Review: Monty Python Live

Michael Palin and John Cleese perform on the opening night of Monty Python Live (Mostly)

The Pythons have never been bashful about repackaging old material to keep the coffers full. As long ago as 1987 they had an LP out entitled The Final Rip Off, but we didn’t mind been ripped off back then; the material on that album was of a certain vintage. It was heyday Python, classic Python, Python with all the energy, vitality, comic cadence and punctuation in tact. It was delicious whimsy, sublime absurdity, literate surrealism. But now the Pythons are old men, too arthritic for silly walks, too calcified to romp around as old ladies restaging the battle of Pearl Harbour. Monty Python Live, their final o2 show of June 20th, tried to cover this with archive clips from the boys’ youth but I’d have preferred an inventive embracing of the troupe’s present day limitations. Instead, Michael Palin, aged 71, reprised his role as the bored accountant who dreamed of becoming a lumberjack, as surely every accountant does, with the line referring to him as a 45 year old dutifully in place.

One could see the mechanical thinking behind the show. You could smell the machine oil. Fans didn’t want a new take on old favourites; they wanted nostalgia – the Flying Circus in its pomp. The problem was that this was impossible. Graham Chapman was singing Christmas in Heaven in heaven and his wizened colleagues hadn’t written these sketches to be performed by their geriatric shadows. Watching the survivors creak their way through old routines it felt wrong to think, the guilt palpable, that this was a revival too far, that these comic heroes of ours were trapped by their own legend, that Live at the Hollywood Bowl’s audience had it so much better.

They gave their loyal fans what they thought they wanted, and what some, who hadn’t thought it through, did want. But was I alone in wishing the Pythons’ age and the mercenary cynicism of the enterprise had been the joke? Could the one-time iconoclasts not have dared to lay waste to their own legacy, taking the sketches everyone knew by rote as the establishment? Could their legendary wit not have been turned upon themselves and a complacent crowd? Purists would have been crestfallen, while others would have realised that subverting expectations was pure Python, and maybe the only honourable course when you’ve outlived your material.

Occasionally a bit of the old young spirit broke through. There were a few plugs for featured holiday destinations, the odd riff on classic sketches, notably a playful mashup of the Dead Parrot and Cheese Shop – but there was no danger. Cameos from Eddie Izzard and Mike Myers were congratulatory but the occasion called for them to be beaten to death by a gang of Grannies or smashed in the face with a giant fish. Seeing the boys together was grand, seeing them struggle to remember their lines was not. Unkind critics had written this was a lazy show, that Idle et all were bone idle, but that rather missed the point – there was little more these inanimate Pythons could do. A comic rethink is what was needed. Sadly the only brains that could do it were 30 years dead.

Monty Python were Live at the o2 in Greenwich, June 20th 2014.

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From today Cineworld invites you to play Idiot Roulette

Darko

For a moment imagine what your cine-world might look like. Assuming it’s an idealised space, unless you hate film so have conjured an 18 rated perdition, would it not be a den of screens you’d want to “come back to time and time again”, a place where you’re “well looked after”, where “everything you need is on hand”; not unlike the movie-going experience described in Cineworld’s strategy statement? Failing that, would you mind settling for an allocated seat next to some of the least attentive, thoughtless, oblivious, restless and foul mannered patrons anywhere in the country?

New Cineworld CEO Moshe “Mooky” Greidinger is hoping that you’re none too fussy about the clientele, hence the roll out of allocated seating, effective today. Why would Mooky roll the dice like this, you ask? Perhaps he’s reasoned that Cineworld customers are so indifferent to the quality of their visit, having suffered so very much in all other areas, that they’ll take this latest sledgehammer to the genitals with good grace.

Suits like Mooky, who probably have their own private screening room at home, so need never concern themselves with the myriad of distractions that bedevil their customers, will have noted how placid and compliant the Cineworlder is. After all we didn’t complain when the company cynically conflated ticketing and concessions, forcing anyone who wanted in to queue behind people determined to eat their weight in popcorn and nachos, people who think nothing of chewing with all the grace of a farmyard animal, while the poor bastards that hoped to hear the movie as well as see it, try their best to tune them out.

