Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Ballad of Daytime TV (Here Come the Hearse Chasers)

The ballad of Daytime TV (Here Come the Hearse Chasers)

Former coppers, all
Sweaty in Vauxhalls and Fords
Fourth cousins twice removed
Answering doors
Warned by researchers
To look sorry and shocked
For folk never heard of
Until the hearse chaser's knock
An inheritance? How much? Where do I sign?
And I watch and I wish that the money was mine
So I could roam car boot sales,
Sifting through trash
Searching for treasures
To flog at auction for cash
I know my Royal Doulton, my Wemyss Ware and Delft
My Faberge, Wedgewood, but there's so little left
In charity shops, or in skips or in attics
Everybody's an expert, everybody's an addict
Of Bargain Hunt, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is
And then there's the question of investing in houses...
Who are these people, with money to spend
In hundreds of thousands, or do banks still lend
To tattooed guys in fleeces with half-shaven heads
Who buy sad repossessions and the homes of the dead
Tart them up, sell them on, or just rent them out
It's all about profit, not a scintilla of doubt
Ever appears on a presenter's face
As they Escape to the Country
To avoid the disgrace
Of every being reduced to
Price Drop TV
The Jewellery Channel
Where faded celebrities go
Just to keep being in vision
Before finally graduating

To become politicians.

Copyright Tom Morton 2013. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Shetland Roads: madness of the high-speed Hi-Lux. Shetland Life editorial, October

Shetland Life editorial, October 2013

Slow. Slow. Quick, quicker, slow.
And stop, probably without giving any indication that you’re about to, because your brake lights are broken or you’re towing a trailer which doesn’t, indeed never had brake lights. Or brakes. Or proper wheels, seeing as these ones came off an old lorry you found rotting in a field in the South Mainland and only turn when you use three cans of WD40 on each axle. Which you do at the beginning and end of the sailing season as you need to get the boat into and out of the water.
Number plates? No need. Felt tip marker pen scrawled on a piece of cardboard will do fine. And as for the ‘proper’ Ifor Williams stock trailer you use for sheep, house moves, fetching peats and removing large quantities of stone chips and road grit from council stockpiles under cover of darkness, well. The electrics failed on that a long time ago, and hanging a couple of hurricane lanterns from the back with skein of twisted wool seems to work just fine...
But let’s not get sidetracked by Shetland trailer culture. Even though it is vastly amusing that there is now a ‘trailer test’ young drivers have to sit before they get a chance to demolish the rear light clusters of the Hi-Lux when reversing a horsebox-load of inebriated Up HellyAa guizers into the hall car park.
I wish to discuss driving, generally.
It’s appalling. And it has worsened, of late, as traffic on our wondrously pothole-less roads has increased due to the arrival of Evil Soothmoothers in droves.
And how evil they are, coming here, drinking our beer, vomiting on our pavements, trying unsuccessfully to steal our women, criticising our golliwog industry and making loud gutteral noises in bars. Away with them, I say, send them and their tiger-striped Dazzle Ship accommodation barges off into the misty befuddlement of the Orcades, or worse, Wick. We don’t want their money or their genetic material! Do we? Of course, speaking as soothmoother myself, albeit one of many years standing, sitting and yes, driving, I may be slightly biased.
Although come to think of it, the blame for bad driving has be evenly apportioned, in my experience. Local idiots who think pick-up trucks are Formula One cars. Dawdling tourists in Star Kias who slow down every time they see an attractive fencepost. Even more dawdlesome local ancients, peering through the steering wheel at 10mph, saving their sidelight bulbs from ‘wear’ by never switching them on until it’s pitch dark. Crazed oil and gas executives running late in their Range Rovers, overtaking on blind bends, tailgating hapless commuters and hitting 120 on the Tingwall Straight. And don’t even mention the Whalsay fishing skippers in their Rolls Royces, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bugatti Veyrons. I have no idea how they get some of those cars up the linkspan onto the ferry without ripping their underparts off. The cars, that is.
(Incidentally, has the Tingwall Straight sunk? I don’t remember that blind dip when I arrived here a quarter of a century ago?)
Who else is on our roads? Bad-tempered bus drivers, and those trucks being driven at ludicrous speeds, festooned with unnecessary and blinding fairy lights , transporting important consignments of caviar and Champagne to Total management at Sullom Voe. The days of the tarted-up Vauxhall Nova are long gone, but we still have nedmobiles , lowered Japanese saloons with sound systems blasting out One Direction and Calvin Harris so loudly they have to keep the windows slightly open or they’d blow the windscreens out.
Then there are the drunks. Hugging the verge, driving oh-so-carefully, veering towards and then away from approaching headlights, slowing down when other cars appear, slamming their brakes when the giant rabbits appear. Be ruthless. Seriously, please phone the police if you see one. Save them from themselves. They don’t need a fatality on their conscience.
Obviously, you’ll pull over before using your mobile...
Finally I have three tips, for everyone who chauffeurs/chauffeuses themselves or others around our islands. And here they are, maker of them what you will.
(1) There is a blanket 60 mph limit on Shetland. If you drive faster than that you are are breaking the law. No, I’m not joking.
(2) Vans owned by building firms are not exempt from this limit.
(3) Neither am I, even though I now own an elderly Mercedes 300TE with sport gearbox and a kickdown which is capable of sending it into temporary orbit.
(4) All trailers should have working lights, brakes and not be made out of old safety handrails and water pipes. Unless of course you’re in the People’s Republic of Northmavine, where the law is quite, quite different. Obviously.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Journalists: working for the clampdown?

