andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Tag Archives: conspiracy theory

The Surrealist Year Ahead

 2014

JANUARY

The rock world is shocked by the news that the Rolling Stones have been using prosthetically enhanced lookalikes on stage for years. Jim Henson is credited with giving the session musicians such convincing makeovers that the only original band member to remain on the tours, Charlie Watts, was completely fooled.

‘I’ve been playing with muppets for years,’ an ashen-faced Watts tells reporters, adding, ‘I thought they sounded a bit better than usual recently.’

The real Keith Richards, currently floating in a tank of methadone in a private clinic on the Dutch Antilles, is unavailable for comment.

FEBRUARY

December 2013’s heart-warming story of the couple who had to deliver their baby at Sainsbury’s petrol station at Cameron Toll, subsequently giving their son the middle name Cameron, inspires a rush of copycat births at other retail outlets, in a desperate bid for media coverage. Campbell Starbucks Straiton Sweeney is one picked up by the headline writers for the alliteration, but everyone agrees Louis Vuitton Multrees McLatchie’s parents should have known better.

Mrs Jane O’Rourke is reported as having been thinking about the novels of Alexander McCall Smith, rather than the birth location, when naming her daughter Precious. However, the manager of Poundstretcher’s in Gorgie Road tells the Evening News he was still ‘proud tae lend a hand.’

MARCH

A new dance craze known as gwerking hits the world of celebrity. Soon global figures as influential as Katie Price and Kim Kardashian are spotted wearing v-neck Pringle pullovers and National Health specs, flailing their arms around in a spasmodic manner to Seventies disco hits such as Chic’s 1978 hit Le Freak.

Men of a certain age remain unimpressed. ‘This is just dad dancing dressed up as being something new and cool,’ storms Ronald O’Donald, 49, of Peckham. ‘We’ve been doing it for years.’

However, no one in celebrity land listens to those kinds of people. Miley Cyrus creates a Twitterstorm bitch-fight by saying she’s ‘too young to gwerk.’ ‘I can see it would work for people like Kim,’ she tells !Celeb!!Biz!Online! ‘Maybe when I’ve fully pushed the envelope of the twerk, I’ll be ready to gwerk.’

APRIL

An alien race from near Alpha Centauri finally make contact with the world’s media via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

‘We’ve been waiting for you guys to develop something compatible with our systems for aeons,’ the spokesperson, Zog the Archaic (1,003) says. ‘Well done you for getting there in the end. Lol.’

Before  – inevitably – posting a selfie, he adds: ‘We tried visiting you direct, but there was something wrong with the satnav and we kept ending up in a car park near Bathgate. Even we’re not perfect, obvs.’

In a related development, Clackmannanshire Council respond to a Freedom of Information request, admitting that the strange silver disc-like object on the roof of their headquarters in Alloa is in fact a form of router to boost the Alpha Centaurians’ wi-fi signal.

‘We thought it was the least we could do, after that unfortunate misunderstanding in Skinflats,’ a spokesperson says.

@zogthearchaic soon has more Twitter followers than Cheryl Cole. But then who doesn’t these days.

MAY

Fed up with stand up comedians making fun of the lyrics for her 1996 hit Ironic as not being examples of irony (blackfly in chardonnay, a traffic jam when already late, yada yada) Alanis Morrisette issues a remix, where the line ‘isn’t it ironic’ is replaced by ‘isn’t it a bit shite.’ Although she keeps the original song title. Which critics agree is a bit ironic.

JUNE

A news report of an escaped baboon in a Morningside tea shop turns out to be based on a typo in a Tweet about an escaped balloon, slightly dislodging a cake stand at a children’s party.

However, in one of an increasing number of examples of life imitating the internet, a female baboon called Dorothy does escape a few days later from Edinburgh Zoo, making it as far as Corstorphine, where she holds down a job as a waitress in a cafe for several weeks before being recaptured.

‘I did find her a little difficult to understand, but I thought she was maybe just a bit foreign,’ the short-sighted owner, Calista McFlockhart (63) explains. ‘She was very popular with the regulars, although I noticed the scones were disappearing a whole lot faster than usual on her shift.’