No one raised a questioning hand when the order came down that staff should disrupt screenings with a pointless walk around mid-film, pulling people out of the movie as they watch some foot dragging ignoramus silhouetted against the feature, walking up and down the stairs while you try not to notice, in an anti-piracy measure thought unnecessary everywhere else. Indeed no one said a word when projectionists were sacked, replaced with “AV engineers” who frequently crop the image, ruin the focus, flunk the 3D; who double as doormen and women who are horribly relaxed about admitting latecomers, however late, assuming they know anything about it as they’re seldom to be found anywhere near the screens. And no one gave a tuppenny-fuck when the edict came from cinema managers: “take your time serving the customers; don’t worry about the size of the queue, or whether there’s a film starting shortly; just serve them at your own pace, even at the busiest periods.”

You might think this sounds like a company that’s somewhat contemptuous of their customers, less the custodians of the “smooth, memorable and exciting” experience described on their website, more a ‘pack ‘em and stack ‘em outfit’, in which the guileless, drooling, undiscriminating mass thought to fill Cineworld’s 80 plus flickhouses, are an afterthought in a revenue maximising business model. You’d be right of course. But Cineworld have a free pass that they think justifies all this mistreatment which they’ve cleverly literalised as a free pass.

The Cineworld Unlimited Card, a wheeze inherited from the UGC chain the company bought out, is the company’s USP; a measure, they think, that gives them licence to impose all manner of indignities on their long suffering customers. For a flat rate, patrons can see as many films as they like. It’s a great deal; potentially a huge money saver for film lovers who’d otherwise have to stump up £10 a screening. As movie-goers skew young, and are likely to have less disposable income, it’s good business, not least because chains never made their money on tickets anyway. The young bucks and does that show up week on week are likely to buy overpriced snacks and pay for gimmicks like D-Box, the vibrating seat. Mooky knows this isn’t a generation that cares much for cine-etiquette; old fashioned ideas like keeping quiet, staring forward and showing up on time. Why then, should they care if they’re forced to pre-select a seat either?

Allocated seating at Cineworld makes so little sense because it’s at odds with everything the company’s done to inculcate bad habits in its patrons; an attempt to breed the least welcoming constituency of seat fillers to accompany the dedicated film fan that’s ever existed. Having instituted policies that encourage people to show up indiscriminately (there being no prohibition on getting a free ticket once the film’s started), be disruptive, and as insensitive to the man or woman sat nearby as possible, they’re now asking them to commit to a seat in the auditorium before they’ve seen who else is in there. In most cinema chains this wouldn’t be a problem, but at Cineworld? Where people come to get out of the rain or kill an hour as much as watch a film attentively? Whether you’re serious about film or not that looks and sounds a lot like a game of idiot roulette.

Once the policy proves to be highly unpopular and unworkable, due to Cineworld’s spendthrift approach to staffing its cinemas, perhaps Mooky and his retinue can think about making changes that may improve their customer’s experience; something akin to the philosophy some agency copywriter knocked up for their website in twenty minutes. Measures could and should include: a ticket machine for unlimited card holders, so they’d needn’t queue if they don’t want to eat, a strict no admittance policy once the film’s started, staff sat in screenings (at the back of the auditorium) to silence talkers and censure the use of phones and tablets, hiring projectionists who know what they’re doing and stay in the booth to ensure the screening starts smoothly, introducing new packaging for snacks designed to minimise and/or eliminate rustling, hiring cleaners to keep the seats free of stains, fixing broken seats, discontinuing D-Box (it’s like someone kicking your seat from afar), and moving all toilets to the cinemas’ foyers. Some of us, the idealists, dream of taking a slash without having to carry any food or drink we’ve purchased into a room saturated with the pungent aroma of urine and flatulence. Think it over, Mooky but don’t take an unlimited time doing it.

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Who Murderised Lucy Beale? One EastEnders Viewer Speculates

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Stuck in the West Country, with little to do but think about EastEnders’ plot and the effects of a limited gene pool on hereditary disease, I wondered who’d murdered Ian Beale’s fat-free daughter. Reasoning that the answer was hiding in plain sight and mindful that the solution wasn’t tricksy or left field, as intimated by Executive Producer and smiter of young girls, Dominic Treadwell-Collins (DTC), so not a spear of frozen urine from a passing aircraft, melted away by the time the body was discovered on Easter Monday, I’ve put together these plausible scenarios, based on close-viewing and the desire to say I told you so in 10 months time. If I’m right, what do I win? Your respect and admiration that’s what: plus my place in the pantheon of armchair detectives.

