Fickle Fascinations

I like a lot of things.

Reflections on Scottish National Identity and the Independence Referendum

National identity is always in flux, evolving according to external and internal stimulus, and each individuals’ conception of what it means to be ‘Scottish’ (or ‘British’ or even ‘European’) is unique. When the Wallace Monument was built in the 19th century, it was a symbol of entrenched Victorian Unionism. Wallace was celebrated as the man who ‘freed’ Scotland, allowing her to (ostensibly) enter into a Union with England as an equal, not a thrall. In modern times, that message may still be imparted for some, but by and large it has been eclipsed by a more overt expression of Scottish national pride and independence, often in opposition to the antagonistic English (unfortunately). Of course, this was prompted or encouraged by 1995’s Braveheart, yet the famous defacement and subsequent ‘caging’ of a Mel Gibson effigy outside the Monument shows the nuance of ‘authentic’ Scottish identity, which, for the vandals at least, eschews Hollywood. And we can’t escape the irony that the Victorian conception of Wallace–itself a contemporary construct–is somehow more authentic than Gibson’s.

The Wallace Monument and Tom Church's 'Freedom' statue.

The Wallace Monument and Tom Church’s ‘Freedom’ statue.

Since the beginning of the Yes campaign in earnest, the SNP–often misidentified as the sole proponents of independence–have scrupulously avoided ‘Braveheartisms’, and even the buzzword: ‘freedom’. Any references to Gibson’s opus emanate from the Unionist camp, in an underhand attempt at presenting the Yes campaign as insular Anglophobes. Few of Salmond’s speeches invoke any sense of direct lineage from Wallace or Bruce to the present day, and they shouldn’t, as the notion of medieval freedom is far from synonymous with our modern conception of the word. However, the Yes campaign was sly in their choice of date, with the auspicious and none-too-subtle coincident of Bannockburn not lost on anyone.

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Strongman

Yesterday, I began Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, highlighted by io9 as essential reading for any aspiring writer. (While this post is not intended as a glowing endorsement of this book, it may well read as such). On Writing begins with fuzzy remembrance by King of his early childhood; he admits, quite refreshingly, that his memories are vague at best. It is rather reassuring we do not all have photographic cognition of our youth.

Stephen King in his natural habitat.

Stephen King in his natural habitat.

One of the first anecdotes he recounts is that of his two-year old self carrying a cement breeze-block through his garage whilst imagining the adulation of a crowd towards he, the self-proclaimed strongest boy in the world:

“Their wondering faces told the story: never had they seen such an incredibly strong kid. ‘And he’s only two! someone muttered in disbelief.” (p. 4-5)

His fantasy is quickly crushed–along with his toes–when a wasp stings his ear, causing him to drop the block on his feet. This faintly amusing, painful sounding anecdote caused me to remember–with startling clarity–a similar moment from my own childhood, albeit without the footsore denouement.

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Least Concern

Treading the familiar walk down to the subterranean,

Threading through the coughs and splutters,

And the extended hands,

He falls into step behind a winged-rat which presumes a pursuit.

———————

The most loathed of all the city’s denizens,

That ubiquitous urbane doo,

Unloved except by those lonely old men carrying

Their plastic bags of spare, stale Hovis.

———————

Yet pity the unlucky many,

Whose toes are ripped away,

And hobble for the slim pickings;

The crumbs from a morning roll.

———————

(Note: should one fly over your head,

Be thankful it’s not one of those gallus gulls).

———————

Almost trampled into the mire, the bird quickens pace,

Weaving and careening,

Frantically trying to escape,

From the commuter’s clumping boot.

———————

Finally, as if  recalling its one gift and singular talent,

It flails out its wings and takes to flight (of sorts),

And eludes the relentless, oblivious oblivion

Of the leathered menace.

‘The White Queen’ – Episode One: Review

UPDATEThe White Queen’s producers have responded to criticism about the controversial attempted rape scene in this first episode: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2013/jun/21/white-queen-rape-scene-producers-respond.

I would argue they miss the point somewhat. Disturbing as it may be, rape shouldn’t necessarily be censored. But it should be challenged and not allowed to pass without comment. Furthermore, they say that Elizabeth and Edward were truly ‘in love’ in reality, yet the likelihood is that Elizabeth was married to Edward against her will for the good of her family. This was standard practice during this time period. A loving marriage was often, unfortunately, altogether more rare.

Okay, hands up, who thought this was about Queen Elizabeth I? 

The colossal crossover success of Game of Thrones surely makes any television executive weak at the knees. A new co-production from the BBC and Starz, The White Queen, seems precisely manufactured to gobble up some of HBO’s massive audience, and as such, it is timed to coincide almost perfectly with the conclusion of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville.

And just as the characters in The White Queen publicly display their allegiance to the House of Lancaster or York with a red or white rose pinned to their breast, the show itself wears its influences on its sleeve. This is immediately apparent during the first scene which is near identical to the opening moments of Season One of Game of Thrones. A wounded soldier scrambles desperately through a snowy forest, pursued hotly by an unknown enemy. Sound familiar?

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The Historical Inspiration for the Red Wedding of ‘Game of Thrones’.

WARNING: Spoilers for Episode 9 of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

Do not go any further unless you have watched ‘The Rains of Castamere’.

Very last warning!

robb2

Robb Stark (played by Richard Madden) in ‘Game of Thrones’.

No doubt many of you are sobbing inconsolably after the latest Game of Thrones episode, ‘The Rains of Castamere’. Even book fans, who have known what to expect all season and have whispered of the Red Wedding with hushed and dreaded tones, will be struggling to process the on-screen carnage. I still remember my initial reaction to reading that fateful chapter: I threw the book across the room in shock and anger. I didn’t dare pick it up again for days. (One supposes that was the emotional response Martin was going for!). An adequate summation of our collective reaction may be: ‘Leave me so I can cry over the deaths of  fictional characters’.

This article will not make you feel any better about what you have seen; it is not intended to be a comforting balm. Instead, it will tell you of the real-life historical event that inspired George R. R. Martin to break the heart of every one of his readers.

Every writer needs some inspiration and Martin is spoiled for choice in the blood-soaked annals of West European history. Many have observed how closely the War of the Five Kings in Game of Thrones resembles the War of the Roses in fifteenth-century England. Likewise, the cloak-and-dagger politics of King’s Landing  could easily be mistaken for almost any medieval European court. To find the inspiration for the Red Wedding, undoubtedly one of the most shocking events of the series to date, Martin looked to medieval Scotland and the infamous ‘Black Dinner’ of 1440.

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