Monthly Archives: March 2014

Six months to go

 

The Scottish independence referendum argument builds apace, involving, in the last few weeks, politicians, bankers and artists from outside Scotland. The future of the people of Scotland has not always, during my adult life, attracted such interest and concern from beyond our borders.

I am one of the voters who brought us to this place. Naturally left-wing or liberal, voting Labour through most of our lives, we then experimented with supporting the Scottish National Party in the first decade of the Scottish parliament,  giving them first minority power, and then, struck by both their progressive competence in, and progressive inclinations towards government, giving them a majority of 32 in the elections of 2011.

In the 1970s, in the early days of my political education, Scottish nationalism was a right-of-centre phenomenon. The SNP were dubbed “Tartan Tories”, although this soubriquet may have been coined partly because the UK governments of this era were mostly Labour.

The party’s stance shifted during the 1980s. One of its leading figures was Jim Sillars, a former Labour MP who had actually co-founded the short-lived Scottish Labour Party in the mid-1970s which aimed to blend the socialist and nationalist traditions.  Alex Neil, a present Scottish government minister, was another member of the SLP. One impact this short-lived party did have was to force the original Labour Party to re-brand itself, for a time, as “the Labour Party in Scotland”.

The younger generation of nationalist politicians, like Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill, definitely  appeared to adopt a more left-wing perspective. This idea that Scottish nationalism and socialism were sympathetic rather than opposing principles had already come to me via such different sources as journalist Neal Ascherson, folk musician Dick Gaughan and the now defunct magazines Radical Scotland and Cencrastus.

The role of the artistic community has been a topic in the present independence debate.   Have our performing companies and institutions addressed the subject adequately, or allowed themselves to be hijacked by it? Some artists are openly pro-independence campaigners while others wonder about how many are fully engaged.

I have read, and heard, many contributions from people who are, like me, drawn towards voting “yes” in the referendum but who have not been long-term SNP or independence supporters.  Many see independence as an opportunity less for separation than for further embedding principles and practices of social justice.  For example, the National Collective , the Reid Foundation with its Common Weal project, and the social worker and community activist Bob Holman, a life-long member of the Labour Party.

A rather different perspective is that provided by Ewan Morrison, that choosing independence might be another example of the borderline personality disorder which the Scottish psyche has suffered from, and so a better approach might be to stay with the union, or at very least, have a modest expectation about what independence will achieve. Although attracted to the socialist opportunities provided by  independence , I think I might have already inadvertently come to share Morrison’s conclusion when I have said to many people on either side of the debate, “In the short term I think very little will actually change”.

 

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Some memorable meals on reels

 

The first time I formed the idea that cinema films might feature some insightful depictions of the sensual pleasure of food and drink was by the end of my second or third viewing of Coppola’s The Godfather . I was beginning to realise that this might actually now be one of my favourite films, and I was able to explain why. “It has everything,” I said to a work colleague, “politics, history, geography, religion, great drama and great acting – it even has a cookery lesson”.

The lesson in question takes place when the Corleone clan are barricaded in their Long Island redoubt, and Clemenza shows the restless Michael how to cook a Bolognese sauce.  “You start with a little bit of oil, and you fry some garlic, then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste” – pronounced tom-ay-to of course – “you fry it, make sure it doesn’t stick, you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs, then a little bit of wine and a little bit of sugar…”

Scorsese’s  Goodfellas  features a similar scene, where  a group of mobsters in prison collect contraband ingredients from various unspecified sources for regular meals. One snippet teaches the viewer how to slice garlic finely using a razor-blade. Nice to see the culinary elements of this film acknowledged in a food-film collaboration at the recent Glasgow Film Festival.

Because the Italian-American experience features so heavily in US cinema, Italian food probably gets a higher prominence than other cuisines.  When the success of Babette’s Feast , directed by the recently deceased Gabriel Axel, led to its meal being recreated by various fancy restaurants, that probably reinforced the stereotype of French food being expensive and exclusive. Turtle soup, caviar, quail, cheeses, accompanying wines: even though in the film the meal is prepared by a single French housekeeper cooking for a small family group.

Just as the French Catholic character is the purveyor of earthly delights to the Scandinavian Protestants in Babette’s Feast, French Catholic monks are shown able to appreciate such pleasures in Of Gods and Men drinking wine while listening to Tchaikovsky’s music to Swan Lake.

A Spanish compañera of Babette is Raimunda in Almodovar’s Volver , whom we see cooking an unexpected meal for a film crew of 30, buying pork and sausages from her neighbours and vegetables from the local market.

A couple of British examples. One from the days when British men were just beginning to cook for leisure and pleasure appears in  The Ipcress File. Spy Harry Palmer is well-known among colleagues as a food lover, expressing a wish to spend a salary increase on kitchen equipment and discussing brands of mushrooms in a supermarket with his boss.  The meal which he cooks for his female colleague Courtney consists, I think, only of omelettes, but it is previewed by that famous Michael Caine impressionists’ line, “Courtney.. I am going to cook you… the best meal you ‘ave ever ‘ad.” Interesting to discover that this aspect of Palmer’s character derived from the cooking interests of his creator Len Deighton.

Less attractive from a culinary and hygiene perspective but both dramatically significant and an instructive sign of 1930s practice is the scene of Richard Hannay poaching haddock still while wearing his overcoat and while a cigarette still dangles above the pan from his lips in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps .

 

 

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