Archives » 2010 » February

The West Wing, Series 2


In a double episode at the beginning of this series the writers use the shooting at the end of series 1 as an opportunity to lever in the various characters’ back-story (though to be fair one of the incidents is referred to again later on.) Quite why President Bartlet’s aides were nearly all portrayed as failures before joining his campaign is a touch strange. The device, however, also enables the prolongation of tension (one of our heroes is in critical condition) during these two episodes where not much actually happens.

One of the principal characters from season 1, the youngish woman with the middle aged woman’s hairdo – played by Martha Kelly? – has disappeared without mention. A new one, a rabid Republican, has been introduced to show how nice and inclusive we all are. The President’s chief lawyer seems to be replaced during this series but we’re only told this after it’s happened and the new one has been advising him for half an episode.

The story arc of season 2 is mostly concerned with the ramifications of Pres Bartlet’s multiple sclerosis being hidden from the public who elected him; a long build up to the cliff hanger at the end of episode 22 where we have to wait for next season to find out if he’s decided to run again. Not really any suspense when you’re watching the box set as there are obviously more series to come.

I suppose this storyline is by analogy with Bill Clinton’s troubles; both with Ms Lewinski and Whitewater – a Grand Jury apparently awaits Bartlet.

There is still a lot of info dumping going on – too often with characters telling others things they should already know – but I’m certainly entertained by the minor arcana of the US constitution. (At least theirs is written down.)

One final thought. There are Gilbert and Sullivan buffs in the US? Who’d have thought it?

Arbroath 3-1 Dumbarton

League goals against predictor:- 82

Gayfield, 27/2/10

Well the goals against predictor didn’t need to be changed……

I don’t know why I bother going to Gayfield. We almost never do well there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen us win in Arbroath. Maybe I should just stay away.

Despite the fact we started brightly and the trialist (David Winters) blasted in a great cross by Chissie we soon began to go up blind alleys on our left hand side.

Even though in the first half Arbroath were poor, at half time I didn’t fancy us holding out for another forty five minues.

And so it proved. The midfield became more and more invisible as time wore on and in the end we lost our customary three.

Apart from Dr Jan, only the trialist and maybe Dennis Wyness (who did get the ball in the net for 2-2 but was given offside) of the starters get pass marks. Scott Chaplain and Ross O’Donoghue had the worst games I’ve seen them play – which is saying something. Even Ben Gordon was rubbish; and Chris Smith continues to look like a mistake waiting to happen.

The fans gave Chissie some stick but he was cruelly exposed by lack of support from midfield.

Ross Clark and Derek Carcary improved things a bit but we were chasing the game and pushed up too much, so lost the third goal.

The trialist seems to be a player, though. Onebrow’s verdict on him was he’s too good to sign for us. He and Wyness linked up well and he’d have put Wyness in for a one-on-one if Dennis had been alert enough to it.

Arbroath’s defence looked decent which makes me puzzled as to why they’re so low in the table.

Yet for all the above we’re still fifth.


Writers’ Bloc Awayday (Almost)

I reproduce below the latest information from my spoken word performance group, Writers’ Bloc.

You’ll see the theme of this event chimes with a couple of the posts I have made recently.


You may be wondering what has happened to Writers’ Bloc. Well, preparation is in progress for some exciting new shows, but in the interim, some of us will be gathering with some well-known associates for a major event at Glasgow’s Aye Write! book festival next month:

Leading SF and fantasy novelists Richard Morgan, Ken MacLeod, Hal Duncan, Deborah J. Miller and Mike Cobley discuss the shape of things to come with editor, critic and general ne’er-do-well Andrew J. Wilson at “The Early Days of a Better Future?”.

Can things only get better or do we have to look over a mountain of rubble to see beyond the next fifty years? Scottish writers are leading a renaissance in British speculative fiction, but does our national identity have any future at all? Are rhetorical questions all we’ve got to offer?

Join the panel for a lively debate punctuated with short, sharp and shocking stories — and some very special surprise guests.


Sunday 7 March, 20:00-21:30 at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow G3 7DN.

Tickets: 7.00 (6.00 concessions).

Book early to avoid disappointment and ensure that it’s not just
Glaswegians who get to have their say.

We hope to see you there!

Writers’ Bloc.

better read than dead

Aphrodite’s Child: It’s Five O’Clock

I don’t believe I’d ever heard this song by Aphrodite’s Child until it was on Radio 2’s Sounds Of The Sixties recently. It’s clearly influenced by the mid 1960s British group Nirvana whom I featured some time ago – see my category. (Or perhaps it’s a Greek thing. Nirvana’s composer was Greek as were at least two members of Aphrodite’s Child.) There’s also a touch of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale in the bass line and the organ.