The Accidental Death Theory:

How can characters seem unperturbed the morning after Lucy’s demise, yet still be guilty you say? There are only two in-story possibilities: a) they’re psychopaths or b) they didn’t know they’d killed Lucy. Assuming B is true, a number of characters could be in the frame; characters that may have confronted Lucy over an as yet unknown issue, for example, her missing snout, injured her and left, without knowing that smashing her head with an anvil was fatal.

This scenario puts half the cast in the frame, including brother Peter, who could conceivably be Lucy’s coke dealer, or indeed Lauren 2. The dramatic irony of Lauren 2 accidentally giving Lucy a fatal gash in an argument about one thing, while unaware her best friend was riding her perverse Pa, would be soup-thick. But this theory’s tendrils penetrate so many characters in so many places that it starts to become a dead end: did Whitney beg to see Lucy to have it out over Lance Corporal Carter only to beat the stick insect with her breasts, unaware that Lucy’s skull was, like the rest of her, paper thin? Did Max give her a whack? Was Lucy seeing David on the quiet and threatened to tell cancerous Carol, necessitating a thump with a big bag of medicines? Without new information this gets us nowhere so let’s turn a stone over and examine, amongst the worms and bugs…

The Pressure Cooker Theory:

I find it hard to believe that Lucy’s death was premeditated; something in my viewer’s brain says it was a row gone wrong, but a row about what? Who’s got a beef big enough? Well here subtle clues can yield big rewards. Remember Masood whining because Jane was shackled to Ian’s litter? It could have been a throw away remark or, for the sake of this blog post, it could have been the seed of a dark thought in the increasingly demented postman’s mind – the idea that if you break the family you break the link. Ridiculous, you say? Well at least I’m trying damn it, and no, I have no idea why Masood would lure Lucy to the common. Maybe they arranged to meet at the flats, Masood’s plan being to bully Lucy into driving Jane away; perhaps he confronted her drunk, grabbed her legs for emphasis and she threatened to tell Jane he was a pervert of note? You don’t like that? Okay, then what about Abi – so bad tempered the morning after. What if she was the one tormenting her Dad with photographic evidence of his latest paedophilic fantasies, texted Lucy to warn her off and a fight ensued? If that doesn’t knead your dough what about a case of mistaken identity? Lucy’s final text could be a red herring – indeed any of Jake’s dishes. What if Abi, terrified that Jay and Lola were getting close, mistook Lucy for Lola in the gloaming? Why would she be following her and how could she make that mistake when Lucy wore a distinctive polka dot shirt and grey suit, you ask? Well don’t you have a lot of questions.

The Jake Factor:

We all saw Jake looking guilty and full of jitters the morning after the murder. Assuming this is simple misdirection, because you wouldn’t wish to tip the audience off just five minutes into a year long story, he can’t be guilty, right? But hold the fuck on. What if Jake didn’t kill Lucy but saw who did? Witnessing a murder can make a man very edgy. I know what you’re thinking; don’t I have something else to think about? Somewhere I need to be? Why don’t I try dating or something? But you’re also saying, okay Ed, why doesn’t Jake just go to the filth? Well that, my dear Watsons, could be because he’s close to the killer and doesn’t want to turn them in. Were the culprit Lauren 2, for example – Jake might think twice. He might also stop short of handing in Abi for the same reason. He wouldn’t shop Max, because of his familial association with Lauren 2, nor Alex, his womanising landlord who we currently know very little about but understand to be involved in some black market chicanery. Was Alex selling Lucy white line? I know, you’ve never seen the two have so much as a conversation have you? And now you never will, but I’m confident there’s more to Alex than meets the square eye: DTC didn’t grow him in a lab from the DNA of an ‘80s KGB agent, just to comment on the local market and ask Jake what he did the previous evening. Watch that bastard, he’s into something: dead girls and dope.

