

Jamie’s experiences suffering under the jackboots of the English forces in Scotland has given him an affinity with subjugated and dispossessed peoples the world over, which predisposes him to stand up for the slaves’ humanity and freedom. Claire cannot abide injustice, and seeks to overthrow it wherever she encounters it, by any means necessary, and no matter the cost or the futility of the act. But here their noble impulses are prostrate in the face of a system that won’t budge, no matter how firmly they press their pasty-white shoulders against it. Jamie knows that even if he could rally the slaves to overthrow their masters, he’d most likely get them all killed in the process – maybe even his beloved aunty, too. Claire, from her vantage point in the future, knows in which direction this particular path of history is winding, and if Culloden couldn’t be stopped… then neither can this.

With each fresh attempt to do the right thing, Claire and Jamie only succeed in making themselves more complicit in the unfolding horror. Their impotence in the face of systemic racism and cruelty is grueling and horrible, though as a narrative choice it’s delicious: a rich seam of conflict and tension.

What does justice mean, who does it really serve, if its points are calibrated so crookedly? When blind white hatred outweighs black lives and freedom? Slavery is a system and a way of thinking that’s a danger and a detriment to the bodies and souls of all men, women and children, irrespective of colour; although the heavier burden rests, of course, upon the shoulders of those with darker skin tones. Sometimes that burden rests upon them literally, forcing them to exist as human cart-horses.

Jamie can’t abide the sight of Rufus hanging from a hook, awaiting excruciating torture and death at the hands of his hate-filled ‘masters’. It sickens and angers him. Hayes being hanged was one thing, this is quite another. He saves him… or so he hopes.

Claire takes an equally bold stance – placing the Hippocratic oath before the hypocritical oath of hatred – by using her surgical skills to heal the wounded man. I thought Ulysses – Aunt Jocasta’s slave of slaves – was going to thank Claire for her efforts, but he instead rebukes her for having intervened. He tells her with some anguish that when the angry crowd gets its hands on Rufus now, which it will, the boy’s fate will be much worse… that they’ll make an example of him to put all of the slaves in their place

It reminded me of the time I stood up for a homeless person who was being verbally abused and threatened on a cold, Aberdeen street. ‘Thanks,’ the homeless man said to me, once I’d warned his would-be attackers off, ‘They’ll probably come back later and kick the living shit out of me now.’

The only choice open to Claire if she wants to safeguard the rest of the slaves, preserve the time-line and ensure a less harrowing death for Rufus is to kill her himself. Jesus, that’s dark, Outlander. Commendably dark. A different show might have seen Claire and Jamie fake Rufus’ death and smuggle him out of town to safety, but this show likes to revel in its impossible choices.

On that note: Claire’s turning into quite the little serial killer, isn’t she? A real Harriet Shipman. They’ll soon have to rename the show ‘Take Me Out-lander’. Who’s she going to poison next?

‘Claire, young Ian’s got a bit of a sore leg. I think he’s grazed it.’

[Claire nods] ‘You get the kettle on, Jamie, I’ll go fetch the [wink, wink] special ingredient.’

‘NO, CLAIRE!!! JESUS CHRIST!’

Claire’s send-off for Rufus was agonising but tender. In death, she handed him freedom, and returned him to his family – even if it was only in his mind’s eye in the brief moments before it winked shut forever.

Then the lynch mob are handed Rufus’s body. Nothing sums up the insanity of racism more than a bunch of angry, mad bastards hanging a corpse. What awful, terrible bastards we’re capable of becoming given the right (or wrong) circumstances. It’s no great surprise that Jamie and Claire decline Aunt Jocasta’s offer to join them on her estate.

I always start these diaries worrying that I won’t be able to write enough and then, once I hit my stride, I always worry that I’ve written too much. Outlander lends itself well to analysis, and because of my closeness to the country that started it all, and my love of TV and pop culture, there are always multiple routes to journey down off the main avenues laid down by the episodes. And, as you’re by now well aware, I do so love a good segue.

However, whenever Roger and Brianna dominate an episode my anxiety about writing too much vanishes. I’ve never found their arc especially compelling, a lack of enthusiasm that’s only been compounded by my indifference to Brianna – both the character and the actress who portrays her. I feel like I could get away with writing, ‘Roger and Brianna did stuff, and then they did some more stuff, and then all the stuff was done, the end.’

Well, blow me down. What a difference a year makes. Brianna and Roger seem really good together here. And I like Brianna now, both the character and the actress. Sophie Alexandra Skelton has really settled into the role, and the character seems at once more relaxed, and significantly wilder. Brianna definitely has Claire’s tunnel-visioned, devil-may-care-ness, but it’s untempered by the anguish of wars and death. I’m sure her impulsivity will spell trouble for Roger in the long-run.

He’s a real love-sick little puppy, isn’t he? That’s when he isn’t being all whiny, passive-aggressive and entitled. I thought their burgeoning romance, with all its confusion, angst and heartache, was handled very well. And Brianna’s blouse landing on the deer’s antlers like some sexy parachute made ma laugh. Still, say what you like about Roger, there aren’t many men who would travel all the way to North Carolina to attend what appears to be a Scottish-themed church bazaar.

The song that Roger sang on stage for Brianna made me cringe. The lyrics were horrible, the tune was crud, an assessment obviously not shared by Roger’s audience, who sat enraptured; smiling, nodding, and staring ahead with unblinking zeal. I’ve been at concerts, recitals and karaoke nights. At least fifty per cent of the people in any given audience are chatting among themselves; twenty per cent or more are off at the bar; fifteen per cent are asleep; and the other fifteen per cent are staring down at their shoes like they’re trying to figure out how to use them to kill themselves.

Anyway, Roger and Brianna did stuff, and then they did some more stuff, and then all the stuff was done. The end.

A few final, disjointed thoughts

  • As Claire and Jamie’s first big bonk of the season got underway, my partner shook her head and said, ‘Why is Claire always just wet? No preamble, no foreplay: plop – in he goes.’ ‘Maybe because they’re constantly surrounded by the aphrodisiac of death and danger, and he’s got big muscles?’ She was still incredulous. ‘That’s not how vaginas work.’ It was my turn to shake my head. ‘Maybe this says more about me, than it does about Claire and Jamie.’
  • When the Scots were all gathered together drinking booze and singing Gaelic songs in a phlegmy warble, it reminded me again of how many similarities there are between Scots and that other long-haired, often-indecipherable warrior race, the Klingons.
  • So, the historical genesis of the drum-roll is as an accompaniment to hangings, is it? Thank you in advance, Outlander, for helping me to win a pub-quiz at some point in the future. What a wonderful, though slightly disconcerting, sprinkling of detail. I’m more used to hearing drum-rolls during a magician’s act. It’s a bit jarring to hear it accompanying a horrid, neck-snapping death, although what is hanging if not a magic trick without the ‘ta-da’ bit?
  • I hope we see more of John Quincy Myers – Hagrid’s little brother meets the bearded music teacher from the Walking Dead.
  • Ditto Phaedre. Good actress, good character. Wise and spirited beyond her years. I hope we see a lot more of her.
  • I wish Lt Wolff had been this season’s baddy. You can just tell he’s going to be a complete, unbridled arsehole.
  • What a big man-child I am. I found myself snickering away at the subtitles when they were describing animal noises. My partner shook her head in despair. Come on, though, ‘horse nickers’? A horse wearing a big pair of ladies pants? Who can blame a man for chuckling like a child? And the less said about the ‘gobbling softly’ the better.
  • Claire see the ghost of an Indian, and it leads her to Jamie. I’m sure that presages the appearance of some real-life native Americans in the show.
  • Frasers’ Ridge! Now I understand why that Facebook fan group calls itself that!

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READ THE REST – Click below

Why I want to binge-watch Outlander

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 5 – 8

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 9 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 13 – 16

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 5 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 11 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Ep 13

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 1 – 3

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 4 – 5

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 6 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 11 – 13

30 Things You Didn’t Know About Scotland

 

Sunshine Over Dalkeith, Dark Clouds Over Jamie

If, like me, you’ve got young kids, and little money for exotic travel and indoor pursuits, the winter weather can act as your jailer. Although we’ve ventured out as a family to local parks and lochs over the last few months, it’s been a long time since we’ve been on any of our customary mid-to-long-range adventures.

In the fairer months we try to visit a brand new place at least once every couple of weeks. It doesn’t have to be hours away. Scotland is a small country, but you could still comfortably spend a lifetime exploring its nooks and crannies (although if you want to free up a little of your precious time, you won’t be missing much if you skip Airdrie. Spoiler alert: everybody dies).

I’ve been feeling stir crazy. Yearning for the wide skies and the open road. Recently, each drop of the seemingly never-ending rain has fallen from the sky like a punch; each and every dicky tummy or runny nose that’s kept us housebound has felt like a personal affront. It’s a conspiracy, that’s what I came to believe, a conspiracy to keep me away from the wider world. What’s out there, hmmmm?? What are THEY hiding, hmmmm? Why don’t THEY want me to go out there?? I’ll show them… I’ll show ALL of them. Fetch me my tin-foil!

Last weekend, my weather forecast app showed me a jackpot of yellow suns. It almost rained from my eyes. I was so happy. Finally. We were free. Free to explore new and exotic places like… em, er… Dalkeith.

I’d been having a wee Google to myself. Dalkeith had a big country park, on the grounds of which was an old estate house, miles of forests, trails and tracks, beaten and otherwise, and a giant adventure playground styled after a fort that looked like it was absolutely terrific fun to run around in, and climb, and explore… for …the kids, of course.

The mid-range adventure was locked in. On the morning of the trip I could feel the stress lifting from my body like mist rising over the mountains. I knew the faster and farther we traveled along the motorway, the more the winds of change would blow that mist away, scattering it to the vast, swallowing jaw of the heavens. I was looking forward to testing out my new beatific smile in a car full of shiny, happy people.

We first had to make a stop at Asda, though, so I knew my new monk-like demeanour was going to be put to the test. Supermarkets are places where stress goes to shop and peace comes to die. I kept telling myself it was going to be OK, though. For starters, my partner, Chelsea, would be running the grocery gauntlet, venturing in for a low-carb, pre-pack salad while I stayed in the car with the kids.

But a car makes for a fragile cocoon, and the clenched fist of irritation soon smashed its way inside, hell-bent on pummeling my heart into action. My blood started dancing the moment we pulled into the car-park.

I surveyed the scene, and it was war-like in its horror and intensity: cars scuttled across the tarmac like giant dung-beetles; pedestrians infested the walk-ways like hordes of angry zombies, sniffing for the warm blood of their next kill. My fingers clenched the wheel. Reality had elbowed optimism out of its way and straight into the path of an oncoming shop-mobility vehicle.

I rolled the car to a stop at the front of the building to let Chelsea leap out. It was a swift, slick operation, necessitating the car being stationary for less than three seconds. Even still, just as I was driving off, PARP PARRRRRRPPPP! The mist of stress, which had been drifting cloudward, turned into a mountaineer, and slammed a pick-axe into the base of my amygdala.

I looked in my rear-view mirror. A fat, middle-aged woman in the rickety-old car behind me stared ahead with a look of wide-mouthed ferocity. Three seconds was an unacceptable amount of time for me to have made her wait. I summoned all of my powers of diplomacy and restraint. The kids were in the car with me, after all.

‘COW!’ I shouted, balling my hand into a fist and extending my middle-finger into the mirror. ‘FAT COW!’

I drove off as slowly as possible, relishing her continued anger. If only mine had abated, I could’ve claimed the moral high-ground, but I was just as angry as she was, with an added rainbow of righteousness rushing through my snarls.

I was still fuming about it long after she’d gone, even once Chelsea was back in the car cradling her low-fat salad. ‘Well, we know she’s impatient. She clearly can’t wait to shovel the next cake into her fucking mouth.’

‘Jamie, the kids!’

‘Well,’ I said, in a tone of voice that suggested I’d just crafted a profound and eloquent justification for my ongoing rage.

Soon enough we were on the motorway, and my stress was hovering somewhere above the car, never able to lift entirely on account of the tail-gaters haunting my back-bumper like towed ghosts. A few hundred near-miss heart-attacks fluttered by. After an ice-age of irritation, the SatNav announced that our destination was a little ahead of us, just off the main road.

I drove through a stone archway, and down a long, single-track road fringed by tall grass and trees on either side. Far down the track the road bent out of sight, so far down, and under a wide expanse of blue sky to boot, that we might as well have been in some remote segment of the highlands, instead of a mere minute from a busy dual carriage-way. There were no other cars or people in-front or behind. Bliss. Sheer bliss. About half-way up the track, I trundled the car to a stop. There, at the side of the road, was a young buck, nibbling leaves from a tree, its big antlers perched incongruously atop its little head, like he’d just picked them up from a joke-shop.

‘Look, kids,’ I whispered, even though the windows were all up.

We gazed in wonder at the innocent and obliviouslittle creature for a few seconds. Well, I gazed in wonder, anyway. Chelsea’s eyes were centred on her phone, and the kids didn’t really seem to give a monkey’s. It’s not like it was a monkey, after all.

‘It’s a wee stag, and it’s eating some leaves,’ I said with a smile, very much stating the obvious.

‘Let’s get a picture,’ I decided, because of course get a picture. This is 2019.

The stress was gone, whirling high above us on an unstoppable trajectory to Mars. And all it took was the simple sight of a tiny animal, nonchalantly munching some greenery.
I edged the electric window down an inch or so. The nyee-whir-thud made the buck flinch, but after a few seconds of consideration it went back to munching the leaves. I edged it down some more, figuring that the buck was inured to the noise. I was right. Nyee-whir-thud. Munch, munch, munch.

‘Use your phone,’ I said to Chelsea through gritted teeth, careful to trap as much sound as possible inside my mouth. I wanted to capture this beautiful, peaceful moment. To preserve it for all eternity.

PARRRPPPP! Went the car behind us. WHOOOOSH! Went the buck, disappearing into the trees. PARRRPPPPPPPPP! Went the car behind us again. I looked in the rear-view mirror to see a fat, middle-aged woman glaring angrily ahead, her vast white monster of a car trundling and revving beneath the impress of her impatient fat foot.

I instinctively, and rather bizarrely, made the wanker gesture in my rear-view mirror, as I ranted like a maniac. ‘ANOTHER IMPATIENT FAT COW! WHAT, ARE YOU IN A RUSH TO GET TO THE COUNTRY PARK? IS THERE AN EMERGENCY WITH A FUCKING SPARROW OR SOMETHING, YOU FAT COW? WE. WERE. TRYING. TO. TAKE. SOME. TIME. OUT. TO. SMELL. THE. ROSES.’

Chelsea shook her head, and glanced back at the kids. ‘We do NOT say that someone IS fat. We say that someone HAS fat. We don’t teach our children to judge people like that.’
I nodded. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said to Chelsea. ‘I’m sorry, kids,’ I said to them. ‘Daddy gets angry sometimes, and he says things he shouldn’t.’ I let that percolate before adding. ‘She shouldn’t have peeped though.’

I rolled on, as slowly as possible, so slow I was almost going in reverse. This time, my anger had turned to wicked delight. I could see the woman behind’s anger mounting and mounting the more slowly we trundled up the long, long single-track.

‘Boy,’ I said, grinning at myself in the rear-view mirror. ‘That cow sure has a lot of fat.’
‘JAMIE!’

I laughed.

Maybe it isn’t the great outdoors and the wide open skies that bring me peace. Maybe it’s something more primal than that.

Maybe I just like being a dick.

I’m pretty good at it.

And that makes me happy.

A Rave for Kids?

© Photography by Khristopher Morgan for Here & Now (fb.com/weareherenandow)

Falkirk nightclub ‘Temple’ recently applied for a variation to its license to allow it to operate as a venue for children’s ‘rave’ events during the day. Councillor Robert Bisset, sitting on the Licensing Board, said he wanted to delay a ruling until more and better lighting had been installed in the club.

I understand the health-and-safety implications of a horde of hyperactive kids jumping around in a dark room, but it’s obvious that not one single member of that board has ever been to a rave, else they would have known that darkness is something of a prerequisite, not to mention a necessity.

If adults were to have a rave in a brightly-lit room, the cumulative effect of all those illuminous togs, jutting limbs and sweating, gurning faces bouncing up and down to a thumping, whizz-bang beat would be too disgusting and absurd for its participants to bear, and they’d all have to go home and sit in a corner for three days, rocking back and forth while trying to peel the skin from their faces.

Light burns; darkness salves.

Do we really need to inculcate our kids into raves, anyway? I understand that the ravers of yesterday want their kids to follow in their footsteps, but so soon? I did a lot of things in the late 1990s, most of them entirely unsavoury. I wasn’t once inspired to think, ‘You know what, I hope my kids get the chance to go hunting for drugs one day, too. But, you know: when they’re six!’