It’s Five O’Clock:

The Aphrodite’s Child song I most remember, though, is Rain And Tears. There’s a murky sound quality film/video of them playing it on You Tube but I also came across this crisper version. A hint of Pachelbel’s Canon in the intro methinks. It gets everywhere.

As I recall (and Wikipedia confirms) Aphrodite’s Child spawned Demis Roussos and Vangelis but I’ll not hold that against them.

On second thought….

Freedom; Or Not?

There aren’t many things that can make me sympathetic to the Scottish Labour Party…..

But the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy in one of its periodic fits of pique is certainly up there.

Apparently Cardinal Keith O’Brien has accused the government of undermining religious freedom. (That would be the UK government, though. The Cardinal seems to have forgotten the SNP is in power in Scotland now.)

Well now; the last time I heard, people of all faiths (and none) in Scotland and indeed the whole UK were free to go about their business as long as it was within the law.

I don’t see any evidence of persecution nor of churches being forcibly closed down by the forces of the state. The Cardinal has had no difficulty in putting his point across* and has been widely quoted. So where is this infringement of freedom?

The churches have as much, and therefore as little, right as anyone else to have an input or a view on political matters. What they don’t have, and, despite the Cardinal’s and Secretary Of State Jim Murphy’s, strictures, ought not to have, is a superior right, which I fear is what the Cardinal is advocating. He seems to want freedom for his views but not for others’.

*Edited to add: He was given yet more air time on today’s Reporting Scotland.

Kéthani by Eric Brown

Solaris, 2008, 294p

The usual caveat applies to this review.

Despite having the outward appearance of a novel this book is in fact a fix-up, stringing together a series of shorter pieces which Brown has published in various magazines or anthologies over the years along with one original story. In addition there is an introductory prelude, shorter “€œinterludes”€ to link the stories, and a coda; all written for this publication. Despite the potential scope the stories are without exception located in and around a small town in West Yorkshire which Brown calls Oxenworth.

The enigmatic aliens of the title have appeared suddenly, offering to restore the dead to life – either to come back to Earth or to help in populating the galaxy. An implant under the skin of the temple starts its mysterious work when its bearer dies. The uncorrupting bodies are then ferried to the nearest Onward Station for their essence to be beamed off-planet for the process to be carried out. Returnees come back six months later, subtly changed, to carry on with their interrupted lives or to say farewell to friends and family before departing to the stars on Kéthani business.

There is something about the Onward Stations that is reminiscent of the tower which featured in Brown’€™s collection The Fall Of Tartarus – see link above – and also recalls a similar structure in Brown’s early novel Meridian Days.

The Brown tendency to feature religion is again to the fore, this time mixed with those perennial literary issues of love and death as the author works through the many responses humanity brings to the aliens’€™ gift. A new focus, here, is on the vagaries of married life and the joys of fatherhood. An uncommon (or should that be common?) touch is the frequent mention in the earlier segments of Leeds United Football Club.

Curiously it always seems to be snowing in Brown’€™s West Yorkshire. Did the Kéthani bring a change of weather with them?

There is a huge erratum on page 59 of my edition, covering two lines of text. I had to read the paragraph containing it several times in order to get the full sense. Other typos were few in number. I mention this only because such things are avoidable.

The stories, despite the inevitable repetitions entailed in their initially disparate origins, do add up to a coherent, if disjointed, narrative, though on occasion they can feel a little rushed. (This could be explained if Brown had a strict word count to adhere to for their original publications.) Despite having different narrators most adopt a similar tone. All are eminently readable.

Throughout there is the nagging doubt about the nature of the Kéthani’€™s motives. Brown never fully resolves this issue – though the last segment comes close. A US author would certainly have taken the idea in a completely different direction to Brown and I was reminded a little of Murray Leinster’€™s The Greks Bring Gifts (whose title is a nice play on “timeo Danaos et dona ferentes”€) a novel of which Brown may be unaware.

The inherent difficulty with a scenario such as this is how do you portray the returnees as different from the characters they were before resurrection? Brown does not quite bring this off, not helped by having the narrator of the interludes die partway through the book – though appearing in later segments as a returnee. Force majeure, perhaps, in that that segment may have been written early in the sequence and Brown was stuck with it.

As a working-out of what it might mean for humanity if death were to have no dominion, however, the lassitude and ennui that may ensue, the new goals that would need to be sought, Kéthani is a worthy achievement.