The Unlikelies:

Beyond the zone of evidence the unlikely candidates get a little more unusual but are you really going to write them off in a show that once offered a wronged wife burying her husband alive? I refer to the likes of Ronnie, a woman on the edge following her recent Lola episode, in which she smashed her with a car and conflated her victim with dead daughter Danielle. I wouldn’t want to be a young blonde woman around Ronnie, would you? Add to the mix the mirthless Mitchell’s recent promotion to murderess, the fact she’s mentally and psychologically unstable and has a nasty habit of interfering with other people’s kids, and you’ve got a suspect. What’s her motive, you cry? Well try this: Alex is banging Roxy, Alex is also plundering Lucy, Ronnie finds out, goes berserk, confronts Lucy and gives her a bit of the ol’ Carl White. But what of the photograph of Lucy and Max you say? I’m prepared to put that down to a jealous Jake, following Lucy around but also keen to get a little payback for Max’s hypocritical piousness over his ruinous affair with Lauren 2. Maybe Jake had a habit of following Lucy and this lead to him witnessing the murder. He’s got no loyalty to Ronnie of course but won’t want to implicate Alex – the man gave him a room and venue to meet women for a peppercorn rent.

Sure, that’s reaching but the rest is even more outlandish. Terry Spraggan, ladies and genitals: a character that has little reason to be now Bianca’s left him plot-inactive. She thought he was a dirty old man – a groper of Whitney, but what if it was a case of right instinct, wrong feminoid? Perhaps Terry does have a taste for young girls and his attempt at cracking onto Lucy, who reminded him of old squeeze Nikki, went horribly wrong…or right, depending on your point of view.

Okay, you hate that, what about Sharon? Yeah, that’s right – good old, drug dependent Sharon. She wouldn’t want Phil knowing she was dealing would she? He’d throw her out and she’d be back to square one with that brat Denny in tow. So what if Lucy threatened to tell Phil after a row over coke pricing? Or she threatened to tell her Dad what Sharon was up to and Sharon feared the worst? Ridiculous you bleat, but if this is a 30th anniversary reveal, DTC may want to make the perpetrator a classic cast member, and what scenario would pack a greater punch that Ian discovering his life long friend had murdered his daughter?

The So Remotes They’re Hardly Worth Considering:

We’re in ultra-mad territory when talking about as yet unseen but still very much alive Nasty Nick Cotton, the man responsible for Walford’s first ever on-screen death – a story that may tie to the mysterious Charlie (geddit, Charlie?) and his Dot Con. Less likely still is deranged War Veteran Lee, who may have PTSD and frequent flashes of as yet unseen violence.  Jane, who has no motive and no history of violence, but is played by an actress with the same initials as Lucy, is a remote outsider at this stage. Dean Wicks – just returned, but maybe a peripheral presence for longer than we know and responsible for Lucy’s coke addiction, could be one to watch. Danny Pennant – no friend of Lucy but not on screen either so not a great suspect, can’t be ruled out. Phil – Ian’s long time enemy and perhaps, spiteful shagger of Daddy’s girl, is the longest of shots but the real kick would come from finding out that the killer was from within…

The Beale Clan:

It makes a perverse sort of sense that Lucy’s killer may be a very close relative. Sure, you can take your pick from jealous Cindy, butter wouldn’t melt Jane, and reliable but controlling Peter, but of course the real shock would be an unmasking of none other than show stalwart and ever reliable paterfamilias, Ian. Impossible you say? Well consider this. DTC said he had Broadchurch in mind when plotting the bastard, but what about that other dead kid odyssey, Twin Peaks?

Now I’m not suggesting Ian’s literally possessed by a serial killer but what if he’s a Jekyll and Hyde character – reliable, boorish businessman by day, deranged, child abusing bad Dad by night? What, you ask, could be more tragic than that? Did Lucy not recoil when he spoke of the two of them taking the family forward? Did she not act like a damaged child, throwing herself at so many older men? Ian’s a bit controlling but he’s not a terrible Dad – Peter, Cindy and Bobby seem fine, so why should Lucy be so fucked up? Anyone who’s seen Tim Roth’s The War Zone knows why. A schizoid Ian Beale would be a hard sell to a nation that feels they know this fundamentally good weasel inside out, but what a story! Did you see the way Ian looked out of his kitchen window the morning after the murder? Those dead eyes as he rang Lucy’s mobile? Go down to William Hill tomorrow and put everything you have on the Christmas revelation being that Ian’s been hiding treatment for dual personality disorder: a dissociative condition that allows him to function as a normal man while hiding a monster that demands attention after lights out. Why haven’t Ian’s previous wives seen both men, you say? Well maybe Ian’s time on the street upset the balance of his mind more than we thought; Mandy will do that to you. It may seem unthinkable but outing the show’s longest running character as a grade A schizoid on the night of the 30th anniversary, a man who’s spent the last ten months looking for himself, may be too much of a temptation for DTC. The biggest shock in EastEnders’ history? You better believe it.

