This is a festive gift from me to you, dear readers, to be sung to the tune (or at least read to the rhythm) of “Mr Brightside” by The Killers – credit to my friend Imogen for sparking this splendid idea. Share away if you like!



Christmas lights are ablaze
It smells of chestnuts and pine
Gotta gotta get out
Deliver gifts to all
I’d started making a list
How did it end up like this?
It was only a list

Now I’ve schedules to keep
But the weather looks bad
Chimneys filling with smoke
Sack’s becoming a drag
Now I’m boarding the sled
And my reindeer are sick
Got a full night ahead
But I’m needing a

Rest now
Beard down to my chest now
Starting to snow

And I just can’t look
It seems to me
A freezing hellhole

Skimming trees
Whiteout, I can barely see
Sleet and hailstones in my eyes
Can’t eat any more mince pies
But it’s just the price I pay
Christmas Eve is calling me
Boy, I hope my sleigh still flies…


[repeat lyrics above]

(Ode to Joy-esque solo)




Season’s Greetings, y’all.




Oh. Right.

Today is National Poetry Day 2015, then. As you might tell, it has crept up on me, entirely unannounced, which is slightly shameful for one who ought to be abreast of poetical happenings in the world. Now that I do know, I’m enjoying all of the verses being shared by friends and colleagues and acquaintances, as well as poetry written especially for today – John Cooper Clarke’s “Ode to the Coast” being one of the better examples.

Anyway, here’s my offering for the day. It was written a few months back now, and I’ve performed it on a couple of occasions at spoken-word nights (and days), but this is the first time I’m releasing it to general scrutiny as a written piece. It didn’t make my final dissertation portfolio – too derivative – but I’m pleased with it nonetheless.



Thanks for trusting this kitten, you kittens
My ball of yarn all rain-bowed and silly-stringed
Sticking to everything.
It was needed, and your music
(Like all music I ran into)
Helped in ways indescribable
And I thank you for that dream.

It was a strange dream.
I was a good guy on a white steed
Drunk and high
My heart pouring out in a desert
With no one alive in sight
But everyone dying
For each moment I stumbled.


A dream.
The failed hero
The fool, not a king.
But a simple-pimple poindexter
Pigeon-toed in love and vexed
Can describe the sights and sounds swirling around
And the dangers that were found.

She, a beauty, and worth faith and trust
Walked beside the lost pup.
Though things are as they are
In time life will show the dead man’s hand
And what it truly was
For he had no cards, none
But an empty love-stained hand

And a pertinacity
To misspell every word
Uttered by man.

The Vow

Not, in case you’re trying to anticipate me, a post relating to anything at all regarding indyref. Instead, it’s the title bestowed upon a short story of mine, lovingly recorded and sent by a dear friend all the way from Finland as part of a Yuletide story project. Links to her channel(s) can be found “below the jump”, as they say (whoever they are).

Happy 2015!


Formula 1: End of Sector Two

Long story short, most of the trends I had spotted back in June have continued.

I suggested in the first report that Lewis Hamilton was his own worst enemy in his quest for the 2014 title, but now it seems his own Mercedes team are most likely to deny him the title now. He hasn’t had a sound qualifying since the Spanish Grand Prix, which he won. To recap – first there was “Mirabeau-gate” in Monaco, which cannot be proven as intentional by Nico Rosberg, but meant that Hamilton could not challenge him for pole either way. He made an error on his best lap in Canada and had to settle for second again. A spin on his last attempt in Austria, which may have been a brake bias problem or his own undoing, left him ninth. A misjudgement of weather conditions in Britain left him sixth. Brake failure resulted in a crash and starting at the back in Germany. And a catastrophic engine meltdown in Hungary resulted in a fire so severe that literally everything behind the front axle had to be rebuilt or replaced, not to mention a pitlane start.

Yet from those lowly starting positions in the last four rounds, he has clawed his way back to second, first, third and third respectively. True, Rosberg did have his own mechanical woes that led to his retirement from the British event, but it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that Hamilton would have clear air between himself and his teammate in the title race without these mishaps.