Surely the adult world can wait. What are we going to do to them next? Put them in little suits and see if they can blag mortgages for their Wendy houses? Make them sit through an awkward-as-fuck dinner party? Send them to the vet and force them to witness a series of increasingly harrowing hamster euthanasias?

What would a rave for the under 6’s look like anyway?

Let’s just imagine that for a moment or two…

Come regress with me.

At the kids’ rave

The beat drops for Baby Shark. There’s a scream and everyone starts juddering like crazy across the dance-floor, except for one boy sitting cross-legged at the side of the hall, who rolls his eyes and mutters something about Baby Shark being ‘soooo 2018’ and a ‘passing fad’.

‘It’s too commercialised now,’ says Felicia, a little girl wearing an ‘In the Night Garden’ T-shirt. She squats down next to him in solidarity.

He rips open his buttoned cardigan to show her his ‘Teletubbies’ T-shirt, and then gives her a disgusted look.

‘Don’t try to rave with me, newbie. I’m old school. I busted moves to Pingu, shufflin’ it penguin-style, when you were still swimming in your dad’s nut-sack. I watched Postman Pat before the pube-headed, speccy twat went airborne. OLD school. You feel it?’

‘I’ve seen Rugrats,’ she says haughtily.

‘Bitch, I’m wearing Rugrats mother***ing Y-fronts.’

He gets up and starts strutting away, shouting back over his shoulder:

‘I can’t be seen with you. You’re a fraud. I’m going home to listen to DJ Peppa Pig’s Sick Licks. ON FUCKING VINYL!’

He struts away, his finger held aloft behind him. ‘BYE Felicia.’

It’s the wrong finger, but she gets the idea.

A new tune bangs out across the room. The crowd are going wild, joining hands and jumping up and down, side to side, like one massive conjoined entity: a ska-beast, its veins pulsing pink-and-green on the dimly-lit dance-floor. “PAW PATROL, PAW PATROL, BE THERE ON THE DOUBLE! PAW PATROL, PAW PATROL…YEAH, LEMME HEAR Y’ALL MOTHERFUCKERS SING IT! YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT, SAVE THAT MOTHERFUCKING CHICKEN, Y’ALL, DOGGY-STYLE!”

Wayne, a stocky five-year-old, is out on the dance-floor in the middle of the throng, dancing like a boy possessed. Mainly because he’s absolutely off his tits on E-numbers. He’s had a line of Sherbet, a pure rock of Twix, and a half-bar of Milky Way that’s been cut with Smarties. Not to mention shit-loads of Coke. He’s throwing some shapes. Literally. He’s throwing squares, triangles, circles, rectangles, right at the other kids’ heads. Big thick Fisher Price plastic shapes.

A few feet away from him is Kade, a nursery kid with rhythm in his bones. The crowd’s created some distance between itself and Kade, not because Kade’s such a good dancer that he deserves space to ply his art, but because Kade’s shat himself. Violently. He’s flicking grotty smears of butt-gravy each time he shakes his hips. It’s splatting out of the sides of his nappy like Beethoven’s drool. A little girl a few feet away from him gets a splat of it on her dress, but because her parents are hippies, it goes with the pattern and she doesn’t notice. And still Kade dances, his arms thundering like pistons, his head bobbing like a Churchill dog in the back windscreen of a race-car.

‘CROWD SURF!’ he shouts, and everyone edges further away from him.

Back over at the side of the hall is Isaac, who’s been trying to blend into the wall. He’s wearing designer sandals, khaki cut-offs and a long face. He sees Felicia looking sad, and shuffles over to her. He’s no gentleboy, though; no knight in shining armour. He just knows a captive audience when he sees one.

Isaac sits down next to Felicia and tries to introduce himself over the din. ‘I’m Isaac, yeah? I’m 4 and a quarter. I love these things. You can’t just feel the music, sometimes it feels like you ARE the music, yeah?’

Felicia picks at one of her nostrils and stares at him through one heavy-lidded eye, sighing audibly. Undeterred, Isaac continues: ‘Yeah, you probably haven’t seen me around. I’m actually taking a gap year from nursery this year. It was sapping my shakra, man, I needed some room to grow, you know?’

She jams her finger up the other nostril, and plucks out a runny dollop of squidgy bogey. She grinds it into Iggle Piggle’s eye, all the while staring dead ahead at Isaac, who hasn’t noticed a thing. In fact, he isn’t even looking at her anymore.

‘Yeah, I’m working on a novel, actually, it’s a conceptual piece, my Dad says it’s the best thing he’s ever read, it’s all about how school doesn’t actually exist, yeah, and there’s this dog, but it can talk, yeah, and you find out it represents the main character’s grief at his gran dying, man, but really it’s a love story for our age, yeah?’

‘PSSSSSSST,’ hisses a boy standing over them. He opens his jacket to reveal a row of lollies above a row of packets of sherbet.

‘How much for the jacket?’ asks Felicia.

In a perfect turn of events, the 2017 club remix of ‘Johnny Johnny Yes Papa’ thumps into life around them.

The dealer looks down at Isaac’s shorts and sandals with a sneer. ‘Who buys your clothes? Your mum?’

‘Em, yeah,’ he says. ‘I’m four. Our mums… all our mums buy our clothes. Who… who buys your clothes?’

The dealer smiles. ‘Good point, son. Want to get fucked up before our mums come to pick us up?’

Isaac shoots to his feet. ‘Let’s party like it’s … well, right now.’


Click here for the news story

Entering ‘Leaving Neverland’ with an Open Mind

Depending upon the preconceptions about Michael Jackson’s guilt or innocence you bring with you to HBO’s Leaving Neverland, you’ll find it either a harrowing how-to guide on the grooming of children, or a show-case of the acting skills of two very cynical and greedy con-men.

Wade Robson and James Safechuck claim to have suffered years of abuse at the hands – and various other body parts – of Michael Jackson, a campaign that went hand-in-glove with a relentless charm blitzkrieg that saw the boys and their families showered with gifts, money, love and attention.

Because the documentary offers no physical evidence or conclusive ‘proof’ of Jackson’s alleged crimes, it was natural for viewers to slip into the roles of arm-chair detectives and amateur psychologists: scrutinising Robson and Safechuck’s every motivation, facial twitch, hand gesture and intonation, hoping to discover the truth somewhere in that web of cues.

Do Safechuck and Robson seem upset enough? Do they seem too upset? Is their tone too lively? Too flat? What are they doing with their eyes? Are they being too emotional, or too clinical?

It’s a very human impulse: to seek; to search; to pull apart; to judge. We like nothing better than to impose and transpose our ideas and ideals about the world and human interactions on friends and strangers alike. We know people, right? We’re great judges of character. Aren’t we?

Most of the time, though, our moment-to-moment ‘instincts’ or knee-jerk reactions are wrong, or only ‘right’ within the narrow parameters we set for ourselves based upon the limited information to which we have access; all filtered, of course, through our biases. It’s too easy to imagine certainty in the shadows when you’re busy being blinded by the light of your own self-righteousness.

Wade Robson

Cautionary examples of micro-scrutiny and projection abound, in fiction as in real life, the most striking example of which can be found in Albert Camus’ exemplary work ‘The Stranger’. The story’s narrator is condemned to death for a crime of self-defence; judged guilty almost entirely on the basis of his muted reaction to his mother’s unrelated death a few weeks previously. He didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral. This perceived lack of feeling was witnessed by the townsfolk, twelve of whom went on to serve on his jury. A man who doesn’t weep for his dear, departed mother, they reasoned, must be a man capable of limitless evil. He’s guilty, they proclaimed. He’s a liar.

Case in point: I found myself occasionally sceptical of Robson’s testimony, particularly the uncomfortable level of detail he delivered unflinchingly to the camera, but then found myself softening towards him when a) I discovered he was married and, b) he cried in the second part of the documentary. That’s when it hit me. I don’t know what a typical abuse victim sounds like, or how they typically feel or behave. Who am I to pick apart every micro-gesture, or judge this man based upon his tears or lack thereof?

[And so fucking what if any of them are after ‘Jackson’s’ money? If I’d been offered fame and fortune, and found out too late that the price for achieving this was serial sexual abuse and the disintegration of my self-esteem and trust, damn right I’d try to take every single fucking penny of that bastard’s money. And don’t forget this – it’s all about money for those feeding from the Jackson estate, too. It’s not only the victims who have a ‘vested interested’ in safeguarding that ‘fortune’]

In the end I found it best simply to listen to the two men and their families; let their stories wash over me in their entirety, and then try to place them in their proper context: that context being Jackson’s supreme power and status; and the myriad public allegations that have been made against him since the early 1990s.

Looking back at Whacko Jacko

It seems as though the wider public’s greatest sympathies have always lain with Michael Jackson. His fans and supporters have always held him up as the proto-typical abuse victim, an almost Christ-like figure. Having been brutalised and beaten by his mean drunk of a Dad, and forced to perform in the public spotlight like a cross between a circus monkey and a cash cow, Jackson then arose – free from bondage, free from suffering – to usher the world into a new era of love and peace. Jackson was meek and mild. He’d known pain, he’d known terror, he’d known subjugation, he’d known powerlessness, and he was here to tell the world, ‘From now on, I will demonstrate my ethos of kindness and happiness, and I will do it by surrounding myself with hordes of pre-pubescent children, and sleeping with them in my bed.’

Erm… sorry, what? This has always been the snagging point, and the point around which Jackson’s legal and PR teams have spun the hardest. There can be few parents whose alarm bells fail to ring upon learning of this aspect of Jackson’s behaviour, and the fact that many of the parents of the boys who went on to claim abuse at Jackson’s hands found themselves fooled or dismissed around this point is a testament to the toxic power of money, success, and worship. Jackson seems to be above and beyond the scope of the #metoo movement. He’s like a pope; a prophet; a holy man. Jackson isn’t a mere Kevin Spacey: he’s the Catholic Church itself.

The abused often become abusers. Often, but not always, those who have been hit, hit; those who have been subjected to anger and intolerance go on to subject their nearest and dearest to anger and intolerance; those who have been touched, touch; those who have been brutalised, sexually or otherwise, go on to brutalise others in turn, or else allow themselves to be brutalised again and again and again, in a horrible escalation of the original pattern. Or both.

There’s a reason Dexter’s titular serial-killer-in-disguise brings in a tray of donuts for his cop-station co-workers every morning; there’s a reason real-life monster Jimmy Savile ran so many marathons and donated so much money to charity. It’s over-compensation, misdirection. Smoke, mirrors. Schmoozing.

Grooming.

We Brits tend to be a bit more cynical about these things given our recent experiences not just with Jimmy Savile, but with seemingly every male celebrity who ever graced a stage or set between the 1960s and the 1990s. We know that abusers can hide in plain sight, skipping over fields of whispers to shake hands with pop stars and princes alike.

I know men and women are capable of lying about rape; I know kids can lie about abuse, for all sorts of reasons. But more and more these days (excluding the TV and film industry) it seems as though our sympathies lie more with the abusers – the rich, the powerful, the savage – than they do with the victims. The poor and disenfranchised of America cheer for Donald Trump – ‘He’s just like us!’ – as all the while his unfeeling foot moves to crush them. The working-classes of the UK pour platitudes upon the Queen, a woman who likely wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire.

And when a weak and spindly Michael Jackson celebrates a Not Guilty verdict by clambering on top of a parked car like a vampiric Willy Wonka, or a mutated Mister Burns, his fans erupt in a chorus of cheers, whistles and applause. That VT footage is in the documentary. It’s sickening. Jackson raises his arms aloft and makes himself into a lightning rod with which to absorb the explosive adulation of the crowd, a happy smile plastered across his plastic face.

You were accused of child molestation, Michael. And it’s not the first time. You’re not on stage. It reminded me of when Rolf Harris started singing excerpts from his greatest hits while testifying in court. Not just wildly inappropriate, but callously inconsiderate and narcissistic.

Won’t somebody please think of the children…

I’ve heard a lot of people ask, in response to this documentary, ‘Why didn’t the accusers say something sooner? Why did one of them actively lie in support of Jackson and then change his story? Kids blabber and talk, about everything and anything – why didn’t they?

This ignores the role that shame and fear play in our lives. It ignores the work that an abuser does to normalise abuse and/or to isolate their victim from their friends, family, and even reality itself. It ignores the conflicting feelings of love and loyalty a child may have towards their abuser. It ignores the fear a child may have of not being believed, or of hurting their family, even of hurting their abuser. It ignores the fear a child may have of losing that connection to their abuser that on some level they’ve been conditioned to need – a feeling of being loved, of being special – not to mention the material gains it affords them: the bribes, the promises, the luxuries. It’s a horrible, sickening process that makes children feel complicit in their own debasement.

The answer to those three questions posed at the turn of this sub-section lie in our own lives and relationships. We all come through power structures when we’re children: family, foster homes, care institutions. Even without the spectre of abuse, it can be hard to assert yourself within those dynamics. Maybe there’s an old uncle whose views you find repellent, whom you nevertheless tolerate as an adult because those hierarchical cues keep working to constrain your responses.

Maybe a single look or stray tone from either or both of your parents can seal your lips in silence or get your heart pumping like a drug-addled disco-dancer. I know grown adults in their forties and fifties who still won’t spark up a cigarette in front of their elderly parents for fear of reproach.

Look at Tony Soprano, pop fiction’s most iconic and well-rounded mob boss, a man of ferocious and absolute power who still nevertheless finds himself at the mercy of his mother’s narcissistic machinations and infanticidal fury.

Wade Robson, James Safechuck and director Dan Reed

Think about the working world. School and higher education, despite their lofty claims to unlock the unique power of the individual, serve largely as tools to mould kids into the workforce of tomorrow. What little vestiges of non-conformity still exist in a person by the time they join the job market are usually chipped away quickly by the iron hand of the corporatocracy (the only place where creativity is encouraged is in the banking system, and even then its greatest artists usually end up either in jail or in the government). We have no loyalty to our workplaces beyond our wallets. There are no childhood entanglements to complicate our relationship. But, still, most of us toe the line, and work hard not to rock the boat.

In our workplaces we’re forced to accept things and people that under different circumstances we wouldn’t have the inner-reserves of self-control to bear. Workers imagine that Human resources departments function like unions, looking out for the little guy, helping to keep bosses in check, but in reality they exist to preserve the status quo and minimise a company’s risk of haemorrhaging money to lawyers. Ditto appraisals, which are promoted as a boon for the worker, the equivalent of a wish-list to Santa sent up the chimney-spout. To your employer, though, your appraisal is simply a stored record of either your compliance or your mistakes, ultimately a form of insurance against any future legal action. ‘But what grounds do you have for this tribunal? We have three years’ worth of testimony here as to your happiness? You never spoke up before.’

Now imagine that instead of being at home or at work you’re in the orbit of one of the most iconic, powerful and adored human beings who ever lived.

Systems trap us. Our homes and possessions and families make us slaves. Most of the time, most of us take the path of least resistance. Battles are draining, and the reality is: most of them we won’t win. Even if we’re right. Even if we’ve been wronged.

That’s why we admire rebels: James Dean, John Wayne, Larry David. They blaze the trails we can’t. We’re weak. Abusers and psychopaths know this. Especially the rich and influential ones.

That’s why they invariably win, time after time. And will doubtless continue to do so. In a sense, we’re all victims; and few of us even realise we’re being abused.

We’ve now left Neverland

By the end of those four harrowing hours of interviews, interspersed with archival news and home footage, it becomes finally, painfully clear that Neverland wasn’t a waking dream for these kids, but a living nightmare; a factory disguised as a gang hut; where hungry serfs found themselves ferried along rainbow-coloured conveyor belts, on which their childhoods were plucked from them like rhino horns.

Michael Jackson’s power, fortune and legacy are all waning now, which is another reason why the bubble he tried to seal himself inside is ready to be popped once and for all.

He’s still the King of Pop. But the ‘aedhillia’ isn’t silent anymore.

Remembrance of Brexit Days Past

I think Brexit Day always seems a lot more magical when you’re a child. You know, it’s a real family occasion: the celebrations, the procession, the executions, all of that.

I remember one of the early ones, I must have been seven, eight. Can’t remember precisely, but it was the first Brexit Day my parents thought I was old enough to take part in the ‘After Dinner Death Match’. The prize that year was the last chocolate in the box, well, the only chocolate in the box. And it wasn’t a box, it was a piece of toilet paper. And it wasn’t a chocolate, it was some rat shit. But anyway, it was my turn to fight that year, and I drew my gran’s name out of the hat. Sounds like an easy win, but it wasn’t. She was tough as old boots, my gran. As a fighter and as a meal. Food was scarce, you see, so whoever lost got eaten.

Mum made gran into a curry, or maybe it was a Balti – it was definitely something hot and spicy – to mask the taste of that leathery old skin of hers. Dad wasn’t happy. ‘A curry?’ he said. ‘A bloody curry? What’s wrong with good old British faggots, or a fry up? You’ll get us marched off by the Lizzie Lynch Mob yet, Cynthia!’

