At the very start of the year I was in hospital, being treated for throat cancer; at its very end I was in a rehab, sober but emotionally rather burnt out. The in-between wasn’t all that magnificent either, what with the long recovery after the chemoradiotherapy, the flat I was staying at before the rehab, the (no doubt related) alcoholic relapse within, the deaths of Ray Collier, Tormod MacGill-Eain and Tom Petty (and others), the way the Brexit talks were developing, and so on and so forth.

All the same, I shouldn’t complain. For one thing, the cancer was apparently cured. Otherwise I possibly might not be here to write this any longer. Also, during the relapse the idea of leaving the town I had learned to hate for good occurred to me, and the rehab stay helped me contrive that. I even fell in love yet again after years . . .

And of course there were all the interesting books I read and iPlayer programmes I watched, meetings with my friends from the college, not to mention minor affairs like making porridge a staple of my diet, or beginning a circle beard.

Ay, as Skipinnish have it, I’m alive, and the stars are on my side. (Notwithstanding, as Jake Bugg has it, I hold two fingers out to yesterday.)



And yet it wasn’t all bad

What I said last night holds, but it’s quite possible that years from now I’ll reminisce about these last few months a little wistfully. That I’ll mostly remember all those iPlayer documentaries I saw while having my meals . . .

I even have new favourite presenters, Dougie Vipond and Neil Oliver having been joined by Chris Packham, Dan Cruickshank, James Fox . . .


BBC One: Growing Up with Cancer

All right, so I’d got cancer. Maybe I’ll be told tomorrow the chemoradiotherapy worked just fine and the tumour has gone. Maybe not. But I’m in my late forties, and had lost just about everything a couple of years previously anyway.

But reportedly seven UK teenagers a day are diagnosed with cancer too. This programme looks at a few of these, some of whom went (or are about to go) through a more drastic treatment than me. Spending what should be the best days of their lives fighting a disease.

Presumably, scarcely any of them will ever receive an OBE, but they’re heroes all the same, if only for not breaking down. I simply admire them and wish them all good luck.


BBC II!: Queer Britain

Apparently people like me weren’t exactly amongst the target audience. I didn’t grow up in a religious environment; never cared about my ‘body image’ enough to seriously try and improve it; never actually ended up on the streets (so far anyway); I’m white, and never was knowingly a victim of racism; I found the fact the ‘porn’ episode was about 10 minutes longer than the rest … droll; and I’m perfectly cisgender.

That being said, I knew people got kicked out by their orthodoxly religious parents; I knew people ended up on the streets because there was no helping hand for them; and I knew there was more racism in our minds (yes, yours and mine as well) than an average middle-class Guardian reader is able to admit. In other words there was some boredom and no ‘revelations’.

And yet I don’t consider watching the whole series a waste of time. It probably gave me some idea what today’s young LGBTQIAPCDEFHJKMNORSUVWXYZ+++* are concerned with; and if the truth be told, there was one revelation after all: that these days, a masculine male cisgender gay probably shouldn’t call himself ‘queer’, as I’d used to do, because the meaning of the word has shifted again.

* You say the initialism doesn’t use all the letters of the alphabet? Just you wait …


BBC II!: Rehab: Lives Addicted

During the time of my own cure one of the therapists contemptuously remarked that abroad there were ‘no real rehabs, just detoxes’. Reading Norman Maclean’s The Leper’s Bell didn’t disabuse me of this misconception; watching this programme did. There were definitely more similarities than differences between Broadway Lodge and ‘my’ old rehab.

That the people, the stories and so on, were similar, goes without saying. The moment that touched me most was when ‘Big John’ says ‘Some people, when you ask them what their primary drug is, or what their drug of choice is, they’ll say, “Oh, it’s crack, it’s heroin.” Mine was “more”, and a lot of people will say that – “more”.’



