Star Trek — more scottish than anything else in the universe, Bog off Bridget Jones, Twelve Angry Archers, & Emily Thornberry’s pub quiz
A version of this appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail Sept 13 2016
Fifty years ago, the crew of the Starship Enterprise was written and cast to suggest a multinational diversity as wide-ranging as the United Nations. But maybe, just maybe, the beating heart of the show has been Scottish all along.
Star Trek seems to have a particular allure for SNP politicians; last year Alex Salmond tried to check in for a BA flight under the name of James T Kirk, Rosanna Cunningham and Philippa Whitford are fans of the show, and my local MP Patrick Grady has a snazzy Star Trek tie that he wears on special occasions in the Commons. It was on display last week when he and Alex Salmond submitted a motion, signed by 19 of their colleagues, demanding official Commons recognition for the “ideals and values” of their favourite show.
Linlithgow, the official future birthplace of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott in 2222, organised their own celebration for aficionados over the weekend with a special screening of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan within Linlithgow Palace walls and under the stars.
We had popcorn. We had special messages beamed up from Simon Pegg and Trek director Nicholas Meyer. And best of all, we had Scotty on the big screen with the rest of the original Star Trek crew. By the time we got to the scene where he played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, our emotional dilithium crystals probably couldn’t take much more.
Of course, not everyone is transported by a long-cancelled television series and movie franchise. Star Trek has never been cool, and my friend Allan has always maintained that turning a fictional engineer played by a portly Canadian in a Scottish hero is practically a second Darien scheme, a moment where Scotland takes a collective holiday from reality.
It is slightly baffling why Trek gets such an enthusiastic endorsement by the SNP, given that it’s set in a future where there are no nationalists, and that Scotty is practically a photon-torpedo bombardment of hokey Scottish stereotypes. Besides bagpipe solos and feats of engineering, James Doohan used to boldly patrol the transporter room minting faux Scotticisms like “That’ll put the haggis on the fire” in a brogue that crash-landed somewhere in the middle of the Irish Sea. Inevitably, he also liked a dram: in one episode, he pulls out a rare whisky and drinks an alien under the table. Now, the reboot gives us Simon Pegg’s Mk2 Scotty, who calls extra-terrestrials “lassie” and yearns for plates of neeps and tatties. Like Doohan, his accent is a sporran affair. But so what? Real Scots can sound phony too (can’t they, Lulu, Sheena Easton and Gerard Butler?)
Maybe other Scottish traits live long and prosper within Star Trek. Captain Kirk and Dr McCoy clearly have Scots ancestry in their family tree, as do Lieutenantst Kelso, Galloway, McGivers, Leslie and Yeoman Ross. What are tribbles, except haggis that have stopped shaving? And Scots have always had wanderlust, although it takes slightly less time to travel through outerspace at Warp Factor 5, than it does to get out of Stornoway on a Sunday. And the conclusive proof that Star Trek is Scots: like every redblooded Scotsman when the temperatures roar past 16 degrees, Kirk never needs a second bidding to go shirtless.
Apple has made some changes to their new phone. The iPhone 7 is waterproof so that when you lose their new £159 wireless earphones, your tears won’t make your mobile short circuit.
Despite being credited at the end of every episode, it’s been a restful couple of weeks for the Farming Consultant of The Archers. Lately all talk of fatstock prices, dairy management and pesticides have been suspended to make way for the trial of Helen Titchener, accused of attempting to murder husband Ghastly Rob. While the rest of us, even Archers agnostics, have been sucked into the storyline, I imagine the farming consultant floating blissfully on a lilo in Tenerife, trying not to look at the vegetable polytunnels on the hillsides beyond the pool
Back at home, the showstopper on Sunday has been the jury deliberations, where guest stars Nigel Havers, Catherine Tate and Eileen Atkins seemed to have a script closely patterned after 12 Angry Men, with every juror revealing their own convenient set of easily unpacked prejudices.
