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Farewell, then, to Lewis Collins – the greatest advertising campaigner Brut never had.

It’s difficult to think of someone who so neatly epitomises that style of action hero only the British could turn out in the years between Roger Moore’s Bond and Hollywood’s steroidal grotesques of the 1980s.

It’s best summed up as “rugged naffness”.  

In The Professionals, Collins played William Bodie, a tough, yet suave ex-paratrooper, partnering Martin Shaw’s idealistic ex-copper Ray Doyle in an elite anti-terror unit, overseen by Gordon Jackson’s wonderrrful burrrr.

If Bodie were for real, then he’d be drenched in Hai Karate and Old Spice – but he probably wouldn’t shower every day. He might watch 1950s muscle man films without the merest speck of irony or self-awareness, perhaps flexing his own biceps for comparison. And yes, his Ford Capri would be his pride and joy, its white paintjob buffed clean every second Sunday.

Alan Partridge almost certainly has a signed photo of Lewis Collins somewhere in his house.

I’m sorry if I sound facetious. Collins’ death made me sad in a way that Paul Walker’s tragic passing couldn’t; it was a generational marker for someone my age. The Professionals was one of the last times Britain would produce this kind of flashy Lew Grade-esque syndicated action show (maybe Dempsey and Makepeace was the last throw of the dice). These serials would have you believe that British security officers roared around the country in sports cars, stopped off for pints, pulled barmaids and then pulled pistols to do battle with baddies.

The Professionals’ shabby glamour is a time-locked masterpiece in its own right, even down to the two principals’ haircuts. I must confess that Doyle was my favourite Professional – perhaps because his incredible 70s bubble perm, seen in silhouetted profile in the title card, reminded me a bit of Bungle from Rainbow. I’m not sure.

Bodie, however, was my older brother’s favourite. Re-watching the shows on ITV4 gives me a clue as to why this was. In the title sequence – which features the greatest TV theme tune of all time – Bodie schleps down the street wearing the sort of suit last seen on Stop Making Sense, with an open collar almost reaching his elbows. He pouts all the way through this strut, gurning fit to compete with any Bond.

I could see why my style-conscious teenage brother would have idolised Bodie. You could tell this man fancied himself to the very tip of his tail.

Collins’ quotes from the era are terrific. I was intrigued to find that he tried out for Bond, but it seemed Cubby Broccoli found him “too aggressive”. “They wanted another Sean Connery,” Collins asserted, neatly insinuating that he could have had Sean Connery for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then there was his claim that he passed selection for the SAS, only to be told he was “too famous” to serve in the elite unit. This coincided with his only major feature film role, as an SAS commando in Who Dares Wins.

Even if both these claims are true, they are reminiscent of the Viz’s Aldridge Prior. It’s the sort of story you might get from a delusional blowhard in the pub. “Yeah, I could have been in the SAS, me. Double black belt. Can’t fight anyone, though, ‘cos my hands are deadly weapons. You see that Arnold Schwarzenegger? I was his weightlifting coach.”

In mitigation, Collins must have been hard to fend off the amount of hassle he undoubtedly got in the pub. Fame was arguably even more concentrated back then, when you only had three TV channels. I bet he had to look lively.

Viz magazine was a signpost that Collins had an enduring fame long after The Professionals was cancelled – among women who grew up lusting after him. After Viz printed a less than complimentary letter about the actor from a reader, the Lewis Collins Fan Club were galvanised into action, replying in no uncertain terms.

There’s been a strange outpouring of grief over Collins on the internet and in offices around the country. As an actor his CV is not overloaded, but he enjoys a very rich cultural cache. This is something I’m fascinated by. In his own way, Collins was one of the most famous people in the UK, based on a TV show which ran for four years and ended in 1982. Even now, most people over a certain age knew exactly who he was, and even if they’d never watched a single episode they would be familiar with that awesome theme, and the names Bodie and Doyle. How many other people can say that about their work?

And you know what? I’ve watched a few re-runs of The Professionals on ITV4, and it holds up well today.

Collins’ death makes me sad. The feelings of the public are perhaps best summed up by his co-star Martin Shaw. He said that Lewis Collins was “part of everyone’s childhood”, and perhaps there is the heart of the matter.

I am writing this from an alternate universe in which Margaret Thatcher’s obituaries were all drafted after she died.

Look at Hugo Young! His Guardian piece on Mrs T’s passing survived his own by 10 years.

Anyway, Mrs Thatcher’s death has predictably sparked equal measures of sycophancy, rage and delusion up and down the columns, blogs, broadsheets and bog papers of the UK. There’s more to come, when she gets her ceremonial send-off on Wednesday.

To get it out of the way, I am no admirer of the Iron Lady. There’s no doubt, she built modern Britain with her own mailed fists. She created good times for the south, particularly London, but she also helped create just about all of the messes blighting the nation. For the north, she was simply a destroyer. I’m from the north.

Like it or not I am one of her children. When I was growing up, she was the Prime Minister; seemingly immovable, monolithic, terrifying in stature and intent. I had known no alternative, and electorally it seemed as if there was no other way. She might have been in charge forever, that her reign might outlast my own life.

Under her death-ray blue glare, I saw the Glasgow satellite town I grew up in turn from a thriving place with a population roughly equivalent to Perth to a crumbling ruin filled with bad housing, ill health, unemployment, crime and drugs. The buck has to stop somewhere for that social disaster, and I’m happy for it to stop at Mrs T’s headstone.

When she finally tumbled in late 1990, I was in my third year at secondary school. When the news of her resignation broke, teachers burst into the classroom from elsewhere to tell us; handshakes and slaps on the back ensued.

The effect Mrs Thatcher had on Scotland as well as anywhere north of the M25 has been exhaustively essayed elsewhere, so I won’t take up your time with those recollections. Suffice it to say that the Loadsamoney Eighties seemed to pass me by somewhat.

Having been in power at such an elementary phase of my life, it’s understandable that I should conflate Mrs Thatcher with another female authority figure in my mind; that of a dragonish primary school teacher who terrified me as a young boy. The poor lady in question was probably not as bad as I remember, but she left her mark on me. Put it this way, my parents used her as a threat whenever I misbehaved. Shrieking, bulging eyed and scary, she was the type of person who turned you to stone should you ever be brave enough to hold her gaze.

So, too, with the copper wire-headed Mrs Thatcher. It’s often remarked that many of Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet, not to mention the reporters who hung on her every word, were all privately educated. And so the only woman outwith their own families they encountered in their cloistered public school days was matron – usually an equally formidable figure. Small wonder Mrs Thatcher was able to dominate so many of them, usually just with a look. Because my God, that woman could stare.

What I’m most fascinated by is Mrs Thatcher the woman. The common narrative has it that for a groundbreaking female who took supreme power in her country – it’s almost unthinkable that one of the three major parties would have a woman in charge today, in these supposedly more enlightened and egalitarian times – Mrs Thatcher was no feminist. She was supposedly dismissive of other women, not especially quick to promote any of them and something of a throwback in her public demeanour. This was no master of the universe, the PR shots told us. This was Mrs Mopp, suddenly handed the job of tidying up Britain. Witness those pictures of Mrs T doing the dishes, or dusting the lectern in the middle of some luckless bloke’s speech at a Tory party conference.

Actually, I’d argue that she is an uber-feminist. She is the ideal, hard though that might be for many to swallow. Although there are a great many men who found Mrs Thatcher sexually attractive – doubtless those same boys who clutched themselves at the very sound of matron’s iron footsteps across the dormitory floor, or whose buttocks still tremble at the recollection of her swishing cane – to me she is curious because she was sexless. A woman, yes; immaculately if austerely coiffeured, pearls and handbag ever-present at her side. Powerful, undoubtedly; and relishing that power, brutal with it, unsentimental as a terrible goddess of antiquity. But sex was not part of the Thatcher make-up. She succeeded in her own way, in her own right, as successful men would expect to and as successful women almost never are. Although Spitting Image was hilarious in its depiction of Mrs Thatcher standing beside her cabinet colleagues at the urinals, the contrast is slightly off-beam. She was never masculine in the slightest, but she had a curious feminine power divorced from the notion of beguilement or seduction. It was all about power. Mrs Thatcher commanded awe. In this light, she is closer to Boudicca than Peron, more Medusa than de Marcos.

Mrs Thatcher achieved power and held onto it without any of the bullshit that today’s successful women have to put up with; the pseudo-sexist notion that they must be sexually appealing to men. There was a coincidental comparison on offer the very night Mrs Thatcher died, a British TV interview with Karren Brady, the British entrepreneur. When she walked into the studio, she looked stunning – perhaps literally a million dollars, with her hair and dress and jewellery impeccable. Even the strongest of us might have to suppress an urge to genuflect. This was more Hollywood than the boardroom.

And yet… I couldn’t help but wonder if paying attention to Karren Brady’s looks in the first case means we’re all missing the point. Not so with Thatcher.

