Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spion Kop

The new film adaptation of the seminal espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré owes as much to its sterling British cast as it does to the erstwhile foreigner at the helm. Rarely does a film trust its audience as much as Tinker, Tailor and the decision to hand over the directing to Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In, 2009) has unleashed what one hopes is the first in a line of intelligent adaptations of le Carré.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a retired cuckold thrust back into the grimy world of the secret service in order to track down a Soviet double-agent. Smiley is out to clear his own name in the eyes of his mentor, Control (John Hurt), who sets the benchmark for paranoia in “The Circus” of 1970′s MI6.

Secret service hoods Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and the insipid Estherhase (David Denick) comprise a cabal that Smiley must crack in order to track down the Russian mole. Each actor would be comfortably capable of carrying his own 90-minute vehicle, but here, every line is spoken by someone at the top of their game.

In 2002, when we were treated to the first of a trilogy of Jason Bourne novels adapted for the silver screen, the watchword was realism. James Bond had been replaced by a more cerebral, realistic spy and the aesthetic was as gritty as Bond had been glamorous.

It is hardly surprising that The Bourne Identity, voted the second greatest spy novel of all time in Publisher’s Weekly, should have made such a compelling trilogy. It certainly started a trend away from the meretricious world of Sean Connery’s MI6 spook and paved the way for Daniel Craig’s more spartan incarnation. It is also telling that topping the list was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the prequel to Tinker, Tailor.

With Tinker, Tailor the trend to nullify the Semtex and amplify the drama has taken us well beyond the measured assassinations and explosions of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne masterpiece: now we are in a world of people and places. We are introduced to a Budapest frozen in time, minarets sizzling in the distance while godless agents fill the bazaars. Alfredson casts London in a starring role and his unobtrusive selection of 1973 signifiers deftly builds the heavy atmosphere of a world on the brink.

Peter Straughan and his late wife, Bridget O’Connor, cannot be commended enough for constructing a screenplay that refuses to yield to the excess of so many modern thrillers. There is nothing unnecessary here, and Alfredson uses these restrictions to scintillating effect. Smiley has no words for the duration of his retirement, instead there are glimpses of vanity and isolation played out through bus-shelter reflections and lukewarm cups of tea.

This Tinker, Tailor is a period piece, far removed from Alec Guinness’ Smiley of the BBC adaptation. That was a contemporary drama, this is the Cold War re-imagined and endowed with hindsight. It hints at smoking rooms and bacolite rather than action or gadgets, and one can’t help but feel transported into the surrounding darkness.

Keep an eye out for some excellent supporting roles from the legendary Kathy Burke and the magnificently versatile Stephen Graham.

This article was published in its original form on

Categories: Articles, Blog

EdinburghGuide: London Roll Into Town For Major Test of Edinburgh’s Derby Mettle

Edinburgh’s very own roller derby team is set to take on one of the top teams in the country this Saturday. The Auld Reekie Roller Girls, or ARRG for short, ‘Twisted Thistles’ travel team will clash with the London Rollergirls ‘Brawl Saints’ at Meadowbank Stadium. It will be the first time two teams recognised by the world roller derby governing body have competed publicly on Scottish soil.

Zillah, who captains the Twisted Thistles, explained:

“This is a chance to see some of the best roller derby players in the UK competing against each other and I guarantee that it will be a hotly contested bout. It’s the first time that a game has ever been sanctioned by the WFTDA on Scottish soil, so both teams will be determined to win.”

The WFTDA is the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, a US-based governing body for the modern incarnation of the sport. Edinburgh’s team is the first league in Scotland to become a member, and one of the first in Europe. Derby has been popularized most recently by the 2009 Hollywood movie Whip It! – starring Ellen Page and directed by Drew Barrymore. Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen all have their own teams who play Edinburgh regularly.

“Roller derby is a rapidly growing sport in the UK and audiences are now realising how exciting it is to watch. The bouts are athletic and fast-paced and they show off the talents of highly-skilled players, so it is a great spectator sport.”

“Auld Reekie Roller Girls already have a passionate supporter base, but we hope to attract even more spectators to our upcoming bouts. This match against the London Rollergirls will be the ideal opportunity for anyone who is interested in the sport to come cheer us on and see the sport in action.”

The sport itself has roots in sports-entertainment-style exhibition bouts dating from the 1930s, but this modern take on roller derby got its start in Texas in 2000. It has since grown to include hundreds of skater-owned, mostly all-female leagues throughout the world. Edinburgh established its league in 2008. It includes around fifty skaters and is run on an entirely voluntary basis.

Roller Derby bouts are family-friendly affairs, with home-baking and plenty to shout about. Each bout lasts around an hour with an interval for half-time.