Neil and Alfred

I quite like watching Neil Oliver’s documentaries: occasionally he seems to exaggerate to make them more interesting, but always manages to stay safely on the ‘documentary’ side. Nevertheless, when the other day I watched him enunciate in his unmistakeable Scottish accent, “if it hadn’t been for Alfred, we would probably have a different national identity, we might even speak a different language. Alfred the Great was a hugely significant leader in our history”, I couldn’t help it: a broad grin appeared on my face and stayed there for a couple of minutes.



Tha sreath phrògraman The Birth of British Music (le Charles Hazelwood, BBC 4) air iPlayer an-dràsta. Cha tuirt an dà chiad phrògram, mu Phurcell agus Handel, cus dhomh nach cuala mi a-cheana o chionn ghoirid ann an sreath eile, David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy. Ach chuir an treas fear, mu Haydn, iongnadh mòr orm gu dearbh.

Sa chiad àite, cha robh fhios agam idir gun deach Haydn a Bhreatainn riamh, gun guth a ràdh gun robh na daoine glè mheasail air agus air a’ cheòl aige, gun do sgrìobh e dusan simphnidh agus iomadh rud eile ann an Lunnainn, an Gypsy Rondo ainmeil nam measg.

Ach ’s e an t-iongnadh as motha dhomh a bha ann gun do grìobh e (air ais san Ostair, ach a-rèir coltais fo bhuaidh fhaighinn a-mach gun robh laoidh Breatannach ann) laoidh Ostaireach, Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, agus gur e an aon phort sin – le faclan eile – am fear air a tha sinn eòlach an-diugh fon ainm Deutschlandlied: an laoidh Gearmailteach!


Cìs chraolaidh iPlayer

Leugh mi mu àrdachadh cìs chraolaidh is thug an aiste gu mo chuimhne mar a bha iPlayer an asgaidh air a chrìochnachadh an-uiridh. Agus thàinig rud neònach a-steach orm: Airson bhliadhnaichean roimhe sin, choimheadainn dìreach air iPlayer gus nach biodh agam ris a’ chìs a phàighead. Chan eil an t-adhbhar ann tuilleadh – ach cha do rinn e diofar sam bith. Choimheadainn fhathast air iPlayer a-mhàin. ’S ann cho annasach, cho neònach a tha an nòisean gum biodh agam air prògram air choireigin a choimhead aig àm puingeil, àm stèidhichte leis a’ chraoladair, seach dar a bhios agam ùine is togradh air . . .


Sìona fhiadhaich

Cha mhòr nach bidh mi a’ coimhead air iPlayer gu làthaireach an-dràsta, sa chiad àite air prògraman co-cheangailte ri Alba ’s an Rìoghachd, ach cuideachd air prògraman aithriseach gun cheangal riutha. O chionn ghoirid, thachair mi air sreath mu dheidhinn nàdar ann an Sìona, agus bha e gu math intinneach. Dhìochuimhnich mi dè cho eadar-dhealaichte, dè cho allamharach agus a bha an saoghal fad às sin.

Ach dè cho bòidheach ’s inntinneach a tha e, chan eil mi ga ionndrainn. ‘S toil leam ga fhaicinn air an TBh. Ach ‘s e dùthaich dhachaigheil seach allamharach air a tha cianalas orm. Cruth-tìre is craobhan is lusan is ainmhidhean is eòin is bailtean is . . . is daoine Albannach. No co-dhiù Breatannach, no Frangach, no eadhon Lochlannach amsaa . . .


Kes (Ken Loach film)

Depressing. Almost throughout. The characters – Billy Caspar, his relatives, his schoolmates, his teachers &c – just seem to quarrel, shout and fight all the time. Admittedly, there are a few scenes almost verging on optimistic, but when the climax comes, it doesn’t bring you down. You’ve already been down for quite some time.


