The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

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Archive for the tag “UK politics”

Dominic Frisby: Let’s Talk About Tax

Here’s a tip for appearing younger. Join the queue for a show that’s all about tax. Of course this theory may not stand up to statistical or empirical scrutiny but it was anecdotally and personally true when I went along to see Dominic Frisby’s Let’s Talk About Tax yesterday. Dominic asks for a show of hands when he asks if most people think they are in for a masterclass on being creative with their tax returns. And the majority of the mainly unfair-to-say-but-I-would guess-they’re-retired audience raise their hands. Also – sorry to make assumptions again – but most of them also look pretty well-to-do.

Dominic ponders on how he can make tax sexy. More to the point – can he make tax funny?  The stage is set with colourful home-made pie-charts, graphs and tax quotes. His visual image is somewhere between Hector the Tax Inspector and Laurence Olivier’s The Entertainer. But like the latter is there something behind the flashy suit and the ready grin? To give us some idea Dominic – after asking us to guess his political persuasion – reveals he spoiled his ballot paper at the last general election. So disillusioned lefty or complete anarchist then? Well neither actually. He also reveals he’s the voice of Werther’s Originals – which creates a little frisson of excitement – and has been involved in the making of two successful films. At this point we’d have every right in expecting expert advice on canny investing.

Instead Dominic wrong-foots us again. After presenting the stats he presents the big theory: that we have to re-think tax completely. No tax on work or endeavour or goods but instead there should be a tax on land. Of course as The Queen and the landed gentry own most of Britain land-wise and therefore would be getting clobbered the most tax-wise – this is a pretty radical notion. And one where you could almost hear the heads of some audience members being turned inside-out.

Dominic’s strength is that he’s the polar opposite to your shouty lefty comedian or plastic anarchist (as in Russell Brand who gets short shrift) and can deliver a radical message with polite charm. The jokes are delivered in a knowingly awkward signposted way which is fine for a show about an awkward subject. With his other interests he possibly doesn’t have to fret too much about his stand-up career but a big question would be what does he do next and will the subject matter capture the imagination of an audience as (err) tax does? Dominic did make a casual comment about how he’d voted for Brexit and that did make me prick up my ears. With so many of this year’s Fringe shows rife with lazy assumptions about the Brexit vote this was a truly radical statement and made me want to know more. Maybe next time?

(Review for 24 Aug)



The blurb for Ben Van der Velde’s show starts like this – ‘Thanks to Genghis Khan’s friskiness we’re all 8% barbarian’. The flyers and the poster have Ben suited-up and wielding an axe. So far so interesting.

To kick off there’s a quick scan of the audience with assumptions made. There’s a big bloke who must be tough; a wee woman who’s probably feisty and a couple who look as if they may be pot-heads. Tricky that last one – especially when said couple were asked how they enjoyed getting high and the guy replied ‘eating a lot of food and watching shit TV’. Back to the big bloke sitting with his mates at the back of the room who give a collective cheer when the question ‘is anyone Jewish?’ is asked. Ben looks momentarily stunned but recovers quickly with some neat ad-libs re the subversion of stereotypes.

This leads into the main part of the set which is about Ben and his being Jewish but he’s non practising and not religious at all. This brings a whoop of delight from an audience member who gets a bit of a counter-Dawkins/Hitchins put-down. But this part of the set is more about Ben with tales of doing a disastrous gig for kids at his local synagogue and whether he should get his son circumcised. Generally all good stuff – but I wasn’t sure about a throwaway line relating to FGM.

After this bit Ben tackles the thorny subject of Brexit – but not as I’ve seen a few comedians do it at this year’s Fringe: ‘What was that about, eh?’ and move swiftly on. He asks for a show of hands and of course being a ‘lefty liberal audience’ we all stick our mitts up to indicate we did ‘the right thing’. All except for one person at the back – what ensued was quite a confused/confusing exchange with Ben back-peddling a bit down the road of ‘some of my best friends are… ‘

The show ends with a story involving a backpack-carrying Muslim where the message is ‘don’t make assumptions’ but as there are so many confused assumptions already in the room the message gets a bit lost. It’s a shame as the whole idea of shared DNA suggests inclusiveness which is always good for coaxing an audience on board. As it was there was more of a pervading air of disengagement when we should have been getting gee’d up for the big finish. Ben is undoubtedly a very accomplished comedian and he proves he can think on his feet when a curveball is thrown at him. Maybe he shouldn’t invite too many to be thrown at him in the space of one show though.