Dorothy soon acquires her own Twitter account, @dorothyscone.

JULY

A last ditch attempt by the Scottish Government to make the Commonwealth Games more inclusive sees the rules changed to ensure at least one local competitor is given a place on the starting line up of each sport.

In the 100 metres final, Davey MacSwedger, 37, of Castlemilk, beats Usain Bolt by a clear 7 tenths of a second, and becomes the only gold medal winner in the Games’ history to mount the podium still clutching two packets of meat and a box of disposable razors.

Constables Shaun McDaid, 43, and Malky Malcolmson, 22, come a creditable 7th and 8th despite not being formal competitors. In interviews, MacSwegan thanks them for providing him with his ‘motivation.’

‘I’d also like tae thank Aldi fur providing the trainin facilities,’ he adds. ‘And fur no pressin charges.’

AUGUST

A new crop circle controversy breaks out in East Lothian, where fields of barley sprout what appear, at first sight, to be landing strips for alien craft, the distances between each marker on the strip being 3.14159259 metres, prompting feverish speculation amongst mathematicians as to why aliens would measure things in units of Pi.

After a week two conceptual artists claim responsibility, explaining that the ‘installation’ is meant to represent a giant ruler, being a comment on the unavailability of space for conceptual art in Edinburgh during the Festival. ‘The work plays with sensibilities on space in every sense of the word,’ simpers Jason Twistleton-Smythe, 27, of Chipping Norton.

In an unrelated incident, Damien Hirst  recovers from gunshot wounds in Cumberland Infirmary after an altercation over the use of drystane dyke materials to build his latest artwork on a hillside near Carlisle. The work, a shark made of slate entitled Set in Stone, is believed to be an ironic reference to Hirst’s most famous work, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde.

On being charged with the shooting, local farmer George Tomkins (69) comments, ‘It were worrying my sheep.’

SEPTEMBER

The independence referendum is stopped in its tracks by a writ from Donald Trump, who successfully argues that the vote might interrupt his constitutional right to ‘screw as much money out of the little guy as I conceivably can.’ Trump becomes an unlikely hero with the Scots who, scunnered with the whole Yes or No debate, vote to have Trump’s hairpiece declared a Listed Building under the relevant legislation.

The Scottish Government retaliates by making wind turbines compulsory on the pin flags of all golf courses constructed in the last three years.

OCTOBER

Following the inconclusive result in the independence referendum, David Cameron announces the most fundamental shake up of the UK Constitution in a thousand years.

The country will be divided into a house system, similar to that used at most public schools. England will be divided into ‘Southerners’ and ‘Northers’ (beyond Watford Gap) with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each being given their own house. Houses will elect their own Head Boy and Girl, and compete in a series of sports such as lacrosse and cricket to win points.

These will then affect how much money goes to new regional assemblies, known as ‘Common Rooms,’ to spend in the respective regions.

Everyone that matters agrees it’s worth a jolly good go, although there is some predictable whining from Dragon, Saltire and Ulster Paisley Houses.

NOVEMBER

A new phone tapping scandal comes to light. Journalists trying to hack into the private phones of Met Office experts mistakenly gain access to a coach party of pensioners from Swansea driving past the building.

The pensioners’ anxious speculations about the weather, fuelled by earlier tabloid predictions of ninety days of snow and too much prescription medication, set off a feedback loop of inaccurate media predictions which then, in turn, create even wilder speculations on the coach the next day, to be picked up by headline writers the day after. Pieces like ‘Christmas Killer Wave for Cardiff,’ ‘Tsunami to hit Sheffield,’ ‘Snowfall to Flatten Forfar,’ and ‘Avalanche Threat to Aberdeen,’ become commonplace.

Veteran newscaster Michael Fish is wheeled out to confirm that the whole thing is untrue and that a new ice age is not, in fact, due to spread south as far as Macclesfield by next Tuesday lunchtime.

Nobody believes him.

DECEMBER

Scientists announce a research breakthrough: a chemical found only in Brussels sprouts is the cure ‘for almost everything.’ However, clinically significant doses involve daily ingestion of at least 8 ounces of the gas-producing cultivar of Brassica oleracea. R & D departments of major companies go into overdirve trying to refine a more acceptable alternative than eating industrial quantities of the stuff.