Citizen Kane

Not a bad film, but I can’t see what made people call it the best film of all. It doesn’t matter that there’s hardly any story (a super-rich guy simply goes through his life indulging his whims), and the main character’s psychology is presented quite convincingly (I could even relate to him at moments). But it begins with a fictitious newsreel the voice-over of which is delivered in such a revolting way that I could hardly concentrate on what it said, thinking more about how nice it would be if the guy’s mouth was made to shut up, preferably by somebody’s fist. After that, as I said, it’s not bad, but much, much too long – to some degree because the actors generally move as if they had arthritis. In fact, I probably only succeeded in seeing it all because I watched it ‘in instalments’.


Kris Kristofferson at 79

I had on this iPlayer programme from The Chieftains’ Celtic Connections concert in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall thinking “no bad” when . . .

You see, for me Kris Kristofferson was always the independent, sensitive-yet-tough 30- or 40-something who’s written Help Me Make It Through the Night, For the Good Times, Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, Stallion, Rocket to Stardom and so on, the hero of Convoy and Flashpoint, the guy who claimed he’d like the first three lines of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on the Wire put on his tombstone . . .

Now I saw him come and . . . first there was a close-up on the gentle wizened face and then he began singing that particular song in such a mild, kindly way . . . I later found out in he’s actually older than my father, but for a while there I almost felt like it was me who was approaching 80, and – presumably unlike him – just sitting in some care home, patiently waiting for the end . . .

I did manage to supress the tears coming in my eyes, but only just.


FilmG 2016

Ge be dè a b’ fheàrr leis na breitheamhan no leis a’ phoball (co-dhiù san roinn nan òigridh no san roinn nan inbheach), b’ fhèarr leamsa Leasan: tha an rabhadh gu bhios seachnadh na sgoile a’ leantainn gu drugaichean cho èbhinn, coltach ris an t-seannfhacal ‘am fear a chanas breugan, goididh e agus stadaidh e air croich’. ’S dòcha gun tug e gàire air na h-ùghdaran fhèin.

Ach thachair am mòmaid as fheàrr a chòrd riumsa aig 4:02 ann an A’ Chlach ’s a’ Chraobh Chliùiteach. ’S fìor thoil leam code-switching, agus mheal mi an “Okay ma thà” gu mòr.



Never mind the Davis Cup victory. The day before St Andrew’s I gave myself a better gift: deciding I could afford it at last, I subscribed to VPNUK again.

Ay, it slows the comp down a bit, but there are three advantages which turn that into merely a negligible inconvenience. First, I can watch iPlayer videos again (and others, like those from the British Film Institute). I still visit the NRK – I’m into the Salmeboka now – but once I’m done with those I won’t be faced with the question ‘now what?’

Second, websites like Google and YouTube don’t irritate me by redirecting me from their .com domains to local ones. (Sometimes I wonder how expats without knowledge of their country-of-residence tongue(s) cope with these websites that are so keen on overriding a user’s own preferences, including the interface language, with their localised ones.)

And third, contrarily as it were, and in fact unexpectedly, BBC News don’t redirect me from their .co.uk domain to the .com one. I’d never realised that before, but the selection of news offered e.g. on the Home page differs substantially: at the former address you get a more or less balanced mix of top UK and top world stories; the latter by and large simply mirrors the World page. Apparently the Beeb (maybe rightly) presumes that visitors from abroad are more interested in getting ‘news from the BBC’ than in getting ‘news from the UK’. Not a homesick exile like me though.


Kirk F Watson: The Cairngorms and Scotland, from the air

I used to think that those small, remote-controlled, pilotless aeroplanes were only used by the military and by aerobatics enthusiasts who couldn’t, for whatever reason, pilot the real thing. I stand corrected. Apparently, some people can use drones for much, much more amazing things.

(Incidentally, this makes me wonder whether some of the aerial footage I’d seen here and there and thought had been taken from ‘normal’ aeroplaes had actually also been taken using this technology.)


Slow TV 2

(following up on this post)

The Hurtigruten voyage took several weeks to get to the end of. The main gain for me was that I realised how much time such ships spend in port, and consequently how much time the crew members spend working while not actually sailing. The main (unsolved) riddle was the people waving Norwegian flags everywhere. Do they do this every time the ships pass by? Did they hope to appear on TV as proper patriots? Was the programme made during some festive period?

