Scotland is a foreign country…

IN case you missed this quirky, quixotic tour of Scotland by Englishman Jonathan Meades in Off Kilter, the wonders of the internet and digital TV mean it is still available to see. This is a passionately dispassionate, unsentimentally engaged journey, where neither Calvinism, caber nor kilt is celebrated, but other things – the abstract beauty of heavy machinery, ‘football pools’ town and the social cohesion brought about by old industry.

It is hard to watch this beautifully shot, engagingly narrated programme and not see ourselves – whether the product of Irish experts in victimhood or Ulster-Scots religious freaks – occasionally reflected in Scotland’s cultural facets. Billy Connolly this ain’t; dry and deadpan, humanist Meades is just as acerbic and incisive. A trilogy well worth a watch, even if it never will be appreciated north of Berwick.

You can see it here until Wednesday, or download it for a bit longer. Or else record the repeats in early October. Here’s a sample from the granite city’s port which seems curiously appropriate to this former north Antrim resident:

“Aberdeen is a Presbyterian city. Presbyterianism is not fun. It is proscriptive, though it doesn’t share the quaint affection of certain Muslim regimes for gruesomely barbaric punishments that are far from condign.

“In a Presbyterian city a zone of tolerance is a necessity – a place to escape to, a place which has the key to probity’s shackles. A zone of tolerance.

“The expression is both euphemism and lie; such areas were not tolerated. But they recurred because humanity’s base needs are stronger than piffling religion.”

Amen.You can sample the show below – quick, before the BBC internet police find out – and read a decent review of it here.

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  • Dewi

    The filming and the editing of archived clips looked good…I just wonder however if it’s time for BBC Scotland to start making films about the peace walls in Oldham or the drug dens of Brighton like “England is a foreign country” maybe…oh and make sure to front it with a supercilious patronising posh git – that would help…

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I’m not sure if that isn’t a little patronising too; to suggest Meades was ‘supercilious’ is to suggest one hasn’t watched the programme at all.

    It might be devoid of mawkish nationalism and sentimentality, but not compassion or humour.

  • Dewi

    I watched the clip and and read the review:
    “The bleakness of football pools Scotland, the “towns that have no existence other than as part of the Saturday afternoon rite, chips in a game of chance”
    like compared to Darlington?

  • Davros

    The whole series was brilliant especially episode 2 when he’s running about hills in a suit pondering the significance of a van in the middle of a peat bog. I shudder to think what he would say about NI

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Scotland is a foreign country”

    Indeed.

  • Dewi

    Supercilious unfair I admit. It’s just like that comedian pontificating on Gaelic that Mick posted the other week. Don’t you think it’s a bit “wandering the reservation”?

  • Brit

    Don’t you think it’s a bit “wandering the reservation”?

    Yes but no more or less than Mr Meades would be doing if wandering around Southend or the Medway in Kent or Downham Market in Norfolk or Middlesbrough or Rotherham or Wallsall.

    If you get my drift

  • Dewi

    “Yes but no more or less than Mr Meades would be doing if wandering around Southend or the Medway in Kent or Downham Market in Norfolk or Middlesbrough or Rotherham or Wallsall.”

    Except “Scotland is a foreign country”

  • Scots-Anorak

    As an exile Scot living here, I must say I heartily enjoyed the Jonathan Meades programmes, not least because Scotland as a cultural entity is currently pretty much frozen out of broadcasting, the BBC apparently believing it somehow equivalent if they make programmes in London with Scottish presenters. There were lots of quirky little items and places on the programmes that would not normally have seen the light of broadcasting day. Meades himself is very witty, if in this case somewhat dependent on national cliché (most Scots are firmly secular nowadays, so the constraints of Auld Licht Presbyterianism are pretty much irrelevant, while oil is only one variable and not a particularly important one for cultural nationalists). I’m sure that he would have offended my mother if she’d been watching, however, and he will no doubt have encouraged a few waverers to vote for independence.

    While I am 100% behind Meades for castigating Scots for their residual sectarianism, rabbit-hutch social housing and everything else, where I think he and others stray onto dangerous territory is at the nexus of class and national stereotype, whereby the Scots are a whole nation of “northern monkeys”. Is the Scottish diet, for example, so much worse than that of England? I have no idea of his politics, but at times he was redolent of an aristocratic 1930s socialist enthusiastically espousing reform while evincing the utmost disdain for its intended beneficiaries. Ultimately I suspect that he will get into more trouble for that than for his national ribbing.

  • Brit

    “Except “Scotland is a foreign country” ”

    At least its a human country – have you been to Downham market ;o)

  • K McLaughlin

    Listening to Meades is like listening to a
    literate version of Jeremy Clarkson.
    Instead of merry ‘quips’ about murdering truck driving rapists a la Clarkson, we get Meades droning on and on about Scots – drunken, violent, bigoted, fried Mars Bar eating junkies living in council slums. Very original!.
    I’m getting a tad sick of listening to arrogant and patronising metropolitan windbags like Meades and that expert on old queens, David Starkey – (another prime example of the breed) on the subject of Scotland because they are essentially reciting the same old litany of crap which has been trotted out time and again in order to divide, demean and demoralise the Scots and remind them that they are essentially dirt.
    So know your place, Jock peasants and let your betters govern you!.
    It does not work any more.
    Scotland has moved on.
    It will not be dragged back by these gobshites rehearsing their predjudices on the public airways for the umpteenth time.