You can follow the Auld Reekie Roller Girls on Twitter @AuldReekieRG

Doors open at 2pm at Meadowbank Sports Centre, London Road, Edinburgh on Saturday 11th June. There will be a demonstration of the basic rules prior to kick off and costs £5.

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Is there room for Hume?

Do we journalists do enough to celebrate great thinkers?

The 300th anniversary of the birth of David Hume is being celebrated with a new exhibition at the Writers’ Museum along with a series of lectures from the University of Edinburgh.

However, some scholars question if Edinburgh at large, and the media in particular, is doing enough to celebrate the man who is considered to be among the most important figures in the history of Western philosphy.

David Hume - picture by David Selby

The exhibition at the Writers’ Museum features material which until now has never been on public display. Included among the artefacts are rare books and original manuscripts by Hume as well as exquisite images of Hume and other Enlightenment figures.

At the opening last week, the Culture and Leisure Convener, SNP Councillor Deidre Brock, was delighted with what she saw:

“This terrific new exhibition at our Writers’ Museum will give a fascinating insight into the life and works of David Hume, one of Scotland’s most revered writers and thinkers and a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment.

“The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the generosity of Dr William Zachs, who owns these wonderful artefacts. We are very grateful to Dr Zachs for allowing the Writers’ Museum to become the first place to display this material publicly.”

Some have argued that the small collection, while welcome, is not as significant a recognition as the philosopher deserves. Mr Zachs himself described his collection as a “kind of scrap, a small slice” when compared to what exists in national archives.

Kevin Williamson, poet and editor of Bella Caledonia, was somewhat critical and slightly surprised by a perceived lack of media attention for Hume’s 300th anniversary, explaining that:

“It would seem that Hume, despite his international reputation, is still regarded in some quarters as a beyond-the-pale heretic and intellectual outlaw.

“It does come as a surprise that journalists haven’t stopped to honour the great man. After all, perhaps more than any other thinker, Hume promoted the best possible modus operandi for their trade: a healthy dose of scepticism.”

The University of Edinburgh is running a series of lectures in recognition of Hume’s contribution to a wide range of disciplines, including Dr Peter Millican on the legacy of the Enlightenment on 23 May. More talks will follow over the summer with  the final lecture in the series delivered on 14 December in Edinburgh’s George Square.

The display of Hume’s work at the Writer’s Museum will run until 17 September.

This article appeared in its original form in The Journal Issue 47 on Wednesday 4th May 2011.

Categories: Articles, Blog

Global Barometer of Hope & Despair, or “the curious case of Nigerian Guinness”


In Ikeja in the heart of Lagos, which is case you didn’t know is the second most populous city in Africa after Cairo, there was founded in 1962 a brewery. A brewery for the production of Guinness.  They don’t just provide stout for the people of Nigeria though, they also reportedly supply potable water for some 500,000 people in rural communties across the country.

Why am I telling you this? Well I’m telling you this because this week a gallup poll conducted in fifty three countries across the globe has suggested that Nigeria, at the expense of Les Miserables in Paris (who came dead last), is the Happiest Place on Earth! TM.

Explanations as to why the 154million inhabitants of this Federal Republic should be so utterly optimistic range from it’s blossoming population to it’s economic development and brush gently over the culture of ethnic violence and bribery that is common place. At no point however has anyone, until now, suggested that the guiding principle for the enduring cheeriness of this the 8th most populous country in the World should be the sterling work of Guinness Nigeria.

The full deliciously named report can be found here.

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Edinburgh Shows No Sign of Waking From Hogmanay Dream

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An estimated 80,000 people descended upon the City Centre for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebration last night. On a pleasantly mild evening, complete with an equally fair amount of cloud cover, revellers from across the globe saw in 2011 with a mix of singing and dancing that showcased the capital’s internationally renowned festival spirit. Edinburgh has fostered a reputation over the years as the ‘Home of Hogmanay’, and I made it my goal to get to the heart of that elusive dream.

The last time I attended the Street Party, some ten years ago, there was serious crushing and I can vividly remember losing my shoe under a barrier. I vowed I’d never go back even though the organisers have since made serious headway in arranging the affair with safety paramount in their minds. Well Edinburgh Guide coaxed me out of my self-imposed exile, and in an effort to find out just what it is that you pay for at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party I decided to get to the centre of the celebrations this year. With the price of a ticket sitting somewhere between £15 and £40 depending on where you are allowed access to, this was not an evening for people on a tight budget. All across Edinburgh people pay the price for an evening of New Year excitement, and the City Centre is now no different, but is it still special enough to be called the “Home of Hogmanay”?

