20 Dec 2014

The Search for Scottish Identity #2

ImagiNation: Stories of Scotland's Future Bryan Beattie and Gerry Hassan
ImagiNation - Stories of Scotland's Future
On the shelf is ImagiNation: Stories of Scotland's Future, edited by Bryan Beattie and Gerry Hassan

ImagiNation, published in 2011, before the indy bandwagon rumbled into bombination, is one of several anthologies which have asked writers to look at Scotland's identity.

Maybe they should have called this book BombiNation?  

Why do we ask our writers to embark on these exercises in identity-seeking, and what business is it of theirs, anyway?

It's because nations are most easily identified by their languages.  Even if reading is a minority sport we still expect our writers to think about these things on our behalf, "because words are their business".

So come on then, let's read ImagiNation.

Now first, before anything more be said, whoever came up with that title ImagiNation should have their funding removed.  

Then they should be obliged to swim into the Pentland Firth dragging the hundred-weight of unsold copies of the book behind them, swimming for Orkney and Shetland and apologising to booksellers via a megaphone (*more below).  

Then and only then should whoever came up with that atrocity be allowed to follow their real dream of opening a  hairdressers called Curl-Up and Dye, or British Hairways, or Combing Attractions etc. 

Either way, they should never be allowed to publish in this country again.


Over the years, the anthologies of Scottish writing have been a real-hit and miss bunch and one of the reasons for this is that they often feature recycled material.

Alan Warner may demonstrate this with a piece called It All Pours Down Like Silver.  The story is consistent with his work as it features an unusual Highland outcast, Rasta Angus, and having heard that name you can imagine some of the rest of it.

To call the rest of ImagiNation a rehash would be unfair, and yet James Robertson's introduction (great title: The Curious Time-Piece of Scottish Identity) is a rewrite of an article he did for The Herald.  It's a good essay but nobody hasn't manage to edit out the taste of newspaper, and it is just wrong.  Already I feel sour.  These anthologies are supposed to be special, but this one feels like an annual, or a quick-browse almanac.

There is a teacher story by Jane Alexander called Ninety-Nine Tae Wan Against, which as an object lesson did give me something to think about:  why is the title in Scots, and the entire story is in English?  Could this be the smoking gun?

Find also in ImagiNation, a very decent poem by Tom Pow called The Village, which was such blessed relief when reading the huge majority of the prose in this book is like wading through cement; Alice Walsh; Raman Mundair; a poem by Michael Rigg makes it  no lighter; a five paged sneeze by Allan Massie.  Of Ronald Frame, Allan Radcliffe, I spent longer reading their biographies at the back of ImagiNation than I did reading their respective contributions Borrowed Landscape and The Transformation, and I got as far as the word 'Scotia' in Benjamin Werdmuller's contribution.

I cannot comment on Mark McNay's I Could Feel Them Melting; Sam Irving's Naeb'dy's Chiel showed potential; not until we come to Angus Peter Campbell are we able to relax and appreciate a reading experience of any sort. Thank fuck for Angus Peter Campbell!

Bill Duncan; Helen Jackson; a cartoon called The Wave of Change by Ciarin Slavin that was sore on the eye.  Cynthia Rogerson; Donald McKenzie; Kirsty Logan.  If you had to pick ONE to be trapped in a waiting room with, it would probably be Kirsty, and her 100 Years of Wifehood.


I didn't and here's why.  Nothing could prepare a reader of ImagiNation for Welcome to the Hotel Caledonia, which is just as embarrasing as the title ImagiNationWelcome to the Hotel Caledonia is proof that the essay assignment "Scottish identity" is a straitjacket for writers.

This is probably because everything that needs to be said about identity has already been said, leaving only the gratting sound of the common moan.  Hotel Caledonia defaults with no delay to the "it's shite being Scottish" speech from Trainspotting and begins in cringeworthy fashion with a song, obviously sung to the tune of The Eagles' classic:

On a dark highland B road
Dreich mist in your hair
Slight smell of damp sheep shit
Rising up through the air.

The lead part in Hotel Caledonia, controversially a sexy immigrant woman, fights her boss, the capitalist highland hotelier, simply called 'Manager', while local young drinker Gavin falls in love with her and discovers that the tourist image of Scotland, so-called, is shite.

