The Great War – YouTube channel.


YouTube is littered with pointless garbage (cat videos, webcam rants, ‘best fails’) that perplexingly garner millions of views; this, however, is one of the gem finds. A week-by-week account of the First World War told in ten-minute (or thereabouts) episodes, what impresses is the sheer volume of research and breadth of detail. As far as I know, the programme makers are not professional historians in the traditional sense or have emerged from the academic field, but everything is painstakingly researched and just as accessible as your weekly Gangnam Style and all that.

Perhaps this is the New History, online sources our breadcrumbs trail to books.


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Nil By Mouth (1997)


51RCE5V6KFLWith Gary Oldman tipped for his first Oscar after rave reviews for his impenetrable Churchill craic in Darkest Hour (2017), I watched a few of his most lauded performances, coming away from The Firm (1989) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) especially impressed. It was Nil By Mouth (1997), however, this his directorial debut in which he doesn’t star, which most remained.

I first saw it in 2002 at the recommendation of a classmate who broke 9/11 to me. It was because of such profound importance I attached to his statements that I rented (R.I.P. Blockbuster) this grim, thoroughly … grim movie. I’d seen Scum (1979), another Alan Clarke bit of Ray Winstone savagery, and Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993), but this was something else.

Despairing portraits of working-class life back in their Saturday Night and Sunday Morning heydey were always suggestive rather than explicit. Stuck-in-a-rut characters had their transient pleasures and, dare I say it, trivial pursuits. The Nil By Mouth (1997) equivalent to Albert Finney’s beer binges appears to be calamitous drug use, domestic terror, and injecting heroin in the back of a dirty van. This is a movie with no regard for aesthetic polish or even entertainment – it reminded me of one of those socially conscious photographs (Dorothea Lange) of the Great Depression or the slum tenements of New York in the 1890s.

I would skip the popcorn when watching Nil By Mouth (1997).

Further reading:

Full movie:

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Medieval globetrotters.

Concerning us riff raff in the Middle Ages, I pictured some plonker of my age birthed in a ditch and travelling in a lifetime no further than 30 miles from that manky hole in the ground. That was my preconception of life as a shackled-up member of the peasantry.

The thing is they *did* travel – it was an arduous, unforgiving task fraught with more dangers than a Saw movie, but there were, as recent research has illustrated, plenty of people who embraced the unknown and left their ‘shitholes’ simply for the pleasures of the destination, the exhilaration of seeing new things. The Canterbury Tales were ‘real life’.


I’ve yet to see a film forensically shed light upon the dangers and pitfalls of travelling in the Middle Ages – how it was done, the ordeal of the whole escapade. Imagine plodding hundreds, even thousands, of miles in heavily armed groups to reduce the dangers, the only knowledge of your destination that of hearsay, not a single image preparing you for the place.

Cinema needs a cracker about a penniless tradesman slogging it solo across all manner of mayhem, ‘Edmund’ from a Lancashire hovel on his epic mission to Florence. Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (2005) is the only flick in recent memory that with verisimilitude depicts some snippet of the gruelling nature of travel back in the dark days, this the late 12th century of the crusade and the crucifix.


I have this image of your stock member of the rabble doing anything to escape his lot (‘Nastybrutish and short‘), the grasping of even the most remote of opportunities, a former serf, now peasant, off exploring sans the protection of his noble.

I’ve met so many folk in Edinburgh who simply have no interest in seeing the world. It’s not their oyster; it’s an irrelevance. The sense of haughtiness applies even at the micro level – “Why would I want to sample Aldi when I have a Lidl on my doorstep?” Today’s by-choice non-travellers are a carbon copy of our image of the medieval peasantry. Either through poverty – a simple economic inability to explore – or through a self-cocooning belief that other places don’t belong to them, a large swathe of our populace travel proportionally less than their medieval counterparts. I don’t get it. Perhaps staying put it just easier and that’s the only explanation for it.

The dangers of travel are immeasurably less than in, say, 1418, yet the fears of tragic happenstance metastasise in the mind – pervasive news media can really pump the fear. It could be you on that AWOL Malaysia Airlines flight.

In a digital world which comes to you, there is less need to seek out the exotic. Video games and virtual reality are the modern-day pilgrimage, Amazon and eBay the trip into town.

Further reading:


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Gorgie/Dalry – then and now.


Some eerie, bittersweet photos in The Scotsman newspaper today of shopfronts in 1981 Gorgie and Dalry, all snaps taken by then-art student Catherine Stevenson.

Link to article:


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Frosty Boxing Day in Edinburgh’s suburbs.

IMG_20171226_091804350~3On most mornings I look around my Slateford surroundings and utter “What a shithole” under my breath. A combination of festive ice and a dearth of commuters gave me thankful chills this Boxing Day. And I didn’t slip on my arse. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

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The Central Park Bird Lady.

In every park in every city there’s an initially creepy but ultimately benevolent bird lady with a heart of pure gold. Please pass on a turtle dove (and some shampoo) to your resident hobo this Christmas.

N.B. The Bird Lady – her life story up until meeting Kevin McCallister – really should have been a movie prequel.

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Edinburgh – Gorgie ice age.

IMG_20171218_092258053_HDR~2Gorgie has finally approached full Ice-Mode so it is therefore officially winter in ‘God’s Country’. There’s nothing quite like the sight of a tracksuit-wearing ruffian bolting for the bus and slipping on his/her/its arse. In a rare Vanilla Sky-esque snap, we here witness the ghetto at its most pacific.

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Aberfeldy – doing nothing in the middle of nowhere.

This was a laugh, a fleeting jaunt up to some ridiculously ostentatious lodge in Perthshire – well it was until the taps froze. Ah, rum for brekky instead of water, and shower-free days spent sat on my hoop watching movies and munching Pringles.

I saw a deer who insouciantly wandered into our garden. Here’s the proof with a shitty photo:


I also played pool and rediscovered my childhood with a game of Buckaroo! Indolence, I’ll always embrace you.


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The Room/Disaster Artist.


Making art from … art?

The Room (2003) is fucking atrocious, there’s no denying it. And now we have The Disaster Artist (2017) – essentially the making of that train wreck – opening to rave reviews.

The former’s enduring fascination for audiences – and some of these cult fuckers have a drinking-the-Kool-Aid vibe about them – rests on the premise that no matter how appalling the picture is it warrants more repeat viewings than any other shitter out there in film history. It appears, in its apex moments, a movie made by an alien – that this alien had a crash course in filmmaking and declared itself the Orson Welles of the cosmos.

The Room (2003) is art, even more so than anything Andy Warhol ever shat out. Ed Wood (1994) is for me its paramour. A double-bill for the ages. Cinema gives us such lovely treats.

Further viewing/reading:




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Edinburgh’s Christmas Market.

IMG_20171127_103801004It’s here once more (with feeling). The Christmas Market on Princes Street has been setting up shop every November for what must be the last two millennia. There’s not much to it but tat peddled from wooden shacks, and a sickly, premature jingle bells atmosphere. One can hit the mulled wine and warm ciders, though. Any excuse for a piss-up. There is also an imposing fuck-off ferris wheel if you fancy gobbing on someone from an advantageous peak.

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