Red Bull’s Daniel “The Teeth” Ricciardo remains best of the rest, and a Pretty Cool Guy; he wears a honey badger on his helmet and doesn’t afraid of anything. Both his Canadian and Hungarian GP wins only came after daring overtaking manoeuvres in the dying laps, so you can never say he hasn’t worked for either. He also continues to be the most universally likeable bloke on the grid, which is perhaps even more remarkable than his winning ways alone – usually the two are mutually exclusive features. Sebastian Vettel (that’s quadruple reigning world champ Sebastian Vettel) remains winless, and more significantly, can’t seem to hold a candle to his new rival either in qualifying or in race craft.

Fernando Alonso is now the only driver maintaining a 100% pointscoring record in 2014, after Nico Hülkenberg’s run came to an end in the tyre wall at Hungary. Alonso came agonisingly close to a heroic win at the Hungaroring, and the fact that sixth place at the same event for Kimi Räikkönen was the Finn’s best result of the entire year speaks volumes for the chasm between the two Ferrari men in the drivers’ standings. Räikkönen is lucky still to be driving for the Prancing Horse for another reason – his 150mph spear into a bridge support on the opening lap at Silverstone measured a wincing 50g impact, enough to puncture through the Armco barrier and require the race to stop for an hour to repair it (the right call, whatever nonsense Niki Lauda cares to spout otherwise).

Williams still have the uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were the first and thus far only drivers to break Mercedes’ stranglehold on qualifying when they locked out the front row in Austria, yet they still ended up fourth and third at the flag without having looked like trying to take the fight to the Silver Arrows. Massa has also shown an unfortunate propensity for being involved in blameless collisions with other drivers, whether on the last lap in Canada with Sergio Pérez, or on the first laps in Britain and Germany with Räikkönen and Kevin Magnussen respectively. The car is clearly very, very good indeed, but it seems to be in the hands of a team who are so used to being backmarkers that they don’t know quite how to handle their sudden return to success.

Force India have made significant strides in the wrong direction over the summer months. From being podium finishers in Bahrain, they now struggle for top-10 results; things hit a nadir in Hungary as Hülkenberg and Pérez collided on track, before ending their races in separate accidents. Happily for fans of McLaren, meanwhile, they have gone on an upward trend, to the stage where they sit a single point behind Force India in the standings, and look set to surpass them at the next race. Magnussen and Jenson Button seem fairly evenly matched, which doesn’t bode well for the Englishman, given the vast difference in their levels of experience at the top of the sport.

Jean-Éric Vergne hasn’t exactly been awful this year – it’s just that Daniil Kvyat has been marginally better, and with two years’ less running than the Frenchman. Both, however, have been frustrated by chronic reliability issues with their cars. It might be a sign of my own growing old, but my initial reaction to the news of Toro Rosso signing nappy-dweller Max Emilian Verstappen (his full name, no joke) to replace Vergne for the 2015 campaign was one of jaw dropping and guttural choking. The day I became older than a current driver on the starting grid (to wit, when Sauber signed Esteban Gutiérrez at the start of 2013) was bad enough, but Verstappen is 16 years old. Sixteen! He can’t even legally drive a road car in the UK and he’s a frickin’ F1 driver! For his sake I hope he doesn’t score a podium finish in the first year, because it’ll just be embarrassing for all when the police confiscate his champagne on the rostrum and slap him with an ASBO.

Closer to the present day, two abrupt driver replacements at the back end of the grid have left everyone scratching their heads. Max Chilton vacated his Marussia seat over “contractual issues” for American racer Alexander Rossi to make his début, only for the team to reverse their decision a few hours later. Chilton’s accountant later apologised for being late to write this month’s cheque. Kamui Kobayashi, meanwhile, has made way for Germany’s Andre Lotterer – a 32-year-old former Le Mans winner with precisely zero F1 experience. Quite where the demand for Lotterer’s presence in the team came from is a bit of a mystery, though his manager did recently adopt a position as an “adviser” to the Caterham executive board…