In the meantime, as the western world belches and farts its way through Nigella Lawson’s new bestseller A Kilo Of Sprouts A Day Keeps The Ex-Husband At Bay, the Chinese come up with way of extracting the chemical into a single pill to be taken once a day, and keep it to themselves.

As methane levels reach dangerous new highs, however, they relent, and trade the secret process. In return for Scotland, Peru, the Balearic Islands, and the New York Mets baseball team. And the secret recipe for Coke.

Then 2015 dawns, and things get a whole lot weirder.

 

With thanks and love to Heather and Keith Ferguson for their suggestions

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The Scots-Irish Conspiracy Theory of Cricket

The story I’m about to lift the lid on is one of the closest kept secrets of the game of cricket; one that ex-players have only dared whisper to each other, late in the bar, long after the umpires have called off play for bad light, lightning strike, or locust infestation, and they can be – fairly – sure their co-conspirator isn’t ‘batting for the other side,’ to use that phrase in its proper, non-sexual, sense.

To be sure, the Black Ops Division of the MCC have their spies everywhere, although there are worse things than being waterboarded in the hidden spaces beneath the Long Room at Lord’s. Just ask anyone who’s been interrogated by the Dandy Bradmans, and has survived with enough wits intact to tell the tale.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First of all, let’s be clear what we’re talking about when we use the phrase ‘Scots-Irish’ and ‘cricket’ in the same sentence.

Cricket is probably the easier definition. For our American friends, we don’t mean the small insect of whom Jiminy is probably the best known spokesperson. No, this is the game of cricket, a game invented, according to George Bernard Shaw, because the English are a people so lacking in spirituality, they needed something to give them an idea of eternity.

So far as the Scots-Irish we’re describing here, we’re not talking about the many Scots and Irish cricketers who have either played for their own countries, or indeed for England. There are a few examples of the latter: amongst the Scots who have played for England, there is Bellshill-born Mike Denness, who captained the Poms 19 times. More infamously, although Douglas Jardine was born in India, he came from Scottish stock, and how much of his infamous Bodlyine tactics of instructing fast bowlers to intimidate the Aussie batsmen with short pitched deliveries on leg stump was dreamed up at his auntie’s in St Andrews we’ll never know.

There are loads, too, of Irish cricketers. The only one I can think of right now is Eoin Morgan, who has played a bit for England in recent years.

Anyway, these are not the subject of this exposé. Instead, it is a tale of a body of cricketers who – given the right economic and, crucially, culinary circumstances, could have made both Scotland and Ireland the equal – or at least half-decent rival – of the English, but were cruelly denied that chance.

Our tale begins with the humble potato, a vegetable which, in its non-fried form, contains particular nutritional qualities. First brought back to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors in the middle of the sixteenth century, it developed into a staple across the continent over the next few centuries. However, it is its particular affinity to the Celtic fringes of the northern and western British Isles that informs our story.

Perhaps surprisingly, given their South American origin, potatoes grow well in Scotland and Ireland under normal conditions.  The prevailing south-westerly winds keep aphids off, avoiding the spread of the viruses which are normally the greatest check to this herbaceous perennial’s progress. Even more surprisingly, the potato’s particular mix of minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals, along with the more obvious carbohydrate, and a small amount of high-quality protein, seem to provide the perfect dietary supplement to those of Celtic origin – at least, in their non-fried form.

This first became apparent during the eighteenth century, as Scots and Irish began to be noted as increasingly imposing physical specimens. Early Jacobite victories such as Killiecrankie were put down to the Highland Charge, where basically the clansmen ran very quickly and scarily at the Government troops before the latter had time to reload their muskets.

Whether pommes de terre á la surprise also acted as a brain food to fuel the Edinburgh Enlightenment is still the subject of much research. However, what is clear is that, by the end of the century, the pacification of the Highlands, and, separately, Ireland, was a major issue for the London authorities. Much is made of General Wade’s road building to places like Fort William and Inverness, the proscription of Gaelic, and the banning of tartan. What is less well-known is Wade’s lieutenant, Twistleton-Smythe, and his own project to Anglicise the natives by teaching the emerging so-called English game of cricket.