Remember I told you.

Lucy Beale’s killer will be revealed to the nation on February 19th 2015 and Ed doesn’t have a fucking clue who it is, obviously.

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Goodbye and Good Riddance to BBC3

coming-of-age-group

I hope it won’t empower those who see BBC3’s detractors as snobs and Herod-like enemies of the young, if I confess to masturbating with furious vigour and indecent grunting at the news that the corporation’s dedicated youth channel would soon be consigned to a haunted afterlife on the Internet. There it will take its rightful place amongst content detritus like cats in suits, Biggles with lizards and this blog, becoming part of the short form, attention deficit baiting, empty headed distractarama that anecdotal, that is to say unreliable evidence tells us our babes oft prefer to the well-produced, scripted television their parents were lumbered with, the poor, lucky bastards.

TV comedy producer Ash Atalla was furious at the decision, which he presumably learned about watching Three’s ADHD-friendly sixty second news. Atalla’s beef was that exterminating Three disenfranchised the young and working class. In the new history of Television (ed. David Irving), it had therefore become a fact that before the crowning of BBC3, its head covered in the blood and feculence of lazy assumptions, there was no BBC television for the young. Not a sausage. 16-34 year olds, though catered for in every other walk of life, threw their hands up and declared “for shame, nought’s made for me – no drama, no comedy, no documentaries – nothing – it’s as if the people who make television assume there’s some overlap between adult interests and my own. How little they know me, how neglected is my generation, how culturally impoverished am I.”

Yet watching Atalla berate Tony Hall and the suits who’d turned off the cameras as the highbrow mafia, it was hard not think of my own experience as a BBC viewer during teen and twentysomethingdom, and my recollection that the absence of a ghetto for youth programming didn’t dent my faith in the corporation one little bit.

Call me what you like, call me typical, call me someone who watched a lot of television, call me young at the time, but I never sat slumped in front of the drool box, enjoying a varied schedule designed to pique my interest on matters external to my everyday experience, fully conscious of the difference between the broader, more family orientated fare on BBC1 and the alternative, special interest programming and edgier comedy on BBC2, and thought, “there’s just nothing for me here; not a damn thing. Where’s my cup and ball?”

But someone in television, someone frightened that in the brave new world of digital broadcasting, where audiences once groomed to enjoy a balanced diet of news, arts and entertainment were aggressively reprogrammed to narrow their menu using niche channels as a way eliminating all that superfluous, wrongheaded variety – young audiences would leave the BBC to binge on television’s answer to crisps and chocolate: E4, Yikes, TelewizonWOW, and many more made up but highly plausible new digi-stations.

These brains worried, despite knowing nothing of the audience they feared losing, that so incurious were they, so indifferent to the adult world – contrary to the experience of every teenager who’s ever lived, and so self-absorbed – prisoners of their own, boorish, age-specific obsessions, that only a dedicated channel that offered an alternative, not just to commercial rivals but all that yawn inducing, high minded public service gruel on exant BBC services, could hope to retain them as willing licence fee payers. Sure, some fool argued that the BBC as it was provided those kids with an alternative to the slush they could suck up just about everywhere else and consequently the still forming brats were more than catered for, maybe even talked up to, but no: the suits had no faith in the pulling power of the alternative so designed Three to halt the exodus.

Thus a channel was born from the odious assumption that the only content of value to Jack and Jill Sprat was that as empty headed, glib and prurient as the BBC imagined them to be. Of course it was possible that an 18 year old interested in theatre may tune in to watch a two part Arena film celebrating the National – editorially sober, unapologetically highbrow, culturally interrogative – but such a youth was an aberration and certainly not reflective of the degenerates cuming into a rolled up copy of the Radio Times as their feckless, drink soaked parents collapsed in the outhouse.

BBC3’s version of the same documentary would have to descend to meet its target audience’s barrel scraping standard. Penelope Wilton’s voiceover would be replaced by tongue in cheek links from Rick Edwards, interviews with British Theatre’s doyens would have to be seasoned with the kind of facile asides beloved of a jejune generation – “Jonathan Miller, did you and Peter Cook ever play soggy biscuit?” – and the only plays featured would star James Corden. How else could a sapling relate to the material? Calling the show Arena would also be out of the question. What’s an arena when it’s at home? What does this strange, unfamiliar word have to do with theatre? Best to keep it simple and eye catching so the archetypal BBC3 viewer knows exactly what to expect: Theatre and Plays…with Rick fucking Edwards.