That said, Mrs T was very much all woman. The paradox is intriguing. Spectacular as Geoffrey Howe and Douglas Hurd’s hairstyles were at the time – caricaturists barely had to embellish them – it’s hard to imagine them having to submit to a stylist for an extra hour or more every day before getting on with the business of government. Mrs Thatcher had to deal with that extra dimension, her appearance, before running the country. In her antecedents of the time we have Joan Collins’ formidable Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, shoulder pads, power dressing and all. Now that was a character the papers had no problem labelling a bitch; but then, she had sex appeal.

But, this is getting very close to praise, and this I do not intend for the late Mrs Thatcher. Go beyond skin deep, pierce the epithelial thin mythology, and a harsher face emerges. Union power had gone past the stage of usefulness in the 1970s, yes – and maybe they did have to be engaged with. But Mrs Thatcher didn’t engage with the unions – she destroyed them. And with the obliteration of their power base, she also did for the industries that birthed them.  And with the end of the heavy industries – sold off abroad, much like most of the utilities – came the death knell for many parts of the industrial north. The shipyards, the steelworks, and the mines, the mines, the mines… a legacy of ghost towns, despair and broken prospects. For a vision of how badly this policy of eradication worked out, Britons need only to look towards the last economic powerhouse in Europe – Germany, who hung onto their manufacturing base, employing people across their nation and also making things that other parts of the world wish to buy.

She cannot be forgiven. I’m sure she’d appreciate the sentiment. Mrs Thatcher was a curiously unchristian figure for a British establishment figure; it was obvious that Christian virtues were not part of her make-up. It’s a delicious irony that her “no such thing as society” line has been attributed to her address to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly on the Mound (apparently not so; she made the comment to a women’s magazine on the same day, I understand). No such thing as forgiveness, compassion and fraternity (or sorority, for that matter) either. Channelling St Francis of Assisi in her victory speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street in 1979 is one of the grimmer jokes of her premiership.

But wait – what about the services industry and the rise of the City? You can’t argue with the figures, showing that the City is responsible for almost 10% of this country’s GDP. And yet, if one of Thatcher’s key legacies is financial deregulation, then surely she must partly carry the can for the current disasters we are still trying to find a way out of. And what of the current obsession with home ownership in the UK? Surely that’s one of Thatcher’s legacies, too – the idea that we are indentured to mortgages, that such a market can be sustainable and ever-expanding. Thanks to this monetarist notion of our value as people, as consumers, being linked to a price tag on our homes, our cars and our fucking training shoes, we are simply money slaves. And if it’s not mortgages, it’s student loans, another hangover of Thatcherism and the drive to make education competitive. Easy credit, an entire economy founded on debt… It was always going to fail, always.

The myth of the grocer’s daughter is another one that irks me. As a grocer’s daughter, Mrs Thatcher would have been better off than many of her peers in Grantham, Lincolnshire – the notion that she came from nothing is ridiculous. If we wed this to the seldom-acknowledged fact that her husband, Denis, was a millionaire businessman – a far cry from the boozy buffoon he was often portrayed as in the popular press and Private Eye – then surely we can acknowledge that although Mrs Thatcher had the drawback of XX chromosomes in a man’s world, she was also a woman who enjoyed advantages in her path to Westminster.

What we should not overlook is the fact that her intellect was of the first rate. Studying chemistry at Oxford, before qualifying for the bar, we are obviously talking about someone of immense brainpower. That doesn’t fill the moral gap, though. She was a curiously artless figure, not particularly associated to any kind of cultural or artistic leanings. Tony Blair’s floppy-hatted rock n’ roll student days and his guitar-carrying photo opps outside Number 10 may be the very essence of naffness, but at least there’s something you can relate to in there. Not so, the austere, clinical gaze of the lady in blue, who dealt with pounds and pence, valency and molecules, every element in its proper place in the periodic table.

I could go on. But I don’t wish to dance on the woman’s grave. I will grant Mrs Thatcher a sense of dignity she denied many in life. She has two children, and I have sympathy for them. At some point she must have hugged them, kissed them, soothed them when they were frightened. It’s just difficult to imagine her doing so.

Echoing Russell Brand’s superb commentary in the Guardian, I’m also fascinated by how maternal a figure this mother-of-two might have been. There is the naked biological fact of her offspring, but again, there’s a disconnection between Thatcher and my conception of motherhood that I can’t reconcile.

It seems that Carol and Mark might not have sprung from her loins at all – rather that they were born of two of her pulled teeth planted in the soil, like the skeleton army in Jason and the Argonauts. Or perhaps she willed them into existence with a single flash of those eyes, sprung from the ground, blinking, confused and scared before their terrible, terrifying mother: our mother, too. Kali.

I had a chat with a female friend this weekend that struck a chord. She’s got a six-month-old girl, and she said it was an odd thing to imagine her daughter growing up with only a faint idea of who Mrs Thatcher is. For the wee girl enjoying her slice of pear in her high chair, Mrs Thatcher will be as distant a figure as someone like Harold Macmillan, or indeed Winston Churchill, to people from our generation. A figure from an ancient world, someone glimpsed only in the abstract, depicted by actresses and the stuff of unfathomable jokes and references among her parents and grandparents, despite all the videos and photographs available online.

A figure of marble and bronze, scary only to the suggestible, or, if you’re of a separate political hue, admirable only in the way you might admire the sacrifice of brave Leonidas at Thermopylae.

That’s politics, and that’s life.

The age of Thatcher is ended.

Ah, when I get to typing, it’s sometimes hard to stop. As my poor comma key would tell you. Sometimes we need a wee check, whenever a head of steam gets built up. A friendly hand on the shoulder.

George Orwell’s essays are the measured talking-to that any typing hothead needs. Cool, calm, collected, sometimes flawed but always honest, George is the man I keep coming back to. He’s not a hobby, he’s a habit. I’ve blogged – exhaustively – about what I like about his essays here. I should probably have taken a leaf out of George’s book, as it’s a whopper of a review.

As we continue to have our faces slapped with elements of Orwell’s fiction that ring uncomfortably true today, particularly from Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, someone has come up with the idea of Orwell Day – a celebration of the man’s life and works. It falls on January 21st, marking the day he died in 1950, although this year will also see the 110th anniversary of his birth fall on June 25th.

Some people might see the irony in such a celebration, or attempting to secure iconic status for a writer, having read about Orwell’s Proles adoring Big Brother or foaming at the mouth over the Two Minutes’ Hate. But I don’t mind the idea, as it might draw more people’s attention to Orwell’s true genius – the essays.

Orwell and Frank Zappa are the two cultural commentators no longer with us whom I’d most love to resurrect for just a day, to get their thoughts on our ridiculous age. Zappa will have been gone 20 years this December, and we can only wonder at how much material – how many albums – the guy might have gotten out of the George W Bush years alone.

He might even have taken him on and beaten him in the 2004 elections – Zappa made no secret of his political ambitions. Never mind Michael Moore, imagine Dubya tussling with Zappa! Hunter S Thompson might never have been driven to suicide. Corollaries, patterns, pathways, wormholes.

So much for that. But imagine if Orwell was still here. What would he make of the place?

The continuation of inequality, despite globalisation, despite there being enough wealth and money around to feed, clothe, and employ the world, would depress him. Humans could sort their problems, even at a very basic level, from country to country, were it not for greed. The financial crisis should not have surprised him too much, but the idea of the banks and capitalist governments solving their problems by employing the same solutions despite earlier systemic failures would have utterly stymied him. I think Einstein’s definition of madness might do well to explain the current world economic situation and the crisis facing the west.

Current notions of class might bewilder him. Although Orwell was no stranger to internecine struggles, and indeed Animal Farm shows you exactly what can lie in store during political divisions, he might have been annoyed at what has happened to the Labour Party in the UK. Orwell would have supported the NHS and a free education system. The rise of the polytechnic, maintenance grants and more working class men and women in higher education would have pleased him immensely. The fact that this apparatus should have been dismantled in part by the Labour Party would have disgusted him, much as that party’s embrace of globalisation, seeing jobs sent abroad for less. He would have railed against tuition fees, I feel sure; we are now seeing the resumption of the old stratification in schools, colleges and universities that he knew full well as an old Etonian.

Certainly he should have taken a careful aim at the current UK government’s front men, David Cameron and George Osborne, and he should have recognised a dangerous buffoon in Boris Johnson. In modern conservativism, with its pledge of “all in it together”, he would have reflected bitterly on his creation of “doublespeak”.

The world of popular music, television and the masses’ current opiates would have left Orwell similarly cold. He had scant regard for association football in his lifetime, so surely he would have been annoyed by the commodification of what was essentially entertainment and distraction for the working classes.

That the sex lives of footballers should have become national news would have astonished him. Orwell once said that there could be nothing less harmonious for international relations than a football tournament pitting the world’s countries against each other. The World Cup already existed when Orwell wrote this, of course, and he might have been a tad severe there. Surely the magic and exhilaration of the World Cup has helped us forge closer ties with other countries, through an appreciation of footballers from other nations? The great black players – Pele, Eusebio, Tigana, Roger Milla, Ruud Gullitt – were surely fine ambassadors for racial harmony and equality. But even so, Orwell knew the dangers contained within the clarion call of cheap nationalism. Football riots would not have been a surprise to him, nor would the occasional adherence of right wing groups to British football clubs.