Even with all the spices, gran tasted worse than my cousin Bill, and that’s saying something, because Bill was a big old fat guy with hundreds of moles and welts and psoriasis and smegma and everything. Still, waste not, want not, and each to their own. I think smegma is vile, but my mum always said it was an acquired taste, like blue cheese – whatever that is.

My gran on the campaign trail for UKIP, in happier times

Gran’s last words to me as she bled out under the dining room table were, ‘I hope you choke on my tough old tits, you weak little shit-bag.’ For some reason those words have always stuck with me… There was a funny little moment too, just as she slipped away, when my Dad shouted back at her, ‘Brexit MEANS Brexit, Brenda,’ and we all laughed. Even gran cracked a smile. Gran was like that, though, always up for the banter.

I remember being very sad that day. Very, very sad. Not because of gran, you see. My dad was right, Brexit DOES mean Brexit, that’s just the way it is. No, because my pet – and best pal – Russell, had died the day before. Oh, I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. You look at any picture from my childhood, and it’s me and Russell. I’d take him walks, we’d sleep in the same bed, we’d stay up late and watch movies together. Mum tried to console me as best she could on Brexit Day morning, because she could see how upset I was. She said: ‘We’ll get you another carrier bag, son, maybe a John Lewis one this time,’ and I just lost it, because Russell wasn’t just any old carrier bag. He was an M&S carrier bag.

Mum and dad told me about the times just before I was born, before Brexit, when people kept cats and dogs and things like that as pets; my parents had a pet, too. A little Bichon Frize called Steven. But when the economy crashed that first time, and money didn’t exist anymore, nobody could buy food, so they rounded up everybody’s pets and ate them. It went into law, actually. There were big barbecues and cook-outs in the street. Dad said it really brought communities together and it was like the Royal Jubilee, only with more of an emphasis on dog eating. My parents said it was hard to eat Steven, but only because he was so dry. ‘A little bowl of smegma,’ mum said, ‘That’s the secret.’

Dad loved flame-grilled spaniels best, but mum always had dangerously exotic tastes, so she preferred things like spicy cat-arse kebabs. One time a next-door neighbour of theirs brought some garden snails to a cook-out, and they shot him, because snails were too French, you see. He should’ve known better. The rules were clear. You weren’t even allowed to call small things ‘wee’ anymore, just in case anyone thought you were  a French agent.

A few Brexit Days after that – I can’t remember the year exactly, but it was around about the time they moved the capital city to Bolton, and dissolved Wales… not the assembly or anything, they just dissolved the whole country – I lost an uncle. What was his name? Ah, Uncle Simon, that’s right. It was good riddance anyway.  He’d had a bit too much to drink, and I remember him sitting there, wearing his Union Jack paper-hat , and he just shook his head with a little smile and said, ‘Ah, Brexit. What was that all about, eh?’ My mum snuck off to the kitchen to use the phone. I could see my Dad was trying hard not to lose his temper.  Ten minutes later these six big guys, all dressed like the Queen – with matching handbags and everything – marched in and carted him off. Uncle Simon was terrified, you know, he was screaming and everything. ‘I’m a loyal subject! I’m a loyal subject! No! No!!! Listen to me, just listen: send ‘em back; too bloody cold for ‘em; they tried to straighten our bananas. See??? I’m one of you!! I’M ONE OF YOU! I’M A BREXITEEEEEERRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrr!’

I don’t think I can do justice to the amazing atmosphere at the Brexit Day processions. You know, there would be the big bus with the ‘£350 million’ sticker on it, and it would go past and peep and everyone would wave; there would be people dressed in top-hats and monocles carrying gilded canes around, just like King Rees-Mogg (peace-be-upon-him). There would be a guy dressed as Churchill kicking blacked-up homeless people up and down the street as someone played God Save the Queen on a lute. Sometimes Nigel Farage would drop in and stoat about with a pint of piss, grinning at everyone. Oh, it was wonderful.

One Brexit Day, though – I think it was around about the year that King Rees-Mogg first announced the building of the sea-wall in the ocean between Dover and Calais – they had to evacuate our street because one of the kids in the neighbourhood found an old time capsule someone had buried in 2006, and there were apparently pictures of people smiling and eating food and going to hospital and stuff like that, so they did a controlled explosion of the time capsule. And of the little kid who found it, just to be safe.

The procession always ended with a big bonfire in the village green, where they’d do the ‘Burning of the Obama’ –  he was a French muslim, you know – and they’d round up anyone who looked a bit like Jeremy Corbyn and hurl them in, too. That was how they got my other gran. We warned her to use the Remington.

I really liked the arena combat, where people fought against horses, but my favourite was always the ‘Annual Execution of a Remainer’. There was always so much excitement around it. They’d choose the executioner from one of the local primary schools. They picked Graham McPhail from my class one year, I was so bloody jealous. I think that was the year they finally abolished Scotland and renamed it ‘England the Second.’ Anyway, for weeks afterwards people would run up to Graham in the playground, and ask to touch his strong and stable trigger-finger.

Graham went on to become a member of the Lizzy Lynch Squad, you know, those guys that dress up as the Queen and take people away to be shot for treason. Years later, he was the one who killed my mum. Someone had overheard her saying that she liked ‘smegma pasta’, and of course Italian food is unpatriotic, so off she went. That was that. I didn’t hold a grudge against Graham, I really didn’t. He was just doing his job. Brexit means Brexit, after all.

Anyway. What did you say the half-life of nuclear radiation was? It’s a bit stuffy in this bunker. I’d like to get out for some fresh air, maybe wave a few flags around for old time’s sake. Actually, there’s a thought. I could use my Union Jack to waft away the radiation… What a great idea. That’ll definitely work. It is the most powerful flag in the world, after all. BRITAIN SAVES THE DAY AGAIN! GOD SAVE THE QUEEN! GOD SAVE THE UNITED KINGDOM!

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 11 – 13

Part 14: Return of the Aye-eeee

Wherein some people are nuts, and some people talk to nuts, and they’re the less nutty ones

These days, it seems there aren’t any American actors in lead roles on US TV. Even the characters that are supposed to be American are played by British or Australian actors.

Before Idris Elba hit stratospheric levels of fame, he teamed up with Dominic West to fool The Wire-watching world into believing both were natives of the Baltimorean landscapes over which they battled and hustled; Hugh Laurie expertly masked his middle-Englishness to play the embittered, brilliant, ebullient and quintessentially American Gregory House MD; and two Australians, Aden Young and Adelaide Clemens, convinced absolutely as a pair of tragic, star-crossed souls from the deep-south in Showtime’s exquisite crime-and-redemption series Rectify. These actors and actresses are all exemplars of the craft of transatlantic (or transpacific) tongue twisting.

There is, however, an ever-growing roster of Brits and Antipodeans who’ve less than impressed the great American public with their efforts: Rick in The Walking Dead (especially in the first season, where he sounded like Forrest Gump’s even dippier cousin); Ewan McGregor in the third season of Fargo; Charlie Hunnam in Sons of Anarchy; and Gerard Butler in… well, in just about anything in which he isn’t supposed to be Scottish.

Except in the most heinous of cases, my untrained ears can’t seem to discriminate between good and bad attempts at the various dialects of the US. It got me wondering if people outside of the UK accept on the same unconditional terms the attempts of non-British actors to mimic our native accents. Did people in Rhode Island detect anything amiss in Dick van Dyke’s famously shite attempt at Cockney? Did the people of Florida notice that the Northern Irish accents in season 3 of Sons of Anarchy were so bad they almost constituted a war crime? And what do the people of New York, Nevada and Hawaii think of the Scottish accent issuing from the mouth of Outlander’s resident death-defying witch, Geillis Duncan?

I’ve no way of knowing. I can, however, tell you what the people of Thisguy, Scotland think of it. How can I put this? Hmmmm. Well, em… Lotte Verbeek has a good stab at the Scottish accent. The trouble is that she doesn’t stop stabbing. She stabs it again and again and again and again. Until it’s dead.

That may sound uncharitable of me, and that’s because it is, but in my defence it’s impossible not to feel a little combative considering that the character of Geillis contributes to how my kin and culture are conveyed to the world. Outlander is, after all, one of the most widely popular Celto-centric TV series of all time.

Don’t get me wrong, Verbek is a good actress, and she makes a commendable attempt at a Scottish accent considering that she hails from mainland Europe, but Geillis’s dulcet tones are so off-centre that, as a Scot, it takes me out of the performance entirely. It’s like listening to a symphony being played off-key on un-tuned instruments by a drunk orchestra.

Of dogs.

There’s one way you can judge the quality of a Scottish accent, and it’s this: the more syllables an actor adds to the one-syllable word ‘Aye’, and the longer those syllables are drawn out, the worse the attempt. Case in point: if Geillis’ ‘ayes’ were elongated any further they’d basically be the death throes of a Japanese Anime character.

Anyway, we’ll return to Geillis later in the run-down. For now, let’s kick things off with a ship-wrecked Claire, who wakes up shaken and stirred on a strange island; singular in her purpose, alone in her terror. The island Claire finds herself on is a mish-mash of Biblical tropes: it’s Eden after the fall; it’s the wilderness through which Jesus wandered for forty days and forty nights, warding off the temptations of the Devil himself. There are indeed snakes here with Claire, but they aren’t much interested in tempting or talking: just in throttling and biting.

For the first 16 minutes of Uncharted, Claire is on her own. There are no people in this strange environment, only hunger, and a landscape littered with prickly plants and biting ants. Basically, she’s Mowgli, but without the singing animals.

I’m a sucker for the Robin Crusoe narrative, especially when it’s riven with religious symbolism. I love to see snapshots of our primal past and renderings of our post-apocalyptic future: the isolation; the struggle. HBO’s The Leftovers delivered this brilliantly, twice: once, when it showed the plight of an early human female navigating a deadly, antediluvian landscape with her newborn child, all the while surrounded by threats and augurs, and again when it showed us Kevin Garvey Snr wandering the Australian outback in the third season episode Crazy Whitefella Thinking. Even the Discovery Channel’s Game-of-Thrones-But-A-Wee-Bit-True series Vikings got in on the game when Floki first discovered the empty, roaring majesty of pre-colonisation Iceland, a rugged landscape he first mistook for Valhalla.

Scott Glenn as Kevin Garvey Snr in season 3 of The Leftovers

Silence, and paucity of speech, if used sparingly, can lift and liberate a piece of television. Silence has a great transformative power; it can sharpen our senses; open our minds; direct our focus to all that’s profound and terrible at the heart of the human condition.

Outlander couldn’t get Claire to stop talking long enough to give that a try.

I know Claire’s narration is a device that creates a bridge between the book and the TV series, but in this case… to whom is she narrating? And what does her narration add in way of shade or nuance to what we can already see and intuit with our own brains and senses? Surely one of the main benefits of Claire having no-one to talk to is that we don’t have to hear her moan or state the obvious for a while. But no. We’re shoved inside her head, like it or not.

“I was hungry. That means I needed food. I needed to find some food. So what else could I do? I decided to find some food. I had to try. But it wasn’t easy. The longer I went without food, the hungrier I got, and the harder it was to find the food. And the more I missed Jamie. Ow, an ant just bit me. That was sore. Still, at least it took my mind off how hungry I was for a moment there. I really need a shit now. I wonder if I can risk wiping my arse with any of these strange leaves? Goodness, I’m hungry. Did I mention that?”

Next we meet Father Fogden, the foppish Englishman of aristocratic stock who has a close, personal relationship with a coconut we pray isn’t sexual. He’s eccentric, he’s adorable, he’s sinister (the man, that is, not the coconut): he’s a Richard Curtis character who’s been inexplicably written into The Shining; he’s the newest owner of the Caribbean Bates Motel, but instead of his mother being dead, she’s an angry fat Cuban lady, who isn’t really his mother, but his almost-mother-in-law. Imagine losing your wife and being trapped forever with your mother-in-law. No wonder he’s on the yupa.

Mamacita – the mother of Father Fogden’s lost love Ermenegilda – wastes no time in cursing Claire to Hell and back, switching it up between English and Spanish so as to inject a bit of variety into her scorn. It becomes clear why Father Fodgen is so fond of fraternising with coconuts (although the hallucinogens might have something to do with that as well). As Claire heals, Mamacita cooks for her, serving up stank with a side-plate of sass for every meal.

Thankfully, Mr Willoughby’s goat-killing proficiency alerts Claire to the presence of Jamie’s ship. Claire’s dash through the jungle to catch Jamie’s ship before it ups anchor and sails away is commendably tense. Thanks to Outlander’s historic cruelty towards its central lovers I really wasn’t expecting a happy re-union. As the action cut between Claire’s panic and Jamie’s preparations, I prepared myself for the old time-delay trick (making it look like Claire was about to catch the boat with seconds to spare, when in reality she’s missed it by a whole day) or the different-place trick (they’re in the same time-frame, but on completely different islands).

Claire is a lot of things – stubborn, haughty, sometimes dangerously myopic – but she’s no damsel in distress. She’s brave, cunning and, above all, resourceful, the latter quality proving the difference between Claire being marooned with Lord Coconut and Mama Sass for all eternity, or sailing off into the sunset with Jamie once more. All it took was a wee waggle of a mirror through a sunbeam, and Jamie was rousing the troops to rescue her.

‘MacDuhb’s wife turns up in the most unlikely of places, does she no?’ says this season’s Angus to this season’s Rupert. Outlander knows fine well that we know that they know that we know how delightfully preposterous the show can be sometimes.

Father Fogden – my very favourite Caribbean-crack-smoking, coconut-nattering nincompoop – again gets to a shine when he presides over the union of Fergus and Marsali. I love Fogden, and I sincerely hope two things: a) that he returns next season, and b) that he’s free to officiate my real-life wedding later on this year. What a unique occasion it would be. I don’t know many people who have been joined in holy matrimony by a man who’s off his tits on gin and yupa.

I laughed heartily when Father Fogden tried to marry Marsali to a different guy on account of Fergus’s missing hand, and then laughed again when, his mistake having been corrected, he shrugged and said, ‘Not as though he’s lost his cock… you haven’t, have you?’

While I saw it coming – and it was a long time coming – it was still hellishly sweet when Jamie asserted kinship over Fergus by handing him the Fraser name.

Uncharted, then, was like the Fall of Eden in reverse: beginning with a silent, lonely journey through deadly and inhospitable terrain, haunted by the specter of a serpent, and ending with two characters joined together in hope, innocence and love, but also – you know, haunted by the specter of a serpent… if you know what I mean (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

The state of Eden is a distant memory for the poor Africans caged and enslaved in the sweltering heat of the Jamaican sun. The very best life they can hope for, at least for the next few centuries, is one serving drinks to snooty, cruel or indifferent aristocrats. It goes without saying that slavery is a repulsive practice. That human beings treated other human beings like that is disgusting, that it happened not so long ago in human history is chilling. For once, Claire’s inability to tolerate any act of injustice irrespective of the times and irregardless of the consequences is worth championing – even if it will almost certainly draw unwelcome attention to Jamie’s visibility and presence on the island.

Deliciously, though, history might think differently. In order to free a slave called Temeraire, Claire had to buy him, which means there’s a physical record of the vehemently anti-slavery, time-travelling firebrand buying a slave and therefore, on the surface of it, actually contributing to slavery.

So, Geillis then. She was never a particularly nuanced character to begin with – Lady Macbeth with a touch of murderous New Age Earth Mother – but in her latest (and last) incarnation as a blood-bathing black widow and purveyor of black magic, she’s positively ridiculous. When she isn’t chasing after the shiny MacGuffin fastened to John Grey’s coat, she’s waving her hand in the air in a dismissive manner and storming through a crowd of party-goers in her big flouncy dress to a chorus of giggles and gasps, like some cartoonishly wicked pantomime dame.

Let’s talk John Grey here. Until now we’ve seen him as a noble but dopey, love-sick little puppy, holding a candle (or indeed a sapphire) for Jamie across time and across continents. The moment where Claire works this out is incredibly sweet.

But the man also has a steely side, shown here when he delivers a rousing, stinging, brutal dressing down to the status-hungry Captain Leonard, saving Jamie’s skin into the bargain. I was almost out of my seat cheering.

Once Geillis’s three-stage-plan to immolate Ian, infiltrate the future and bump off Brianna was foiled, I half-expected her to turn to the Frasers and snarl, ‘And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for you pesky kids!’ But she was far too busy being decapitated for any of that malarkey.

Well, almost decapitated. In the books I gather Claire sees the job through with the business-end of a blunted axe, but in the TV show she only manages a partial chop. That’s not a criticism. I know how hard it is to cut a cantaloupe under ideal conditions, so kudos to TV Claire for trying. There are thin religious parallels here that are probably more explicit in the book on account of Claire’s more successful stab at decapitation.

