As their few remaining readers had every right to expect, most newspapers last Saturday led with the latest attack on London. But the choice was not quite unanimous. Two of the posher papers – not that there’s been anything seriously posh on the news-stands for years – decided that something more important had been happening in the world. The Times cleared the front page for an 'investigation’ into an alleged bust-up in the royal family involving the resignation of a senior courtier (twice knighted: a veritable Sir Sir) who left as long ago as July. So few care any longer about bickering in the Windsor household or the frustrations of the grumpy heir to the throne ('the Duke of Rothesay as he is known in Scotland’) that this legless tale fizzled out within hours. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph relegated Parsons Green to a side column so that the shameless self-promotion of Boris Johnson could be given lavish precedence. No doubt the now notorious 4,000-word essay, setting out Johnson's claim to the leadership, was set and ready to roll. How jolly inconvenient that the usual murderous aliens got in the way, placing an incendiary bucket on a tube train. Fortunately, no one died. But we are left to wonder about the editorial arithmetic. How many deaths would it have taken to shift the former mayor of London from the front page of the Telegraph? How much carnage to persuade the Times that its 'investigation’ could be left for another day – if not dropped entirely?
Airline of the week Ryanair has been percipiently described as the 'Fawlty Towers of the airways.' But there's a difference. Basil only ran out of Waldorfs. O'Leary seems to have run out of pilots.
Judicial oddity of the week Judge Bill Dunlop told a double rapist from Prestwick that he (the double rapist) made him ashamed to be a Scotsman. Given the traffic in human depravity that routinely passes through our criminal courts, Dunlop must spend his entire life being ashamed to be a Scotsman. Some of us wouldn't go that far, even on one of the many bad days.
Ridiculous spectacle of the week The party leaders at Holyrood attired in pink for a charity fundraiser at the Scottish Parly.
Chris Hoy, whose exploits at successive Olympics helped to start – 'trigger' as it's now called – the current obsession with cycling, has acquired near-royal status. When he and his wife released the official photograph of their new-born, it took its rightful place high on the BBC's news agenda. Similarly, when the national treasure sensibly declared that, in the interests of decency, men weighing more than eight stones should avoid wearing Lycra, this instantly became the media 'controversy' of the week (and the week after, when the author apologised for any distress and inconvenience that may have been caused to obese cyclists). 'Charlie' Alliston isn't fat; merely an odious little creep who collided with a 44-year-old woman as she was crossing Old Street in the City of London and then shouted abuse at her as she lay mortally injured. He was convicted under an obscure Victorian law, the Offence Against the Person Act (1861) for 'wanton
and furious driving,' and sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders’ institution – inexplicably, six months short of what could have been imposed. The Guardian reported that Alliston's bike – known as Planet X – was of a type ridden competitively by Chris Hoy and other champions of the track. Hoy has spoken in the past of his disgust at
the antics of the many maniacs on wheels, so his Twitter followers may have been looking forward to some robust observation about the Alliston case and the subsequent proposal for a new law of dangerous cycling. Nothing so far – but it may not be too late for 'Sir Chris' to lead a national crusade against the mass idiocy which his sporting success has inadvertently spawned.
Newspaper supplement of the week 'The joy of cycling' (Guardian).
Novels of the week (1) 'Reaches the marrow of your bones, settles in and stays forever.' (2) 'Builds like a wave seeking the purchase of earth before it crashes down and wipes out everything you might have thought.' (From publishers' blurbs.)
Editorial fee of the week The £3,000 paid to Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson for writing an essay proposing a 're-boot of capitalism.' When she became leader, the little Scottish Review asked Ms Davidson to write an essay on a subject of her own choice – for nothing. Sadly, on that occasion she declined.
A brief guide to current political metaphors
An anonymous supporter – possibly Johnson himself – likened the foreign secretary's weekend pitch to 'lobbing a hand grenade through Downing Street's window,' while the editor of the London Evening Standard, George Osborne, told a magazine that he would not rest until Theresa May was 'chopped up in bags in my freezer.' There is an aristo in jail for a not entirely dissimilar expression of opinion about the businesswoman Gina Miller. But it is a third violent metaphor of the week that perhaps ought to concern us more: the statement of the MSP Anas Sarwar, launching his campaign to become Scottish Labour leader, that 'we are parking our tanks on Nicola Sturgeon’s lawn.' This aggressive saying in its various permutations is of dubious provenance, but may have been inspired by the crushing of the Prague Spring by the Soviet Union. It is now routinely invoked as an indication of political machismo. A few years back, Farage said that UKIP were parking their tanks on Labour’s lawn, in April this year the Times reported that Theresa May was also parking her tanks on Labour's lawn – are they still there? how many more tanks can that modest piece of greenery take? – and only last month the charmless Scottish doctor, Liam Fox, announced that he was parking his tanks on the EU's lawn. There are several reasons for doubting Mr Sarwar's suitability to lead the Labour party in Scotland, among which we should count the tanks he is proposing to park on Nicola Sturgeon's lawn. I fear that no good will come of this military manoeuvre.
Venue of the week The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster – that tragic symbol of inequality – opened in the opulent Connaught Rooms in central London, enabling the survivors to see for themselves, probably for the only time in their lives, how the rich live.
Bore of the week Storm Aileen.
Death of the week Cassini, a space probe, aged 20, which 'dived to destruction' after a distinguished career exploring such outposts as Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn. Cassini discovered the existence of a watery ocean under its surface, giving rise to the hope that Enceladus could one day be home to what is left of the human race after the presidency of Donald Trump.
Teddy Taylor, who has died at the age of 80, impressed me as a nervous wreck. Whenever I encountered him, he seemed to be metaphorically or actually biting his nails – usually in anticipation of losing his marginal seat. Eventually (in 1979) he did lose it. The morning after, a well-wisher left a spray of blue irises and white carnations at the door of his home in Glasgow. The irony of his defeat was bitter indeed. It came on the night of a famous Conservative victory, and if only he had held on in Cathcart he would have been secretary of state for Scotland and a senior member of Thatcher's cabinet. Instead the job went to the more emollient George Younger. One journalist at the time claimed that Taylor 'refused to cry over the loss of such a glittering prize,' but journalists themselves mourned his departure, if only because he had always been a rich source of easy copy. Many years later, I met him in more relaxed circumstances, although he still seemed slightly on edge and was smoking in an agitated fashion. He confided in me that he was a secret smoker and that his wife would be furious with him if she knew. Although his political views were extreme, I liked him. It is often the way.
It was a mildly frustrating week. Inspired by the double-page spread in a national newspaper announcing the existence of a special language – Focurc by name – in ‘villages near Falkirk’, I took myself off – as one does – to 'villages near Falkirk.' I journeyed by rickety Stagecoach as far as Slamannan, where news of Focurc seemed to come as a disconcerting surprise. Indeed, upon mentioning Focurc to the few
locals above ground, I was appraised as one might be if one had just uttered an imprecation of some sort. I retreated in defeat to the Tudor Tea Rooms in mainland Falkirk. There I prepared for my mission to the far Cairngorms, to that place known as Braerlach, in search of Scotland’s longest-lying patch of snow ('The Sphinx’). There were rumours that it might have melted by the time I got there, and so it proved. Wearily I made my way back via the Queen Nicola Crossing (delays no worse than usual) to the news that our esteemed leader had no idea whether or when she would call a second independence referendum. I consoled myself that Gerry – Dr Hassan to you – would soon have something to say about this extraordinary turn of non-events.