When you assume your audience are stupid and tell yourself that by making programmes calibrated to appeal to their presumed idiocy you’re doing them a favour, and therefore fulfilling your public service obligations, the programmes effectively make themselves. By auditing what’s hot amongst the obtuse and characterless using tried and tested techniques like overheard conversations, your sister’s Facebook updates on her kids and a skim through Twitter, a whole schedule can be created (padded out with films and repeats) that takes the pulse of today’s young bucks and does, only falling short when it comes to nurturing the inner life of a varied and open minded audience. Hairdressin’, Fucking Abroad, Celebrity Snafu, The Tawdry Adventures of Dick and Fanny, School Com, Kids with Flick Knives, Help Me, I’m Bored – commissioning takes a lunchtime. The titles aren’t important because the content neatly falls into place regardless.

Ash Atalla’s so of the now he can’t remember a time when the BBC wasn’t patronising younger licence fee payers. Those with longer memories may conclude that giving 16-34 year olds programming that extends into television every child’s natural instinct to be a part of the adult conversation around the dinner table (yes that old middle class ritual), is healthy, humane and the epitome of Reithan values, that old set of ideas, today rebranded elitist, that once justified the BBC’s funding model.

BBC3 wasn’t just unnecessary, it devolved the viewing experience of the young. Its stars have good reason to be worried; they’ll soon be asked to test their material against the far stricter admission criteria of BBCs 1 and 2. Many will be found wanting. They’re gonna need better knob gags. In the meantime the channel’s advocates will argue that BBC3 programmes are popular with their target viewers. We might call this the viewer paradox. Ignorant, white middle class television executives create programmes for an imaginary constituency of undemanding youths, which once screened, become what they watch. Retrospectively justifying the decision to create those shows, indeed the channel that hosted them, consequently becomes as easy as being affiliated to PIE. But we paid for this bilge my friends, our money retarded our kid’s viewing experience, and the best apology we can offer to the little bastards is to get them watching more aspirant fare before we lose them forever to the world of perma-stunted, frivolous web vomit.

This post was originally entitled F**k off, BBC3 but subsequently rechristened in the interests of talking up to readers.

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A Guide to the Scottish Independence Referendum for Seven Year Olds

Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond’s pitch to the Scottish people, mixing sleight of hand with a prospectus that’s simplistic, not to mention historically and culturally disingenuous, is predicated on the assumption that the average voter has the same intelligence as a seven year old.

Here, for balance, is a guide to the debate aimed at real seven year olds who are advised to absorb this information and pass it on to their less informed parents and older relatives.

This guide takes the form of a Q and A:

What is Scottish independence?

Scottish Independence refers to a debate that’s happening right now in Scotland, the northern most part of the United Kingdom. Some people in Scotland think this region is a country that’s ruled by the English, a large group of moustache twirling, monocle wearing people who live below them. In September they plan to vote on whether Scotland should legally become a separate state. If they vote yes then the country we were all born into will be destroyed.

Why do they think Scotland’s a separate country?

They’re confused between the past and the present. Three hundred years ago Scotland was a self-governing kingdom. Scotland wanted to build an Empire in South America, so they sent their soldiers there to build a colony called Caledonia. This was called the Darien Scheme. But the Spanish people who lived there didn’t want to share their stolen land with Scotland, so they fought them and the Scots were forced to go home. The trip cost a lot of money and made Scotland very poor, so they decided to join up with their rich neighbours in England. The result was a legal act of union that formed today’s United Kingdom.

But not everyone liked the idea of marrying into money. Over many generations Scots that didn’t like being with the English began to say that they’d been deceived into giving up their independence. These people said the English weren’t friends but oppressors, who treated Scotland like a colony of the British Empire. Because that idea made Scots feel better about themselves it was preferred to the truth. In fact Scotland was a partner not a colony and benefited enormously, both culturally and economically, from being part of one of the richest trading empires in the history of the world. But the people who hated the English, (and yes it’s perfectly fine to start a sentence with a conjunction, your English teacher is wrong) because their Mums and Dads had brought them up to believe this twaddle, ignored this. They started to say England and Scotland should go their separate ways.