  • Brit

    “where I think he and others stray onto dangerous territory is at the nexus of class and national stereotype, whereby the Scots are a whole nation of “northern monkeys”. Is the Scottish diet, for example, so much worse than that of England?”

    On the narrow question of health – life expectancy, obesity, diet, alcohol then Scotland is, I believe significantly although not quantitatively worse than England. I don’t think however that Scotland is perceived to be the personification or stupidity chavdom or townie binge drinking. Scots are perceived to be canny, friendly and trustworthy. I think Scousers or Brummies have a far worse position in the UK stereotypes stakes.

    The key divisions in the UK are, as you allude to, those of class. The middle class in England and Scotland is healthier, less likely to be obese or alcoholic than working class. The Edinburgh Doctor or Lawyer has much more in common with his Manchester or London based equivalent than with a junkie from the estates of Leith.

    I would say that the stereotyped Scots view of the English, and the Northerners view of Southerners (and to an extent the view of all of the UK towards London) makes precisely the opposite error. Assuming the English, or Southerner etc are all posh, rich, comfortable, middle class or whatever (and often effete with it). Of course there is a working class and an underclass as well as extreme poverty in the deepest of southern England and in the heart of London.

  • Dewi

    “Of course there is a working class and an underclass as well as extreme poverty in the deepest of southern England and in the heart of London.”

    Do you reckon BBC Scotland should get Rab Nesbitt or some Scottish Food Critic to try and explain it all to you?

  • Brit

    “reciting the same old litany of crap which has been trotted out time and again in order to divide, demean and demoralise the Scots and remind them that they are essentially dirt.
    So know your place, Jock peasants and let your betters govern you!.”
    I just don’t know how you put up with the grinding jackboot of English oppression day in day out. How on earth can the English justify treating the Scots like such dirt. What really sickens me is the exclusion from politics with only two major cabinet posts being filled by Scots – and only PM and Chancellor. Until the glass ceiling is smashed by getting Scots in to the Home and Foreign office slots you will never see freedom.

  • Britania

    Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
    May by thy mighty aid,
    Victory bring.
    May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush,
    Rebellious Scots to crush,
    God save the King.

  • Brit

    “Do you reckon BBC Scotland should get Rab Nesbitt or some Scottish Food Critic to try and explain it all to you? ”

    If, say one of the many Scottish reporters, presenters or cultural commentators who make a living in the UK did a programme about poverty in Kent or street gangs in Somers Town or binge drinking in Sunderland it would be wholly unremarkable and one amongst many. I’m sure as hell no one would be going on about “how dare these Jocks lecture us…”

    A Rab C Nesbitt programme on England or London would be brilliant (although I suspect the comedy wouldnt come from the underclass but from his interactions with the upper middle classes)

  • Kofi Annan

    Scotland is no more a country than Northern Ireland is.

  • Cheshire Exile

    Kofi. Whit?

    Scotland is a country and a nation, as is England as is Wales.

    What it isn’t yet, is an independent, sovereign nation state.

    A country it most certainly is.

    By the way, do you know what the word numpty means?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Dewi

    I imagine Meades is a bit more interesting to listen to than Northern Exposure, that Gary Lineker vehicle that was on the Beeb. I guess it’s how it’s done that counts. But there’s nothing more boring than the exile who comes back home, uncritically tells everyone how wonderful their little country/statelet is, and then fucks back off never to be seen again.

  • Dewi

    Agreed

  • I have no idea of his politics, but at times he was redolent of an aristocratic 1930s socialist enthusiastically espousing reform while evincing the utmost disdain for its intended beneficiaries.

    That’s basically what the new left is. And that’s who runs the BBC. I’m only surprised that a clearly intelligent and literate observer can be surprised by this.

    What do you think the mentality behind all those “Dunken Chav Wife Swapping Weight Loss Supernanny Challenge” programmes is?

    A Rab C Nesbitt programme on England or London would be brilliant (although I suspect the comedy wouldnt come from the underclass but from his interactions with the upper middle classes)

    The equivalent would actually be to get some posh Scottish intellectual – Muriel Gray, say – and send them round the many absolute kips of estates in South Eastern England – let’s say Blackbird Leys in Oxford, Hollington in Hastings, Moulsecoomb in Brighton, Paulsgrove in Portsmouth and frankly large tracts of North Kent and South East Essex – and then lecture the English on what a shower of backwards, unhealthy, mentally screwed up eejits they are.

  • Yani

    Knock the chips off your shoulders for feck sake. The Irish anti-English bigotry is not nice to see.