I would rename Hotel Caledionia "Fannies and Epiphanies" for the amount of prolonged monologging that goes on, and while fancying itself as a critical attack on Scottish stereotypes, manages to be the most cliche ridden thing since Harry Lauder sang That's The Reason Noo I Wear A Kilt.

Luckily, no single writer takes the blame for Hotel Caledonia, which reads like an lengthy literary loogie hawked up by some 10 year olds who have just seen their first ever Kenny Everett sketch. To further complicate the process of writing-by-committee, the writers of Hotel Caledonia were allowed to place short stories in the middle of the playscript, which they presumably read out in the theatre? Alan Bissett's comment piece about the fences of old Falkirk is probably the best bit of the play.  He says:

Someone bought a house: they changed their front door, and built a fence.  A fence was a clear sign to the neighbourhood that the person who lived behind it was a property-owner.  Then someone else would buy their home and their was a bigger fence.  People still spoke to each other from their gradens in the summer, just now they were leaning on fences to do it.  As the eighties became the nineties, the fences were too high for poeple to see over.  The parties stopped.  New neighbours came and went without people really knowing  anything about them.  We were all middle class now.


I need to add here that printing a map of Scotland that omits the Shetland and Orkney Islands, as does the cover of ImagiNation is never a good idea.  

Isn't it the sort of thing done by the Alba-phobic, colonising English idiots that feature in some of the stories in this publication?

How did anybody manage to compose an anthology on Scottish identity and brand it with a map which misses out Scotlands north-eastern island groups? 


By far the best contributions to ImagiNation are the cartoons such as Luvvable 'Lex The Wester Hailes Wankg by Rob Miller.

After reading those guys I've listed above, the cartoons appear as simple oases of delight. Luvvable Lex is philosophical, charming, although it would sound like Irvine Welsh if I described it to you: death in a hoodie, the dole, junkies and drink.

Luvvable Lex by Rob Miller
Luvvable Lex by Rob Miller
Luvvable Lex by Rob Miller

Death in a hoodie - Luvvable Lex by Rob Miller

Not quite as good is another cartoon, audit by nulsh.  It's a comedy in which a Scots person of the future comes back to the present to find that people are the same everywhere you go.  

In classic-Scottish-self-loathing-as-identity mode, nulsh's visitor from the future declares that his Scotland is just like Scotland's present - 'actually quite shit.'

"Yet we struggle to understand what 'identity' means."  
That should say it all and be a good time to leave it

ImagiNation: The Final Verdict
issued by guest judge HUGH MACDIARMID

Hugh says:  "Fegs! Wid ye kindly consider identity in Scottish literature through my fine poem Hokum, in which I contrast myself as a poor penniless poet, against the mass preference for stereotyped rubbish, as represented in my day by Harry lauder, Willl Fyffe, the sentimental J.J. Bell and the eminent critic Lauchlan Maclean Watt.  Here is what I wrote:
It isna fair to my wife and weans,
It isna fair to mysel'
The day's lang by when Gaels gaed oot
To battle and ay fell.
I wish I was Harry Lauder,
Will Fyffe or J.J. Bell,
— Or Lauchlan Maclean Watt
For the maitter o' that!
— Dae I Hell!

To demonstrate that little headway has been made in the seemingly eternal quest for Scottish identity, let us upgrade that poem for the early twenty-first century:
It isna fair to the publishers,
Tae gie this ony truck
The day's lang by when the kailyard died
Though we still peddle this muck
I wish I was Irvine Welsh,
Or had Ewan McGregor's luck
— Or Martin Compston's
For the maitter o' that!
— Dae I Fuck!

The Full Roll of Shame and List of Contributors to ImagiNation are: 

James Robertson, Alan Warner, Angus Peter Campbell, Cynthia Rogerson, Tom Pow, Raman Mundair, Bill Duncan, Allan Massie, Kirsty Logan, Mark McNay, Ronald Frame, Allan Radcliffe, David Greig, Rona Munro, William Letford, Peter Arnott, Gerry Hassan, Alan Bissett, Morna Pearson, Alan Wilkins, Rob Miller, Chris Watson, David Tomei, Ciaran Slavin, Nulsh, Alice Walsh, Michael Rigg, Sam Irving, Helen Jackson, Jane Alexander, Benjamin Werdmuller and Donald McKenzie.

Harry Lauder - That's The Reason Noo I Wear A Kilt (1911)