Monday, 22 July 2013

Iceland's cultural lifeline from deep water

This is an extract  from my Daily Record column, which you can read in the paper each Monday 

 The Deep - Iceland's Oscar entry for best foreign language film.

From Scalloway to Kirkcudbright, anyone who has spent time in a fishing community will recognise the hard drinking, chain-smoking trawlermen in "The Deep", the first big Icelandic movie since the banking crash.

Set in a north island fishing port in 1984, the drama is the incredible true story how an unassuming fisherman survived a shipwreck by swimming for five hours in the ice cold Atlantic.

Fellow crewmen were killed in sea temperatures that should have seen him off in 15 minutes. Somehow he made it ashore and walked barefoot across a lavafield into his island fishing village

The tone is pitch perfect, from the traffic cones as ship's fenders to the ordinary, unpatronising way the characters are portrayed.

The message for an Icelandic audience is not hard to fathom.

The film makers reached back into living memory and dragged up a forgotten legend to inspire them again.

This simple, noble fishing nation snagged itself on the rocks of international finance. Their boat sank and the situation looked grave.

But against the odds a plucky everyman makes it to shore, and goes back to the boats, the only trade he knows.

As they said in Iceland after the crash, 'we can always go fishing'.

Nations are the stories that they tell themselves.

In Scotland commissioned scripts are generally about heroic characters overcoming drugstrewn, urban backgrounds. That is unless they are about downtrodden characters swallowed up by drugstrewn, criminal backgrounds.

For our film industry The Deep is a cultural look and learn.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Ginger Rodent comes back to bite Harman

Harriet Harman swallowed  her pride last night as she apologised for dubbing Danny Alexander a "Ginger Rodent".

The Lib Dem Treasury Minister had a beer named in his honour after she insulted him in a speech to the Scottish Labour conference.

The Cairngorm Brewery in Alexander’s constituency was celebrating after the "Ginger Rodent" beer sold out in parliament’s Strangers Bar within days of going on sale.

Alexander was grateful to Harriet for joining in the fun and, fair play to her, she posed for the picture despite being mortified since the moment the phrase left her lips.

Danny said: "Now that Ginger Rodent has taken the House of Commons by storm, there is no end to its prospects for success."

But Harman had the last laugh. As she raised a pint glass she said: "I’m really glad there’s some economic growth in Danny’s constituency because he’s stuffed the rest of the country."

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Plasterfield's Palaces for the People

Plasterfield prefabs on the Isle of Lewis - Elisabeth Blanchet

During a housing crisis that has gone on for as long as I can remember, it is useful to take stock.

Faced with a blitzed housing landscape after WWII the then Labour government came up with a temporary solution of prefabricated, kit homes. Nearly 70 years later some of the 150,000 hurried constructions are still standing and much-loved by their occupants.

Artist Elisabeth Blanchet spent the last 11 years photographing of the remaining "palaces for the people" that sprang up across Britain.

Neil Kinnock grew up in a prefab, so did Michael Caine, and the esteemed Scotland editor of The Times, Angus MacLeod.

For their parents these one-storey "tin boxes", with their own little gardens and mod cons like hot water and inside toilet, were heaven on earth.

Her odyssey took her from Catford in south London to the group of 42 cottages in Plasterfield on Lewis, built to alleviate a post-war squatters' camp in Stornoway's Castle grounds.

Out of Blanchet's show in Brixton, and from the residents who attended, came a tremendous pride and sense of place. Rarely does pre-planned architecture achieve that.

Most of the legoland housing we build now is desperately ordinary. The professional creativity of architects is devalued by developers and governments.

An architect at the opening told me that some expensive, modern versions of prefabs need foundation pads built within just one millimetre of tolerance.

Surely we can do better than that? Build to a higher standard the old-fashioned prefab could play a part in the housing solution we are crying out for.

The SNP government has delivered on its target to complete 4,000 social homes in the the last year. Commendable, but in March 2012 there were 187,935 households on local authority housing lists across Scotland.

The past may be a blueprint for the future.

Elisabeth's exhibition is at the Photofusion gallery in Brixton. Apart from Stornoway, I think there are some remaining prefabs in Paisley.