How close was all this to real life? I’ve never done jury service, but the person at the other end of the sofa seems to be called into court almost as often as Donald Finlay.
“Were you appointed foreman of your last jury because the other jurors thought a man who could organise his CD collection according to who was playing bass guitar, was capable of organising the facts of a case?”
“No,” he said, reaching to change the channel to 6 Music. “I was voted foreman because I was the only one who could finish the Little Stinker crossword during our teabreaks”
A drive around Argyle yesterday included getting trapped behind a rusty caravan with balding tyres, and a Garfield cat clinging to a back window sealed with gaffer tape. An hour’s trundle on a single track road gives you plenty of time to contemplate irony, especially when the mobile home has a manufacturer’s badge that lays claim to “Panache”. It’s like having a portaloo called “Cachet”
I didn’t actually know that Emily Thornberry was shadow foreign secretary. Then again, apparently she only found out herself before being interviewed by Sky News. So when presenter Dermot Murnaghan asked her to name the French foreign minister, and then the South Korean president — and she failed to name either — Emily became very angry.
Not “Great British Bakeoff going to Channel 4” angry, but certainly cross enough to accuse the presenter of sexism.
This is an enterprising new interpretation of sexism, since the question wasn’t about hair, clothes, kids or ladyplumbing. Is knowing your counterpart in another country sexist, or even unreasonable, when you have been in the job for 9 months?
Real sexism lies in weaselly questions about “life/work balances” to women with kids, or “what’s it like to be a woman in a man’s world”. Even well-intentioned inquiries can be clunky. While producing a show about high achievers, I eventually forbade the presenter from asking every woman “are you a feminist” because a) they all were and b)he never asked the men the same thing.
If Murnaghan had really wanted to embarrass Thornberry, he’d have asked her to name the rest of the shadow cabinet. Instead she was allowed to bluster that her interview was being turned into “a pub quiz”. Ironically, Emily Thornberry may now have become a pub quiz question.
New research suggests that “starchiness” should be added to the five basic tastes that humans can detect in food. Home cooks have now responded: “Look, if you don’t like it, you can just say so.”
Calories: lots, thanks. Alcohol units: 8 (v bad), and still early. Cigs: 0 (don’t smoke and could never Vape since Vaper looks like disconsolate dragon). Weight (public interest immunity certificate)
Bridget Jones is back this weekend: older but presumably none-the-wiser since the trailers for Bridget Jones’s Baby flag up love triangles, uncertain infant parentage and falling into the mud at Glastonbury.
Once she was an icon of the 1990s, a time when a singleton kept a diary instead of a blog, wrote down calories instead of logging them onto My Fitness Pal, and had a mum fix her up for a date, instead of spending awkward evenings sitting with underwhelming men from Match.com or Tinder.
Back when she was a weekly column in the Independent, I was rather fond of Bridget (“Diets are not there to be picked and mixed but picked and stuck to, which is exactly what I shall begin to do once I’ve eaten this chocolate croissant.”) but by the time she reached books and movies she’d transitioned into a patron saint of forced silliness.
Today she’s more of a missed opportunity. In the new film she’s 43, still played by Renee Zellweger, but about as relevant as a Westlife CD. One in five women aged 45 has never given birth to a child; only 67% of weddings mark the first marriage for both partners; nine in every 100 women are gay or bisexual.
Our lives may have changed but Bridget is unmoved by most social shifts. In 2016 she’s still a holdout for the powerballad, despite most modern love stories resembling songs by the Pogues: lots of shambolic activity, dogs howling, scruffy fiddlers trying to catch your eye, and everyone drinking.
Trade Secretary Liam Fox has been roundly trashed for saying that British business is too lazy and fat, but it’s terribly unfair to say the East Kilbride Tory has never run a business, generated wealth, or given anybody a job because without Dr Fox, parliamentary expenses auditors would be twiddling their thumbs. Let’s hope the MP tackles cronyism next, with the help of his longtime special adviser Adam Werrity.