The Salmon river and the National Wood Night were disappointments: the former concerned with fishing, rather than observing the salmon; the latter mostly people talking. (They may have been talking interestingly, but of course it’s hard to tell when you don’t understand the language. Ah well, they didn’t talk all the time, so at least I know now what a musical saw sounds like. Like wind in a chimney.)

At the moment I’m into the Piip-show, which is quite nice and quite bonkers. Norwegian sense of humour seems to be different from mine, but I like it.


Mike Perham timcheall na cruinne

(Thèid mi am feabhas. Bha an video Black Angel fichead mionaid a thìde; tha còrr is leth-cheud aig an fhear seo.)

Chan eil mi cinnteach dè cho math a bhiodh am prògram dha cuideigin nach biodh eòlach air an sgeulachd ro làimh; chòrd e riumsa gu math. Mì-choltach ris an leabhar, chithear Mike cuideachd aig amannan anns a bha e glè ghruamach, seach dìreach mar fear a bhios an-còmhnaidh an ìre mhath misneachail. Ann an dòigh, tha co-fhaireachdainn fiù ’s nas làidire agaibh dhasan mar sin …

(Agus mar as àbhaist, thug e dòchas, eadhon misneachd, mu dheidhinn tilleadh dha mo dhùthaich, dhomhsa a-rithist, ged nach b’ ann – gu nàdarrach – fada a mhair sin.)


Black Angel

That is to say, the 1980 short film. Watched it as a YouTube video with the director’s introduction. Nothing outstanding, to be honest, although the landscapes are fine (some reminded me of similar landscapes I’d been to) and so is the music. I suspect that the temporary popularity it gained a few years ago was largely due to its having been originally screened before the second Star Wars film, lost and found again.

Then again, perhaps I’m still too restive; this is a movie for the relaxed and patient. And I’m glad I’ve finally found the time to watch it (I’ve had it bookmarked for months) for precisely this reason. It must have been months since I’d last sit down and watched any video longer than ten minutes. After rediscovering the pleasure of long reading, perhaps I’ll rediscover the pleasure of watching a full-length movie before this year is over as well.


Tories and BBC

This actually comes from BBC news about how Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP would like the broadcaster to change, which topic is also covered in a more informative Guardian article. Nevertheless, the telling bit in the BBC one is the reaction of Elizabeth Smith, Scottish Conservatives’ Culture Spokesperson:

“Instead of focusing on much-loved programmes like Strictly or Eastenders, the SNP’s vision for the BBC is for millions of pounds of licence fee funds to be diverted to pay for as yet unspecified programmes which accord with the SNP’s national story.”

Translation: “We want the broadcaster turned into something indistinguishable from commercial stations. After that nobody will have reason to object when we decide the time has come to privatise it – or close it down altogether.”


Slow TV

I’d read about this phenomenon before, but only being reminded about it made me dig deeper and somewhat to my surprise find a webpage with links to the particular NRK catch-up programmes. So I began watching them.

‘Watching’ probably isn’t the best word. I’ve simply begun turning one on, full-screen, as a substitute for a screensaver when I’m not doing anything on the laptop and when having my meals. With the sound muted, playing some classical music as an audio background instead. Before switching it off I note down the time ‘covered’ and the next time recommence thence.

I keep the chronological order: began with the Bergensbanen train journey, which disabused me of the idea that they simply put a camera facing forwards into the driver’s cabin and that was that, continued with the Flåmsbana scenic tourist route, which seemed more like a common tourism programme than slow TV, and now I’m into the (more than 134-hour-long) Hurtigruten coastal voyage.

Funny thing: I’ve realised that for the first time in my life I (very, very slightly) regret not having a TV – in particular, a wall-mounted, large-screen TV . . . Anyway, I look forward to the salmon river, the ‘national wood night’ and the other trips (although I’ll probably skip the knitting and the lectures) – and to the 2017 migrating reindeer.

Postscript, 24/11/15: Follow-up here.