And yet, Orwell knew and appreciated the allure of cheap entertainment, and the outlet it provided for the common man. So rather than music halls, penny dreadfuls and rude postcards, now we have television to amuse us. And so, he might not have been so horrified at the incorporation of one of his most famous creations, Big Brother, as well as his notion of constant surveillance, into popular entertainment through the reality TV show that bears its name. He would have found lots to say about the notions of reality and performance blending into one. He should not have been averse to seeing the rich and famous barracked by the public, no matter how vulgar the format.

Perhaps he would have been more impressed by I’m A Celebrity, an emeto-fabulous show in which b-list celebrities and serving politicians fight it out for the right to eat kangaroos’ testicles and live insects ahead of a public vote. He would have found lots to say about Nadine Dorries taking part in the show.

What he would have been most outraged by in the digital world is not so much the idea of our lives being plotted out through website clicks and internet browser histories, but the fact that so many people gladly sign up for this. Facebook, Myspace, Amazon, Twitter, Google… No-one held a gun to anyone’s heads to join these sites or use these services. And yet we all do. There are bots out there right now that know us better than we know ourselves. Orwell, who foresaw the corrosive effects of surveillance culture in Winston Smith’s overseen world in Nineteen Eighty-Four, would surely have fought against this, been appalled by it.

Although Orwell understood the common man’s need to extemporise, I’m not sure Orwell would have been too impressed by the culture of trolling, below the line comments and online bullying we see across the internet. Although Orwell knew there was power in the sound of “thousands of raspberries” drowning out the pomposity of political and intellectual life, he liked fair play. He should certainly not have held up online trolls and miscreants as proponents of free speech, and should have been a stern opponent of bullies and disingenuous cowards everywhere, as he was in life.

What of the arts? Orwell would have continued to review books and write about writers. He would have backed Amazon in its efforts to set writers free, though he may have indulged his cruel, peremptory and somewhat condescending side with bloggers (ha ha!) and self-publishing wannabes.

Orwell was acutely aware of his fastidiousness in many matters, but he still indulged it now and again. Lots of times, Orwell uses his reviews to speak of “good books” or “bad books” or even (most famously) “good bad books”, but his qualification for these terms is hazy at best. What he might have made of modern fiction, I can’t say – except that he adored the modernists, and readily embraced the avant garde (though his own prose was best served with neither garnish nor trimmings). Perhaps he would have lamented the lack of political fiction coming through the ranks. He might have wondered where the working class voices had gone these past sixty years.

I’m fascinated by how Orwell might have reacted to the explosion of cookery and food culture in this country – a very recent invention. For some, English cooking is still a bit of a joke, and god knows it took a while to emerge from the tyranny of starch, lard, lumps of butter, gravy granules and Sunday roast. Never mind how the poor lived – Orwell knew how the poor ate. Who can forget the landlady’s black fingernail pressed down on the bread in The Road To Wigan Pier, or the boys in “The Spike” having to survive on bread and black tea while the restaurant two doors down stuffed perfectly edible food into dustbins? Or the Parisian chef licking the length of a steak in Down And Out In Paris And London?

But his disgust is manifest, for all his understanding. It helps temper his sense of injustice. Orwell would have been disgusted by the horse meat scandal, but he wouldn’t have been surprised by it – certainly he would have understood the need for cheap meat, whether it comes from a horse, a pig’s arse or a convocation of cow’s arseholes and eyeballs.

I think Orwell might have embraced his inner foodie – certainly we’d see him on Saturday Kitchen, and he’d have taken the greatest pleasure penning the sort of columns the late Michael Winner became famous for in his later years. He would have become that very curious thing: a thin man who nonetheless enjoys love affairs with food.

And what of war? We’ve lived with war for more than a decade, now. While its ramifications are brought home to us any time bodies are repatriated, or on the alarmingly frequent occasions extremists are brought to trial, their plans thwarted by the security services, our Middle Eastern wars are still distant as Oceania to us.

Orwell was a fighting man – someone who felt deep guilt at his best years having fallen between the two world wars, so much so that he volunteered to fight in Spain, with near-fatal consequences. Would Orwell have signed up to go to Iraq or Afghanistan, offering his country his military service even though he wasn’t of an age?

No. Orwell was a child of empire and indeed enjoyed colonial adventures in Burma in his twenties, so he would have known at a stroke exactly what was at stake for the west, even after the Twin Towers fell. He would surely not have fallen into the ideological trap that snared Hitchens and others, seeing the fight against religious extremism as a blow for freedom. Orwell was too canny for that. Certainly he’d have thrown himself into embed missions, pottering around in his blue helmet and flak vest, receiving an occasional dusting from enemy mortar fire and collecting the stories of the horrifyingly young men sat with their rifles in their desert fatigues, sleeping in concrete enshrouded bivouacs. He would surely have spared a thought, at all times, for the countless thousands who died in Iraq and Afghanistan – faceless victims of suicide bombings, marketplace blasts, mindless extremism. This was a man deeply moved by the sight of a dead German commando in the wake of the Allied advance into Europe.

Orwell was a patriot, but it’s worth remembering that his finest moments came at a time when his beloved England was under the threat of being over-run by Hitler. Orwell would have been conveniently disappeared had Hitler done so, there can be no doubt of that.

But there’s no comparison between Britain under the threat of the Nazis and the threat of international terrorism. There is no correlation between that England and today’s England. He should have called the wars for the fraud they were. He should have thought it a black joke that Tony Blair should become Middle East peace envoy, and – like Zappa – that George W Bush should have become anything.

Constitutional matters of today are where Orwell and I might have differed. No great lover of Scotland, he was minded to change his Scottish-sounding name for a more anglified one. Although he accepted and renounced this prejudice, born of public school days spent gnashing his teeth at the stories of landed gentry holidaying in great, primeval estates in the Highlands – he was never less than frank about himself and his flaws, one of his more endearing qualities – I’m not sure he would have been wearing the notion of Scottish independence.

It’s never “Britain” or “the UK” for Orwell – it’s always “England”. He makes no apology for smothering the whole island with the identity of only one of its constituent parts in his writings. What would he have made of Irish republican terrorism? Or Scottish nationalism? It’s Orwell’s one blind side. Even though Jura knew him on sight, and he suckled well from that bitter teat.

Here I think Orwell would have found a more patriotic vibe. It would have interfered with his sense of fairness. If Scotland can become independent for economic reasons, he might have asked, then why not the north east of England? Scotland seceding would have been anathema to this Englishman. Certainly he’d have gotten a few commissions out of the Telegraph and the Spectator out of this stance. But not The Mail.

One criticism often levelled at Orwell is that he wasn’t quite progressive about women. The 1950s, never mind the 1960s, didn’t happen to Orwell, so we can perhaps forgive Orwell some of his more bizarre pronouncements about women, and Winston Smith’s somewhat kinky wish that he might murder Julia. But this is a symptom of the age. In fact, Orwell was no prude. He welcomed debate on sex, and was open about it, moreso in his essays than in his fiction. As in all other things, Orwell should have been all about equality and women’s rights, and even gay rights in time. My main criterion for asserting this is in Orwell’s knack of sniffing out hypocrisy. He should have been incredulous at the sight of so many politicians arguing against gay marriage, when some of these politicians have in the past been shown to have been in sham marriages, a cover for their homosexuality. Orwell would have been for equality under the letter of the law. Nothing else would do.

Current attitudes to Europe might have caused him concern. Always in the UK, there are people on the right wing of the country who wish to have less to do with Europe; to have less fiscal and legal ties to the European Union. What Orwell would tell you is that, not so very long ago, Europe was a battlefield, with scores of people slaughtered. European diplomatic infrastructure was put in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Anyone who thinks war will not blight Europe again is a fool. And look at the situation in Greece, still facing meltdown, young people with no work and no prospects. And yet we still huff and puff over measures to pull them out of it. The “union” part is what bothers some on the right wing. But there’s no real way out of the economic crisis without co-operation. Watching Greece burn should be the shame of an entire continent.

This is all speculation, of course. But one thing I think we can count on is that George Orwell would always have been honest with us. His prose would have spoken to us in clear, concise lines. He would never have ranted at us. There was a kindly cast to that face that I think he probably struggled to show in real life. Always, no matter how uncomfortable, we should reveal the truth. We should not dissemble, nor should we rely too much on the cloak of irony as a facilitator of our prejudices or cowardice.

Tell it straight, tell it true – that’s what George would do.



Word of advice gentlemen. From now on be very careful when talking or writing about this club. – James Traynor, head of communications, The Rangers Football Club

It’s a strange feeling, when your suspicions are proven to be correct.

Your paranoia was right on the money, but it’s hardly a cause for celebration. That gut instinct you had, the one that your calm, rational mind told you probably wasn’t right, and wasn’t healthy – it was spot on. You wish it wasn’t.

And yet, there’s an animal streak in you that revels in being proved correct. Chalk one up for the limbic system. Also known as your lizard brain.

James Traynor’s astonishing statement of intent is very much a case of starting where he means to go on. Formerly the sports editor of one of Scotland’s biggest tabloids and for many years a prominent broadcaster with the publicly-funded BBC, he has joined the new Rangers’ PR team – at the very head of the hydra.