Isn’t it silly to say something’s true now because it was in the past?

Yes. But sometimes people are very sentimental about the past, despite not knowing anything about it, so sometimes want things to go back the way they imagine things were, without really knowing how they were.

Who says Scotland and England should break up?

The Scottish National Party or SNP. They’re lead by a man called Alex Salmond.

If the union between Scotland and England has been successful, why does Alex want to break up?

Sometimes in partnerships, when one person has less power than the other, they can feel inferior. People who feel this way can feel anger and resentment toward the other person, the same way we sometimes think it’s unfair that our bigger brothers and sisters get to do what they want when we can’t. Alex feels that way about England.

How do you know he doesn’t like England?

Alex’s friends became more popular when a racist called Mel Gibson made a propaganda film called Braveheart. A propaganda film is a film that tells a lie to try and make people think a certain way. Mr Gibson’s film showed the English being very bad toward the Scots. Mr Gibson is from Australia. Sometimes people from Australia also hate the English, the way some people hate their parents. Mr Gibson hates the English and made a film he knew Scottish people who also hated the English would like. When Alex saw the film he was very pleased. He said thank you to Mr Gibson by putting a picture of him into Scotland’s National Museum. Putting a picture of Mr Gibson in a museum sent a message that Alex not only believed what the film said, because he put it in a place for things that are historically important, but that he liked it very much.

Was the film popular?

It was. Mr Gibson made it for people who believe, as Alex believes, that the English are cruel and rule Scotland without their permission. This is a very popular lie that has become part of Scottish culture. It’s one of their favourite fairy tales.

Alex sounds like a very angry man, is there a name for someone like that?

People who hate other people because of where they’re from are sometimes called bigots. A bigot ignores what’s good about a person, and the benefits of having them around, and looks at them with fear and anger because they are different. Sometimes they feel threatened by them because they are different. This is why mice hate cats.

Is hating the English the only reason Alex wants to break up?

No. Alex is also a self-important man who wants more power for himself and to become a Scottish national hero and a person of historical interest. He wants to be Mr Braveheart, the character he liked in Mel Gibson’s film.

What does self-important mean?

It means you think you’re a very important person, though you may not have done anything to become important. People who think this way are usually making up for the fact that other people don’t think they’re as important as they think they are.

I don’t understand

Alex wants to be Prime Minister of Scotland but he can’t be because of the United Kingdom. Before there was a Scottish parliament Alex was a member of the House of Commons, but no one took much notice of him there. He wasn’t very impressive and no one in Scotland thought he should be Prime Minister.

Then one day Scotland got its own parliament that elected people in a way that allowed Alex’s party to win more seats without being any more popular or interesting. Slowly, in this new, easier parliament, Alex started to win more seats because the other parties weren’t very good (all the good politicians were in England), and became First Minister, but he still didn’t have much power.

He’s like a footballer playing in the first division who wants to be a premier league player but isn’t good enough. But if you break away from the Football Association and become the only league, then you get to be the new best league. That’s why Alex doesn’t want to play with England anymore.

Do Scottish people know this is the real reason?

Some do. They’re called unionists. But nationalists like Alex believe him when he says Scotland will be better off on their own with him in charge.

But maybe Alex likes the English but wants to do things on his own?

That’s what he says but he’s a liar.

How do you know?

Because of the things Alex has said in the past. Alex isn’t against unions you see, he only dislikes the successful one with England – one of the most successful ever. A while ago, before he discovered it was dangerous, he wanted Scotland to join the Euro – that’s the money they use in Europe. Joining the Euro means letting people in Brussels, the capital of Europe, make most of the decisions about your money. Alex didn’t mind Germany and France being in charge of Scotland but he doesn’t like being partners with England, the people he says are Scotland’s closest friends. This makes him very stupid.

What else has he said?

That he doesn’t really want anything to change. He’d like things to be like they are now, only with him in charge of everything. Scotland will still have England’s queen and he’d like to keep the United Kingdom’s money. He also wants people to move from one kingdom to the other without controls, like they do now. The only difference is that the parliament Alex works in will make all of Scotland’s decisions, instead of most of them.

Can’t it make all of them without leaving the UK?