A slight variation on my Spaekalation column from The Shetland Times of 4 October

Journalists. According to various polls, right down there among the least trustworthy members of society, along with social workers and prostitutes.
And sometimes the most cavalier with the truth, too. Especially those traders in tittle-tattle and loose-mouthed opinion, columnists. Take that 'according to various polls' phrase in the first line of this article. I have no idea what those polls are, or were. I was told that stuff about journalists and social workers in the pub, and it stuck in my mind. I added the prostitutes in for effect. 
This, however, being the age of internettism, I can Google 'journalist+trustworthy+poll' and discover that a survey by the Royal College of Physicians, no less, found in 2009 that journalists were considered the least trustworthy creatures on earth (well, in Britain), even less than politicians.  Most trusted were doctors, funnily enough. They scored 90 per cent against the hacks' 19. But as I'm married to a doctor, I reserve the right to average out our score. Even though Susan may object.
So, that was 2009, long before the grisly horrors revealed by the Leveson Inquiry. Goodness knows how low public opinion of reporters has now sunk. And this week, it all got a whole lot worse.
The Daily Mail – for which I have, I will admit, written in the past – is one of the last newspaper success stories, widely bought and read in print and online, making money, employing large numbers of staff. Yet it is despised and derided in left-to-liberal circles as a cruel, prurient, sexist, racist, hopelessly biased organ of the right. And most hacks would give their right arms for a job there. Members of the NUJ? Hell, yeah. 
It's always filled me with both amusement and despair, that the National Union of Journalists would strike to the last sub-editor sitting to defend the employment rights of its members, some of whom work happily or unhappily for organisations with the toxic morality of not the gutter, but the sewer. In the case of the Daily Mail, with its 20th century past including Hitler-supporting Nazi sympathy, its present-day,borderline racism, its ghastly, preening self-satisfaction, I look back on my freelance news-gathering self and am appalled that I ever had anything to do with it. But I needed the money. Proprietors? It wasn't our job to worry about proprietors. They were all The Forces of Evil, after all. We took the money and, err...undermined the system. Man. In a subtle, intellectual fashion. World War Two Bomber Found On Moon!
But there are other papers, worse ones and better, and there are, as well as evil journalists, plain bad ones, wilfully careless or personally vindictive. Good ones too, and sometimes good ones working for bad editors or against scary subs. I have the dubious distinction of having both written a front page splash for The Sun (headline, not mine, SCABNOST! about blackleg labour unloading reefers at Shetland Catch) and being the subject of one, the result of a vicious, anonymous letter sent by a well-known Shetlander.
In the latter story's case, the fact that it was untrue ('we know it's not, Tom, but my editor says I have to write something') did not stop the Sun's management from splashing it with addition of the word 'slur' to keep things 'honest', in red-top moral terms. If you've forgotten, it was to do with the supposed existence of gay orgies in the village of Voe involving various weel-kent Zetlanders.
Now, as at the time I was hosting a national daytime radio show, this was the kind of rubbish I suppose I should have been able to shrug off. Not that it matters, but it was all invented, vindictive nonsense. However, my elderly father, despite being quickly warned about the whole business, was upset and confused. For him newspapers still had power, still had authority. The idea that they might print something untrue was anathema to him. Even The Sun. Even with 'slur' in the headline.
My assorted bairns just thought it was funny. But the anger really took hold when I thought of my father, filling his car with petrol as The Sun's disposable headlines blared across the forecourt, and his pals gossiped.
Lately, I've watched one of my own offspring navigate the celebrity waters with remarkable assurance. Not that it owes anything at all to me. The tabloids have never been anything but kind. Only one newspaper has traduced him, inventing quotes and misrepresenting his views to reinforce what was obviously journalistic bias. And that was a Scottish 'quality', one apparently proud of its broadsheet past. So that's all right then.  
This week, Ed Miliband had to read the most scurrilous, pathetic vicious portrayal of his late, eminent  father's views in the aforementioned Daily Mail. He hit the roof. And on his behalf, we had the fantastic spectacle of Alistair Campell returning to full-on Malcolm Tucker Terminator mode on Newsnight, ripping the Mail and Lord Dacre apart like pieces of soiled tissue. Gone was the cuddly, calm Campbell we have learned to live with on Twitter and telly. Tony Blair's Rottweiler was back, and for once he had the moral high ground.
True, Ed and the Labour Party had political capital to make, especially during a Tory Party Conference which has seen the Conservatives portrayed, or portray themselves, as frankly and happily repellent in policy and style. But my heart was with Ed. And I wondered about the reporters who had to work on the Mail stories, the anonymous newshounds digging through poor old Ralph's memoirs, the  kid researchers on work experience or Bank of Mum and Dad subsidy, the desperate hackers at the newsface, harangued by newdesk dictators, trying to hang on to their jobs, holding fast to the Mail line.

          And I thought: journalists? Prostitutes? Which is the less hypocritical profession?

Anyone done a survey?

Copyright Tom Morton/The Shetland Times 2013