The Rangers might be new, but it seems some attitudes die hard. What is the meaning of Traynor’s two sentences above? That it’s a threat seems obvious. But to whom, and why? His former colleagues? Celtic fans? Bloggers?

People of a Rangersy persuasion say many commentators – particularly Celtic fans – are obsessed with the travails of the new Rangers. “You can’t leave us alone,” they say. “You can’t stop talking about us. Why are you so obsessed?”

The reason we take a keen interest is because Rangers, in whatever incarnation you like, need to be held to account. They altered the landscape of Scottish football, they monetised the game long before Sky Sports even existed and they bought players they simply couldn’t afford in an attempt to win, literally at any cost.

Thousands of fans were cheated out of a fair contest. It is only right and proper they are angry about this. It’s not just the preserve of self-righteous Celtic fans. The anger is widespread, and justified. It is very important this doesn’t happen again

It’s not “obsession”, it’s “integrity” – a word that must cause some stinging regret down Edmiston Drive.

So Jim, please keep the threats coming. They prove a great many things beyond all doubt. They also give my lizard brain a wee stroke.

We await the findings of Lord Nimmo Smith’s inquiry with great interest. But whatever the result, I have one question for Jim, and others – even, yes, referees and their assistants. Let’s give my paranoia free rein, here, while the going is good.

Were you ever paid by Rangers (in any incarnation) while you were working for another organisation?

It’s not illegal if you were, of course.

Do let us all know. A simple question – Yes or no? Nothing untoward, no hidden agendas. If it’s a no, fine. We’ll move on.

It must sting Traynor that he will inevitably be linked to his own phrase, “succulent lamb”. I don’t know the guy. He could be alright. He never came across well on Your Call, though, and his defence of the former Rangers resulted in some of the lowest points of BBC Scotland’s broadcasting history. He certainly doesn’t strike me as a coward, so I can imagine how he feels about being linked to absolutely craven, forelock-tugging journalism.

The two sentences at the top could well prove to have an even longer-lasting legacy than an appraisal of that undoubtedly tasty dish served up by Sir David Murray back in his salad days.

Why the aggression, though? Can’t The Rangers just get on with their business? News just in – Celtic fans don’t like Rangers. Amazing – whatever next? You’ll be telling me the Pope’s a catholic… Actually, we’d better stay away from there.

I’ve come to accept the idea that The Rangers will probably be in the top flight in a few years. They’ll win the championship and they’ll be back in the Champions League. Old Firm games will resume, blood will continue to be spilled on Scotland’s streets, the same old haggard battle hymns will be sung and, depressingly, society will put up with the same old anti-social, hateful nonsense clogging up its streets and its pubs and its transport – when it should be enjoying an august sporting rivalry. And we will enjoy it, in that dark wee corner of our brains. The oldest bit – before wheels, before tribes, before tools, before caves, before hair, one million years Before Mammaries.

But please – when those games return, let’s have a level playing field in Scotland. Let there be no more hubris coming from Ibrox. Those days are gone. There is no gain in it for anyone, save extemporising and face-saving. There are consequences to what we say, as Traynor so rightly notes. He could do with taking his own advice.

So – give it up. Have a bit of humility. Work hard. Earn respect. There is nothing else for it, Rangers, no corners left to cut, no favours left to call in. Do it the hard way. Try a bit of the old protestant work ethic. Be like Andrew Carnegie, and never mind being like Jack Glass. I won’t ever like you, but I might just respect you.

It’s a gloomy old town, Gotham City. Everywhere, there’s despair. Batman, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred… even poor old Bane ends up in tears during The Dark Knight Rises. Everyone’s just kind of down; there’s so much regret. Maybe it’s the time of year?

The same is true across the pond at MI6, where another old stager, James Bond, is also pretty maudlin and mopey about things. His story, Skyfall, doesn’t end so happily, either. It was a tough year for our big-screen heroes.

Both Batman and Bond have seen better days. When we reacquaint ourselves with him in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne is hobbling around with a cane, and his doctor’s prognosis isn’t too good. Scarring on the brain? No cartilage? That’s getting awfully close to reality, the true butcher’s bill for a streetfighter.

Ditto Bond, in Sam Mendes’ Skyfall. The British superspy, with his bullet holes and his greying stubble, is made to do a horrible series of pull-ups as part of his physical examination – which he fails. Nice abs, all the same, 007.

But aren’t they a gloomy pair? Batman and James Bond are two men living in the past. Deaths haunt them, peg them back, clip their wings. The two heroes can’t move forwards. If they were your friends, you’d worry. You’d think about having a word with them. Nice and friendly, like, in a pub you both know. If you were, say, Felix Leiter or Wonder Woman.

The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall were bad films, made by directors who should know better. Both had their plus points, featured fine performances and were beautifully shot. But their sins far outweighed their graces. For Batman, the plotting had its backside out the window, and the structure and pacing was awkward from the opening moments. For Bond, bad narrative choices were made in the name of servicing a 50-year legacy. Why all the childhood stuff? It was curious. Did we actually need the backstory?

Daniel Craig is a great Bond, but hardly charm personified. If you were to describe the character of James Bond in five single words, “suave” would probably be in there. But there’s no “suave” about Craig’s performance. He is a physically imposing 007, but he couldn’t draw a bead on Moore’s cheeky patter, or Connery’s velvety malice, or even Brosnan’s sheer smarm. For years, we’ve been told that if he was a real person, James Bond would be a barely functioning psychopath. That being the case, then at last the film-makers have got the character right.

Over in Gotham, Christian Bale is a superb fit for the cowl. But he seems to have had the least fun out of anyone who’s played the caped crusader. Even Michael Keaton’s Batman had a few laughs fluttering around in his belfry once the suit was hung up for the night.

These troubled, dark heroes, who failed as much as they succeeded in this year’s offerings, have some common DNA. And it comes all the way from Shakespeare.

Hamlet had mummy and daddy issues. Like Bond, he had a curious relationship with mother figures in his life; Bond and M’s bickering and counter-punching reminded me a little bit of the Dane’s cut-and-thrust with Gertrude, in her chamber. Don’t forget that Freudian brush-off in M’s house, once Bond returns from the cold: “You’re not bloody staying here.”

Batman, obviously, has people missing in his life, his parents’ murder being a catalyst for his psychotic rage against criminals. So, too, for Hamlet, who is driven to action – and inaction – on his murdered father’s account.

There are more oblique parallels to be drawn. In the Dark Knight Rises, Batman takes a little turn against Alfred, his substitute father figure, protector and confidant. Of course, Alfred’s character doesn’t have the same psychosexual overtones as Claudius, but he takes a Polonius-esque skewering through the arras from a crushed Bruce Wayne once he uncovers the deception his faithful butler used to protect him in the last movie – burning a “Dear Bruce” letter from his lost love, Rachel Dawes.

These heroes are haunted by their past, and by ghosts, like the Dane. Bond the orphan’s choice of the family home in beautiful Scotland for the final showdown with Silva couldn’t be more symbolic. The place is blown to matchwood, though 007 isn’t quite as angry about this as you might suspect. He says outright that he hated the place, and had far more of a dander up about his beloved Aston Martin being turned into fiery scrap. As an aside, I wonder what the Scottish Government, never slow off the mark when it comes to tourist connections, made of Bond’s unsentimental feelings towards his bleak ancestral pile?

Another orphan, Bruce Wayne, also has issues with his childhood, and by extension his very identity. Although Wayne Manor has been rebuilt after the League of Shadows torched it in Batman Begins, Bruce isn’t too keen on staying there once the roof falls in on his business empire. What Alfred knows is that Bruce Wayne’s health and happiness are dependent on him leaving home, getting away from Gotham, and not being a slave to duty.

In both men’s sense of desolation, we can again see something of the Dane, and his apparent madness sparked by his father’s murder, as well as the burden of duty when he accepts the ghost’s mission of vengeance. It’s duty that brings Bond back to MI6 in Skyfall – nothing else.

Hamlet’s notions of the office of king, and the honour of Claudius, the man who would become one, are quite precise on this score. A king may make his way through the guts of a beggar, indeed. But has the prince seen something of his own progress in this, too? And can we see echoes of this in Bruce Wayne’s handling of Wayne Enterprises? Both men seem all too eager to bring the curtain down on it all.

In Hamlet’s Ophelia, there’s another echo of Batman, who sees his true love taken from him in The Dark Knight. You even could argue Wayne’s tragedy is down to an inability to act. Had he simply killed the Joker, the villain would not have been able to carry out his atrocities, including the murder of Rachel Dawes and the fateful disfigurement of Harvey Dent. We could look not to Skyfall, but to 2006’s Casino Royale, for Bond’s Ophelia – Vesper Lynd, twisted and turned this way and that by her quarry-turned-lover, before finally dying the same way as Hamlet’s girl.

So, we have dark heroes, unresolved complexes, deadly hang-ups and – the key driver for all three – enormous, overwhelming grief. What Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises shared, though, was a hopeful conclusion, or at least, a sense that they’d moved on. Batman passes on the cape and cowl to Robin (nice touch, incidentally). He then finds happiness with Anne Hathaway. And who wouldn’t?
Bond, meanwhile, allows himself a deep breath. Everything has been destroyed, his childhood home rubbled and his mother substitute, M, buried. But there’s a new family in place. Here comes Ralph Fiennes as the fatherly M, and Moneypenny’s there to fret over him out in the field.