Imagine the scene, if you will. A remote Highland glen, a mist providing assistance to outswing. A lone bagpipe droning, far off. The redcoated Twistleton-Smythe, nervously tapping his bat on the crease as, in the distance, a huge Highlander hawks, spits at the end of his run up, adjusts his unfamiliar britches and starts his approach to the wicket, Maris Piper in hand.

It’s true: recently uncovered records show that, in the absence of proper cricket balls, the Highlanders improvised with their favourite foodstuff, the buntáta, passing down recipes for hardening them through the generations to make the most of peat-based wickets that, in rare dry spells, would favour fast bowling.

Twistleton-Smythe’s journal records how, on a subsequent posting to Ireland, he and his fellow officers suffered increasingly humiliating defeats at the hands of a people who, denied their warrior status, were keen to replace it with sporting prowess. ‘Questionable Umpiring, and a Springy wicket, is still no excuse for our being All Out for twenty and three,’ he wrote. ‘When the natives batted, the Reverse Sweep was deployed to Great Effect. Three projectiles lost in the nearby river.’

The century spanning Culloden, the Highland Clearances, and the Great Potato Famine of the late 1840s, are too dark a period in Scots-Irish history to make light of. However, what is now clear is that, by the late nineteenth century, a Celtic diaspora was spread far and wide through the British Empire and beyond – and many of them were playing a game first taught them by their imperial masters.

The evidence of this was at first subtle. Take, for example, the most famous Australia-England cricket match of all – the 1882 match where the Aussies crushed the Poms so utterly that a group of England supporters inserted a mock obituary of England cricket in the Sporting Times and gave birth to the legend of the Ashes itself. It is true that the Aussie team that day contained the obvious Scots-Irish names: Murdoch, Boyle, and McDonnell. What is less well know is that their demon bowler, Spofforth, who took 14 wickets for 90 runs in the match, might have had a Yorkshire-born father, but his mother’s maiden name was also McDonnell.

By the early years of the twentieth century, however, there are some – admittedly sketchy – records of a group of cricketers, deep in the Australian bush, running what amounted to the first rustic version of a cricket academy with young players, inducted as early as eight years old, fed almost exclusively on kangaroo and potatoes. Quite how this shadowy secret society came to be known as the Dandy Bradmans is still shrouded in mystery, as they clearly pre-date the emergence of Australia’s most famous batsman. However, many believe that Donald was not Bradman’s first name originally, but was bestowed on him to remind him of his mysterious, potato-bearing, benefactors.

The Dandy Bradmans might have begun the trend, but by one means or another, the remaining cricketing nations with large Scots-Irish populations came to learn that the Celtic fringes were a rich source of cricketing talent – particularly when exposure to the legends of Twistleton-Smythe and his Redcoat XI, and industrial quantities of tatties, happened from an early age.

How else can one explain, for example, the deadly Nineties paring of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock for South Africa, and Donald’s most famous hour during the 1998 Trent Bridge Test when he almost literally tried to decapitate Oxford-educated England captain, Mike Atherton? The long line of Aussie fast bowlers such as Jeff Thomson, Craig McDermott, and Glenn McGrath? Even in New Zealand, where the quality of their cricketers has possibly suffered from the less potato-focused mutton diet, the most successful batsman on this year’s tour of England went by the name of Hamish Rutherford.

It is not clear how these underground groups influence official selection panels in Australia and elsewhere: whether by direct means or some form of indirect persuasion. The current Aussies have struggled to build a side as great as Ricky Ponting’s, and one reason might be the relatively light numbers of players with obvious Scots-Irish forebears. However, there are some signs of hope.

One is Nathan Lyon, the spinner, who is the very definition of a wee bauchle. But there is more. Look at the picture below of fast bowler Peter Siddle, likely to make the starting line up for the first Test. Ignore the English-sounding name. If you’ve never seen a face like that next to you at the bar, willing you to spill his pint, you’ve obviously never been drinking in Glasgow at all.

Although apparently he eats bananas rather than tatties….

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