In the Bible, John the Baptist – who as his name suggested loved a good baptism – prophesies the coming of the Messiah; a great ruler of legend for whom he is the fore-runner. A little later, he’s beheaded. In Outlander, Geillis – who performs baptisms of sorts upon herself, and always in goat’s blood – prophesies the coming of a great ruler. A little later, she’s beheaded. Did I mention the parallels were thin?

I guess it’s easy to see God-shaped shadows everywhere in a season that’s been so awash with Biblical imagery, from Jamie’s hellish print-shop fire to goats to prophecy.

Outlander is usually pretty good at making its sex scenes tell a story, but here – in their last bout of bump n’ grind before their boat is engulfed by waves; the ‘clam before the storm’, if you like – it felt gratuitous. Yes, I know I can’t grudge them some tenderness after all the many hardships they’ve just endured, but it didn’t feel like their passion was informed or fuelled by the cocktail of emotions that undoubtedly would have been swirling around in their hearts and bellies, particularly since Claire had just killed a woman. Oh, and FYI, the use of the word ‘breeks’ is never sexy. Never. In Scotland you’ll most often hear it in this sentence: ‘Whit’s wrang, have ye shat yer breeks?’

That storm was breath-takingly realised, though. It looked and felt dangerous, deadly and horrifying. I got a real sense of the dizzying, frenetic, claustrophobic terror the crew must have felt. Really made me feel on edge: the raging power of the waves, the hopelessness and helplessness, the shrill whistling of the wind, a deadly world drained of colour, and alive with life-smothering danger. Bravo. Spectacularly well done.

Oh, hi, cliched-kiss-of-life-under-the-water, we’ve been expecting you!  And then, later, on the shore, Jamie manages to bring Claire back from the brink again with his very own patented brand of CPR – a very gentle kiss on the cheek.

At least Outlander has kept its two lovers together this time, first at the eye of the storm, and then in bewildered exile, where they always seem to find themselves. Where are Fergus and Ian? What are they going to do? Is Jamie safe from the King’s men?

God Bless America.

See you soon for season four.

A few final, disjointed thoughts

  • I mentioned the TV show Rectify way back at the start of this article. Please, please watch it, I beg you. It’s haunting, raw, poetic, visceral, and agonisingly beautiful; in this scribe’s humble opinion one of the best TV series of all time (if that isn’t too blasphemous a thing to say out here in Outlander-land).
  • I could tell pretty early on that Mark Hadfield wasn’t Scottish (the actor who played Mr Campbell, Margaret the seer’s brother) but never-the-less Mark does a very good job, never letting the accent drift into the realms of parody or exaggerated stereotype. English fans: is Claire’s accent good? It sounds pretty spot on to this set of Scottish lugs, but let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.
  • The bit where Jamie has to deliver penicillin to a poisoned Claire is nicely done. His reluctance to pierce Claire’s skin with the needle coupled with his baffled astonishment at the whole realm of modern medicine I’m sure made the Outlander-watching world erupt in a sonic-boom of ‘Awwwwws’.
  • On the subject of Geillis: if I can just let my carnality shine through for a moment, I found it particularly pleasant when she rose naked from her pool dripping with blood like some sexy mash-up of Hellraiser 2 and Cleopatra. I wasn’t a big fan of her feet, though. Not a foot man in general, I’m afraid. The moment Geillis started stretching and rubbing those veiny numbers in Ian’s face, allegedly in a bid to seduce him, I began hurling pairs of socks at the TV screen.
  • “Your nipples staring me in the eye, the size of cherries…” Em, smooth line there, Jamie. You should somehow try to work the word ‘breeks’ into there. It’s a good job you’re handsome, son, because your patter is awful.
  • I keep forgetting about Jamie’s disfigurement at the hands of the horrible Black Jack. Every time Jamie and Claire bonk it must cost the make-up department a small fortune. “Hey, we’ve got a big sea-battle coming up… maybe Jamie could keep his dressing gown on for this fuck?”
  • “Where did you find him? I must know, is he genuine?” – the look on Mr Willoughby’s face here was charming and funny.
  • I liked the closed circle of discovering that Claire had already investigated the murder she’d just committed.
  • Margaret tells Mr Willoughby: ‘You’re a rare soul’, which makes him smile. Be careful though, Wlloughby. You’re still not adept at decoding the Scottish accent. She might have just called you ‘an airsehole’.I hope Willoughby and Margaret are very happy together. In years to come I’m sure they’ll delight in telling their kids all about that time Daddy murdered their uncle.
  • I’m not sure about WIlloughby’s or Margaret’s arcs. Seems like it was all a bit too convenient. Ultimately, I don’t think either of them, separately or together, were handled particularly well.
  • When Margaret goes into full prophecy mode, I always burst out laughing.

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READ THE REST – Click below

Why I want to binge-watch Outlander

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 5 – 8

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 9 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 13 – 16

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 5 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 11 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Ep 13

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 1 – 3

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 4 – 5

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 6 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 8 – 10

30 Things You Didn’t Know About Scotland

Humanity: Instagramming Ourselves to Death

This week I learned that there are people out there in the world – actual real people, mind, not robots, not actors, not reptilian imposters from hidden realms hell-bent on our destruction, but people…actual, confirmed people – who use ‘Instagrammable’ in everyday conversation. Not satirically, not in sentences such as this one: ‘When I find out who it was that said it was okay to start using the word “Instagrammable” I’m going to wrestle their head off their shoulders like a bottle-top,’ but in sickening, humanity-damning sentences like this one: ‘Look at these new £500 trainers of mine. They’re so Instagrammable.’

I’ve only recently learned what Instagram is – fire-worshipping troglodyte that I am – and now I’m being forced to accept Instagrammable as a verb. It hardly seems sporting.

We’ve been taking photographs of ourselves for a long-time, even before photography existed. Hundreds of years ago, only the very richest or most alluring could hope to have their portrait hemmed within a gilded frame and hung on the wall of some castle or stately home. In my day, you had to wait a couple of weeks between taking a photo and seeing the results, so instant gratification was never a motivation. Even with the advent of Polaroids, there was still no easy way to weaponise and disseminate your photos to a wider audience for the purposes of stock-piling serotonin.

Next, we started taking selfies – with our phones, no less. I remember how long it took for me to teach my 1920s-born grandparents how to use their VHS player. Thank Christ they died before phones became cameras, computers and shopping lists all rolled into one. It would have killed them.

With the dawn of selfies we became both trophy and target; big game hunters hunting ourselves. We snapped ourselves next to famous landmarks, influential people, gaudy palaces, plane-hijackers wearing bomb belts, and the edges of cliffs, sometimes literally dying in the pursuit of the perfect photo.

Now it seems we’re living in an age where an object’s only worth is in how it buoys our image, builds our brand, raises our social stock or makes other people feel unworthy of the gift of existence.

What cunts we are.

First there was MySpace, and Bebo, and Facebook, and Twitter, where at least some semblance of meaningful dialogue was, and is, possible among the preening and screaming, but now there’s Instagram: where pictures reign and words die. Instagram is a corporate hell-scape over which celebrities flog designer hand-bags and douche-bags, and little people wave filtered snapshots of their little lives in a desperate bid to convince themselves and others that they actually matter. Spoiler alert: they do matter, but not because of a fucking dress or a designer milkshake.

It was milkshakes that brought this nightmarish new lexicon to my attention. I heard a segment on Radio 4 about ‘activated charcoal’, the practice of adding intensely-heated (or, to put it more wankily, ‘activated’) charcoal to foods because there’s some evidence that it aids nutrient absorption, and thus improves general health. They’ve been adding activated charcoal to milkshakes, and if you’re wondering who they are, the answer is = cunts.

My apologises for having dropped two c-bombs on you thus far, but believe me I’m exercising admirable restraint. This entire article could’ve been a Jack Torrance-esque flood of that same awful word over and over, forever and ever. ALL INSTAGRAM AND NO PLAY MAKES JAMIE AN ANGRY C***T.

During the segment they interviewed a chap who was marketing active-charcoal-enhanced milkshakes – as black as tar – on account of how ‘Instagrammable’ they were. Not only were they ‘Instagrammable’, but ‘Instagrammability’ is, apparently, ‘WHAT EVERYONE WANTS.’ A part of my brain died when he said that; the part that contains the concept of hope. If that’s really what everyone wants, I thought to myself, then allow me to plough my car into the nearest petrol station. Please feel free to upload my smouldering remains to Instagram. You can even crumble my ashes into your drink first.

Where does all of this end? Are we about to enter the era of ‘Instagrammable’ funerals? Posing for selfies next to the Gucci-branded coffins of our dearly beloveds? Or worse, next to their waxy corpses, their cold skin daubed with activated-charcoal?

“Oh. My. God. Kymbyrly, you’ve got to tell me the name of your mother’s Funeral Planner.”

“Delgado de Laga. He’s terrific. Costa Rican, gay, vegan, almost prohibitively expensive. He’s the whole package.”

“I absolutely MUST have him for my mother’s funeral.”

“Oh, did your mother die, sweetie?”

“She’s absolutely fine, but I hope she goes soon.”

“Oh, me too, I do so love an occasion!”

(both clap hands together and squeal)

The most depressing thing about the whole look-at-me ethos behind Instagram is that it works. We’re big fans of the veneer, the slick surface. We love a bit of flashy, flashy, shiny, shiny. If we weren’t so superficial as a species, so susceptible to flim-flam and illusion, then psychopaths would never be able to ply their trade, and Donald Trump would still be a virgin.

It works – it shouldn’t, but it does – as much as oldies like me who are teetering on the brink of total irrelevance hate to admit it. We’re peacocks, that’s what we are: preeners, strutters, rutters and nutters. Our big, beautiful brains are in thrall to the whip-hands of our bodies, and the broth of chemicals surging through our blood-stream. We’re horny skin-bags full of hot, angry soup. Everything we do these days seems to spring from a misfiring of the perfectly reasonable impulses to love, couple, copulate and procreate. We’re corrupted and corrupting.

The problem is that our technological innovations are taking us places that our Amstrad-ian bodies and brains aren’t ready to go; our inventions are evolving faster than we are, and it’s making us take pictures of cars and clothes and milk-shakes in a misguided attempt to fuck – and fuck with – each other. No species in the galaxy can beat us when it comes to taking something simple, and making it hideously over-complicated and painful.

We’re Vulcans trapped inside the bodies of Klingons at the mercy of evil supercomputers. Things are probably only going to get worse.

One day we’ll either be dead, or better.

Get the picture?


Read my scathing piece on greed and capitalism here: ‘To the Emperor, all but the Emperor belong in the gutter.’

The Jobs of the Future, Today

The jobs people have and the work they do can tell us a lot about what it was like to live during different times in human history. The technologies and philosophies. The hopes and dreams. The haves and have-nots. But what about the UK now, today, in our machine-led age of brands, connectivity, the internet, and social media? What kind of work is out there, and what does it tell us about the experience of living and working in 2019?

Roving reporter Jamie Andrew waded into the workforce to find out.


Davey Johnson, 46, Salt-of-the-Earth Compliance Officer, Alloa, Scotland

I’m a no-nonsense, tells-it-like-it-is, salt-of-the-earth type, and my job is to make sure that the rest of the world knows it. I carry out most of my work on the threads underneath articles shared on social media by local news organisations.

It’s exhausting work. I’m there, first thing in the morning, desperately trying to find ways to put a right-wing spin on the more gentle and whimsical articles with which these outlets tend to start the day. It can be tough. You know, I might have to find something militant to say about, say, a wee boy winning a prize for drawing a nice picture of a rabbit at his school. I’ll do it in baby steps, start off with a, ‘Wisnae like that in my day’, maybe follow it up with a, ‘These snowflakes and their pictures – I was shooting rabbits at his age’, and before I know it, I’ve slam-dunked it with a ‘Wonder if they’ll still let us draw rabbits come the Muslim caliphate, eh?’

By lunch-time it’s easy. Me, I’m feeling like Neo fae the Matrix: whoosh, bam, kaplow! Everything’s just happening, like magic. I’m skimming the headlines or the wee prompts by the page admin, and the replies are just boomin’ out of me…

‘Should kids start school at 10am instead of 8am?’ BOOM! Should they FUCK! ‘What do you think about smacking children?’ BLAM! Dae it as hard as possible. Never did me ony harm! ‘Breast-feeding in public?’ SLAP! Tits oot for the lads, absolutely NOT tits oot at my dinner table, ya manky bastards. ‘What do you think about the government’s initiative to lower the murder rate in our cities? ‘BASH! Bloody pansies! My grandfather murdered me when I was 12. And it never did me ony harm!’

The trick is to sound a bit like you’re in that Monty Python’s Yorkshireman sketch, but eighty per cent more racist.

I’m bloody good at my job. Science, solidarity and compassion are no match for the angry, knee-jerk opinions of working-class, salt-of-the-earth types like me.


Randall McCallum, 31 Dinner Photographer, Bangor, NI

Not everyone can afford a new car or a dream home to rub in their followers faces on Facebook or Twitter. You don’t need that. These days, the battle to win over hearts and minds – well, the battle to make hearts and minds seethe with rage and envy – is being fought at the dinner table. That’s where I come in.

Forget fortune. You don’t need a new car to make Elspeth who used to be in your class at school jealous as fuck. The new signifier of social sophistication is food. Or, as I like to say, Duck L’Orange is the new hatchback.

All you need is a really snobby meal slapped on a dinner plate and snapped artistically, perhaps with some augmentation filter added in so the food looks like it’s glowing or glistening – just as long as you don’t use the wrong filter and end up accidentally attaching donkey ears to your Colombian goat-loin curry.

I’m so good at what I do I can make waffles look like a meal Gordon Ramsay might one day demand to impregnate. I drape parsley over them, sexily – so bloody sexy that it seems like Leo Di Caprio might paint it – then I tag it with something like #FreshPotatoGriddles, maybe even translate it to French first, because French makes everything shit sound really good, you know, with the possible exception of Citreon and Renault.

Before I got in to dinner-plate photography, I was in the wine business. I used to snap pictures of women’s hands clutching wine glasses, and then I’d add captions in post-production like, ‘WINE O’CLOCK’, ‘BEEN THINKING ABOUT THIS ALL DAY’, and ‘OBLIGATORY AIRPORT PHOTO’, you know. The work dried up, though, mainly because my clients didn’t. They all died of cirrhosis.

For the future, I’m thinking about going into business with my cousin, Tristan, the world-famous ‘Dick-Pic Stylist’. Super talented guy, he used to have Wayne Rooney and Leslie Grantham on retainer.


Jeremy Phillipston, 23 Professional Netflix Content Absorber, Cardiff, Wales

The best part about my job is when I’m talking to someone, and they’re telling me that they’ve heard about this great new series that’s just arrived on Netflix, and I get to cut them off with, ‘Yeah, I finished it last night, it’s great, you should watch it.’ I love that.I love watching their little smiles become hyphens.

The Haunting of Hill House, the Ted Bundy Tapes, the new season of Daredevil, sixteen new films that were only dropped on Netflix last night – before you’ve even had a chance to hear about them, I’ve fucking seen them. All of them.

Not everyone appreciates what I do. Parents with young children, people who work, people who don’t sit in their pyjamas for entire days at a time eating nothing but crisps – they all resent me. It’s not my fault they’re lazy, though. They should get their priorities straight. Problem they have is, they’re spending too much time playing with their children. Too much time talking to their partners. In short, too much chilling, not enough Netflix. If I can make people feel inadequate and excluded enough that they feel driven to binge-watch television to the exclusion of all else in their lives, then job done.You’re welcome, society.

This job was recommended to me because of my interest in my grandfather’s career. He was a Full-time Plot Spoiler, and he was bloody good at it. He’d walk out of elevators with a big mobile phone clamped to his ear shouting things like, ‘YEAH, YEAH, BRUCE WILLIS WAS DEAD THE WHOLE TIME, I KNOW, I KNOW, WHAT A FUCKING TWIST.’ He once took out a full-page ad in The Times that said, YOU KNOW THAT MOVIE ‘SAW’? WELL, THE DEAD GUY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM IS THE BADDIE. PS: STONE ME, DARTH VADER IS LUKE’S FATHER.

They’re making the story of his life into a 12-part series on Netflix next year, which I’ve already seen last week.You should watch it.


Sharon Grantham, 35 Worker in a GIF factory, Huddersfield, England

Me mam worked in a factory supplying funny pictures of cats and husbands to Bella and That’s Life magazines from 1969 to 1998, so I guess this sort of thing’s in me blood – along with the diabetes.

