Friday, September 19, 2014

Oh, to be in Scotland

Oh to be in Scotland, now the vote is here.

I used to live there.

Oddly enough, I was first female taken on as a general reporter by The Evening News in Edinburgh. The paper was in its North Bridge offices back in those days, with Fleshmarket Close beside and Jinglin Georgies the place where all the journos hung out. I was a bit of a hippie but the gruff News Editor, Max McAuslane, called me "hen" and took me on without hesitation. I soon learned that he had a special claim to fame as the young journalist who had the international scoop on the discovery of Rudolph Hess's parachute landing in Scotland in 1941.

I worked among some wonderful journos, Jim Gilheany I recall and the jovial Jimmy Scott. As a footloose Australian, I was always fascinated that so many journalists had never left Scotland.

I loved Scotland and the Scots - as well I may, carrying my family name of Scott as a middle name.

In those days working on the Evening News, I could walk to work from our little 10/- a week top floor digs on The Pleasance and its view of the Salisbury Crags out the window made up for the fact that the loo was down on the stair and there was no bathroom.

Winter days in Edinburgh meant one walked to and from work in the dark, cobblestone streets often glistening in the rain and shops glowing yellow light. Summer days were long and softly bright - presenting dusk skies of the most magical orange and amethyst hues.

The Evening News was a good way to get to know a city. Having admired Edinburgh from afar as a really important historical big city, the surprise was to find that it was also a very provincial city. The stories I was assigned on the paper seemed very parochial and lightweight compared to what I had been doing in Australia, let alone on AAP/Reuter in Fleet Street. Once I was sent out to report on a burst water pipe.

Then again, as a newbie in Scotland, I had a bad start. On one of my first days I suffered the great embarrassment of coming back from the law courts with no story. Not yet tuned in to the dense Scots brogue, I simply could not understand what the protagonists were saying. "N'argh branergh, ach ey'n nicht bleet..." My pencil poised over my notepad, a sense of panic descending...

A few weeks later, this would not have happened. I soon spoke the language.

When I did present with a big exclusive I had lucked upon due to my association with the Royal Medical Society, the aforementioned News Editor announced that it was too important for a woman and he brought in his senior male reporter. As much as I argued that, according to the rules as I knew them, the journalist who gets the scoop also writes the scoop, sexism ruled the day and the times. As the first woman, I was decidedly token. My ire ran deep. When my working visa ran out, I did not try to stay. I went travelling again and, on return to Edinburgh, wrote for underground arts magazines, moved to the New Town, married my young doctor, gave birth to my first son and then, heaven forfend, moved to Aberdeen.

Five years of my life belonged to Scotland all told. I loved it deeply. I loved the Scots. Back then, they were talking devolution. It was a deep-rooted yearning I thought a bit impractical.

But their history was long and violent.

They had the tribal memory of Culloden. They saw "the borders" very strongly as just that. They spoke dismissively of Sassenachs. They had a strong sense of their feisty independent Highlander identity.

And, once in their midst, sharing stairs and sometimes poached eggs with them, I could only love them.

As passionate, sweet patriots, their place is secure in my heart - and, let's not forget, in my genes.

I tips me cap to their quest for independence and imagine that, despite the no of now, they will not give up.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thoughts on Writers' Festivals

The interesting thing about writers' festivals is their sudden ubiquity. There are so many festivals, it is amazing the writers have time to write at all.

Once upon a time, writers were for reading. They were not expected to be performing seals. Instead, they did a series of carefully-placed media interviews and the rest of the book tour was in signings.

Gradually, the cult of the author has been growing and authors are marketed along with their books.

Authors have to be vivacious and entertaining. A good Writers' Festival appearance can boost sales. A tepid appearance may leave their books on the table.

Then there are the publishers' marketing people and minders who have to schmooze the festivals.

Who pays for what?

If the festivals pay to bring the writers, then they need the revenue from ticket sales.

One would have to ask the publishers how they make it viable to have travelling reps on the ground at events in these testing times.

We should not quibble, though. One thing is good and clear. Book festivals are big business in themselves. They are a sign of a curious and sentient literary market. Maybe a boom of Boomers.

I'm not complaining.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Face(book) of progress

Who dreams up these nonsensical questionnaires?

What rock band are you? What era should you have been born in? How English are you? What flower are you? What is your spirit bird? What sort of wine are you? What superhero should you be? Are you a proper snob? What flavor of jam are you? To find out, one is presented with some quaint choice questions with pictures and - ta-da! You're very 60s, you have an owl, you're Batman, you're tart quince...

You are a Facebook lemming! We all are. I fall for this brain fluff, too.

This current epidemic of question content is part of the Buzzfeed market grab, social media marketing. It is the current thing.

It arrives in our Facebook faces beside conventional news sources which now, instead of factual breaking news headlines, offer:

Amazing video of what Russians are doing in the Ukraine

11 faults politicians would like to have

Who went faster? The cops or the robbers?

15 ways not to use energy

Tony Abbott upset the palace. What did he do?

500 ways celebrity cult gossip dominates the news

A $5m credit card bill. Why?

10 things that will make you laugh.

Best-ever recipe for boiled egg. Etc etc.

All this is the result of a lot of desperate enterprises to grab a market in new media. All of them are under the impression that the social media target market is pretty damned dumb and can only be lured to information if the information is promised in the form of trivia.

And so we discover our information revolution is upon us as a tidal wave of infotainment tid-bits.

Let's not forget cat videos. They have been beloved since the Internet was a kitten. They're a running joke, very funny and good for the soul. So, the social media information purveyors have grabbed them like a fist full of dollars and re-presented them to the world as their very own viral phenomenon and a magnet to their ad-laden sites.

They stop at nothing.

And they have a marketplace of wide-eyed and willing players who are having too much fun to notice the cynical game afoot which promises to turn our computers into a spamland of endless sales, promotion and greed.

And to think that, just a couple of decades ago, when the Internet was being explored by the scientists, academics and geeks, the excitement flowed from the idea that it could be the great free sharing of knowledge. It was for a while. Until the men in suits found it.