(Review for 21 Aug)

Ahir Shah: Machines

Ahir Shah is definitely the youngest comedian (mid-twenties) I’ve seen so far at this year’s Fringe. It hasn’t been a conscious decision although I have stated in the past that I was getting a bit tired of pale male thirty-somethings moaning about their lives. Ahir starts off well in my book then as he only ticks one of those boxes (male). Could it be though that the movement of frustrated ‘Generation Y’s as stand-up’ is growing and could one day outnumber the older slackers who probably can’t be bothered doing it any more?

One thing you can say about the younger guys is they have bags more energy and loads to say/moan about. And so it is with Ahir Shah who bursts onto the stage all dazzling white shirt and mega confidence. His voice is cultured and a bit actorly and he strikes James Dean-like poses as he rails and rallies against ‘the machine’.

The material is excellent and I would imagine has probably been written, re-written, honed, obsessed about and re-written until something approaching perfection is reached. Subjects are basically the world, how it’s going to hell and how we are all impotent to do anything about it. The delivery is equally excellent with assured set-ups and pay-offs – Ahir playing the radical idealist in the setting up and the ineffectual middle-class leftie in the paying off (‘I like to keep my Labour Party membership beside my Waitrose card to remind me of where I come from’).

Machines comes in at just a shade over an hour which is v. rare for a one man stand-up on the Fringe (Free or otherwise). That might be my only criticism as there’s only so much railing and rallying an audience can take. Plus – for Ahir he must be exhausted – even if he’s a young guy!

(Review for 9 Aug)



Game of thrown-ups!

salmond thumbsupWhat should Alex Salmond get for Christmas? I would say a large reality check with a good measure of humility on the side. In his mind, however, he already has the second-best present on his list ticked off. As well as polishing up a brass neck that can be seen from outer space, he’s buffing up the brass crown he was hoping to be wearing come this festive season. It won’t go to waste, though – as he’s already indicated he’s quite willing to plonk it on someone else’s head – probably Ed Miliband’s – come the new year. So, from would-be-king to kingmaker – we knew it all along, didn’t we?

Without sounding too Russell Brand about it all – it would seem that the vast majority of politicians are egomaniacs and can’t be trusted. With people like Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage particular examples, with their never-ending gall and talent (of a sort) to wring out every last ounce of self-promotion from a situation, however negative. It was particularly jaw-drop-inducing that big Eck should hold court on the day that crashing oil prices were heralding the scrapping of jobs in the Aberdeen area, once known as Trump-town. Not such a safe bet for funding a new nation then, eh?

That shouldn’t mean we should give up and not engage though. It was great that so many people got involved during the referendum debate, however a sad aspect was friends and families being torn apart and in many cases still not speaking to each other. The key is knowing that politics is a dirty old business and that people who were at each others’ throats one day will be doing deals the next, leaving us lot looking like a bunch of muppets if we continue to trade insults and wage war on each other.

But back to some other items on Alex Salmond’s Christmas list – perhaps the Game of Thrones box-set and a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince? Some chance! He could act as adviser on both of those. I’ve heard he’s actually (gasp!) going to be taking some time off (we’ll see… ) to rest a repetitive strain injury on his wrist. I’ll resist making any cheap comments but merely say it must have been all that rubbing!

Style and Substance

G OsborneSo was Ed Balls right or wrong to mention George Osborne‘s hair during their heated joust in the Commons yesterday? If you ask me it was a case of being jea-LOUS as old Ballsup’s own image looks in serious need of a makeover – with the shredded wheat hair and Mr Blobby girth – he puts me in mind of that early Channel 4 curio Murun Buchstansangur (not familiar? check out the link below). Compare that with Osborne’s Kray-twin crop which when first unveiled – along with the voice coaching – edged him from effete posh-boy to hard man playing hardball.

Should it matter what our politicians look like? Is it not all a bit shallow? A reflection of our current image and celebrity obsessed society? Not a bit of it! From ancient Rome to the Kennedy dynasty, image – particularly the physical – has always been hugely important. Get in wrong, and you’re toast – remember Michael Foot and his donkey-jacket? But thankfully if you’re totally ridiculous, no amount of airbrushing is going to help – thank you, Sarah Palin.

Nearer home, I see it didn’t take Nicola Sturgeon long, after getting the keys to Bute House, to ditch the boxy pastel suits and instead adopt classic Mary Queen of Scots black. That – along with better make-up and hair – makes her look more like a serious stateswoman and less of a wee nippy sweetie. The transformation has been swift and subtle. Well done!