Still, anything could be worth giving Caterham the surprisingly realistic chance to catch any of the three teams immediately above them in the championship table. Lotus’s woeful season continues to be an unfunny joke for Romain Grosjean’s frittering talent, while Pastor Maldonado continues to be an unfunny joke to the entire paddock – I’ve seen the crash he had in Belgian third practice three times, and short of actually having his eyes closed coming towards the Pouhon corner, I can’t work out how he managed to screw up so badly. Erstwhile respectably mid-grid Sauber are having a quieter, yet equally desperate year – still planted on nul points after eleven rounds, they face their worst showing in over two decades as a constructor, unless Gutiérrez or Adrian Sutil can better one of their many 11th or 12th places into the top-10 result they so desperately need.

Right, Spa kicks off in under half an hour. Once more unto the breach!



Oor Ain Wee Spot

The second weekend in June played host to the Selkirk Common Riding, the oldest of the Ridings events in the Scottish Borders. For the uninitiated, this centuries-old tradition incorporates a series of festivities in the town, the centrepiece of which is a cavalcade of several hundred horses galloping around the perimeter of the Royal Burgh, ensuring the town’s ancient boundaries are in good order (i.e. no pesky Sassenachs have invaded the territory).

Despite being raised in the nearby village of Ashkirk and attending Selkirk High School, I was never interested in the Common Riding myself. Even in primary school whilst being taught the lyrics to “Auld Selkirk” and “Hail Smilin Morn” it didn’t seem relevant – I only went to my first ride-out last year because my Polish girlfriend was intrigued. That’s when the penny dropped. After the Standard Bearer returns, having found the town’s boundaries to be unsullied and free from English intrusion, the ceremony concludes with, erm, a Union Flag being hoisted, and a rendition of “God Save the Queen”. I realised it’s not the irrelevance that bothers me now – it’s the rank hypocrisy.


The Royal Burgh Standard on its way around the perimeters of the town. Photo by Walter Baxter, used under Creative Commons licence.

A cursory poll of my Facebook friends reveals that at the latest count 22 are followers of Yes Scotland, and 28 of Better Together. Two, one a Borderer, have joined both, but of remaining friends from the Borders alone, just four are Yes while a whopping 15 are No. It’s hardly a rigorous scientific analysis, but it certainly seems to reflect the leaning of the region (it’s worth noting that the wealthy rural constituencies adjacent to England tend to be Scotland’s Tory havens).

I was inspired by my good friend and neighbour Gabriel Neil to contribute to this site my own experience in becoming an independence supporter. Being a few years younger than Gabe, my own earliest recollections of international affairs include Princess Diana’s death, the Good Friday agreement, and the “beef on the bone” scandal. With the World Cup under way, another memory coming to mind is of a television being wheeled into the primary school classroom so we could watch England games at the 2002 event. Again, despite being but a wee lad, I had the inkling that something wasn’t quite right about this arrangement. I don’t go proactively against English sporting endeavour (the media hype surrounding said endeavour is another matter), but why were we to assume support for them in Scotland’s absence? Why not Ireland, or France, or, I don’t know, Sweden? Costa Rica? Each seemed to make as much sense.

I’ve always been a bit obstinate when it comes to trends, a hipster before hipsters were cool, so in my teens I decided that I wanted to add to that by being a political rebel. Approaching the 2005 election I took a partiality to the Tories on the sole premise that Labour had taken us into Iraq, and they were the vessels making the most audible noise against the Labour government. I was also a great fan of Boris Johnson’s wittering ways, and made the semi-serious point of penning “Vote4 Boris” on my knuckles the day he was elected Mayor of London. By the end of high school, having actually looked at their policies, I realised the foolishness of my ways, and went for the safer option of backing the Monster Raving Loonies for a while.

My time at Abertay University has probably shaped my views more than anything else. I dabbled in student politics, advocating a friend’s campaign for the Student Association’s vice-presidency, and ran for the executive committee myself. But more than this, I was able to experience a diversity of cultures, nationalities and backgrounds far beyond anything I had encountered at home. I’ve made friends from all areas of England, Ireland, Spain, Finland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Cameroon, India, Russia and the USA, and many other places in between. I’ve met a few people with money to lavish on owning cars and frequenting expensive nightclubs, but I’ve met many more who worship at the altar of reduced-price supermarket shelves, and scavenge furniture from second-hand traders, or even pick up thrown-out items from the street.