I started off in the Meme Warehouse, but most of me friends ,last few years, said the money was in GIFs – well, they pay more, in them GIF factories, ’cause it’s more dangerous an’ that. Some of them GIFs – they don’t look big on the screen, or, like, when you use them on your phone, do they? – but some of them are, like, the size of cardboard boxes, you know, them great big ones. The big boxes you’d use if you were movin’ house and that. And heavy. I knew a lass who got crushed to death by a GIF of a dancing beaver, just splatted her face off, it did. Bits of her brains all over me shoe. Worse, though, them that ordered the GIF deleted it almost as soon as they put it on Facebook, cause what they wanted was actually a GIF of a dancing Diva, but the predictive thingy put the wrong word, so me friend died for fook all, which is a shame. Still, the boss donated a nice GIF for her funeral, it was a flower all growing fast in fast motion, like it were speeded up, so the flower started off hanging down then jumped up and out, you know. I thought it were nice, but Jimmy who works the line with me was like, Christ, Sharon, that’s the GIF me and me mates use if we wanna say a woman’s given us a stiffy, and I said oh my God, and he’s like, well, I guess she is a stiffy now, so maybe it’s alright?

It’s dead hard in the GIF factory. We can be on the production line, and the big horn’ll go off, and the boss will say over the loudspeaker, he’ll shout something like: ”ERE, YOU, YOU LAZY BITCHES, THERE A WOMAN ON A GROUP IN FACEBOOK WHO’S NOT ‘APPY ABOUT SOMETHING, SO SHE NEEDS A GIF OF A BIG BLACK LADY WAGGLIN’ ‘ER FINGER. NOT TOO SASSY IN THE FACE CAUSE SHE’S ANGRY, BUT SHE’S NOT ‘ANGRY’ ANGRY, IF YOU KNOW WHAT AH MEAN. ALSO, ‘OW WE GETTIN’ ON WITH THE BATCH OF GIFS OF ALL DIFFERENT PEOPLE BEING SICK? NEED IT FAST, PIERS MORGAN’S ABOUT TO GO ON AIR.”

I’m proud of it, cause the boss says most folk just talk in GIFs now anyway, like, cause it’s easier and more fun, and you can say lots more than you can with words, and there won’t be any words left by this time next year cause of Brexit, cause once we run out of words we won’t be able to get any more sent in from Sweden or wherever they come from. Where is it we get words from again?


READ MORE OF JAMIE’S ROVING REPORTS BELOW

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Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 8 – 10

Part 13: Claire’s going on holiday. Jamaica? Yeah, I kidnapped her

Wherein Jamie’s out to sea, even before he sets foot on a boat.

Sometimes mid-life crises hit husbands gently, with a force equivalent to a child throwing a Syrian dwarf hamster at your stomach. Maybe the husband will buy a second-hand leather jacket and start calling women ‘babe’, or join the gym only to a) go six times before giving it up, or b) die of a massive heart attack on the cross-trainer.

Sometimes mid-life crises hit a little harder – at approximately the force of a Labrador careening into your legs in a tight corridor because he thinks there’s a plate of sausages behind you. In cases like this the husband might splash out on a new sports car he can ill-afford, or start an affair with a woman from his office who will almost certainly be called Shelley.

And sometimes, just sometimes, mid-life crises hit with such prolific and destructive force that they make the Richter scale look like a tool for measuring farts. To help you gauge and visualise the impact, imagine a Shetland pony running into a nuclear reactor with fifty landmines strapped to its back.

Or forget the animals altogether and simply imagine Jamie Fraser: the man whose mid-life crisis downgrades most regular crises to the severity of a child stubbing their toe against a bouncy castle.

Jamie certainly knows how to make himself at home ‘over the hill’ by throwing caution to the wind: printing and slinging seditious pamphlets, living in a brothel, selling illicit booze, covering up murders. Still, Claire loves a bad boy, so most of that stuff, though borderline, is definitely excusable. What elevates Jamie’s mid-life crisis to the nuclear league and puts him on Claire’s shit-list quite possibly forever is his rather dubious decision not only to stick his love caber into the porridge pot of the woman who once tried to have the love of his life burned alive at the stake, but also to marry her. Marrying Captain Black Jack would’ve been less controversial.

Jamie proceeds to add insult to injury by falling back on a most unholy trilogy of flimsy justifications for marrying Laoghaire: “Oh, but I thought you were dead”; “Well, you’re the one who told me to be kind to the lass”; and “you left me”. Oh, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. You’ve survived so much. Whippings, wars, duels, disease. Why would you choose to commit suicide now? Men have an awful habit of resorting to deflection, projection and scapegoatery when they should be retreating and scurrying with the urgency of Bonnie Prince Charlie excusing himself from a pub brawl.

Claire and Jamie’s argument over Laoghaire is raw, uncertain, vicious and illogical, which is to say that it’s absolutely pitch-perfect. Their fight contains a lot of shouting, panting, pulling, grabbing, hitting, pushing and kissing. It’s a battle that quickly transforms into a sex scene, something you don’t see that much of anymore in this #metoo age. Perhaps in recognition of the changed times in which we now live, Claire ends their little tussle in a dominant position, perched astride Jamie’s hips.

Just as they’re about to burn off all that rising tension with a well-timed angry fuck, they’re interrupted by Jenny, who enters stage left with a cold jug of water (it’s a case of jugus interruptus, you might say), the sort of treatment usually reserved for horny alley-cats wailing outside bed-room windows.

Most of Jamie and Claire’s stay at Lallybroch is awkward as hell. Jenny doesn’t trust anything that Claire says, or has ever said. It’s fair to say that Claire has an impossible task ahead of her if she wants to assauge Jenny’s feelings over her disappearance, absence and ‘resurrection’. How would you even start?

“Hi, Jenny. You know how you have no concept of conventional flight, the combustion engine, radio waves or even life outwith the confines of the land upon which you were born? Well I just wanted to tell you that I’m a time traveller, and we’ve got these things called televisions and space rockets and condoms, and I walked through some magical stones back to the future where I had your brother’s baby two hundred years after you were dead. See, I knew you would understand.”

‘You look well,’ Claire tells Jenny. Jenny’s response is frosty. Hell, my response was frosty, too. She looks well, Claire? WELL? She looks exactly the bloody same, Claire. At least they gave Jamie a pair of glasses to suggest the passage of time.

Jamie doesn’t have any smoother a time of it, ancestral home or no ancestral home. Both his sister and his brother-in-law blame him for leading young Ian astray, and are angry at him for lying to them about the lad’s whereabouts. I think it must be Jamie’s destiny forever to be thrown shade by a guy with a limp. Or maybe something else is going on here. Are deliberate parallels being drawn between Colum and Dougal, and Ian and Jamie? After all, Jamie is the heir apparent to Dougal’s fire, fury and passion, even if he’s never shared his vanity and moral flexibility.

The Lallybroch-centric episode is very, very funny, and Sam Heughan gets most of the best lines, which he delivers with impeccable comic timing. I’m thinking about the moment when Claire accuses Jamie of having fathered Laoghaire’s children, and he responds haughtily: “There are other redheaded men in Scotland, Claire.” Or when he’s being nursed by Claire after being peppered with buckshot by a vengeful Laoghaire, and he says to Claire, with understandable confusion: “Can you please explain how jabbing needles in my arse is going to help my arm?”

Divorced from his illegal income stream, and perhaps about to become divorced from Laoghaire, Jamie is in dire need of fresh income. He remembers the treasure box he discovered on Silkie Island when he was on the run from Ardsmuir prison, and takes Claire and young Ian with him to retrieve it. Almost as soon as poor, tragic, dutiful Ian swims out to the island he’s captured by pirates, or press-ganged by soldiers, bundled into a boat and whisked away.

If he though things were awkward at Lallybroch before, just wait until he has to explain to Ian’s mum and dad that he’s cast their son in a live-action adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’. Perhaps realising how awful this would be, Jamie decides instead to exploit his nautical connections to find out where Ian’s vessel is headed, and secure passage on a ship that’s going the same way.

Onboard their ship is a horseshoe that the sailors believe they all must touch at the start of their voyage to ensure good fortune. Jamie and Claire are living proof that some luck is so powerfully bad that no blessed artefact or amulet has the power to counteract it. I’m surprised it didn’t blow up when they rubbed it.

Because life doesn’t like to stop teasing and tormenting the cursed couple for more than a second, Fergus and his new wife-to-be, Marsali – daughter of the dreaded Laoghaire – have also insinuated themselves onboard.

Marsali definitely has her mother’s obdurate, obnoxious, semi-psychopathic, spiteful nature, which begs the question: what does the passionate, romance-soaked Fergus see in such a woman? I can only suppose that the fires of her fury, when channelled through her heart and, erm… various other organs, must make for an all-consuming and volcanic coupling that’s impossible to resist. I fear, though, that Fergus – cad though he is – may be the moth to Marsali’s flame (that was undoubtedly the genesis of Jamie’s attraction to Laoghaire, too).

In any case, it’s a mark of how good an actress Lauren Lyle is that she manages to conjure a plethora of bitchy facial expressions that would invite a five-knuckled caress from even the gentle fingers of a hunger-weakened Gandhi.

While Fergus may well be hurtling towards spiritual and sexual doom, it’s nevertheless nice that after all of the hardship he’s experienced or witnessed in his life – the loss, the separation, the rape, the battles, the fires – and despite his own sexually carnivorous nature, the thing that he clings to, the main lesson he’s learned from everything that’s happened to him and the people around him, is that love conquers all. Fergus cites Jamie and Claire’s love story as the inspiration for his own…

…I have absolutely no idea why.

The longer Jamie and Claire’s love saga goes on, the less inspirational and the more nightmarish it becomes. For every night of sweat-soaked passion they’ve shared, they’ve had to spend six weeks trying to break each other out of jail, and for every mini-break they’ve enjoyed they’ve had to spend twenty years apart raising children with other people. Still, filtered through the prism of youth, I suppose almost everything can start to seem romantic, even the song the rowdy sailors like to sing below decks about a woman leaping around with a lobster on her cunt, which is destined to become a top ten hit.

The sea is a cruel mistress. You could say that Jamie takes to it like a duck to water, but only if the duck you’re talking about is drunk, has no legs, only one wing and half a beak. Jamie spends most of his time chucking up his gruel, or complaining that he’s about to. Thank goodness good old Mr Willoughby is on hand to cure his sea-sickness by turning him into a human pin-cushion. An effective technique, but hardly a convenient or portable one.

It’s easy to see why life at sea might make Jamie feel a little delicate. A combination of the show’s noticeably bigger budget and the skill of its behind-the-scenes team really helps bring to life every creak, swell and sway of life on-board ship. You need your sea-legs just to watch it. The sea-bound segments are impressive and convincing, whether the ship’s being beaten by waves, or sitting dead in the water, a lonely boat perched on an unwavering sea of glass.

When the drinking water runs low and the wind ceases to blow, Willoughby’s called upon to treat a much greater malaise than Jamie’s occasional habit of hurling his breakfast overboard; a spiritual sickness; a supernatural sickness that’s spread across the entire ship, driving the men to attribute blame for their litany of misfortunes to Hayes, the poor wretch who may have forgotten to rub the lucky horseshoe at the start of the voyage. The men want to sacrifice him to the sea; drown their scapegoat deep within Davey Jones’ locker. It’s the sort of malevolent, ritualised behaviour that appears to be the default setting for powerless, baying mobs. I suppose when it seems like nothing can be done, killing someone sure seems like doing something.

Willoughby distracts the horde from their murderous intent by reading from his unfinished autobiography – a project he earlier revealed he’d started in order to make peace with his demons. Initially, his life’s work appears to comprise page upon page of prunus pornography, all apricot-tits and warm peach mounds, but Willoughby’s story quickly takes on a sad, dark shape that’s closer in tone to a suicide note than a love letter. Back in China as a younger man, Willoughby refused to give up his manhood and become a eunuch. For this cultural outrage he was banished, disgraced, and exiled. In a cruel twist of fate, he was made a eunuch after all by the palpable, almost solid disgust of his new host country’s native women.

Willoughby – or perhaps we should more accurately and respectfully call him Yi Tien Cho – thought that the best way to let go of his pain would be to write it all down, but it turns out that the best way to let it all go was to, well, let it all go. Literally. He drops the pages off the side of the boat, only for them to be picked up by the wind, signalling to the angry sailors that luck was back on their side.

All that talk of fruit must have made Claire and Jamie horny, because they went off to fuck on some guy ropes. Shortly afterwards, Claire gets kidnapped. See what I mean?? Still, Outlander has obviously learned the lessons of Moonlighting, Friends and Frasier: unite your star-crossed lovers at your peril. Finding ways to drive them apart is the key to a more satisfying and dynamic narrative, the only trouble being that if you separate your leads once too often it all begins to feel a little preposterous. Outlander may be on the cusp of this, but, for now, it works.

The second on-the-ocean instalment of this unofficial sea-faring trilogy is called Heaven and Earth, something that the characters all try to move in their efforts to rescue each other. Naturally, Jamie is furious at the captain of his ship for agreeing to Claire’s ‘transfer’ (slash kidnapping) to the Navy vessel. She may be there to help contain a typhoid outbreak, but she’s still there against her will. Jamie tries to overpower the captain with the sheer force of his fury, spearheading a shooty-knifey stand-off above decks. He fails, and ends up being slung below decks in a jail cell. Both heaven and earth remain in place.

Jamie, of course, is no stranger to confinement, and won’t let a little thing like being trapped in a tiny, grated box surrounded by wet rats and his own hideous vomit stop him from hatching a plan to take over the ship, Bruce Willis-style. It’s then up to Fergus to move heaven and earth to save Jamie from himself, teaching his mentor a long-overdue lesson in patience and humility in the process – not to mention saving his life.

Claire is trying to move heaven and earth to save a ship-load of sailors who’ve been struck down with typhoid. What a distressing sight. Hundreds of Englishmen huddled together on a boat, projectile vomiting, the whole place smelling of shit and rum. These are scenes not destined to be repeated until the advent of 18-30 booze cruises many hundreds of years hence. Curiously enough, those future cruises will almost certainly have on their passenger manifesto a Dutchman with a fondness for drinking pure alcohol until the point of death, and an English teenager styling himself as Mr Pound.

Claire’s modern approach to medicine is mumbo jumbo to this new gaggle of no-nonsense sailors of the 18th century. Not for the first time Outlander makes us snort and tut at the ignorance of our ancestors, only for a little voice at the back of our minds to go, ‘Pssssst, have you looked on-line recently? Have you spoken with your friends and kinsfolk? We’re pretty mental ourselves.’

The first time it happened was during Claire and Geillis’ witch-trial in season one, when our derision was tempered by the realisation that flat-earthers, creationists, and climate-change deniers all exist in the twenty-first century. This time, no sooner have we cast judgement upon the sailors for their ignorance of – and in some cases violent opposition to – Claire’s efforts to cure the crew, than we remember that the WHO has called the very modern anti-vax movement one of the most serious threats to global health in 2019. If Claire’s parents had been anti-vaxxers, she would’ve been dead ten minutes in to episode ten. Or else she would never have boarded the Navy ship, and all of the people on-board would’ve perished. Even the goats.

Claire also vows to move heaven and earth to save Jamie from the hangman’s noose she discovers is waiting for him in Jamaica. Tompkins – he of the mangled eye – was press-ganged into service aboard the ship, and once he recognised Jamie duly reported him to the captain of the Navy ship as a man wanted for murder and sedition. The captain is largely indifferent to Jamie’s crimes and is especially grateful to Claire for her help, but nonetheless stands to snag a juicy promotion if he turns Jamie in to the authorities.

If it looks too late for Jamie, it’s already too late for poor Mr Pound. What a pleasant, decorous young chap. I was sad to see him go as a character, and really enjoyed the dynamic he shared with Claire. Their scenes together were sweet and touching. I knew his fate was sealed the moment he made Claire his surrogate mother and taught her the fine art of posthumous nose-stitching.

It doesn’t bode well that when Claire plunged overboard the director made a visual connection with the be-shrouded Mr Pound’s final dip into the sea. Let’s hope Claire’s on-going voyage isn’t destined to be quite as vertical as Pound’s. Still, in a trio of episodes where scapegoats feature heavily, it’s nice to see actual goats indirectly helping one of our heroes to escape.

The moral of the story here: always be nice to drunk Dutchmen.

A few final, disjointed thoughts

Instead of belting Ian for his disobedience at Lallybroch, Jamie suggests a different punishment. What exactly are they making Ian do with that manure? Is he making patty-cakes? Cow-pat pancakes? It looks like the most disgusting cookery programme ever made. Gordon Ramsay’s McKitchen Shitemares.

How the hell have I learned how to spell Laoghaire, but still can’t spell diarheoa (sic) without consulting the spell-checker?

Let the English cunt stand up for herself.” It’s nice to see that Laoghaire’s still as charming as ever.

Kebbie-lebbie – I like that phrase. I’m going to use it as often as I can. Plus, ‘A Kebbie-Lebbie with Laoghaire’ sounds like it should be a TV show.

My partner agreed with me that Elias Pound looked like all three Hansen Brothers at the same time. But when Pound was dropped into the ocean, she didn’t agree that it was funny for me to start singing ‘Mmmm Plop.’