A final thought – and bit of advice to Cameron and Miliband – if you want to boost your image before the election, consider the Arthur Daley/dodgy used-car salesman look. Well, it seems to have worked for Nigel Farage

Farewell to a tubthumping, Bronte anti-hero

G BrownWell that’s it then… Gordon Brown – the great political beast himself – is finally lumbering out to pasture. Ah! the memories – dodgy encounters with chippy old women, romantic dalliances with Romanian princesses, the 10p tax debacle, the Granita deal, the Mumsnet biscuit debate, the temper, the tantrums… From Son of the Manse to Iron Chancellor to Saviour of the Union it’s a story that perhaps looks more exciting on paper than it was in real life. Who can forget his hopeful attempt to sex up his image by likening himself to the brooding Heathcliff? If he had to be a Bronte anti-hero though surely he was more of a Mr Rochester
To run with the Bronte/Austen theme, I see him as a curmudgeonly – ‘dour’ as we Scots say – foster uncle. You know he’s highly intelligent and he was possibly a bit of a lad back in the day, but you really hate the way he makes you read The Rights of Man before letting you go out, and oh – that temper… But you remember that time you fell in with the wrong crowd, they were threatening you with all kinds of cyber-bullying and were just about to empty your bank account…  But Uncle Gordon saved the day – coming on like a tub-thumping mix of Keir Hardie, Martin Luther King and Atticus Finch with a touch of Liam Neeson – seeing the bullies off. You felt you could forgive him for everything – including stopping your 10p in the pound pocket money…
So thanks for the memories, Uncle Gordon. You weren’t perfect but you’re a lot better than evil Uncle Tony who continues to hang around the local tearoom scamming the regulars. And unlike him you look so much happier at grass roots rather than at the top of the greasy pole. You’re not leaving the village just yet so I’m sure we can count on you to give those bad lads a good kicking if they come sniffing around again. Cheers… and gaun yersel!

Muppets and Mammon

Black FridayI must admit I felt pretty good about myself yesterday as I schlepped back from Asda, not with a flat-screen telly under each arm, but instead with bags full of cabbage, broccoli, carrots, okra, lemons and other cancer and diabetes busting items. Yes, they were still trying to peddle the whole greed-is-good-on-Black-Friday thing so my little corner of the store away from the electrical goods was deserted. I did have a sneaky peek at what once-in-a-lifetime deals they were offering up and saw they had knocked forty quid off a flat-screen which meant you only had to shell out a mere three hundred. Wow! Sale of the Century indeed! People, on average, were snapping up two at a time. I guess that means they would have £80 to spend instead on multipacks of fizzy drinks, cheap burgers and oven chips to be consumed as they watch ‘I’m a Celebrity… ‘ in vomit-inducing HD, maybe avoiding the local food bank for a day or two – well, they try and palm you off with ‘healthy’ food these days, don’t they?

A bit harsh? A bit Andrew Mitchell / Emily Thornberry / David Mellor? The thing is though – I can slag off the feckless working-class because while I am the latter I refuse to be the former.

Meanwhile on the other side of the pond, on actual Black Friday just there, groups of African-Americans made a brave stand to dissuade other African-Americans from worshiping at the altar of Mammon on the holiest of consumer days, in some way hopefully highlighting the inequality of the US judicial system if you have non-white face. Maybe not surprisingly they didn’t have much luck. Most of the people they targeted failed – or refused – to see the connection between consumerism and basic human rights. And while it’s a particularly potent subject for black Americans – with the whole pimped up bling cultcha of ‘replacing the chains of slavery with 24 carat ones’ representing some kind of freedom – it’s a similar thing for working-class Brits. However instead of Beverly Hills Bling it’s more Aldi Aspiration with us over here exercising our inalienable right to purchase cheap(er) electronic goods that give us potential to access a world of knowledge but you just know will be used to watch cat videos and Jeremy Kyle.

But whatever colour you are or whichever side of the pond you find yourself – if you weren’t born ‘to the purple’ or with a silver spoon in your gob – things will be tough and not fair, rest assured. However if you think splurging on overpriced tat and getting into debt will improve your life in the long term – think again. Who was ever inspired or spiritually fulfilled by a trip to the shops? So don’t be a consumer muppet – read a book, write a book, speak to friends, make some new friends, cook yourself a decent meal, go for a run – there are a million things that are cheap or free and will make you feel so much better about yourself. For inspiration follow this link to find out about the brilliant Karen Washington and her Garden of Happiness in the Bronx.

Karen speaks movingly about being considered ‘trash’ before she started her garden because she was judged by her urban environment – a dumping ground for rubbish. She’s a marvelous example of having the courage to transcend her surroundings – no tat or flat screen tellies involved!


The Poppy is also a Flower

Charlene White 3The reason given by countries like the US and the UK for being a foreign presence in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan is fighting for the right to free speech, freedom of expression – battling those who would deny these rights to their people. Maybe newsreader Charlene White would do well to move to one of these more ‘unenlightened’ countries to carry out her job in that case.