Fulsome does not mean heartfelt – nor even complete.

It means overdone; excessive; fawning; perhaps even insincere – especially when describing a tribute.

Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 14. Stonehaven Open Air Swimming Pool

Stonehaven Pool

Up north again for the latest in this series. The above picture is from the Wikipedia page about the pool which is apparently the only Olympic sized sea water lido in the Art Deco style.

The pool’s home web page is here.

There is a nice photo of the facade at this site. The yellow and blue paintwork is reminiscent of Kirkcaldy Ice Rink.

This is an aerial shot but you can’t really see any deco from above.

The gates look very deco, though.

This arty one is from flickr.


Scottish Science Fiction: An Update

Someone got to my recent blog post by searching in google for scottish science fiction. The Wikipedia page under that heading is woefully inadequate while providing some historical perspective but I found this interesting link to an address by Alan McGillivray to The Association For Scottish Literary Studies which he gave in 2000. He naturally focuses on Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod as the only Scottish SF writers around at that time (though my A Son Of The Rock had appeared by then) and looks forward to the growth of Scottish SF which has, in fact, now occurred.

While reading it I realised that I had unaccountably forgotten to mention in my post the novel But n Ben A-Go-Go by Matthew Fitt. This SF novel is singular (and spectacular) in that it is written entirely in Scots. That certainly beat my attempt at Scottish SF into a cocked hat as I wrote/write in English. My apologies to Matthew for the omission.

A Touch Of Disingenuousness. Be Near Me by Andrew O’Hagan

Faber, 2007

Is it possible to review a book without regard to its content? To treat only of its literary merits – the prose, the characterisation, the plot – and not their ramifications? If so, then Be Near Me is a fine novel, well written. The prose is fluid and consciously literary, if a little over florid in a few places, and the characters are well enough observed.

A more or less English Catholic Priest, David Anderton, comes to a small Ayrshire parish where he is regarded with suspicion as an incomer. Only his part-time housekeeper, Mrs Poole, and two fifteen year old parishioners called Mark and Lisa make any effort to see him as an individual and not an interloper. The remainder of the book, interspersed with flashbacks of Anderton’s childhood and his life as a student, when he had a boyfriend who died in a car crash, an event which precipitated his retreat into the priesthood, deals with the unravelling of these latter relationships.

I may be wearing my teacher’s hat here but from its inception Anderton’s relationship with the teenagers was ill-advised and implied trouble. His response to the views they express – and the language they used – on their first meeting during a school lesson was inadequate at best, diffident and lacking in the moral guidance you might expect from an educator – or a cleric.

O’Hagan intends this of course. Anderton’s confused and ineffective response in this early encounter is emblematic of his attitude to his ministry and to the crisis that later engulfs him. He seems lost and insecure, but wilfully – and frustratingly – so. As a portrait of a man unable to prevent, indeed intent on, his own ignominy Be Near Me is exemplary.

This review could finish here were it not for the caveat expressed in its first sentence. Potential readers of the novel unwilling to have their reactions possibly prejudiced should also stop here.


As O’Hagan has reservations about the treatment of Roman Catholicism’s adherents in Scotland – which admittedly not all of his co-denominationalists necessarily share – I hesitate to write this; but I found his subject matter troubling. Or, rather, the way in which it was approached.

He has Anderton remember his school at Ampleforth and mention tales of abuse by the Brothers but say he neither witnessed nor suffered any himself. Is there a hint of disingenuousness here; is this too dismissive of the issue?

Later Anderton reveals himself as guilty of what is essentially a sexual assault (even if a minor one) on Mark. That his “victim” is nearly of the age of consent and that the act was not followed through neither excuses nor expiates it.

Yes, Be Near Me has things to say about jumping to conclusions, mob rule and vigilantism, the tabloid tendency to simplify complex matters and the failure of an adversarial justice system to penetrate to the truth of things.

But it comes close to implying that such abuse didn’t happen or, if it did, was relatively inconsequential; misunderstood even.

I am not saying that one ought not to write about paedophiles, nor that they may not be considered sympathetically in fiction, only that, if they are, it should be with due care and attention to their victims and to its seriousness; and in this I think O’Hagan fails, which is an extremely severe defect. In his choice of narrator and in the age of that character’s “victim” O’Hagan seems to be skating round the issue rather than confronting it. Minimising it, if you will. And is that not reprehensible?

Notwithstanding this objection, however, whatever else Be Near Me does as a novel, it made me reflect on these matters. And, in the end, to promote such reflections is one of serious fiction’s functions.

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