Exile on Main Street

Lower numbers and some 300-odd police meant that this year everything seemed a lot more spacious, but has it taken away the magic of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay? The market stalls on the East side of the Gardens were still there in all there gaudy finery. You could buy Hogmanay the t-shirt, Hogmanay the bomber jacket… there was all sorts of merchandise to remember the evening by, if you still had any cash left.

I spoke to a couple of chaps who were on a tour of Europe about their Hogmanay experience. Hamish and Fletcher, both from Sydney told Edinburgh Guide:

“A mate of ours had come before and told us the drinks would be really expensive, so we decided to bring our own in a plastic bottle.”

A single plastic bottle of lager or a glass of mulled wine was £5. Coupled with the entrance fee then the evening could prove to be a rather expensive affair. Granted, the numbers were a lot lower than last year and the council hoped that the experience would be just as good with a lower number. They need to make the money back somewhere an selling souvenirs is something Edinburgh does with aplomb all year round.

“This is our first time in Scotland and everyone has been great. Random people in the crowd will come up to you and they are really friendly.”

“We thought we were getting tickets to the concert but it turns out that we are only able to get into the street here.”

There were a few in the Street Party area who had thought they would be allowed access to the Gardens with the ticket they had purchased. One steward I spoke to suggested that the ticketing system online might be to blame.

“There was an option to upgrade your ticket to the concert or ceilidh on the web-site but I think a lot of people missed it. There were a few glum faces up on Princes Street for sure.”

While for some the real spectacle seemed to be found down at the Ross Bandstand, the entertainment along the length of Princes Street was impressive to say the least. A selection of well know artists performed for party-goers on three stages along the length of the street.

Among the highlights were DJ sets from Mylo, Snow Patrol and Belle and Sebastian while The Enemy played on the stage at Waverley Bridge.

Time Is On My Side

Come midnight, Biffy Clyro were rolling along nicely. They stopped to witness the spectacular fireworks over Edinburgh Castle.

The moonlit sky really added to the spectacle and as a long time Edinburgh resident this year’s display really was impressive, with hourly barrages ringing out all the way up to the finale at midnight.

Paint It Black

So did I find that special Hogmanay experience I was looking for? Having braved the street party for the first time in a decade, would I go back again? Well ultimately the tourist tat and the pricey food and drink are simply hallmarks of any Scottish festival these days.

From Edinburgh’s own Fringe to the burger vans of T in the Park, it’s what we’ve come to expect, so you can’t saddle the organisers with too much blame for that. Whenever I asked revellers what they thought of the prices they were largely un-moved. It hadn’t been a surprise to them, whether from Canada or Calcutta. The Keilidh proved to be extremely popular on the night, (dancing, I would suggest, is a rather traditional way to keep warm) there was a glimmer of that Hogmanay spirit when one chap decided to propose to his girlfriend from the stage in front of an excited crowd and ultimately I didn’t see a lot of t-shirts and souvenirs being sold.

The party was there to be enjoyed, and as is so often the case with New Year celebrations, you get back out what you put in. The organisers have brought this party on a long way, and yes some of the spontaneity of Edinburgh’s open city has been slightly lost in all the barriers, marshals and steep prices. However, these things are necessary evils in this day and age, and Edinburgh has a long track record of professional festival organisation.

The street party, and the four days of Hogmanay celebrations that were arranged this year, has now truly been cemented into that tradition. As for the elusive ‘Hogmanay Dream’ I’ll leave that for Hamish and Fletcher to sum up:

“We can’t see or hear anything from here but we’re still having a great time. We’re very old friends and it’s just great to reminisce together.”

When all is said and done, that’s the only thing that matters. As a platform for letting people come together to celebrate in safety and light, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay shows no signs of failing in its duties.

Happy New Year.

Photographs by Robbie Moore (@robbieamoore), with special thanks to The Rolling Stones.
(This article originally appeared on

Categories: Articles

Big Train

30/06/2010 1 comment

I was asked recently by The Guardian Edinburgh Beat Blogger to comment on the Edinburgh trams project. For anyone interested, you can find my podcast and the full article abut it on the Guardian web-site here.

I am in favour of trams in principle, and I think the idea that they represent Edinburgh as a cultural capital is one that holds a lot of sway for people. However, spending £555 million on a vanity project plainly stinks.

As I made clear during the podcast. The head of the WWF Scotland climate change report published in May, has stated that we need 290,000 electric cars on the road by 2020 to meet our emissions targets.

Where better to start than electric/hybrid buses? Spend the money fitting terminals in the city to make electric cars viable. Who is being short-sighted by opposing the trams now?

Feel free to disagree with me, I’d like to hear peoples comments.

Categories: Articles, Blog