In case you missed the story – Charlene appeared poppy-less when she read the news on ITV London because she didn’t want to be seen publicly giving one charity precedence over another. Brave woman – for in recent years the wearing of a poppy by anyone appearing on British TV has gone from cajoling fashion accessory to an all-prevailing polit-bureau-type dictat that people ignore at their peril! For many years Channel 4’s Jon Snow has invited disapproval by ignoring the ‘ruling’ but it seems that a special kind of vitriol has been reserved for a black woman who – shock, horror! – has shown that she is a thinking, reasoning being and not a media robot. And as you can probably guess the criticism had a nasty racist and sexist tone to it.

It’s strange, but a totally unscientific study – i.e. looking at ‘ordinary’ people in the street, at work and those that slipped through the net on TV – showed not that many wearing poppies. Could it be the ‘ordinary’ person in the street has more reasoning power that they’re given credit for? Maybe they feel that with people from the last world war now slipping away wearing a poppy shows support for conflicts that are confused and complicated at best and illegal and wrong-headed at worst. And maybe – possibly – they feel they can show fitting support for those who died for freedom of expression by refusing to be dictated to or bullied.

So to all those people who thought it their duty to reprimand Ms White using her gender and her race as starting points for their insults – I hope you weren’t hypocritical enough to show support for another young woman of colour attacked for self determination – Malala Yousafzai. I also hope that both women continue to challenge racist, sexist, dictatorial neanderthals whether it be in Afghanistan, Pakistan or the UK!

Publish And Be Damned!

ImageI didn’t think I’d find myself agreeing with Robert Winston about the labelling of medication, indicating whether its development has involved animal testing. I come from the standpoint that if people are given the plain and unpalatable truth about what they consume maybe they would be inspired to take control and make some lifestyle changes and stop an over reliance on quick fixes.

I suspect Dr Winston’s standpoint is quite different. I would imagine his approach is ‘carry on with the medication but don’t bleat about the poor little bunny rabbits’. It’s a very dangerous road this one: in modern, ‘westernised’ societies it’s almost inevitable that you’ll be put on some kind of medication at some point in your life. And those figures rocket the older you get. Well, as patients we’re a bit of a nuisance, aren’t we? And there’s so many of us. The only way these poor hard pressed doctors can cope is to start writing the prescription before we can get a couple of words out. What the patient actually needs could be just a listening ear or advice on lifestyle but more often than not we’re turned into ‘legit junkies’. And with any kind of junkie it’s a dangerous and frightening road you take when deciding to do without your fix. Which is precisely what could happen if ‘tested on animals’ labelling goes ahead.

And Dr Winston knows this only too well. He’s a nasty, arrogant, big bag of moustachioed bile who cares for neither animals nor humans and whose only concern is to get his face on telly and perpetuate the notion that it’s everyone’s alienable right to produce a sprog however much time and money this costs his beloved NHS. Maybe he should spend more time and effort working on how we can all live in a sustainable and healthy way without over reliance on drugs. Or perhaps look at the field of non-animal testing which by its very nature is less wasteful and more relevant to human health. Or maybe address the issue of overpopulation? Hardly, as Dr Winston has grown very rich and influential making himself the nemesis of all these concerns. Let’s hope senility kicks in quite soon, then he can self-medicate and assume a dribbling, catatonic state in a dark corner of the House of Lords and we won’t have to put up with his offensive ravings any longer!

Reasons to be Cheerful…

ImageTwo events on Thursday made me celebrate for most of Friday in the glorious one day of spring we’re probably going to get. Firstly – watching the second semi-final of Eurovision which was completely and undeniably back on safe uber-camp territory after the nervy, thou-shalt-not-speak-thy-love’s-name, Stasi-type atmosphere of last year’s host – Azerbaijan. There was same-sex kissing (Finland) and a gay Count Dracula singing falsetto as he loomed above the stage (Romania). Marvellous!! Fear not, if you missed this – both got through to tonight’s final.

I was so busy luxuriating in the warmth of complete gaydom that I was unaware of what was going on just down the road here in Edinburgh. Nigel Farage getting barricaded in a Royal Mile pub – perfect! Did he think he could bring his nasty brand of Little-Englander type nonsense to Scotland and not expect a bit of a scrap? If you read my blog regularly you’ll know that I’m no Scottish Nationalist so it was a bit iffy that they organised it – but, hey – whatever.. When I’m having a few drinkies tonight in front of the telly I’ll raise a glass to the folk outside the Canons Gait pub the other day. And as for the winner of Eurovision? It has to be Romania… but only if they could involve Nigel dragged up as a sacrificial virgin as part of the performance. I can see it now…

ps: My friend Commercial Malcolm has suggested that Greece’s entry is a tribute to Scotland – ‘Alcohol is Free’ sung by a bunch of men in skirts! I’m not sure…  You can check out his ‘tribute’ to Nigel Farage below.

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