Contains music for horses to dance to, tiny pants competitions, where to find Scotland’s worst drivers, hot mums, Andy Murray vs Argentina, safe ceps — the truth about wildfoods
A version of this appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail August 16 2016
When the Olympics ends this weekend, I’m going to miss the baffled late night conversations on the Synnot Towers sofa as we examine events like yesterday’s dressage competition.
“I’ve just realised I’m a worse dancer than a British horse.”
“Is it really kicking up its fetlocks to the theme from Feed The World? I think all dressage horses should do their picky hoof prances to the theme from The Archers’”
“Agreed. Anyway, why is the commentator talking about a piaff? “
“Maybe it’s rice?”
“No, you’re thinking of Edith Pilau”
And so on.
The BBC have already coined a word for the bemused discussions that are going on about the Rio Olympics: Copacabanter. “Ah,” breathed Scots commentator Andrew Cotter yesterday, as the cameras panned over Rio baking athletes in 35 degree heat. “Like a sunny day in Millport”.
Admittedly sometimes the punditry goes over my head: I listened carefully to the explanation of the Keirin cycling, an event that looks like grandmother’s footsteps on wheels, yet it still sounded like someone explaining fourth cousins.
Other times the chat can grate: apparently whatever the subject or scenario, Denise Lewis can manufacture an anecdote about how it also happened to her.
And sometimes the comments bypassed my head altogether. When Tom Daley and his synchronised pal stepped up for their final go in the teenypants diving competition, Leon Taylor gravely noted that “they need to find something deep at the bottom of their toybox”. All over the country, viewers tried very hard not to look at the toybox.
Usually I resent wall-to-wall sports coverage, but the BBC and Brazil have got me hooked. Admittedly the other channels haven’t put up much of a fight against Hazel Irvine or Sir Chris Hoy — STV dug deep on Friday night and gave us a Fish Called Wanda, as fresh as 1988 year old paint.
Initially, I may have been drawn in by a trailer promising that we might see an anteater throw a hammer, but I stayed for the opening ceremony that showcased a ballet about microbes, and a first glimpse of Stella McCartney’s Team GB tshirts: a combination of the logo for Charlie’s Angels and a violent nosebleed.
Only Australia has a worse set of athletic uniforms; when their rowers took to the medal podium in shapeless light blue tracksuits, they looked like they’d just scrubbed up after performing keyhole surgery.
There have been all sorts of charges against the Olympics Games; corruption, doping and, most recently, sexist remarks from sportscasters. Then again the Olympics has always been an amazing example of classism, inequality, racism, ageism, wealth flaunting, and dodgy money sources.
None of this can overshadow the fact an Olympian can be 13 year old swimmers but also 61 year old equestrians. Olympians can be hulks or waifs, wealthy but also impoverished refugees, and all of them amazing examples of what the body can achieve, mentally and physically.
Even the hubristic displays of chestbursting nationalism can be tempered; after all the USA has track stars, gymnastic wonders and turbocharged swimmers like Mike Phelps. This country has won more than 1000 gold medals since the modern Olympics began. Yet it still can’t field two decent candidates to run for president
There’s been some controversy as to when Andy Murray is Scottish or British, but when he played Juan Del Porto in the Olympic finals, he was definitely not Argentinian. The amped-up South American supporters in Rio cheered and chanted for Del Porto and, less sportingly, applauded whenever Murray double-faulted. Murray finally triumphed after a long, sweaty, gripping match. Good: otherwise we might be forced to hand Argentina back the rights to Evita
Moviestars have their Oscars, sports stars get medals and cups, but I did my own lap of honour after a country ramble during our saturated Scottish summer yielded a kilo of wild mushrooms including my favourite: the cep.
I once spent a couple of days on a foraging course where wild food experts tried to persuade us of the deliciousness of dandelions, seaweed and ground elder. Are boiled nettles like spinach? Only if you carefully boil your tastebuds beforehand. Are primrose flowers like sweets and ground acorns like coffee? Perhaps, if you are a World War II evacuee.
Also beware of anything that is described as “like coconut”, especially if applied to gorse flowers, a mushroom called Dryads’ Saddle and the young leaves of a bramble bush. In all cases, the chew was closer to coconut matting.
On the other hand fresh wild mushrooms deserve their rave reviews, and warm rainy summers tend to flush out fruiting funghi - although it goes without saying that if there’s any doubt, it’s best to leave well alone.
I once met another forager toting an enormous bag of mushroom finds home for the pot. Reluctantly, he let me have a peek at his treasures, all picked on the basis that if they had been nibbled by local animals and insects, or looked like mushrooms in children’s books, they were probably fine. As it turned out, he had assembled an astonishing mixed grill of the edible, the unpleasant, the hallucinogenic and the downright deadly. As the saying goes: there are old mushroom pickers, and there are bold mushroom pickers, but there are no old, bold mushroom pickers.”
Greenland sharks can live up to 400 years, and take 150 years to reach maturity.
A ray of hope there, for Donald Trump.
We live in a world whose absurdities include lemonade made from artificial flavours, while washing up liquid is made from real lemons. It is also a place where a film about women busting ghosts is presented to us as a Rosetta Stone of feminism.
Now Hollywood is empowering Bad Moms; the film opens next week with Mia Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn lined up as Mums Behaving Badly, while making rueful jabs at modern parenting issues such pretentious names for kids (there’s one here called Ghandi), passing off shop-bought items at a home bake sale, or being left to complete your child’s homework
However we’re also invited to view Mila Kunis as a hopeless, loser. That’s Mila Kunis: even in this film she drives a red sports car, rocks spike heels, could run an empire and can wear the St Kilda of knickers — so tiny you can’t even find them on a map.
Yet in Bad Mom world she is a sexless blimp desperately in need ofa makeover… because she buys ugly bras.
God knows, mums need a break, and this fitfully funny flick beats sitting through a PTA meeting, but while the moms are in front of the camera, it was the dads (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore) who wrote and directed this thing. Which may be why you won’t find a middle-aged woman here who appears naturally aged. Sorry mums: on top of everything else, you may have to make your own films
The Court of Appeal has ruled that £25 can’t buy you a vote in the Labour leadership contest.
But for £30, you could get a signed poster. £60 should get you backstage at the party conference. And for £120 you can be Shadow Scottish Secretary
Superbike racer Ian Hutchinson had four wins and set a new lap record at the Ulster Grand Prix this weekend but even he might balk at the road challenges of getting across Glasgow. A trip to the cinema this week included encounters with two cars — one in Govanhill, the other in the Merchant City — who opted for shortcuts through peaktime traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road, towards us….
All best wishes for a swift recovery to Scots actor Richard Wilson, who has been forced to cancel a run at the Edinburgh Fringe after a heart attack.
The show was to have revived One Foot in The Grave and one of Richard’s most treasured roles. In many ways Victor Meldrew is as much a cultural landmark as Alf Garnett, although middle class Victor’s rage was channelled into maddened domestic pettiness rather than pubby bigotry.
The man behind Meldew is far more benevolent. Over the years he has quietly given time and money to charities, as well as financial support to struggling actors. No feet: just helping hands.