In my first year of student living I worked out how to produce a three-course dinner for two for 96 pence. Thrift is sexier than you’d think.

The independence debate crept up on me gradually over the last couple of years. I guess a part of the initial appeal of Yes for me, as described above, was the unyielding dissident within – the chance to be part of a seismic revolution in history. A wise man once said that if you can’t figure out what to do in life, find something bigger than you and devote yourself to it. Other than some global catastrophe (or world peace) I can’t imagine a much bigger change in my or anybody else’s life on a macro level than the redrawing of international borders.

Since graduation, I’ve spent stints of varying months in the dole queue, in a bank, in a call centre, as a charity canvasser, and volunteering with homeless organisations. I come from a relatively affluent middle-class family, but I’ve been made starkly aware of the tribulations of being unable to find work in 21st century Britain, and the London-centric nature of the jobs market. Fellow alumni of Abertay – bright, intelligent, assiduous people with good degrees – have taken almost a year to find even short-term contract jobs; others simply gave up on Scotland and moved south. Then there’s the plight of homeless people in every other shop front, and the prevalence of food banks. Sites like Wings and National Collective, not to mention Private Eye and some of the mainstream media, have opened my eyes to the imbalances and injustices entrenched in an ostensibly equal union of nations.

I don’t advocate change for change’s sake, but what real alternatives are there to the flagrant right-wing authoritarians of Westminster? Being a typically fresh-faced and optimistic student, I too voted Liberal Democrat at the 2010 elections, and the rest of that tale is history; they are discredited beyond repair as long as Nick Clegg is at the helm. The Conservatives are the Conservatives. Labour have the ineffectual Ed Miliband leading them, and in any case daren’t go any farther left of the Tories than they need to in order to challenge for the pivotal Middle England seats. And UKIP are just plain terrifying.



Exhibit A.


I am one of those creatures deemed a myth by many in the No camp – an independence supporter who does not blindly follow the SNP. I’d say my politics sit somewhere between the Nationals and the Greens, which is why I have no desire to become a subscriber to either party – neither alone matches my views closely enough. Ironically, a Scottish Labour with traditional working-class values in its veins would probably be more appealing to me than either of those. A pity that such a thing doesn’t exist.

Having said all this, I remain a sceptic by nature, and until I’ve marked my X on the ballot paper, I will never say my position is absolute. There are poor and fallacious assertions and shouting, stupid voices on each side. “Impartial” statistics and “expert” analyses are rallied back and forth amongst the mudslingers, confounding even the most hardened of debaters. But in most cases I have found the final undisputed word has come down on the side of favouring independence.

Moreover, Yes commentators frequently cross into No territory to dispel arguments, whereas the converse is far more rare. Some undecided friends have expressed concern that the Yes campaign is “aggressive”, and that it is going to create “partisanships” among the Scottish populace. Unfortunately for them, the fact we’ve reached a referendum in the first place means divisions are inevitable, and in any given debate the side promoting change from the status quo are the ones who need to be forceful, almost polemic, to overcome the apathy and reservation they meet by default.

If it’s a No vote on 18th September, I think I may emigrate to Poland and become an English teacher. Even if mój polski nie jest bardzo dobra it’s a wonderful place, and the prospect of staying looks ominous whoever gets into Westminster in 2015. But if there’s a Yes vote, I’ll be more excited than I can ever recall to engage with the cultural scene in my country and the world at large – be it in politics, in poetry, in philosophy, wherever. A totally blank sheet would be daunting, but with strong foundations from the existing country in place we don’t even have that to worry about. It’s more of a paint-by-numbers thing, where all we have to do is decide on the colours. I can feel it – this is the start of something good.


EDIT: changed the first image by request of copyright holder. My apologies to him again.