So there is some light out of the darkness, a sense of moving on.

And thank goodness, because I’m sick of the gloom. The Dark Knight felt like a breath of fresh air in 2008. Nolan’s masterpiece took Joker-esque glee in showing us there are no easy answers in life. Far from a fascist fantasy where a rich guy gets to slap poor miscreants around, it seemed to me like an acknowledgment that our governments and authorities lie to us – and those lies have consequences.

Ian Fleming’s source novel for Casino Royale in 2006 was a post-war reappraisal of western heroes, their place in the world and a sense of disillusionment in the grubby businesses our governments get involved in for the sake of security. While eschewing those politics, the movie version sticks close to Bond’s personal arc. He is a husk at the end of that movie, far from your favourite uncle, and he has not cheered up since.

But aren’t blockbuster movies meant to be about escape? I’ll probably revisit Joss Whedon’s The Avengers the most, out of 2012’s marquee releases. For a start, it was fun. Its most tortured hero – Bruce Banner – didn’t get sulky. He turned into “a giant green ragemonster” and broke stuff. And the Marvel movie dared say things outright which the Nolans’ Batman films only hinted at through gritted teeth. I admired Nick Fury’s candour: “We made some mistakes along the way.”

When Batman and Bond return, I suspect we’ll see different heroes to the ones who’ve scowled at us from big screens over the past decade. They may still be tough, they might still have issues, but there’ll be a bit of colour in there, too. Let’s hope they have not lost all of their mirth.

Gods come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they’re guys in beards and cloaks; sometimes they’re burning foliage; sometimes they’re wonderfully fleshy, full-breasted women.

Just as often though, they’re monsters. Ugly, frightening and wanting fed.

I suppose at one point, Jimmy Savile was a god – or what passed for one in the days of just three television channels. Bestowing favours and boons, fixing things for you and you, and you. Now it seems that he was a monster, too.

The more allegations of abuse are made public, the more it becomes difficult to believe that the late TV presenter, DJ and showbiz personality was innocent of the revelations levelled against him.

I have a slight pang of discomfort over such claims appearing now. Making them against a dead man isn’t fair on anyone. Savile cannot defend himself to any earthly authority, and the victims are denied a sense of justice. That little sting is my sense of fairness, and it’s a good thing. But I feel it less almost by the hour.

Millions of people watched his show, but Savile fans will be understandably hard to find. It’s a bit like all those thousands upon thousands of folk who went to those oh-so-knowing… if-only-they-knew Gary Glitter Gang Shows in the late 1980s. Very popular at the time, although like Noel’s House Party, Phil Collins and Jive Bunny, you’d have a hard time tracking down anyone who’ll admit to having enjoyed them. For vastly different reasons, I must stress.

Savile’s cultural cache was still well-stocked when he died, aged 84, last year. I guess he did do a lot for charity. People lined the streets, applauding his gold-plated coffin on a grandiose post-mortem tour of his favourite places. He lay in state in his native Leeds; books of condolence were filled. Such was the gravitational force still exuded by this elderly has-been, a self-confessed oddball and lifelong bachelor of questionable dress and habit. After 50 years in the glare of publicity, he was a part of everyone’s childhood, it seemed.

There are two things to take from this dreadful story. The first is that it underlines the fact that whatever hell is being inflicted on you by another human being, in a civilised society, you are not powerless. In these days of rapidly evolving, instant communication, it is difficult for anyone to be totally isolated and cut off from avenues of salvation. This applies especially to children, who are usually more tech-savvy and plugged-in than adults.

I’d say to anyone suffering abuse: Tell someone. Shout up. You can do it anonymously. You have power against abusive people. Never hesitate to act. Look at these poor people in the documentaries now, the smudged ones, overdubbed and out of focus, suffering their whole lives. Don’t let it be you. If there’s a positive here, let it be this.

In the sixties and seventies, of course, things were different. Especially if you were a troubled or simply unfortunate child housed in an isolated, bloodless institution… Of the type Savile regularly visited in his fancy cars.

As a corollary to this, anyone who turned a blind eye to any abuses Savile carried out should be made an example of. If he’s guilty of the crimes he’s accused of then there must have been plenty of these people, in high places and low. A particularly abject individual interviewed on ITV’s Exposure documentary explained that he had seen Savile abuse a young girl, but he looked the other way because he was frightened that Savile – that known hard-case – might carry out reprisals.

Did it not strike anyone to maybe lift a telephone? I understand there’s an easy-to-remember number you can dial if you see a crime being committed.

Also, you can write some letters. Better than doing nothing, eh?

The second point to make is that Jimmy Savile illustrates a certain hypocrisy which endures today. If we accept that – if guilty – what Savile did was wrong in and of itself (and incredibly, there are some who do not), then it must be true across the board, and apply to everyone. The problem is, as a society, our rules seem to be flexible when it comes to certain showbiz personalities. There’s a crisis of perception.

It’s easy to hang a tag on Jimmy Savile. Frankly, he looked like a paedo. I said earlier on today to some colleagues that if Jimmy Savile was a child abuser he was one of the most conspicuous examples who ever lived. With his piss-stained dye-job, his bulging eyes, his tracksuits, his mining disaster teeth and string vest, the guy might pass for an identikit photo of a nonce you might put together for a laugh. It’s like a burglar wearing a stripy jumper and a cowl, or more appropriately, a flasher walking into a public park wearing a dirty raincoat.

Rumours always surrounded Savile, but I didn’t quite believe he was an abuser before. I thought that if he was less than saintly, he was even stranger than that. I wondered if there was any truth to some truly ghastly urban myths about Savile’s legendary shifts as a volunteer porter at Leeds General Infirmary. Added to this was a strange fixation he had on his mother – never a good thing, boys – whom he lived with into middle age until she died, and whose flat and belongings he had maintained and dry-cleaned until his own death.

If anything, the man seemed strangely asexual. This made me suspicious. But this was countered by the knowledge that, of course, banality doesn’t always equal evil, and strangeness of habit doesn’t necessarily mean perversion. Sometimes people just want to be left alone. Sometimes, people aren’t interested in having sexual relationships. Some people aren’t wired up properly.

That pang, that little pang, again.

Turns out he might have been a garden variety beast, after all.

Now look to your CD collection. I’m assuming Gary Glitter’s back catalogue isn’t there. But there’s a fair chance you will own a CD by recording artists whose sexual predilections ran towards young girls. And you know this, too. You maybe even knew it when you bought it.

We’ll gloss over Pete Townshend’s trouble a decade ago over credit-card paying websites and some extremely offensive content therein, because everyone else does. He claims it was for research for a book, and has recently added that he was suffering from “white knight” syndrome – wanting to help children who had been abused, like him.

It seems that Pete Townshend didn’t have any dodgy material on his computers when he was investigated by police, and never actually accessed any images on the site in question. However, the fact remains that he used a credit card on a child porn site, and he accepted a caution for this instead of defending himself in court.

And yet there Townshend was, at the closing ceremony of the Olympics. There he is in my CD stack; there he is on my iPod.

The Rolling Stones wrote a song called “Stray Cat Blues”, which features the line, “I know that you’re only fifteen years old… no, I don’t need to see no ID”. Former Stones bassist, Bill Wyman, famously married a nineteen-year-old when he was in his late forties… Nothing illegal about that, but she’s since alleged that he first slept with her when she was much younger.

Then there’s Roman Polanski.

And of course, there are great rock and roll “groupie” stories, those grubby tales which become part of popular mythology, passed around gullible teens like analogue porn. Sailor’s hats, octopuses, mud sharks… you name it. I can’t, for legal reasons.

I’m forced to conclude that there’s no disgrace, court action and ultimately prison for some well-known cultural behemoths because they enjoy greater public esteem and artistic credibility. The work they produced was more worthy of respect than that of someone like Jimmy Savile, even though there’s a chance they did exactly the same thing: preyed upon young, star-struck girls who treated them as gods. And who were in turn treated like receptacles.

And how the big stars must have seemed like gods. Media was not as all-pervasive as it is today. Newspapers and magazines, Top of the Pops, radio airplay, yes… But no internet. No instant media, no constant connectivity through computers and mobile phones. The possibilities for achieving high public profile in the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties were not anything like as diffuse as they are today. If you could crack those elements – and especially if you made it onto television – it was pretty much an open goal as far as public recognition went.

This concentrated stardom must have made otherwise obvious creeps like Jonathan King and Gary Glitter seem like they were otherworldly, larger than life, worthy of worship. And the girls – and boys – would have followed them, of course. They still do, even in these days of YouTube, iPods, rampant piracy and multiple, 24-hour music TV channels. They still faint at concerts, lose control. Older girls aren’t much better whenever Take That come to town. After these shows, casualty wards in major cities look like field hospitals in a war contested exclusively by thirty-and-forty-something women.

