Thursday 24 May
Much excitement in the goldfish bowl of Scottish politics: the report of the SNP's 'growth commission,' due tomorrow, will unveil a vision of Scotland as 'the new Denmark.' Ah. Denmark. How fondly I remember it from that press facility trip years ago.
On the first night, the man from the Glasgow Herald and myself, taking a little air from our harbourside hotel, stumbled on a murder scene, the knifing of a young prostitute a few minutes earlier. A small crowd was crouched over the body, but no-one seemed unduly perturbed, and the police made short work of the incident. We might almost have been back in our own dear Govan.
The following evening, we had dinner with a senior minister in the Danish government. It was not the starchy affair we'd been dreading, but relaxed and indiscreet. One of the company, affecting an intimate knowledge of Denmark's rampant inflation, asked if the country was not in danger of going off the rails. Our host roared with laughter. 'Of course, of course,' he agreed. 'Absolutely off the rails. But what you must remember about us Danes [pause for dramatic effect] is that we are all travelling first class
How amusing, perhaps even tempting, this recklessly materialist version of Utopia. Yet the luxury train appears to have entered an unexpectedly dark tunnel. Socially enlightened Denmark has somehow managed to acquire an immigration minister, one Inger Stojberg, who believes that a 'significant proportion' of immigrants cheat, lie and abuse the trust of the indigenous Danes.
Her latest proposal is that Muslims should take time off work during Ramadan on the grounds that their devotion can be 'dangerous for us all.' She is particularly concerned for the welfare of bus passengers, poor souls, who may be put at risk by fasting Muslim drivers. Although the bus operators insist that they have never encountered such a problem, the minister continues to spew out her toxic anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Odd that Scotland's ruling party should feel that a government with people like Stojberg in it represents a society worth aspiring to.
Friday 25 May
The report of the 'growth commission' is published, and it seems we won't be strong enough to qualify as 'the new Denmark' for at least 25 years. Well, there's a relief.
Saturday 26 May
That tribune of American liberalism, the Washington Post, has an eye-catching headline about tonight's Champions League final in Kiev, informing its readers that the city of Liverpool has taken 'a Muslim' to its heart – a reference to the gifted Mohamed Salah. Only in America – or, perhaps, in the exemplary state of Denmark – could a footballer's religion be considered front-page news (or news of any kind).
Sunday 27 May
A few weeks ago, as I was rummaging in the timetables at Kilmarnock bus station, a dentally challenged supporter of Auchinleck Talbot, identifiable because he was sporting the insignia of that legendary football club, offered to help.
'Where are you going?' he enquired.
'Sorn,' I replied frankly.
My new best friend looked bemused. Why, his face was registering, would anyone want to go to Sorn? There was nothing for us in Sorn, he assured us, except the cafe where the bus turned.
I asked him if he'd rather we went to Auchinleck.
He said there was no point in going to Auchinleck either: today's match was not very interesting. The one to look out for was the Scottish junior cup final on the 27th of May. I mentally noted the date.
He was right about Sorn, though it was rather worse than he had predicted. By the time we got there, the cafe where the bus turned had closed permanently. The village shop had packed up too. The inn was open, if only just, a notice on the front door intimating the funeral of its owner. The somewhat melancholy atmosphere was underlined by our discovery of an abandoned private housing estate, whose builders went bust more than a decade ago, leaving the properties to rot.
So that was Sorn in the 19th year of a devolved parliament in Edinburgh.
The dispiriting excursion did, however, have one positive byproduct: I remembered the date of the cup final in time to see the showdown between Auchinleck Talbot and their Ayrshire rivals, Hurlford, with the usual wacky Gaelic commentary on BBC Alba. At the end of 90 minutes, Hurlford were leading 2-1. In the three minutes of injury time, Auchinleck managed to score twice and the cup was theirs.
The village has 3,500 inhabitants. It looked as if most of them were in the sun-blessed crowd at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, including, I have no doubt, our reliable counsellor from the bus station.
Monday 28 May
It will soon be last orders at the Gay Hussar. My favourite London restaurant is closing its doors on 21 June – another date to remember. Although evenings are still busy, the lunchtime trade has suffered in the grim new world of sobriety. Left-wing journalists and politicians, its core customer base, no longer booze during office hours, if they booze at all, and the idea of a mid-day schlep to Soho has lost its appeal.
I was introduced to the restaurant by Alan Watkins (late, much-missed
political columnist of the Observer, then of the Independent on Sunday), who promised that 'they don't rip you off here.' And they didn't, even if the food was hearty rather than distinguished. Michael Foot was sitting opposite us, lunching alone, a more or less daily ornament, while Watkins gossiped and reminisced. I glanced at my watch as we emerged blinking into Greek Street. It was gone five, and Watkins announced that he was now heading for his club (the Garrick) before duty called at the House of Commons. You needed stamina to be a political journalist in those days.
Tuesday 29 May
A footballer, Neale Cooper, has died ('passed away') at the age of 54 after a fall outside his home. Rangers FC has sent its condolences 'at this difficult time.' The Scotland manager ditto 'at this difficult time.' Ross County FC ditto 'at this difficult time.' It is true that the family must be having a difficult time. Indeed 'difficult' is putting it mildly. I suppose it is too much to ask that this hand-me-down phrase should be dropped from the lexicon of official grief – along with 'passed away.'