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READ THE REST – Click below

Why I want to binge-watch Outlander

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 5 – 8

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 9 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 13 – 16

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 5 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 11 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Ep 13

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 1 – 3

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 4 – 5

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 6 – 7

30 Things You Didn’t Know About Scotland

Herding Sharks: Dealing with Warring Kids

When you get a tinge of diarrhoea you know what you’re in for: frequent trips back and forth to the toilet (often with little or no warning); skid-marks ahoy; the feeling of being drained, dehydrated and defeated, and the involuntary commitment to time spent nursing a thoroughly grotty botty. It’s okay, though. After a day or two of discomfort your poor, stinging bum-hole and over-worked digestive system will return to normal. You know this. You accept it.

But knowing this and accepting it doesn’t mean that diarrhoea suddenly becomes an enjoyable activity. ‘Ooh, a gurgle in my stomach. Is it a fart or is it a jet-stream of shit? I just can’t tell. I LOVE THIS, IT’S SO EXCITING!’

And so it is with our off-spring (Yes, Doctor Spock, I’ve just compared my children to a messy bout of shitting – what does your book say about that?)

When our children hit a developmental milestone and begin exhibiting a new set of challenging behaviours you know that before too long (it always feels too long, however long it takes) their brain will knit itself into a different pattern and their capacity for reason, empathy and self-awareness will alter, increase, and evolve, ultimately leaving you with happy, likeable kids who don’t make you want to leap out of an airplane using only a bottle of vodka as a parachute.

While you’re dealing with the worst that your kids have to throw at you, it pays to remember that those tiny beings who push our buttons so expertly aren’t wise agents with full control over their own minds and destinies, but frightened, foolish, fun-loving little proto-people, who spend their days rushing and rocketing between sensations, agonies and epiphanies, all the while as their fragile bodies morph and spin and sprout and change, seemingly at the speed of a Tasmanian devil that’s perpetually stuck on fast-forward.

Unfortunately – as with the squits – realising all of this doesn’t make the minutiae of their madness any easier to handle, no matter how many times you count to ten through gritted teeth, or chant ‘gentle parenting, gentle parenting’ to yourself as you crush a Pyrex jug to dust with your bare hands.

If you’ve got two kids of roughly similar age, then God help you (If you’ve got more than two, you absolute psycho, then I can’t help you. No-one can. You’re doomed… DOOOOOMED). Just as one child is coming out of a developmental cycle – new and improved, perhaps even temporarily tamed – the other one’s usually just about to enter one – at the new end, the bad end – their challenging behaviour rubbing off on the other one, the bigger one, who had looked for one precious, fleeting second as if they’d actually turned over a new leaf.

Nope.

And round they both go, around and around, again and again, shitting their destruction over your soul like a pair of possessed muck-spreaders.

It’s incredibly difficult to negotiate with these tiny terrorists. They want different things from you, and from each other. By way of example, our boys are 4 and 2. Their communications arrays are at very different stages of construction. Our eldest can pick up and decode most of the transmissions we send to him, but there are some that transmit on too low a frequency for him to catch. And, distressingly, a high proportion of the signals that do manage to get through to him are drowned out by a rogue signal being beamed from within his own brain, which appears to be amplified by tiny and invisible but none-the-less immensely powerful loud-speakers dotted around his skull. This is the message:

‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGHHHHH!’

Our youngest picks up very little of the instructions we transmit to him. If he obeys, it’s mostly just luck. Next to negotiating with a two-year-old, herding cats is easy. Trying to reason with small children is more like herding hungry sharks.

The signals the two kids broadcast to each other are always scrambled. They spend most of their time scrutinising each other like drunk submarine commanders from rival warring countries, bunkered down under the sea and cut off from their respective governments, both with their fingers poised over the Nuclear Destruct button, unsure whether the other one has already pressed theirs.

Looking after two is tough. Hell, looking after one is tough. The bad news is, you can’t always seek strength in numbers. Sometimes you can be outnumbered by your off-spring even if there’s a balanced ratio between adult and child. The chaotic unpredictability of a child enhances its destructive power far out of proportion to its size. For some kids, you might need as many as twelve adults to keep them in check, and quite possibly a Hannibal Lecter-style prison-trolley and muzzle.

My two bonnie boys – Jamie

Last autumn, my partner and I took our two boisterous boys to the Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh; by the end of the excursion their mother bore a striking physical resemblance to many of the angry jungle cats whose mouths were frozen in fury along the walls. The kids fought, they fled, they fought some more; they bashed, they bickered, and bounced; they hurled food on the floor, and hurled themselves at strangers, nearly knocking over a multitude of exhibits in the process. They shrieked and yelled and leaked and raged, fighting to the death for a spot on my high shoulders.

Having to shout the same clutch of stock phrases over and over tends to take the fizz out of a day of fun and cultural enrichment. Towards the end of the day I genuinely shouted the following at my four-year-old son: ‘You walk one more step away from me and I swear you can kiss the car we’re saving up to get you when you’re 17 goodbye!’ Now that’s some next-level consequencing.

I’ve been driving my partner to the gym two nights a week, and, brave fool that I am, spending the hour between drop-off and pick-up entertaining the kids in town: one evening taking them to the pet shop (or ‘The Free Zoo’, as I like to call it), the next evening to McDonalds, another evening to the furniture shop (or the Free Funfair, as I like to call it), where we can bounce on the display beds and ride up and down on the escalators.

Sometimes necessity dictates that we go shopping, a prospect I rarely relish in tandem with my partner, never mind alone. If you’re a lone parent taking multiple children with you to the supermarket to do the shopping, you’re either a little bit crazy or really, really, really fucking crazy.

There’s a double-decker shopping trolley in the big Tesco in town that’s trolley on top, plastic toy-car on bottom. Naturally, my kids fight over who gets to sit behind the wheel of the car. Yet again, the myriad faults in our shared communication matrix make negotiation almost impossible. Even when the intellectual conditions are ripe for striking a deal with my eldest – “If you sacrifice this for your brother, I promise I’ll reward you with x,”; “Remember, he doesn’t understand things as well as you do, and gets a lot more upset at things, so we have to help him a lot more,” – if his sleep/mood/sugar balance is off by even twenty minutes or a lolly-pop then, shit, I might as well try to mediate the Israel-Palestine conflict dressed as a naked Hindu God, covered in makeshift Hitler and Allah tattoos.

During a particularly memorable trip a few weeks ago I almost voluntarily committed myself to (not a mental institution, but) the sea. The mighty ocean. The younger kid screamed for the car at the base of the trolley. The eldest kid screamed because he wanted the car. I figured the screams of the eldest would be easier to bear, so gave the youngest kid the car. The eldest kid wouldn’t stop screaming, so I wheeled the trolley back to where it came from, and ordered them both out. Then I had two screaming kids. But at least their misery had been equalised, even if it was at the cost of doubling mine.

The screaming died down. Eventually. But the screams weren’t gone, merely dormant, lurking just beneath the surface of reality waiting for the smallest of ‘nos’ or ‘stop its’ to invite them back into the world. The youngest wanted to run rampant round the store. Very understandably, I didn’t want him to do that. He objected, in very strong terms, which he conveyed through an electrified flood of tears and tantrums. I had to jog through the shop holding him under my arm, a horizontal lump wriggling and shouting to get free as my eldest kid jogged by our side. We must have looked like a fractured squad of injured soldiers running through a battlefield to the evac point.

Upon reaching the check-out and loading the conveyor, my eldest announced he was desperate for the toilet. I angrily threw the groceries back into the basket, and rushed us off to the bathroom, whereupon my youngest splashed and patted his hands in a dirty urinal as I was holding his brother up to pee in the urinal next to it.

That was a dark day.

But the next week, something magical happened in that supermarket: nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing stressful, in any case. The kids were little miracles of civility: polite, responsive, calm, cute and courteous. My youngest took the car, but the eldest didn’t mind. He rode in the trolley above, helping to pack the groceries, and proving an able navigator. I wanted to show them off to the world. Behold! Look what models of citizenhood shot from my loins! High-five me, peasants, for I am surely the greatest Dad in the world.

Bouyed by this experience, the next week, apropos of nothing, I decided to take them both out for dinner at a restaurant that DIDN’T have a soft-play. Such arrogance deserved to be punished. But it wasn’t. They were a dream. At one point they even sat on the same chair peacefully feeding each other. I couldn’t quite believe it myself.

So does that mean that the cycles are complete? That the worst is over, and they’re now running in concert with each other, working together as a beautiful, harmonious unit?

I got this text from my partner during the week:

You’d think that the extra half hour in bed would make them better people! Normally Chris just putters about doing his own thing and is generally pleasant but even he was a bit of a dick today. He kept throwing his hat into people’s gardens. I visualised throwing him over the wall after it.”

And I’m writing this post you’re reading now while sitting in my local coffee shop, half-frazzled and surely suffering from mild PTSD after shouting ‘Don’t hit your brother, don’t hit your brother’ at least 60,000 times this morning alone. I’m on my second large coffee of the day. It won’t be the last.

The cycle never ends, my friends. It just mutates.

Different shit, different day.

Just keep dashing, wiping and washing. That’s all you can do.

But don’t forget – if you’ll allow me to refer back to the diarrhoea analogy with which we began – to enjoy the moments between the gurgles and the rumbles and the worried checking of your pants.

Those moments make all the shit worthwhile.

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 6 – 7

Part 12: Publish and be damned

Wherein Jamie and Claire’s reunion is interrupted by the usual broth of death and nonsense

We change a lot over the course of our lives.

The early 20s version of me wouldn’t recognise the late 30s version of me. Well, he would recognise him… he’d just think he was a terminal bore; an old sell-out; a mythical beast that’s half-man, half-box-set.

My twenties were a riot of burning bridges (metaphorically, not literally – I wasn’t quite that bad), broken promises, drunken debauchery, bizarre experimentation, lost jobs, failed relationships, panic attacks, doom, despair, suicidal ideation and abject misery. In short, they were fucking brilliant.

By contrast, my mid-to-late 30s have been something of a peaceful triumvirate of book reading, trips to the park and early nights. I’ve long since quit smoking, and I’m essentially tee-total. Some of that’s down to becoming a dad; some of it’s down to the steady venting of testosterone as I get ready to run the final half-lap to death. (I say run…)

And do you know what?

My two bonnie boys – Jamie

My thirties have been brilliant, too. Settling down, becoming a dad. Awesome. While I can’t deny that life occasionally makes me want to reach for the vodka and the anxiety meds, I wouldn’t change any of it. You grow into the different stages of your life. Your wants, needs, aims and body all change, and you change to accommodate them, most of the time without even realising it.

Of course it always helps to have a fair wind at your back. Luck’s a big part of life, quite possibly the biggest. For instance, if you happen to be a rebellious hero with a big mouth who’s born into a land-owning family in a Scotland that’s under English ‘occupation’, you’re probably not going to have an easy time of it. And that’s before you factor in the possibility of falling in love with a woman not fated to be born until at least a hundred years after your death.

Even still, time changes people. And no-one knows that better than Jamie and Claire.

When we first caught sight of 20-years-older Jamie at the end of the previous episode he appeared to have grown old gracefully: forsaken the fighting, warring, drinking, boiling passions and general tumult of youth in favour of a safe and steady life in a safe and steady profession. His days seemed to be spent patiently poring over paper and ink, a dinky wee pair of professorial spectacles perched upon his nose. No quarrels. No rebellions. No trouble. Just routine: dull, faithful routine. As one Jamie to another: welcome to the club, brother.

But Jamie Fraser hasn’t calmed down one iota. If anything he’s veered top speed into the stereotype of the male mid-life crisis. Even in the cosy, middle-class world of the Edinburgh print scene, he can’t seem to resist wedding himself to dirt and danger. Though he sports the look of some kindly Geppetto-style character, he’s a bad boy, through and through: a printer and distributor of seditious pamphlets; a booze smuggler in thrall to a corrupt customs officer; and to top it all off he’s living in a brothel. Jesus Christ, Fraser, all that’s missing is the Ferrari and the ear-ring.

One thing 20-years-older Jamie doesn’t look is… well, 20-years-older. ‘I don’t look like an old man?’ he asks Claire, once he’s picked himself up off the floor. Em, no. No, you don’t. In fact you literally don’t look a single day older. All that’s changed is that you’re now wearing glasses. And glasses don’t magically transform a 24 year-old’s face into a middle-aged man’s face. If only it did then Lois Lane wouldn’t have reason to feel quite so stupid around Superman and Clark Kent.

Claire doesn’t look any older, either, beyond the odd fleck of grey in her hair. This was something of a red rag to my partner’s bullish conceptions about the relationship between the passage of time and the advancement of female physiology (especially post-partum). Or as she put it, rather more expressively: ‘Twenty years and two pregnancies and her tits haven’t even moved a fucking centimetre!’

Quite.

That got me thinking. How important is Jamie and Claire’s physical attractiveness to the narrative and indeed the whole conceit of the show? I’m guessing ‘very’, else they wouldn’t have cast good-looking people like Sam and Caitriona, and they wouldn’t have shied away from showing the ravages of time upon their bodies as the years whizzed by. Are we that shallow? Is love itself that shallow? Do we only buy into Outlander’s romantic fantasy because the principal leads are both young and aesthetically pleasing? What would have happened if Claire had gone back in time to find Jamie a fat, wheezing lump of a man with a goutish limp, one eye missing and a huge scar down his cheek? We would’ve seen the true measure of the purity of Claire’s love, that’s for sure.

JAMIE: Claire! Claire, my love! After all of these years, lassie!

CLAIRE: (stares blankly at Jamie)

JAMIE: Claire? It’s me Sassenach, it’s your darling Jamie.

CLAIRE: (stares a little longer) Me no speaka de English mista.

JAMIE: Claire? CLAIRE?

CLAIRE: (already half-way down the street, shouting “TAXI!”)

It’s not just Claire who might run a mile. I’ve seen too many memes of a half-naked Sam Heughan being shared by Outlander’s legions of female fans (often with an accompanying caption like ‘YE CAN THATCH MA COTTAGE ANY TIME, LADDIE’) for the writers to have dared taking Jamie on the average Scotsman’s typical journey from adolescence into middle-age. Sex sells. And Sam Heughan’s a one-man sexual stock-exchange as far as his many admirers are concerned (check out the Facebook group Heughan’s Heughligans if you don’t believe me). It’s hard to imagine hearts-a-beating and hips-a-snaking on quite the same scale if they’d cast James Corden or Piers Morgan instead of Sam Heughan – although it would have made Jamie’s whipping a hell of a lot more fun to watch.

Claire and Jamie’s eventual and inevitable sexual reunion was incredibly powerful, saying and suggesting much more beyond the purely physical; beyond the twenty years of pent-up desire and longing that was begging for release from their quivering, love-sick bodies. The lovers carefully removed each other’s scarves with the delicate gratitude of two people loosening the ribbon on two decades’ worth of Christmas presents. There were darker undertones, too. The director lingered on their necks and scarves long enough to suggest a connection with the couple’s treasonous past, reminding us of just how easily the hangman’s noose might have slipped around their necks had things turned out differently. Given Jamie’s new vocation, there are plenty of opportunities for the noose to come swinging back into play.

As the scarves came off, the weight that Claire and Jamie had carried around their necks and upon their shoulders started to loosen, lessen and ease. In a neat turn, the pace and fluidity of their encounter is interrupted by Claire’s zipper, a note of awkwardness that adds a welcome touch of realism to their cinematic heavings. The zipper also reminds us of the very different times they hail from, and how their two worlds – although the gap between them is ever-present – can always be re-joined through flesh.

Jamie’s new status as the Tony McSoprano of Edinburgh appears to have corrupted both his surrogate son Fergus and his nephew Ian. Nevertheless, they seem to be quite enjoying their status as smugglers and men about town, even if Ian is a little wet behind the ears compared to his friend, the fabulous fornicating Frenchman. You’ve got to love Fergus’s winsome, woman-themed wisdom: Tell them they’re beautiful, buy them a drink, and repeat one and two until it works. It’s reassuring to see just how little alcohol-fuelled adolescence has changed in the last two hundred years.

It isn’t long before the dark fingers flexing at the edges of Jamie’s new life reach out to grasp Claire. A boorish exciseman comes to rifle through Jamie’s brothel HQ and instead of finding the room empty finds a frightened Claire. Assuming her to be a cheap harlot – and being something of a sexual psychopath – he decides to buy her silence by taking her body and her life.

I suppose the numerous incidents of rape and attempted rape in the show lend it an air of historical verisimilitude. Hell, given what we know about the behaviour of men in modern times, particularly in Hollywood and the high seats of power, it isn’t a habit we’ve grown out of as a species. That being said, I sometimes picture Diana Gaboldon sitting at her writing desk, stuck in a narrative rut, a pen clenched between her teeth, scratching her head and staring out the window, before letting her eyes fall on a framed piece of paper on her desk that simply reads ‘RAPE?’ After which she smiles, nods and starts scribbling away furiously.

