England with the sound down.

England can beat Italy and win the Euros. They’re playing at home and favourites. Even I’ll admit that. I’m not anti-English, and I don’t mind them winning the odd game. Although I was never there, I’ve telly memories of Scotland going to Wembley on the fitba specials, beating England, tartan clad hordes of Bay City Roller fans stealing the goalposts and ripping up the turf and eating it to show how hard we were. Payback for all those invasions memorised in Braveheart with Mel Gibson, an Aussie, kidding on he was Scottish, showing the English soldiers who was boss by painting his face two-tone blue and wherever colour he had left on his shitey hand. Wiggling his bare bum at them. Now, he’d just have jumped in a fountain at Trafalgar Square and hung a traffic cone from a statue of Winston Churchill’s baldy napper. But it’s not about us.

England had some fantastic players and have underachieved since their World Cup Win in 1966. Their nemesis Germany in the Euros were a shadow of the teams that used to beat England regularly in World Cup and European competition and send them home to think again. England got a bye into the semi-final. Ukraine had the kind of defensive failures that even a diddy Celtic team last season would have found unfathomable. Every corner or free kick was a goal, or near miss. Denmark should have taken England to penalties after extra-time. But Raheem Sterling fell over in the penalty box. Golden boy, Harry Kane’s penalty was saved, but he finished the rebound. Everything that can go right for England has, and now they’re one game away.

The only time I turned the sound back up was when Denmark scored. They didn’t roll over and capitulate as they were supposed to. Italy had a marathon game against Spain. It was one of the games of the tournament. I’d have preferred Spain to have won that one, because they were the best footballing team in the Euros and would have taken England apart. Rio Ferdinand’s contention that England would have beaten both of those teams is the kind of patronising shite we’re used to hearing. But he did tell a story that puts this into context. Playing against Sergio Busquets (and Xavi and Iniesta), the Barcelona player feigned recognition of the England international.  ‘Ferdinand, boom, boom,’ said Busquets, emphasising his willingness to launch it, and not play the ball out from the back.

England are not so much a boom boom team in the Euros, but Pickford does launch it, and not always to his own players. But neither are Italy an open, attacking team. Playing at home, England will be expected by their adoring fans to take the game to the Italians. That will suit them. They’ll sit in and hit on the break. They’re not Ukraine, likely to fold and give England the run of the park. The Italians have better players than Denmark, but they’re not Spain. Ironically, the Italians will miss a left back that plays with his right foot. And most of their attacking flair comes from there. I’m sure Sterling will make another few dashes into the box and fall over. One of the ironies of the tournament is Sterling isn’t technically very good, certainly no match for Forlan, but he’s been one of the players of the tournament. The Italians will be ready for him. I certainly hope so. The sound will be off as I watch the final.  

Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer


Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0535lq5/billy-connolly-portrait-of-a-lifetime

Billy Connolly might well be Scotland’s greatest export after whisky. Both ITV and BBC are competing to squeeze the last dregs of life out of The Big Yin. I’ve checked, he’s not dead yet. But he does have motor- neurone disease and he’s coming up for seventy-five. He said it himself, other people’s success tend to form an inverted U-shaped curve. His success is of the hockey-stick variety. Everything he shites turns to gold. Even his doodles are framed, exhibited as art in Glasgow’s People’s Palace. He’s come a long way from strumming a banjo and being a Humblebum. Remember Baker Street and Gerry Rafferty? Unlikely, unless you’re an old codger. Here’s a reminder. I once danced to this song, or at least moved my feet, which was much the same thing.

Billy Connolly conquered Scotland with his Wellie boots and took on the bigots with his Crucifixion.  He conquered London, by which I mean England, when he appeared on The Parkinson Show in 1975. But the Big Yin wasn’t as big as Benny Hill. Remember him? Semi-nude woman and eye rolling and a chase that went on for an hour.  That was comedy then. They’d chase you for that now. For drama try on Frankie Miller.  Billy Connolly had a part in Peter McDougall’s  Just A Boy’s Game, one of the Play’s for Today, everybody in Scotland watched and said—fuck—that’s us in Glasgow around 1979, the time of the first Referendum.  

Now fuck off with Boris fucking Johnson. It wasn’t until Braveheart in nationwide cinema that its small-screen reach could be matched and let’s face it, Braveheart was Mel Gibson chalked blue and talking shite.  But in the United States, where they they’re not keen on anyone that’s not American and even then they’re a bit iffy, Billy Connolly is known. He’s a brand. That Scottish guy with the hairy face that’s been in a couple of films, nobody much watched.  But Billy Connolly’s loaded anyway, so that makes him half American. It doesn’t matter. He’s one of us.

I’ll tell you a secret, I remember Billy Connolly and I heard his jokes, but I didn’t laugh. I’m funny that way. I get them, I really do. He’s a representation of the guy we all know that’s funny as fuck.  Connolly is a nostalgia feedbag for a better Scotland that you can strap over your nose to feel better. I like him better now. I often chuckle at his jokes now I know the punchline, in a way I never did then. Drumchapel, a desert wae windows—that’s genius, in anybody’s language.

Billy Connolly is still working, he must have Cadogan Street on his back. 5000 folk died while waiting to be re-assessed and that’s no joke. That’s the Scotland we live in now, so there’s a lot to be said for nostalgia.

While the BBC archives are trawled for stuff that tells the Billy Connolly story it’s wrapped around a poor man’s excuse—it’s all about art. Here’s the sketch, three different artists get to paint a picture of the Big Yin. Cover your ears, I never thought I’d say I was a conservative, but see that modern art-shite. I’ve really got no standards worth talking about. Here’s my preference reading from left to far right:     John Byrne, Jack Vettriano and Rachel Maclean.

Carl MacDougall (2001) Painting the Forth Bridge: A Search for Scottish Identity.

painting the forth bridge.jpg

I’m sure I’ve got a Scottish identity. You might have one too.  I wasn’t looking for mine, but here it is. We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns.  It doesn’t lie in that ear squeal we hear on every channel when counting down to New Year. Or the cheuctering twirling plaid and stripping the willow. Or the Scottish and Rye of The Still Game. These to me are fanny water.

Listen instead to Anton Chekhov in A Dreary Story which sounds to me very Scottish, and not just a remark about the weather, he offered the observation ‘Tell me what you want, and I will tell you who you are’.

Funnily enough as Roman Catholic of quasi-Irish parentage I want much the same as the individual described by Edwin Muir ‘as the most important figure in Scottish history’.  I want the same as John Knox. ‘I want a school in every parish, a college in every town and a university in every city…and regular, organised provision for the poor.’ In other words, I want to be Norwegian.

The only thing that seems to unite Scots is summed up by Sorley MacLean in the fact we’re not English. We’re not a Braveheart nation, but we are a nation. The future in not in the cheviot, the stag or the black, black oil, even although more of the black stuff has been found in the North Sea. Fossil fuels are the past. The future is green. Scotland can be one of the greenest nations in the world. Let us adapt to it together and stop listening to rich men’s lies. And in the words of Norman MacCaig let Scotland and its people be like its ballads and poetry of the people and for the people:

All of them different –

Just as a stoned crow

Invents ways of flying

It had never thought of before

No wonder now he sometimes

Suddenly lurches, stalls, twirls sideways,

Before continuing his effortless level flight

So high over the heads of people

Their stones can’t reach him.