F1 2014: End of Sector One

Circumstances (read: incompetence, laziness, occasional lack of internet / interest) mean I have yet ever to follow a full season of Formula 1 racing through to its conclusion in any blog. I’ll try to address that this year by reducing my ambitions to general segmented reviews when I see fit – or can fit.


The obvious story of the year has been the meteoric speed of Mercedes. One of their two cars has topped fourteen out of eighteen practice sessions. Neither has qualified off the first two rows, Nico Rosberg’s fourth on the grid in China being the “worst” performance. What’s more, a Mercedes has led every single lap of every race this season, at times scarpering into the distance two seconds per lap quicker than the other twenty entrants.


All this means the Silver Arrows leave the first three months of the season with five 1-2 finishes in six rounds, the only blot being Lewis Hamilton’s early exit from the Australian race with a misfiring piston. In 1988 the McLaren MP4/4 took fifteen poles and fifteen victories from sixteen rounds, and has been roundly considered the most dominant car ever produced, including Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari years. With a 100% rate in both categories thus far, there is every chance the Mercedes W05 may topple it.


Better still, it doesn’t equate to the supremacy that Sebastian Vettel enjoyed over the past few years, as neither Hamilton nor Rosberg has been able to establish himself over his most important rival. I waived supporting Hamilton before the start of 2014 – year after year of disappointing near-misses, car failures, driver errors and a poor attitude with the media were irritating, but his outspoken admiration for (convicted rapist) Mike Tyson was the final straw for me.


Jenson Button's pit radio in Melbourne: "What are the laptimes that the leaders are doing? ...obviously not the Mercedes, but the rest..."


[hover over pictures for captions]


Naturally, he has thrived since I disowned him, taking four wins on the trot and generally enjoying faster pace than his Teutonic teammate. However, Rosberg maintains his slightly fortuitous championship lead, and Hamilton’s well-publicised retorts after being defeated in, ahem, debatable style over the Monaco weekend highlight an emotional fragility one would have hoped he’d be well clear of by now. Ultimately, for all the media play up a head-to-head rivalry, I think the only man who can deprive Lewis Hamilton of his second world championship title is Lewis Hamilton.


Behind the runaway Mercs, the order has changed from track to track. Firstly, McLaren achieved a double podium finish at Albert Park, their first for over a year; debutant Kevin Magnussen remains the only non-Mercedes driver with a top-two finish so far this year. Since then, though, their performance at more traditional purpose-built circuits has left a lot to be desired – as well as a slow car, Magnussen has had more than his share of opening-lap bump and grind, whilst Jenson Button is just… going steady, to put it nicely.


Instead, Red Bull have usually taken over the mantle as best of the rest, but the real talking point is Daniel “The Teeth” Ricciardo’s apparent superiority over Vettel. I’ll concede that the reigning title holder has assumed levels of misfortune comparable to his erstwhile teammate Mark Webber, with turbo failures in Melbourne and Monte Carlo, and also gremlins in qualifying for Spain. But the Australian has outqualified the quadruple world champion four times out of the other five too, and is still outscoring him despite suffering a disqualification and retirement himself in the first two races. What’s up, Seb?


Anyone whose crash helmet has a honey badger emblazoned on the back with the caption "What Would He Do?" is already a winner in my book.


There’s little of great interest to say at Ferrari, meanwhile – Fernando Alonso continues to draw reputable results from the car like blood from a four-wheeled stone, and sits third in the standings as a result. Kimi Räikkönen, bar a good opening stint in Monaco, has underwhelmed, even in terms of producing amusingly sardonic soundbites. Team boss Stefano Domenicali was replaced after the Chinese race with Marco Mattiacci, though it remains to be seen whether this brings an upturn in fortunes. The Prancing Horses have now gone since 2008 without a constructors’ championship, and Räikkönen took their last drivers’ title in 2007; impressively, however, the last time they went an entire season without a single race win was way back in 1993. Chances of that particular streak surviving this year, though…


Of the habitual midfield teams, Force India have undoubtedly had the most success in the early part of 2014. Sergio Pérez achieved their first podium for five years with a jubilant third place in Bahrain, but it is the performance of Nico Hülkenberg that has stood out – an unbroken string of top-6 finishes lifting his team as high as second in the constructors’ standings at one stage. Hülkenberg himself is above both McLaren drivers and even Vettel, renewing the interminable murmurings about why he isn’t in a championship-contending team by now. Also, his pass of Magnussen going into the tunnel at Monaco is probably the boldest overtaking move I’ve yet seen this season.


