Monday, 24 September 2007

Something from the weekend

Check out the stunning view from the top of Hverfjall, a volcano in the north east of Iceland, and, on the right, one of my smaller relations. I spent two weeks in Iceland this summer. Scotland on Sunday ran a pretty straight forward account of the trip which, hopefully, will be the first of three or four articles on the subject. The paper also ran three other pieces under my byline at the weekend: a (phone) interview with celebrity photographer Terry O'Neill about his forthcoming book on Frank Sinatra; a write-off from an autobiography by the Scottish rugby player, Gregor Townsend; and a 1500-word piece which was my contribution to the mountain of stuff written about Madeleine McCann and her parents. Biff the relevent buttons below and you can read one or all of them.





Monday, 17 September 2007

Reality Check

To begin at the end. Garry Otten used to write a very entertaining column in Scotsgay magazine called Scottishmediamonitor, "examining the treatment of sexuality in the Scottish media" alongside this excellent logo. Each week he would turn that big gun of his on journalists and opinion formers in Scotland who had the temerity to write about sex and morality. Katie Grant and Joan Burnie were his favorite targets, but at last young Gazza has pounced on me, appending this comment to the piece I wrote at the weekend for Scotland on Sunday.

"Now, how about an opinion from a less sexually repressed writer - if SoS has one - that could give an entirely different account of this. It is full of inaccuracies. The writer yearns for the days of fishtrader, Cameron Stout. Perhaps because the Netherlands doesn't treat sex like a pantomime favourite is why they are generally less homophobic, start sex later and boast a teenage pregnancy rate seven times lower than ours."

To which I reply:

(i) Though I'd had the article in my mind for a month, sadly it was written in a hurry on Friday evening and if there are inaccuracies that's a shame and I apologise.
(ii) I have a thing for fish. As a lad I worked on a fish market and later very much admired the inflatable haddock which used to be carried to games by Grimsby Town football fans.
(iii) The article isn't about sex, it's about reality TV.
(iv) I had a look around the newsroom the last time I was in, and sad to say, Scotland on Sunday has no-one who is less sexually repressed than me.

But maybe Garry's right. Your call, at:

Reality Check

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The road race to wellbeing

It’s six miles into my first 50-mile cycle before there’s any sign of a crowd lining the route to cheer me on. But when they finally make their presence felt they’re gratifyingly noisy. At least from a distance.

We’re near Easterhouse and I’m pedalling up a hill, slowly gaining on a group of Lycra-clad women cyclists. “Go on, girls, get those lovely legs moving,” yells a joker in a shell suit. Beside him, his mate sees me trailing in their wake. “Go on yourself, big man, get your arse in gear,” he bawls. “You might catch them in the hour.”

“Aye, you might get lucky by Airdrie,” cries his mate.

Big man? Arse? By Airdrie? I grit my teeth. Surely the lithe and easy movements of my limbs make it plain that I am destined to sweep past these women within a few hundred yards ...

That's the beginning of an article I wrote for The Sunday Times after taking part in Pedal For Scotland last year. The event is coming up again this weekend, and if you want to know what it feels like to take part, click on the link below.

Picture by Katie Lee. Note Accrington Stanley centenary jersey, emblazoned with Holland's Pies logo.

The road race to wellbeing

London calling

The article below about the London Gathering appeared in Times northern edition on Monday. Photos are by my good friend Rob McDougall, whose site you can link to from this blog.

The image on the right shows Alastair MacKenzie and myself smiling because we had spent the whole day on a fruitless search for a geezer with a wider waistline than me, and then just when we were flagging, Hardeep Singh Kohli suddenly turned up.

What the article doesn't say is that the actress and singer Clare Grogan was at the Gathering, and we had a brief catch up, following the interview I did with Clare earlier in the year. That was rather a touching story about her struggle to have a child, and you can read that article by hitting this link.

Clare Grogan's baby talk

Little piece of Scotland at London 's heart

From the window of the Inner Temple, the scene below might have been transported from Glen Bogle, an impression sharpened by the sight of Alastair MacKenzie, the star of TV's Monarch of the Glen, loafing around in his best Sunday kilt.

But this is not the Highlands. This is the Inns of Court in the heart of London, the setting for the London Gathering, an annual festival inaugurated at the weekend and designed to present the best of contemporary Scottish culture to curious cockneys, for just £35 a ticket.

Once the Inns' gardens provided the red and white blooms that became the emblems of the War of the Roses. Now Goldie and Grant, two vast Scottish tenors, are bellowing out Flower of Scotland. MacKenzie looks on, standing with another of the event's hosts, the writer and broadcaster, Hardeep Singh Kohli. Scot Gardiner, the London Gathering's owner and director, is delighted by the incongruous effect, so lovingly planned. "We were looking for a beautiful venue and when we found one, we thought its would be a twist to put something Scottish in an arena like this," he said.

The bill was inspired partly by the Edinburgh festival and partly by Tartan Week, the Scottish promotion that takes place in New York. Mr Gardiner devised it - "I kept thinking 'What would I like to come to see?'" - and set about hiring the talent.

A day ticket bought customers a literature and whisky event - including the authors AL Kennedy, Alan Bisset, Isla Dewar and Christopher Brookmyre - cookery displays by Nick Nairn and Mary Contini and music from a cast including the singer songwriter Sandi Thom and Bee Cake, a band fronted by the screen actor, Billy Boyd.

Getting this far was not easy for Mr Gardiner, nor was it cheap, though he declines to reveal the final figures. Suffice to say that you pay more per square foot to hire the Inns of Court than you do for the Royal Albert Hall. Mr Gardiner carried most of the costs with a quarter of the budget generated from sponsors, including VisitScotland.

Preparations were nearly destroyed a week ago. With a final advertising blitz planned and paid for around the London Underground, the first Tube strike in a decade erupted virtually overnight. After a brief "head-in-hands" moment, Mr Gardiner had 100,000 leaflets printed and sent 100 casual workers out to publicise his event all over central London.

It worked, just. On Saturday - competing against televised sport on the grand scale -the gathering amounted to just four or five hundred. On Sunday, advance sales were five times higher.

This is Mr Gardiner's first venture in the arts. He is from Broughty Ferry and was sales manager at Rangers FC before being chosen by Sir Alan Sugar as commercial manager of Tottenham Hotspur. When he struck out on his own four years ago leasing jets to businessmen, it was Sir Alan - the curmudgeonly host of TV's The Apprentice -who lent his private plane to get the venture off the ground.

Mr Gardiner now has a clutch of businesses, but the London Gathering is his "real baby". He has put in the the money for a second year and expects it to be "flying" by 2009. Next year the gathering will open on Friday evening with a "Scottish proms", featuring, he hopes, the Scottish National Orchestra.

Mr Gardiner's motto, emblazoned on his business card, is: "I brought you to the ring and now you must dance."

William Wallace said that and Mr Gardiner believes it encapsulates the London Gathering, though he adds with a wry smile: "I never tell anyone he said it just before Flodden."