And you boys… Yeah, you’re straight, we know, but you still idolise the people who appear on that poster on your wall. The application might be different to that of a lachrymose Justin Bieber fan, but the impulse to venerate is the same. Guitar players, rock n’ rollers, the living and the dead, the posters you see after you wake in the morning and before you turn out the light at night, the six-string weapons of war you covet, the band logo you scrawl on your schoolbooks. You’re just the same.

Our rock stars exert a strange, atavistic power over us. But they’re just men and women, after all. Thankfully, it doesn’t take serious criminality to expose this and reinforce it. If there’s one thing mass media, celebrity culture, paparazzi shots and general internet fluff can be thanked for, it’s helping to debunk this deification of celebrities, politicians and anyone else in the public eye.

You worship the royal family? Here’s Harry in the buff. Here’s Kate’s tits. I don’t agree with breaches of privacy, whether that’s royalty or someone sleeping in an underpass; but nor do I agree with veneration of public figures who provide little benefit to society.

Your heroes and heroines? Here they are drunk. Here they are without their make-up on. Here they are going down to the shops in their joggies. These images can be unpleasant, spiteful, invasive. But they are not controlled. Not airbrushed. Not staged. Not manipulative. For god’s sake, they just play music! They strum a guitar, they wallop inanimate objects, they have haircuts. They open their mouths. What does their life and habits mean, really, apart from helping to fill your spare time and dead air with sound? They drive a fancy car, they go to swish nightclubs, they pet tiny dogs and get divorced… So what?

In some photos of Jimmy Savile taken by young girls who shared his company, he’s rigged out in Lycra and flowing kaftans. He looks like an evil wizard in a 1970s Hammer Horror Film. God only knows what these people thought when they met him in the flesh.

Someone like that would never get away with such behaviour for long, these days. You’d hope.

Let’s get out of the habit of treating human beings like gods. Maybe that’ll stop some of them getting away with being monsters.

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games was an endearingly batty showcase of many great things about the UK. But it prompted one repeated question across the internet which irritated me: “Why did they use The Exorcist music during the section on the NHS?”

If it annoys Mike Oldfield that his most famous work has been reduced to such a footnote, he doesn’t show it. The Exorcist theme is certainly a gateway drug to his music, and if album sales are anything to go by there is an appetite for it, particularly Tubular Bells.

The Olympic ceremony featured a lot of music that was personal to its artistic director, Danny Boyle. It can be no coincidence that Mike Oldfield himself – still thought of as a reclusive performer, despite any number of tours – was front-and-centre.

Danny Boyle would be about the right age to have experienced Tubular Bells when it was first released. I can well imagine an eighteen-year-old Boyle sitting there in a darkened bedroom with a set of headphones on, the vinyl hissing away in the background, squinting at the Tubular Bells album cover, painting pictures with his mind.

Tubular Bells lives on; it endures. It has a habit of popping back into the charts, snaring the curious, every generation. Despite a sometimes volatile relationship with his old record label’s first star, Sir Richard Branson is very quick to point out that record’s catalytic effect on Virgin Records, and the subsequent Virgin empire.

It annoys me that the album’s famous piano intro is tied in with a popular public perception of evil incarnate through association with The Exorcist. To me, Tubular Bells is sublime, heavenly, ethereal – not the stuff of devilry.

Many who would write it off as just another indulgent prog rock platter from the early 1970s may be surprised to know it had John Peel as its champion when it was first released. Branson is also quick to point out that Tubular Bells would not have sold so well had the much-missed Radio One DJ not played the entire thing, back-to-back, on his show.

It beggars belief that Oldfield was just nineteen years old when he made that record. The studio equipment and overdubbing techniques used for the album seem to have come out of the pages of a steampunk novel, a million miles away from autotune and any number of modern audio horrors. He laid down great chunks of it in a frenzy of activity, playing all the instruments himself.

As Oldfield said in a recent interview, the album was handmade; a labour of love. It shows.

Another thing I found out about Tubular Bells was that its immense success wasn’t an altogether positive thing for its creator. A sufferer of panic attacks and anxiety disorders, Oldfield retreated to the country homes he could now afford, both in the UK and abroad, unwilling to take part in tours and public appearances, completely wrapped up in music and almost allergic to public attention.

This chimed with me. Tubular Bells is the kind of album that’s made to be listened to alone, with headphones, in a darkened room. Certainly that’s how I discovered it, picking through my older brother’s neglected vinyl albums left behind in the spare room at our house, long after he left.

Strange summer evenings with the slow-sinking sun. The journey into the unknown, the hiss of dead space after the needle first hits the vinyl. The weird, new-agey sleeve, with its crashing waves.

Bones burned on a beach.

Oldfield once pointed out that you can’t dance to Tubular Bells. If you start tapping your feet to the piano intro, you’ll soon be out of time “unless one leg is shorter than the other”. Aside from the sublime Viv Stanshall and the less sublime “caveman” section on side two, there are few vocals and little percussion other than the instrument in the title. Certainly no verses or choruses to be found here. Even today, this is an odd release for the pop charts.

It’s a soundscape, the accompaniment to a million nights spent sitting on the couch, glass of wine in hand, with nothing to do but decorate time with sound. Though never soporific, Tubular Bells makes it easy to dream. This is why I often have it on when I’m writing.

Making Tubular Bells wasn’t much of a collective process, it seems. Its young creator was a one-man band, a person of singular drive and vision.

Writing, too, is a solo occupation, introverted by nature. It’s on the same hymn sheet as Tubular Bells, and in the locked-in syndrome of the writer we can glimpse something of the drive, the dedication and perhaps the loneliness of Mike Oldfield.

I’m glad Tubular Bells is back in the charts. I’m glad that the people who bought it the first time around will have the opportunity to listen to it again, maybe with a glass of wine in their hand, some night when they have nothing to do but pass the time.

And I’m glad that some young person, somewhere, will have it on their iPod or MP3. Hopefully they’ll allow themselves to be transported the way I was, into the untouchable realm the music came from.

I was having a flick through the papers yesterday in the middle of benching 250 pounds one-handed, and came across the article by Samantha Brick in the Daily Mail.

It struck a bit of a chord. People hate her because she is beautiful, and well, she probably registers as Christmas and Birthday come at once for many readers. In good nick, and no need to worry about kids. There’s a bit of the Sally Bercows about her but without the maintenance. If she got the Mazda, you suspect, she’d be happy with that, and would probably wait a decent length of time before badgering you for the Porsche. In one’s own feverish imagination, of course.

Plus, of course, she appears to have the villain in a biker movie for a husband. The natural born winner in you asks the question: Surely she can do better than that? Like me, for example.

You see, I am awesome. I find it triggers an uncontrollable jealousy in people. Only the other day as I trailed my finger over the dread wax finish on my blood red (with black trimming) Ferrari I was thinking about this, in fact. It was a Dinky toy, but hey – aspirations, people, aspirations.

Haters will be hating, as the common parlance has it. As I flex my manly muscles and give out a masculine roar in the middle of the office, you’d be surprised at some of the looks I get. Admiration for the most part, but there are the odd jealous people stored here and there.

Only the other day I was given a disciplinary notice by my bosses for volunteering to give one of the girls in the office a back rub! I mean there must be some really mardy buggers about these days, I tell you. Reminds me of the time I was fired from my job as a labourer during the school holidays for hooting and clutching myself like an ape at every woman walking below the scaffolding who passed muster – and letting the ones that didn’t know exactly why.

Samantha Brick is spot on – why should she have to put up with people’s simple jealousy just because she’s gurning about how great her life is in a national newspaper? It’s attitudes like this which hold us back as a country. Separating the can-dos and the winners from the snarks, snipes and losers. Think me, in my aviator shades, my too-tight jeans, my over-long hair at the back and my suit jacket; what’s your reaction? Gut deep jealousy? Yeah, I knew it.

What this woman’s life – having rail tickets bought for her by admiring, Brut-splashing gentlemen like me – is like is almost irrelevant, but the reaction to the piece across the world must have had the Daily Mail rubbing its handies in glee. The one thing you can count on these days is that humiliation sells, especially across the internet. Put up the twits, get the hits. I can only hope that Ms Brick has earned well out of this piece, and will continue to do so. Hopefully at the minute she’s sipping the finest champagne, from a lovely scalloped bath in a fancy dan hotel, inviting us all to eat cake. I hope it’s worth it.

She does have a point though, about how society treats confident, aspirational women. Not that Samantha Brick is one of these things, exactly, but she does raise the question. Of course, if a man is great and awesome – like me, don’t forget, as I slide off my brown leather jacket, displaying my too-tight t-shirt and kiss my guns – it barely causes any commentary whatsoever. Simon Cowell can swan around being as awesome as me, but we tend to accept these things because it’s a man. Someone like Samantha Brick comes along, all we’re interested in is what she looks like. And she may be spot on about jealousy among other women. She might be telling the absolute truth.

Pause for thought. But only for a second. I’ve got stomach crunches and chest beating to do.      

I don’t normally go for fatalism, but even I’d have to admit the stars were not lining up for Celtic today.