It can. It would require a change in the law, nicknamed “Devo Max”. Devo means devolution. That means giving power from a big parliament to a smaller one. It’s like me giving you a floor of the house to do whatever you want with but I still own the house in case something bad happens, so I can fix it.

Why doesn’t Alex just call Max then?

No, Max isn’t a person. Never mind that. Alex wants to have the house, even though he can’t pay for it all by himself and the union put all the good stuff in it like the welfare state and the National Health Service and the book shelves, because he doesn’t like the English and the English pay the mortgage.

You keep talking about the England and Scotland as different places but I thought we were one big country?

Good, glad you’re paying attention. That’s right, we are. Alex likes to pretend we’re not because if he can make people think we’re already separate then they won’t notice he’s doing anything wrong. English and Scottish people have lived together for three hundred years in one big state. We each have our differences but we’re more alike than different. Some Scottish people live in England and some English people live in Scotland. We share lots of things. Scotland and England have their own character but they are not different countries in the same way that France and Brazil are different countries.

My Scottish Dad says that the pound belongs to Scotland too and that those Westminster bastards are threatening to take it from us if we leave, is this true?

No (and watch your language). This is the lie that Alex has told imaginary Scottish people like you. To get his way, Alex must pretend that everything will be the same after a yes vote, except Scotland will be a separate state, but it won’t. The pound is the United Kingdom’s currency, not Scotland’s. It only belongs to Scotland while it stays part of the United Kingdom, in the same way that you can’t play in the garden behind the house you used to live in because you’ve moved out. If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom then all the things that come with being part of the United Kingdom – the money, our special membership of the European Union, the thirty million taxpayers south of the border, will be left behind too.

But my Dad says that if England refuses to share the pound that’s okay because we won’t pay our part of the national debt.

That’s fine but according to all the experts that would make Scotland what we call an “economic pariah”, which means that no one else in the world would ever lend it any money because it didn’t pay its debts. It wouldn’t even get a Vanquis credit card, and they’ll give one to anybody.

What’s special about Europe and why do people keep talking about it?

At the moment Scotland is part of a massive power sharing club called the European Union, because the UK is a member and Scotland is part of the UK. Aside from the irony that Alex doesn’t want to be part of a self-governing union but does want to remain part of a larger one that isn’t very democratic, Scotland will probably have to re-apply to be a member of the club as a new country. Alex likes to pretend Scotland wouldn’t be a new country, legally speaking, but it would because it isn’t now. That’s the point.

Nicola, Alex’s deputy said on the radio once, “Europe’s about taking down borders and barriers between countries”. She said this to argue with the man who told her that Europe might not let Scotland in as a new country. By using this argument she showed that, like Alex, she’s not really thought any of this through because if you want to take down borders and barriers, separating from a place you have no barriers with is probably not the best way. Alex and Nicola are both funny people who are thinking so hard about being apart from England that they don’t care if they contradict themselves.

What does contradict mean?

It means when you say the opposite of what you say you mean to show what you’re saying is true.

That doesn’t make sense.

I know.

Why would someone do that?

Perhaps because they can’t say what they really think because they know it will make them look silly to intelligent people.

Dad says that Scottish people in England and Wales can’t vote is that true?

That’s right. They just have to hope that the Scottish people that never left home don’t vandalise the country because Alex succeeds in appealing to their prejudices.

That doesn’t sound fair.

It’s not really but Alex doesn’t want Scottish people living and working in the rest of the UK to have a say because those people won’t be fooled by the lie that we’re all living in different countries, as they know better.

My Dad sa-

You talk about your Dad a lot; doesn’t your Mum have any questions? Perhaps your Dad doesn’t like her to have her own opinions. Perhaps she’s looking for a new man. Why don’t you give your Mum my e-mail address and I’ll take her out?

My Dad says Scottish 16 year olds will be able to vote is that true?

Yes. Alex thinks that older children are more excited by things that are new, like the idea of a new country, and have not lived long enough to have a broad and complicated understanding of history and politics, so are more likely to vote yes.

This sounds terrible. I wish it wasn’t happening.

So do I. Now go and tell your parents to vote no before a bunch of spacks decapitate Great Britain.

Scots go to the polls in September, in a vote coincidentally scheduled in the 700th anniversary year of The Battle of Bannockburn; a coincidence highly unlikely to influence the result as no one’s stupid enough to vote on the politics of the 14th century in the 21st. Surely?

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