On pace alone, the Williams cars should be beside or even ahead of Force India, but a number of driver errors and poor strategic calls on occasion have deprived them of several points opportunities. Matters were not helped in Malaysia when, whilst running seventh and eighth respectively, Felipe Massa refused to allow the faster Valtteri Bottas through to have a crack at Button’s McLaren ahead – echoes of his Ferrari days perhaps ringing a little too close to home. The team assure that there are no creeping interpersonal dramas, and they certainly can’t afford to have their drivers trip one another up if they are to take the results the car deserves.


Hitting a kerb during Bahrain practice is the closest Maldonado has come to "flying" all season.

I’ve never considered myself superstitious, and it bothered me for my whole F1-watching life that a sport associating itself with science, progression and modern thinking insisted for decades on no driver using the number 13 on their car. So when Pastor Maldonado chose the portentous figure for this season, for all I dislike him, I hoped fervently that he would defy the convention and prove the auspices incorrect. His first six results of 2014 have been: non-finish, non-finish, 14th, 14th, 15th and a non-start. Granted, the sinfully ugly twin-tusked Lotus car has been very unreliable throughout the early races, but he has only himself to blame for spearing Esteban Guttiérez’s Sauber into a somersault at Bahrain, spinning in first practice at China after being distracted by his steering wheel, clouting the pit wall in second practice of the same event, and another collision with Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham on the opening lap in Spain.


It doesn’t say much that Maldonado’s teammate Romain Grosjean is outperforming him, but I still feel for the Frenchman who, after a notoriously crash-filled 2012 season, had shown a genuine burgeoning talent in 2013 that is currently going to waste again. Unlike Maldonado, he at least has points on the board, thus keeping Lotus in touch with Toro Rosso in the standings. The “Red Bull B-team” began well with a double score in Australia but, like McLaren, have trailed off since. Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat are on an equal footing in terms of points scored, but while the former is technically ahead by grace of the higher finish, his rookie teammate has taken more points finishes, and on the whole looks the quicker prospect.


Down at the back, the once proudly midfield Sauber team have had a miserable opening to the season. Their best chance for points thus far was Monaco, and both Guttiérez and Adrian Sutil ended their weekends against the Armco barriers, a particular shame after Sutil had made some excellent passes into the Loews hairpin. Caterham are still Caterham – even the hiring of “Krazy” Kamui Kobayashi can’t seem to help them secure that first elusive top-10 result. And both have been completely overshadowed by Jules Bianchi’s meritorious ninth-place finish at Monaco, the first point-scoring result for Marussia at their 83rd attempt since joining the sport in 2010. It’s like Rochdale qualifying for the Champions League. Nothing else matters after an upset like that, although kudos must continue to go to Bianchi’s teammate Max Chilton, whose unblemished record of completing every race he has started has stretched well into his second year. Sometimes he doesn’t even finish last, either, and he has managed to out-qualify Bianchi twice.


The Marussia team's entire parts upgrade between Spain and Monaco cost a total of £2000. They reportedly celebrated their points milestone with ONE bottle of champagne between all 194 crew members. That's Yorkshire for you.

Of course, relative performances of drivers and teams are all well and good, but it matters squat if the racing isn’t up to scratch. What a relief, then, that the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix was the finest Formula 1 race I’ve seen since… oh, Canada 2011? Maybe even better than that – a sumptuous treat of wheel-to-wheel racing all the way through the field. I can watch the video highlights over and over and still not get bored of it. If the eleven minutes below are not enough to convince you of the excitement of open-wheel racing, I’m not sure anything will.


But enough of looking to the past. Qualifying in Canada has concluded (a Mercedes 1-2 at the top of the timesheets, quelle surprise) and the race commences in mere hours. I’ll probably report back next during the summer break.



Vroom vroom,