It’s been a good couple of weeks if you enjoy seeing the big boys taken down a peg or two. I don’t have any strong feelings about Manchester United, but to see them so comprehensively spanked by Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League was heartening. Although a part of me would like to see Sir Alex Ferguson lift the only trophy to elude him other than the World Cup, the arrogance and sense of entitlement among English teams in European competition is not to be applauded. Even worse was the sense of disbelief. But… but… they’re seventh in La Liga! How is this possible?

Manchester City losing to Sporting Lisbon, however, was priceless. It’s a wonder City aren’t more unpopular – maybe it’s the Balotelli effect. Or perhaps being “not United” is good enough for some. But even their own fans seem a little conflicted about how cheap their success seems, despite having been bought with unimaginable sums of cash. The wheels of the blue juggernaut are about to come off, I suspect; United have that dread momentum that’s seen them through so many campaigns in the past, and I would be surprised if they blow it now.

Fergie was big enough to accept that his team had been well turned over – though this is hardly his usual stance.

Today, unhappily for me, it was Celtic’s turn.

Celtic fans have enjoyed a wonderful few weeks. Not all of this has been to do with Rangers’ off-the-field meltdown after years of loading the dice. The team has been playing well. They’ve overhauled a seemingly insurmountable lead by Rangers all on their own steam, never mind points deductions. And, as the BBC commentary reminded us today, they’ve hardly even conceded a goal since the end of October.

There was much talk – mostly in the media, it must be said – of a potential trophy treble for Neil Lennon’s men.

The scene couldn’t have been set any better.

And so, at Hampden Park, for the Communities League Cup final, there it was: the beautiful game at its finest. Big guys 0, Little guys 1.

I will go one stage further than Neil Lennon, who could have done better with his post-match comments, and heartily congratulate Kilmarnock. In Kenny Shiels, Kilmarnock have a decent man for a manager. One of the few to call it absolutely correctly when his fellow Ulsterman was going through all sorts of horrors emanating from the very blackest gulfs of Scottish society last year. But they also have an astute man for a manager, who won the psychological war well before he won the tactical one at Hampden.

“It would be a travesty if Celtic don’t win the treble,” he opined on Friday. Could Fergie have done it any better?

Winning silverware is a rare event for a team like Kilmarnock. Such days can be a once-in-a-lifetime event for those following the less fashionable clubs, something many Celtic fans might struggle to appreciate. I can see the merit as well as the justice in today’s result. Killie defended well, passed the ball and took their chance. The win was well deserved. That’s the sportsman in me.

However, the sportsman in me also dislikes spitting platitudes and waxing magnanimous; these things are for when the battle is over, and hopefully when you’re looking forward to untying the ribbons on the trophy like a suitor undressing the object of his affections at long last.

I don’t wish to scapegoat Celtic players, but there are a few who should be looking very closely at their performance today. If one or two players see Celtic as a stepping stone to securing their dream move to the likes of Blackpool or Derby County – no offence – then I have a feeling they may well get their wish soon.

The management also got it catastrophically wrong, in terms of the team line-up and also some bizarre substitutions. This isn’t the first time Neil Lennon’s Celtic have fallen flat on their faces against opposition they were expected to beat on a big occasion. You don’t want to make a habit of such humiliations if you want to manage Celtic, with the best will in the world towards teams like Ross County and Kilmarnock.

Still, Lennon was angry. It’s understandable – he’s a winner. And it’s worth bearing in mind he has had some week, thanks to court cases and the funeral of his friend and comrade-in-arms, Paul McBride QC. Sticking to the football, you can be as gracious, or not, after the match, but every player who crosses that white line should only have victory in mind.

I call to mind Kenny Dalglish’s blood-chilling statement in the immediate aftermath of Liverpool’s victory in the Carling Cup final in February, when asked how he felt about his opponents Cardiff City’s gutsy performance.

“Our name’s on the cup,” he drawled. “That’s all that matters.”

Whatever you think about Dalglish, you can’t deny that he knows a thing or two about winning.

But, the battle is indeed over, and Kilmarnock’s name is on the cup.

And there was a grim post-script to today’s match. The father of Kilmarnock player Liam Kelly suffered a heart attack after the final whistle. He was treated on the pitch, but later died. It’s incidents like these – to say nothing of what happened to Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba only yesterday – to remind you that football most certainly is not more important than life or death, and pity the fool who takes Bill Shankly at his exact words.

Life – like success – is fleeting. Enjoy what you have while you have it. No-one in sport, or in life, should imagine they are entitled to win anything. Every triumph is a great gift, sometimes simply a wonderful piece of luck as much as it is hard graft, and a grand distraction from the horrors and ennui of real life.

 Enjoy your night tonight, ye Killie boys.

Well, Rangers are in a heap o’ trouble, and you can bet I had a right good gloat at that.

If I was a TV series I’d be The Love Gloat. If I was a gun killer I’d be Raoul Gloat. If I was a geographical location I’d be John O’Gloats. If I was a – you get the picture.

So I’ve been sharpening the pencil this week to have a right good stab into ailing Scottish football giants Rangers FC. I’m a Celtic fan, you see, so we have a deadly vendetta thing going on. Wait, that’s not right – we have a local derby thing going on. Or irresolvable political tensions. Or sectarianism, or God forbid, a sporting rivalry. Yeah, we don’t get on.

I do hate the team and much of what it stands for, well enough. I could take you through some stories of charming encounters I’ve had with our blue brethren, but I don’t want to bore you. And I’m sure they could just as easily point to abuse from Celtic fans in turn. “Whataboutery” is the nation’s second-favourite sport, after all.

I’ll state the case briefly. They have a lot of bigots among their fans, they embarrass Scotland on a regular basis and, in Sir David Murray, they had a chairman who represented just about everything I hate. Now, he superseded his physical disabilities to amass a great personal fortune, and, however grudgingly, I respect that. But the man couldn’t have been more obnoxious with it. A smug, monetarist, Thatcherite profiteering galoot, the man simply reeked of snobbery, hubris and cultural elitism. There’s lots to like about Rangers’ woes, and the great alarm bell it sounds for mindless capitalism (the club could serve as a metaphor for it), no doubt about that.

And yet… I’ve not long watched the Celts whup Hibs 5-0 at Easter Road, and it reminded me of something a writing colleague said, a valediction for the early 21st century. The match felt “like that horrible empty feeling you get when you complete a video game”. Even in the midst of success, with our rivals flat on the ground, never mind on their knees, it doesn’t feel right that we should waltz into Easter Road and take five off the Hibees. And how depressing to see those empty seats in Hibs’ stands.

The Celtic fans made great sport of the occasion, but the occasion was not great sport.

Two things to establish right away; I do not wish Rangers’ survival because, oh, what do the apologists say? “We need them to survive,” or, “without Rangers there’s no point”. Their financial woes are completely self-inflicted, and I’m amazed that Celtic are being put into the equation. We’re a well-run club. Eternal credit must go to Fergus McCann, who not only saved the club but ensured that we’d never have a megalomaniac in charge, like Sir David Murray. And credit to former chairman Brian Quinn, too – another man vilified for his “Biscuit Tin” mentality, but whose prudence has ensured we didn’t follow follow Rangers on the road to oblivion.

And secondly, I’m not echoing the usual “the Scottish league is rubbish” snarks, usually coming from English football fans, either. Scotland is a football-mad country, always has been, and although the quality has dipped in the past quarter century, it can rise again. The big joke on Twitter when Rangers’ 10-point penalty was announced was that they had fallen from second place to second place. But if you strip 10 points from the English Premier League’s second-placed club Man Utd, they’d only fall one place, and still have a good cushion between then and Arsenal.

Life without Rangers is a possibility. They have a massive tax case to come, and if they lose that and are liable for a £50m bill, the unthinkable could happen – a winding-up order at Ibrox. Only a decade ago, this was a club speaking of having three squads – one for the cups, one for the league, one for Europe. That famous quote – “For every fiver they spend, we spend a tenner.” Surely there must be Rangers fans out there who know, in their heart of hearts, the natural justice in such breathtaking arrogance being made a mockery of today.

Oh, how Sir David Murray coveted that European Cup. It was the one thing he couldn’t get his hands on – and he came horribly close in 1993. When is one star on a jersey worth more than five, Sir David? I think you know the answer full well.

Wonder what will happen to Kyle Lafferty’s neck should those titles you cheated your way towards be expunged?

Ah, but I’m falling into the trap here. Watching the match today, with the sinking still-winter sunlight filtering through the blinds, I got a chilly feeling. We shouldn’t be beating Hibs 5-0 away, even if they are bottom of the league and going nowhere fast. This wouldn’t have happened 25 years or so ago. We’d have gone to Easter Road and maybe lost. It wouldn’t have been a shock, of course. To win by the one goal would be considered a good result.

Nostalgia bomb: I can remember Hibs knocking us out of both cups, one season – maybe 1986? In the Skol/League Cup we drew 4-4 and they knocked us out on penalties. In the Scottish Cup they beat us 4-3. Neither result was a shock.

These tussles were common in Scottish football’s second great Golden Age: the early-mid 1980s. Pre-Souness, basically.