Definitely scribbling. For some reason I have a hard time imagining Diana Gabaldon using a computer, a modern word processor, or even a type-writer. In my imagination, she always writes with a quill, and invariably wears a bonnet.

Claire fights back, as she always does. A scuffle ensues, at the climax of which the exciseman falls and smashes his skull against the hard stone floor, a knife implanted in his body to boot. Stubborn and ethical to a fault, Claire vows to keep him alive by any means necessary, even if it means her own arrest, and Jamie’s certain doom. That… makes sense? Claire seems incredibly haughty and bitchy in this episode, but then I guess if you’d been looking forward to reuniting with your lover across time, space and reality after twenty-years-apart, and he almost got you raped and killed in a brothel because of his criminal activity, you’d probably be a bit pissed off, too.

Anyway, the exciseman dies (Murtagh didn’t have to pop up to solve their problems with the business end of a dagger this time), and the now very suspicious customs officer Sir Percival sends another of his dodgy lieutenants to carry out additional surveillance on Jamie and his crew. This time it’s the turn of Harry Tompkins (played by Eastenders’ very own Tricky Dicky), who with his rasping voice, cloudy white eye, and slight hunch is only a single bolt of lightning away from loping down the street with a surgical saw shouting ‘BRAINS, BRAINS!’.

Tomkins scopes out the print-shop, and discovers Jamie’s sedition. Ian, who has turned the printing shop into his own private knocking shop for the purposes of losing his virginity, discovers Tomkins and tries to shoo him away. A tussle ensues, then a fire breaks out, which Ian tries to vanquish by bravely tap-dancing on top of it. The fruits of Jamie’s sedition and smuggling only make the fire burn hotter and fiercer.

Jamie has been living in a brothel, selling booze and lying to his family. Now it’s time for him to taste the fires of Hell, which burn away his livelihood and threaten to engulf his own flesh and blood. As Claire remarked of Jamie’s predicament earlier in the episode, ‘God has nothing to do with this.’ The wages of sin, after all, is death.

Jamie quickly proves himself fit for redemption. He may have been responsible for leading Ian to sin, but he’s also the man who risks his life to save him from Hell.

What’s going to burn next? 

A few final, disjointed thoughts

  • “What an awful name for a wee lass…” Jamie’s reaction to his child’s life in the future was very funny. Especially when he was introduced to the swingin’ sixties through the photo of Bree in a bikini.
  • I didn’t realise that the character of Yi Tien Cho had courted such controversy. I’ve never read the books, so I’ve no idea if the criticisms levelled against Diana G for her handling of the character are justified. I can say, though, that I enjoyed Yi Tien Cho/Mr Willoughby on screen, and hope he’s allowed to blossom into a deep and interesting secondary character.
  • I’ve scoured the internet trying to find the rude Gaelic phrase that sounds a little like a mispronunciation of Yi Tien Cho, but to no avail. Any help?
  • See, this is what I mean about Claire being a bad mum. Wouldn’t she have at least tried to take advantage of Jamie’s printing press to leave a note for Brianna somewhere in history to let her know she’d made it back to the past safely? You know, like Doc did for Marty at the end of Back to the Future 2?
  • I used to watch an Australian soap opera called Neighbours. One of the characters, Karl Kennedy, is a doctor. For reasons of plot (and keeping the cast manageable), he’s required to be a doctor of everything: GP, ophthalmologist, psychiatrist, brain-surgeon. I sometimes feel the same way about Claire. ‘Bizarre eighteenth century equipment to drill holes in people’s skulls and ancient herbs? No fucking problem, I’ve got this.’
  • Crème de Menth is a drink that’s beloved of posh old ladies, and men with £2000 designed spectacle frames and a tea-cup Chihuahua called Phillip. It’s a bizarre drink to risk being hanged over.
  • When the mentally-ill/seerish sister of Mr Campbell was chanting ‘Abandawe, Abandawe, Abandawe’ I was willing Claire to start singing ‘Oooooooo, oooooh ooooh ooooh ooooo, oooo, ah, ooo weem-a-way.’ Although that might have been a bit insensitive.

READ THE REST – Click below

Why I want to binge-watch Outlander

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 5 – 8

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 9 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 13 – 16

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 5 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 11 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Ep 13

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 1 – 3

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 4 – 5

30 Things You Didn’t Know About Scotland

When Kids Compete

‘As long as you enjoy yourself, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. You’re a winner just for trying.’

You say it. You mean it. You believe it. You want your kid to believe it, too. Hell, it’s true. Winning isn’t everything. Life is a rich tapestry of experiences that it’s an honour to… well, experience, I suppose. Reducing everything to a cross in a box robs us of the chance simply to enjoy being: to think, to feel, to explore: to get something out of existence that’s spiritual and inspirational rather than fleeting and relational. Sometimes talent and genius marches to the beat of its own drum. It’s true, all true.

But it’s also true that when a four-year-old girl beat my four-year-old son in a poetry competition, there was a small part of me that wanted to pick her up by her pigtails and drop-kick her through a fucking window.

Or at the very least pursue a Larry David-esque vendetta against her: a campaign of harassment culminating in the whole audience pointing at her and singing ‘Happy birthday to you, you live in a zoo, you look like a poo poo, and you smell like one, too’ – as the little girl cries so hard that she actually falls over.

Just joking, of course…(coughs)

Winning isn’t everything.

Jack did very well. His first public speaking engagement, and he strode up to that podium and its waiting microphone with the speed and zeal of a seagull closing in on an unattended sandwich. He stood with his upper torso bent forwards, his legs anchored a small way behind his hips, his hands at his back, like a rock-star of the poetry world; a little Liam Gallagher, minus the recreational drugs (unless cocoa counts as a drug, which in kids, it probably does).

His delivery was clear and confident, only faltering at the very last line, which he rushed through a little too quickly, the rhythm speeding then halting as if met by a sudden traffic jam. Still, he’s only four, bless him. Most four-year-olds can’t even say disestablishmentarianism properly, the stupid little idiots. With that in mind, we decided not to issue too severe a punishment beating this time around. Rest assured, though, if he fluffs next year’s poem the tooth-fairy’s going to be leaving a cheque under his pillow.

By default, Jack was first up to bat (if you’ll permit the jazzy Americanism), which hadn’t been the original plan. A sullen, curly-haired boy had trudged up to the podium first, but had quickly left without saying a word after he was overcome with shyness. He’d stood with his lips almost engulfing the mic, a noise like a desperately upset Darth Vader emanating from his mouth. The poor wee fella came back for a second attempt a little later, managed a few lines this time, but was again overcome with nerves. We felt really sorry for him, and later took pains to explain to Jack that what they were all doing was exceptionally brave. Nobody was a loser today. Nobody had failed. The little boy had tried his best, and that’s a cause for celebration and camaraderie, not condemnation. Jack nodded his approval.

It was a lesson, however, that wasn’t to stick. A little later in the show, a boy who was a year or so older than Jack – and not half as steely – took to the podium. He kept fluffing his lines, and each time his mother would whisper prompts into his ear, and he’d shrug or shake his head. Occasionally he’d step away from the microphone and have a soundless argument with his mother, bordering on comic mime, no doubt appealing for release from his poem-shaped nightmare. When he finally got to the end, after more than a few stutter-steps, he received a huge and heart-felt round of applause. It was a sweet, funny and tragic spectacle that elicited waves of empathy from everyone in the audience.

From everyone, that is, except our son, who sat cackling away like The Joker.

‘He gets that from you,’ I told my partner, as I continued to imagine the little girl from Jack’s heat getting chewing-gum stuck in her hair during an important family occasion.

We teach Jack to frame his experiences in a compassionate and zen-like manner, and always try to help him manage his expectations without knocking himself or others. That doesn’t always work. One: because he’s a kid, and the world of kids is lawless and savage, like the old Wild West. And two: because he spends a lot of time around us, his parents, and most of the time our defences are down and our filters are off. He learns much more from us by way of osmosis than he does by rote, meaning that it’s one thing for us to coach him to be compassionate and to repeatedly remind him that it’s the taking part that counts, quite another for him to witness me or his mother losing at a computer game, and cursing everyone from God on down to the smallest louse on the back of a mouse. Deep down, he must know that we’re hypocrites and assholes, despite how much we pretend otherwise.

Imperfect assholes. Assholes who love him. Assholes who will protect him and his little brother and any future sprogs from the very real assholes out there in the world, and will keep doing so until the day we die, hoping against hope that we don’t turn them into assholes in the process, even though it’s almost inevitable. We’re all assholes, when it comes right down to it. Every one of us. There’s a poem in there somewhere. Actually, there’s a hundred thousand poems, a million movies and TV shows, and the entire field of psychoanalysis in there. They fuck you up, your mum and dad, as Philip Larkin once opined.

The little girl who bested him (more ‘pipped’, I’d say, yes, pipped) was a little more demonstrative with her hands, and slightly more poised and expressive in her delivery, which my partner and I figured was probably down to her being a NASCENT NARCISSIST WHO ATE BOGEY SANDWICHES AND SMELLED OF POO POO.

Jack didn’t appear too bothered not to have come first, until he saw the gift basket – filled with sweeties and the like – awarded to and held aloft by his nemesis. That he wanted. It’s tempting to feel sorry for him, until you discover his Darwinian perspective on non-merit-based rewards for participation.

Remember the wee curly-headed boy who was supposed to have gone first? Well, he was called forward to receive a certificate – all of the kids got certificates, you see. Even if they didn’t win, they’d been chosen to represent their nursery or school-year, and thus they were already winners by default. The wee boy started walking towards the stage to receive his recognition, and as he did so Jack leaned back in his chair with a disgusted look on his face.

‘Why is that boy getting that? He wasn’t even good.’

‘Shhhhhh,’ said his mother.

‘He gets that from you,’ I told her, a smug smile dancing across my lips.

I imagined the wee girl tripping over her own dress on the way to collect her first Oscar in 2045.

My partner scowled.

‘Shut it, you loser,’ she said with a smile.


Read ‘This Be The Verse’, Philip Larkin’s short and visceral poem on parenting and the human condition.

Jamie’s Outlander Binge: Season 3, Eps 4 – 5

Part 11: Come Hell or Helwater

Wherein romance relegates the Fraser children to obscurity

(When I write these binge-watch diary entries I normally tackle three or four episodes at a time, but in this installment, and the next, I’m going to cover smaller blocks of two episodes. After watching episodes four to seven it struck me that a 2/2 split was narratively and thematically tidier. If you think that means I’ll be writing less, then, hi, you must be new to my work.)

I’m thankful for having been born in a place as beautiful and benign as Scotland, in a time relatively free from turmoil. Every era has its own particular battles and hardships, of course, and while we have Brexit, global warming and the looming threat of the Spice Girls reunion, at least I’m not: a) dying from cholera on my sixth birthday, b) being chased through the glens by an angry redcoat with a rusty musket, or c) playing ‘Mind that bomb’ in the trenches of Ypres.

I love Scotland and being Scottish – I love our proud history, heritage and humour; our rich culture; the way we’re regarded with such fondness by the rest of the world – but I’m by no means some short-bread-tin thumping, sword-dancing, past-harkening Celtophile who views the world through a tartan filter. I may be a Scottish nationalist – and have been known to carry the odd romantic notion around with me – but I’m a civic nationalist at heart. I feel no enmity towards the English; I love many of them as brothers (and sisters, especially my own actual sister, who was born in Essex, and so is technically English). People are people, and should always be judged on their own merits.

That being said, for all that the pursuit of pan-global solidarity is laudable, we Scots are different from the rest of the world, and certainly different from the rest of the UK. We have our own laws, our own courts, our own unique cultures and languages, our own shared stories, history and experiences, our own parliament, our own institutions, our own aims and values; and a trend-setting, progressive outlook on the world. We’re different enough to desire and deserve a country of our own. And, let’s not forget, ‘our’ country would still have been ‘ours’ if history had played out just a little bit differently. Claire and Jamie: I blame you.

So just to summarise: Scottish, Nationalist, peaceful, peace-loving, love the English.

Except…

The Earth’s skin is a thin veneer, beneath which earthquakes and volcanoes ready themselves to burst, and, I guess, so too is the nationalist psyche. All it takes is five minutes of Braveheart or a reminder of the existence of Margaret Thatcher to transform the average Scot into a flesh-and-blood incarnation of Groundskeeper Wullie, ready to tear their shirt open, grab a claymore and run towards York shouting ‘FREEEEEEEEEDDDOOOOOOOMMMMMM!’

I experienced a little taste of that feeling during the opening minutes of the Jamie-centric episode ‘Of Lost Things’, when the Earl of Ellesmere looked at Jamie and uttered the line: ‘If a child of mine had hair that colour I’d drown him before he drew his second breath.’ It filled me with a sudden, unexpected and all-consuming rage, that was only sated when Jamie walloped him in his stupid face with a bullet towards the episode’s end.

It’s little wonder that UK Prime Minister David Cameron was reportedly so concerned about the ‘Outlander effect’ in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum that he arranged a meeting with Sony to try to mitigate and control it. Diana Gabaldon later went on record to state that, to the best of her knowledge, the delay in bringing the show to the UK (it premiered in the UK many months after its US debut, and only after the independence issue had been ‘settled’) had nothing whatsoever to do with politics. It’s almost irresistible to conclude that it was. If the UK government is now taking pains to rebrand Scottish produce as British in Scottish supermarkets in a bid to dampen our sense of national identity, then it makes sense that they’d cut a deal to delay transmission of a TV show capable of turning even the most timid and anglicised of Scots into chest-beating, dirk-wielding warriors.

I wish Jamie would reclaim some of his trademark fighting spirit. If anyone needs an infusion of fury, it’s Jamie in ‘Of Lost Things’. He’s never seemed less warrior-like than he is here (with one notable, and harrowing, exception from the first season, of course), worn down to a nub by his heavy losses and hardships.

He’s now a groomsman working on the Dunsany family’s English estate, which, on balance, is probably a lot better than being chained to a galley ship and rowed across the Atlantic Ocean to a life of toil and turmoil on untamed lands. The reprieve is courtesy of his benefactor, Lord John Grey, who, as well as being indebted to Jamie for his life, also has the hots for him. We’re talking full-blown hots; you know: posters on the wall; inscriptions in permanent marker suffixed by IDT DNDT; nights spent converting the letters of both their names to numbers to calculate their love-match compatibility. Johnny boy’s got it bad. Without a doubt, Jamie has not only fate to thank for his good fortune, but genetics, too, both for making him such a handsome bastard, and for making John Grey gay.

It’s lucky too that Lord Dunsany is such a noble man. He knows that Jamie (or Alexander Mackenzie as he’s now known) is a Jacobite and former prisoner, but chooses to give him the benefit of the doubt, recognising that they’ve grit, integrity and sorrow in common. Lord Dunsany further promises to conceal Jamie’s true identity even from his own wife, who is still grieving the death of their soldier son on the battlefield at Prestonpans.

Jamie’s role forces him to spend a lot of time with the two Dunsany sisters, one of whom, Isobel, is courteous, noble, and all-round nice (‘It pains me that my father confines such magnificent creatures,’), while the other, Geneva, is wild, haughty, cruel and condescending. Isobel looks upon Jamie as a human being and an equal; Geneva looks down upon Jamie as a cat would a mouse.

When I hear the name ‘Geneva’ it transports my thoughts to Switzerland; which in turn takes them to clocks, rugged landscapes, and Dignitas, the institution where terminally-ill people go to end their suffering. It’s quite an apt volley of associations where the character of Geneva is concerned: she’s terrain that’s hard to navigate; she reminds us, and Jamie, of the time he’s spent and the time he’s lost; and she’s a place where men with few options left open to them go to die.

When Jamie dropped Geneva in the muck following what I’m content to call her false-flag nag fall I was certain he’d end up a human metronome swinging on the end of a hangman’s rope. But it quickly became apparent that Geneva’s teasing and confrontational jibes were a somewhat childish manifestation of her desire for him. Most things about Geneva are childish.

Though attractive and sensuous, she was at root a spoiled and sheltered adolescent, deeply unconcerned with the rights and feelings of others, and completely uninterested in limiting her impulses. I’m not sure if she acted this way because she was hopelessly narcissistic, or simply rich. I guess the two aren’t mutually exclusive. In any case, she elected to pursue Jamie through less-than-traditional romantic means. And by that I mean she discovered Jamie’s secret identity and used it to, em, leverage him.

It’s odd to call this a rape scene, even though it kind of, maybe, sort of is. Is it? I concede I may be guilty of some double-standards here. It’s hard to push back against a life-time of culturally-reinforced gender stereotypes that say men can’t be raped by women. Not only men, but teenage boys, too. While a male teacher who seduces one of his female pupils is unambiguously decried a criminal and a sex offender, we allow for shades of grey when the gender roles are reversed – informally and conversationally, if not legally (and as long as the victim isn’t one of our own sons or brothers). The implication is clear: men are mighty, women are weak; a stiff penis implies cast-iron consent; and men are horny machines who would never pass up an opportunity for sexual release.