I started to fall in love with football in 1985 – properly in love, with that same intensity that the start of any other relationship has – with the 100th Scottish Cup final, Celtic v Dundee United at Hampden Park. Great bowl of a stadium, still mostly uncovered and unseated. Gigantic square goalposts with those lovely, deep curved stanchions you’d know anywhere (were Hampden’s the best, or Wembley’s?). Aberdeen had won the league on the last day, a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park clinching it from us. So the Cup was our last chance of a trophy (and our first since 1982), and it looked ropey for a while as United went 1-0 up through Stewart Beedie. The clock ticked on… And we came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to two magical goals. First Davie Provan – “Only twice before has a goal been scored direct from a free kick in the final of the Scottish Cup. Is this a piece of history… irrrrrissss!” And then, with five minutes left, Frank McGarvey’s moment of immortality, the ball flying in off his Frankenstein’s napper from Roy Aitken’s charging run and cross. Oh, happy days.

That was me, hooked. That sort of euphoria is right up there with crystal meth and full-fat heroin on the Not Even Once List. You never come back.

The following season, Celtic were league champions in another romantic victory, clinching the title on goal difference on the last day of the season at Love Street. Hearts were pipped at the post, having been the form team for much of the year. You can bet I had no sympathy for them at the time, but it was a harsh blow. If you look at the league tables, even allowing for two points for a win, both league championships in ’85 and ’86 were thrilling. In 1986, Hearts and Celtic finished level on points, but people forget Dundee United were only three points behind.

No-one knew it at the time, but this was the last time the league would be un-doped. Things changed that summer, with Rangers under new management, and Graeme Souness taking the manager’s chair at Ibrox, and… nothing being the same. Now came in the millionaires, the big salaries, spending what they couldn’t afford. Sky followed not too much later, and with it came the ruin of the English game.

Because don’t kid yourselves out there – the Premier League in England is just the Scottish league with fancier knickers. Success is bought and money is worshipped. How depressing to see billionaires waltz in and manipulate our national pastime as a vanity project, completely upsetting the applecart. I know more than one Man City fan who is loving the prospect of winning the league and rubbing the Reds’ faces in it… while at the same time appreciating that it’s a gigantic bloody fraud. Increasingly, the top leagues are concerned with money and power, not sport. I remember asking someone from Germany a few years ago if they supported a team; he told me that he hated football, as it had become an industry. He was right, but now it’s worse than an industry. It’s evil empire stuff. Real Madrid don’t buy people like David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo purely for football reasons. It’s big business. It’s ego. It’s three or four absolute monsters cruising past schools of minnows, swallowing them whole when they feel peckish. It’s ugly capitalism. If they win a bauble here and there, it’s not the bottom line. Power, influence and hegemony is. Barcelona remain a ray of light in that they have a hierarchy, some standards and a home-grown team, but that great side will dissolve, as they all must. And what then?

But there is another ray of light, and the death of Rangers can provide it. Their possible liquidation proves beyond doubt that no organisation is too big to fail. Nothing lasts forever folks, no empire stays standing. Even the mountains fall. And aside from the gloating of Celtic fans (and just about every non-Old Firm fan I know, by the way), it can be a good thing.

It may take a while, but with Rangers having to pay back what they owe (best case scenario) or going into liquidation and re-emerging as something new, Scottish football can flourish. The Doomsday scenario can re-set things.

And – I say this as a Celtic fan who has enjoyed our recent successes to the full – it’ll be good to see the Celts cut their cloth accordingly. To live within our means. To produce home-grown sides, like everyone else in the country. To turn the clock back to the 80s, when there was more competition, when our national side getting to the World Cup wasn’t a wistful, impossible dream.

To cut out this dread worship of money, and measuring quality by transfer fees and wages, by how much you spend in the transfer window.

It will take time – maybe years. It might take another couple of big teams going bust or getting in trouble. But I think our game can be resurrected. It’s been living beyond its means for a quarter of a century, and, karma being in action, it may take that long again. But it can happen. Look at Rangers; gaze upon proud Ozymandias. Just ten years ago, the arrogance, the smugness…. The elitism, the certainty that they’d keep on winning, that they could just grind their rivals into the dust.

They almost did it, too, in 1994, if a good man hadn’t stepped in and thousands of fans hadn’t manned the barricades. Fergus McCann should have a statue outside that stadium.

And just think what would happen if the Sky money suddenly vanished. If billionaires suddenly got themselves into professional darts or rugby… If live satellite football went the same way as movies, music and now books could be going.

Ie, available for free off the internet.

This is what I did today. Perhaps this is what made me feel bad. (Not the first time I’ve felt guilty after a wee surf to myself, to be sure). On a whim, I did a Google search for live Scottish football. Within two clicks, I had the game streamed live. That’s frightening. And fraudulent. And at the same time, it has the irresistible pull of the future to it, like the creeping interconnectivity we are starting to see online. The implications of easy-to-access pirated sports channels could be dire for commercial football.

But as a sport? It’ll go on. People will go on doing the right thing. Little boys and girls will always enjoy playing kick-the-ball. Our sports teams can keep good habits. Encouraging the young, becoming a local employer, the focus point of local pride and not just media-driven hatred and hysteria.

Ah yes, the media. Just when you thought an institutionally biased bunch of lickspittles could get no worse, there was Sportsound on BBC Radio Scotland after the match on Saturday evening. Where Jim Traynor and Chick Young were a national disgrace, who were going out of their way to avoid criticising the former Rangers chairman, the man who ran up the debt in the first place. They said Craig Whyte was to blame, not Sir David Murray. This is Ministry of Truth-style denial on a quite breathtaking scale. Traynor’s an Airdrieonians fan, apparently… so why does he hold back from criticising Sir David Murray, the man who delivered the coldest dismissal to that team when they went out of business over a relatively small sum of money in 2000? He should be at Murray’s throat. It would only be natural.

Alan Pattullo, too, in The Scotsman (continuing its bizarre anti-Celtic stance), who has urged Celtic fans not to indulge in sanctimony – before doing exactly that, uttering some of the most laughably smug, obnoxious platitudes regarding Rangers’ fortitude and strength in the face of adversity.

Either these people simply don’t grasp the enormity of the hole Rangers find themselves in, or they are backing the man waiting to wheel himself back into the spotlight to save the rampant, ready, royal Rangers. Why are they so loyal to yesterday’s man, long past the end of Sir David Murray’s influence over Rangers?

Only they can know. Perhaps it’s love.

If Rangers’ Titanic impression is a fine metaphor for the failure of capitalist economics, then it has also helped expose a very disturbing tendency in the media. With the exception of one or two reporters such as Graeme Speirs, someone who has called it right regarding Rangers, their cowboy chairman and their more repellent traditions and its adherents, the national press and broadcasters have been given a bloody nose on this issue by the new media. Paul at Celtic Quick News, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain and the methodical Rangers Tax Case have, between them, broken stories on Rangers’ mismanagement that were better sourced and in many cases more accurately reported than the national news. Dishonesty among match officials was finally exposed through its efforts, apparent sectarianism was exposed among men at the very top, and they were right at the forefront as the whole rotten house of cards came down. Take a bow, lads.

Also, take a bow Neil Lennon. A man demonised as angry and mentally ill, assaulted in the street as well as at matches, threatened with death, sent parcel bombs and everything else… if this is revenge for that man for years of abuse, then who could deny him it?

Silly question. I know exactly who would deny him it. But there’s a man of immense strength and intellect, someone of character who took it, came back stronger, and is about to enjoy his reward. And those newspapermen and women who would demonise him and Celtic, who find it offensive that a football crowd has a laugh, but is less appalled when a man’s life is threatened… You get to watch. Enjoy that, won’t you?

Well done, Neil Lennon.

But, vindictiveness aside, hopefully the press can learn from what has happened here. Hopefully it can change its game, and survive by sticking to its duty: the truth.

(Audience erupts with laughter)

So don’t feel too bad, Rangers fans. Sure, you’ve got a lot of pain to come. It’s mostly self-inflicted, and you have had it coming for a long time. But there can be a fresh dawn. It may take a wee while. You could die out altogether… But don’t be afraid. You’re of too much value politically for that to happen. So you might even be a part of a bright future. We could even restructure the league system (as everyone and his dog knows would solve many problems in our game… everyone, that is, but Henry McLeish and his footballing think-tank). Two leagues, three at a push, but not four. Teams playing each other twice a season, not four times. Don’t deny the sense in this. The 10 or 12 team Premier League has only suited Celtic and Rangers. It certainly has money-wise.

If you Bears had to start again at the bottom, with no money but what your fans brought in, that could work out well for you. Back to the top within a couple of years. Those Glasgow derbies you’ll have missed will come back. Spread the wealth among smaller clubs. Don’t be greedy. You might even win a trophy within six… maybe seven years.

And this is a chance – a fat one – to remove the bigotry from the game, the anti-Catholic/Irish hatred that seeps from Ibrox’s stands, and was in such vast supply at the Kilmarnock game. Let the poison dissipate for one, two years, with the Old Firm games consigned to history… Let’s just see what happens. Let’s see if it stops.

It isn’t the end of the world! It’s just a game – our mothers were right.

Show some nerve, and things will be better for us all. Who knows – it might spread to other leagues, too, once the TV money bubble bursts.

Now, to dessert. Jelly and ice cream for me. And yourselves?