Rape, abuse of power, blackmail, unethical and underhand, call it what you will, it’s also undeniably erotic. When Jamie realises how vulnerable and naive Geneva is behind the brashness and bombast he’s able to reassert some form of control, and wields it with sensitivity and passion. Geneva, in her own way, is being held hostage sexually, having been promised to the perfectly hideous Earl of Ellesmere, and Jamie – though he has every right to feel violated and aggrieved – responds compassionately.

What happens between Jamie and Geneva is a through-the-looking-glass re-imagining of Jamie and Claire’s first love scene, this time with the roles reversed. Here, Geneva is the virgin, and Jamie the tender and patient mentor. Geneva’s resemblance to Claire is no accident. He misses companionship. He misses sex. He misses Claire. He misses love.

‘I love you,’ declares Geneva, which Jamie quickly but kindly shoots down. ‘Love is when you give your heart and soul to another, and they give theirs in return.’

Love is Jamie and Claire.

Geneva falls pregnant, and later dies in childbirth. Her baby – their baby – almost dies shortly thereafter, when the Earl of Ellesmere threatens to murder it with a knife, suspecting his young wife, quite correctly, of having cuckolded him.

Jamie tries to defuse the situation, standing between one Lord with a knife, and the other with a pistol. It’s a testament to how thoroughly Outlander has established its brutal credentials that I wasn’t really sure if the baby would survive. A commendably tense stand-off that ends, as previously mentioned, with Jamie saving the life of his secret love-child with the help of a bullet.

The next episode – as you’re all acutely aware – brings us one step closer to the moment fans had been waiting for since the end of the second season: a long overdue break from Brianna.

I’m being devilish, of course. It’s the reunion of our stone-crossed lovers, an event that must’ve coaxed from Outlander’s loyal viewership (who’d waited a year or more for it to happen) a squeal loud enough to smash every window in the Empire State Building twice over, and caused thousands of bottom lips to blubber and jump like washing machines on their final spin cycles. The cumulative force of all the gasps that were surely gasped when Claire and Jamie locked eyes again after twenty years apart would’ve created a vacuum powerful enough to suck the earth inside of itself and spit itself back out again, before shattering in a cosmic thunder of swoons.

Me? I just shrugged and went, ‘That’s nice’, which prompted my partner to look at me like I’d just force-fed a child to a lion. (Hey, I cried when Claire visited Jamie’s Culloden graveside. I cry at ‘Up’ and ‘Watership Down’, what else do you want from me?) I’ll concede that the reunion was a jaw-dropping moment, despite its inevitability. It was also a Jamie-dropping moment. The Laird of Lallybroch went down like a bagpipe filled with bowling balls. Making Jamie the fainter was a neat touch; a funny and memorable subversion of the ‘over-emotional woman’ trope we’ve been conditioned to expect from the genre.

Before the universe could bring them back together, each of the lovers first had to walk away from their children: Jamie, because he would never be able to stake a claim to his lad’s paternity (how very Dougal-ish of him); would be in big trouble if he did, and might not want to even if he could, since it was clear that his boy was developing into a desperately kickable little arsehole; and Claire, because… well… because… because she’s a bad mum. THERE I SAID IT!

Before Claire ran back to the past, she first tried to run from it. She left Scotland to return to Boston, content to leave Jamie in his long-ago grave. But there was no running. The past pursued her, in the form of Roger, who crossed the sea to be with Bri, and stayed to help mother and daughter crack the case of Jamie’s life after Culloden.

I haven’t read the books, but it was blatantly obvious from the moment we first saw Roger resplendent in his turtle-neck that he and Brianna were going to have their own for-the-ages-style romance. Claire was prepared to cross time for her love, Roger an ocean for his, gestures equal in scale when judged on their own merits.

I didn’t particularly like ‘Freedom and Whisky’, ‘Claire’s’ episode. It’s the first time it really felt as though Outlander was treading water. I understand that the episode’s function was to pave the way for the dramatic cliff-hanger in the episode’s closing minutes, but there was no excuse for the preceding thirty-five minutes to feel like an exercise in joining the dots. The dialogue was overly scripty, filled with blandishments and too many moments that were too on-the-nose, particularly the moon-landing analogy. There was no heat or depth. Just noise and light. And while I knew the story had to reunite Claire and Jamie, I didn’t buy how readily both mother and daughter accepted what was about to happen. I’ll say it again: CLAIRE’S A BAD MOTHER!

I like Caitriona Balfe. I do. She’s a good actress. And I like Claire, too. She’s tough, capable and head-strong. That being said, I occasionally struggle to sympathise with the character on account of how blinkered and selfish she can be, and that’s despite the good many times she’s risked her life to heal friends and enemies alike. Is it down to Caitriona? Good as she is, is she good enough to really fully sell it – the turmoil, the nuance, the duality? Yes. Yes, I think she is. Then what is it? Is it the character? Is it possible that Claire’s moral grit – the thing we admire most about her – is actually nothing more than a manifestation of pathological stubbornness? Is she exactly as selfish and dismissive as she sometimes seems?

I interrogated my own perspective so I could be absolutely sure that my feelings weren’t being skewered by gender bias. Men can sometimes judge women and fictional female characters more harshly than male characters, often without realising it, and while I’d like to think that I’m less prone to this kind of mental framing, it would be impossible for me to claim that I was exempt from it, or somehow above it.

Lots of Breaking Bad fans, not exclusively but predominantly male, regularly poured steaming hot mugs of scorn over the character of Skylar. Her crime appeared to be playing spoilsport to her dying husband’s burgeoning criminal career. They called her whiny, uptight, disloyal, a nag. Why couldn’t she just give Walter a break? This was an almost laughable mis-reading of the Whites’ marriage, and indeed all marriages in general, given that the average husband would struggle to avoid the divorce courts after an illicit blow-job, never mind the transformation from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher into a murderous, drug-dealing kingpin. We may have ‘loved’ Walt, even understood him, but he was always the villain. At least by the end of the second season.

Ditto Carmella Soprano. She was arguably complicit in her husband Tony’s crimes – or she was, at the very least, as one of her own therapists put it to her, ‘an enabler’ – and entered his world fully cognizant of the consequences of the mob lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean that she should’ve just quietly accepted his behaviour and infidelity without question or rancour. Standing up to her husband didn’t make her a nag, or a bitch, or a hypocrite. Just human. Just a fully-formed character.

So, no, I’m not some hard-hearted misogynist with an axe to grind, which means, ipso facto, that there must be something wrong with Claire. Sorry, Claire, but as you can see I’ve spread a thin layer of spurious reasoning across a handful of paragraphs and arrived at a cast-iron conclusion, from which there is no escape. Case closed. This court finds you guilty.

Guilty of being a dick.

Why wouldn’t you try to take Brianna with you at least? Why wouldn’t you promise to make some mark on history to let Brianna know you’d made it back safely? Why would you risk going in the first place when there was absolutely no guarantee you would emerge in the correct time-frame? Most strikingly of all, why wouldn’t you take a History of Scotland book with you – your very own Grays Sports Almanac?

Great Scot? Prove it, Claire.

A few final, disjointed thoughts

  • Doctor Who references abound in this show, at least to my consciousness. Roger is the Rory to Brianna’s Amy. Which makes Jamie…em, The Doctor? A larger-than-life, time-travelling figure! Or perhaps Claire’s the Doctor. I’ve already remarked in a previous binge-diary entry that she’d be a good choice as the Doctor (if they insist on continuing to go down that route).
  • Diana Gabaldon got the idea for Jamie from watching an episode of Doctor Who called The War Games, from Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the second Doctor.
  • ‘Are you actually offering your body to me in payment if I promise to look after Wullie?’ My head swirled with euphemisms after John said this to Jamie.
  • ‘History is just a story – it changes depending upon who’s telling it. History can’t be trusted.’ I liked this line of Brianna’s. Very apt.

READ THE REST – Click below

Why I want to binge-watch Outlander

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 5 – 8

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 9 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 13 – 16

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 5 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 11 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Ep 13

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 1 – 3

30 Things You Didn’t Know About Scotland

The downfall of a predatory Glasgow pick-up artist

It’s the classic tale. Boy meets girl. Boy pursues girl through a shopping mall. Boy continues to chase and harass girl. Boy attempts to intimidate and manipulate girl. Boy films it. Boy won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Girl runs away. Boy says girl has a cock-killing feminist agenda. Boy puts video of it on the internet. Continue reading

To the Emperor, all but the Emperor belong in the gutter

Major, Theodore; Man in Bleak Landscape; Wigan Arts and Heritage Service; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/man-in-bleak-landscape-162632

Modern life is awe-inspiring and hyper-stimulating, but deeply confusing, and to a maddening degree; made even more so by the myriad ways the rich and powerful have devised to deploy that confusion for tactical gain; lobbing fireworks and flash-bangs of panic and distraction at us to keep us moving, always moving: never stopping, never thinking. We don’t need much of a shove in the direction of distraction: our eyes are already blinded by the gadgets we clutch in our claws; our thoughts over-run by the endorphins they release into our brains, like we’re trained rats pushing buttons for treats.

We’re made to run the Orwellian gauntlet down every street, along every junction of the information superhighway, as we’re assailed on all sides by Facebook feeds filled with fakery and fury; the weaponised worthiness of a hundred-million keyboard warriors; and incendiary headlines that boom out their daily beat of hatred from beneath war-like, blood-red banners.  At any given moment we’re being accused of, or being pushed to commit, thought-crimes, hate-crimes, and crimes – to both body and soul – of every stripe imaginable.

We spend our days spitting out words as though they were bullets, rat-a-tat-tatting at people about values, identity, sovereignty, tolerance, intelligence, and truth (whatever that is). We wax lyrical about the good old days, the never-was golden age of peace and prosperity, when people of unspecified and indeterminate gender were people of unspecified and indeterminate gender, and other people of unspecified and indeterminate gender weren’t afraid.

Human societies have become so intricate and complex that we tend, more often than not, to ascribe commensurately complex motivations to the people who comprise them. This muddles and over-complicates the often very simple impulses behind the things that we do, or are done to us.

Take Brexit. We frame it as an ideological schism being fought at street-level among the ordinary folk, with the forces of progressive change, shared humanity and multiculturalism on one side, and the forces of culturally-conservative, insular and isolationist protectionism on the other: but what if we’re all just pawns being moved around to satisfy the unslakeable thirst of the rich and powerful for yet more money and power? Spoiler alert: we definitely are. (see the Private Eye article at the foot of this piece of writing for a flavour of the sort of behaviour that’s driving and helping to maintain the country’s current political and economic condition)

Some degree of fight is inevitable, even healthy, in a society. It’s the engine of change: the sword that breaks the chains of oppression, the fire that burns the old ways to dust. But what happens when those who rule over our lives – the oligarchs, the corporate heads, the media barons, the greedy dictators and the billionaires – turn the apparatuses of our freedoms against us? When they use smoke, lies and mirrors to set us at each other’s throats as they smile and sneer from the shadows?

We, the masses, the 99 per cent, are often to be found hacking at and goring each other in the gladiatorial arena, as the 1 per cent watch dispassionately from the high seats, occasionally deigning to flick a wrist to seal our earthly fates.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the 1 per cent have won, and have done so without ever having to fire a shot (not in this country, at least; and not recently). They convinced us that they were just like us, and we were just like them. They re-made us in their own image, minus the power. Made us ants who think we’re Gods; slaves who think we’re emperors, gazing up at the high seats of the Coliseum  and seeing our own face reflected. The belief that we have more in common with the greedy, the royal and the tyrannical than we do with our own brethren in the gutter is as ubiquitous and dangerous as it is sad and delusional.

It’s the worst kind of Stockholm Syndrome; the worst kind of twisted vanity. “They’re taking your jobs!” say the corporatocracy. “You’re paying for these people!” jeer the politicians. “They’re laughing at you!” cry the newspapers. “We, the people, shouldn’t have to accept this!” say the multi-billionaires.

So the people with their hands pressed around the throat of the body politic make a proposal. “Let’s make this country great again/take back control/drain the swamp/return to the old values/delete as applicable!”

“YES!” the people scream. “YES, YES, YES!”

And so freedoms are rolled back, liberties are re-claimed and vital provisions are shut down or torn apart: all in our name, of course.

And all the while, we, the people, scream at the poor souls on the rungs and decks below us, so loudly that we can’t hear the whips being cracked at our own backs. We cheer as the poor and disadvantaged are punished for the sin of being born unlucky, forgetting or ignoring the role of chance in our own fates.

When the policies rolled out by the hyper-rich hurt us, too – as they always do – we cry out in anger and pain: “This isn’t fair! Why would you do this to me? I’m worthy. I’m good! I supported you! You’re supposed to be punishing THEM, not me. This wasn’t the plan! You’re supposed to be punishing THEM.”

But you ARE them. The prisoners, the drug addicts, the jobless, the struggling, the single mother, the single father, the immigrant, the outcast. You’re them as much as you are the doctor, the lawyer, the electrician, the musician and the nurse. WE are in this together.

Never forget: to the emperor, all but the emperor belong in the gutter.

The way we’ve chosen to cover and govern our planet is absurd. We all crawled from the same primordial soup. For millennia after we were nothing more than scattered bands of cold and frightened proto-people, huddled together in caves and forests trying to fend off the darkness and protect ourselves from the savage indifference of Mother Earth. Always striving; barely surviving.

And then one day – we can suppose – a man looked down at his fists, or perhaps surveyed the pile of shiny stones and animal furs he’d amassed in his cave, and felt emboldened to declare to his tribe: ‘I am your King.’ And those four little words were powerful enough to bring forth a future world of crowns and slaves and jets and castles and guns and flags and great golden skyscrapers towering into the clouds as children, in countries not so very far away, choked and died in blackened, smog-filled pits.

Still, many of us think, It’s not so bad here in Scotland, or here in the UK. Sure, some people are unlucky, far unluckier than me, and life for all of us could certainly be better, but I’ve got free health-care, a relatively high life expectancy, a car, a TV, a house, and holidays. Things can only get better, right?

The dark ages may have stalled our species’ scientific and technological advancement for a millennia or so, but we’re in a post-enlightenment age now. Everything is illuminated, even the darkest corners of the farthest reaches of our galaxy. We can split atoms, land robots on asteroids and make the hearts of dead men beat in the chests of the once-dying. We’re moving forwards, right? Always forwards. Nothing can happen to drag us back, right?

It’s foolish to believe that the changes we make, and are made to us in turn, are irreversible; that progress is inevitable and unstoppable. History is cyclical, not vertical. World War I, World War II, Korea, Darfur, Vietnam, Iraq. The lessons we learn day-by-day die by the billion-load, year upon year; and like children, our species has to learn how to crawl, walk, talk and remake the world anew, every century, every generation, every blessed day. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, but throughout it all our development is guided, stilted, thwarted and dictated by the rich and the powerful and the decadent, a set of parents whose cruelty, corruption and indifference leaves a stain on the souls of all the children of the earth.

How can you fight a group with the power to destroy the world? How can you vanquish a group who owns the tech giants, the media companies, and the banks? How can you vote down a group with tentacles that reach into and around every government and politician?

You can’t.

The only weapon you have is time. That, and an unwavering belief in our shared humanity; the resolution to keep hoping and trying for a better world, no matter how futile or unrealistic the outcome may seem.

Maybe with enough time we can remake the world in our image; force a new cycle of history into rotation: a perfect squared-circle.

We are the tide.

Some of us roar from the sea in crashing waves, some of us rise and fall gently at the shore-line, but day after day, year after year, together… we’re the ones who wear down the mountains, and turn the rocks to sand.

EXCERPT FROM PRIVATE EYE

“There may be rules against rigging the financial markets, but not if the move is big, brazen and political enough.

Last weekend Mayfair-based hedge fund boss Crispin Odey told the Mail on Sunday he would support Boris Johnson in the event Theresa May is forced to resign. The purpose would be to see through a hard Brexit. “If we walked away from Europe, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world,” said Odey. Not for him it wouldn’t. He admits to shorting the pound and would make millions from the currency’s inevitable fall even as it wreaks havoc on the UK economy.

While backing the man who calls leaving the EU ‘liberation’, Odey isn’t averse to the EU’s fiscal and regulatory charms. Eight of the 14 funds in his Odey Asset Management stable are domiciled in, er, Dublin, while just four are UK-registered (the other two are in the Caymans). What Johnson called the ‘over-regulatory instincts that have held the EU back for so long’ in his recent Tory party conference speech don’t seem to have stood in Odey’s funds’ way. Nor does it seem that, when it comes to the most important aspect of handling Brexit – making serious money from it – the billionaire hedgie thinks too much of his great political hope’s rallying cry to ‘believe in Britain’.”