Scotland as a Magical, Foreign Land:
Jonathan Meades Off-Kilter Guide to Scotland
January 28th 2010
I have just watched the first part of Jonathan Meades three part series on Scotland on BBC Two, late Wednesday night, 11.20-12.20 available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00ml5wx/Jonathan_Meades_Off_Kilter_Episode_1/, and was astounded by the sheer brilliance and aplomb of it on every level.
Here was an hour-long programme about Aberdeen and its architecture. An hour-long programme about Aberdeen which was compelling, challenging, deeply serious and yet with a rich undertow of humour. An hour about Aberdeen with no Aberdonians, no talking heads, no stupid vox pops in Union Street, no stupid local celebs with their inanities, and not one compromise in the direction of the cultural destruction of much of our TV programming in the last decade (step forward Simon Cowell, Peter Bazelgette and Mark Thompson to name but three).
This is a four part series about Scotland and it exposes the sheer vacuousness, limpness, laziness and lack of any effort or imagination in most of what passes for our TV programming in Scotland. Most of what comes on our screens about Scotland seems to be part of some sophisticated, deeply thought out plan to encourage in the Scots psyche a belief that they don’t amount to very much and could not possible change things or govern themselves: a mix of cultural cringe and inferiority complex.
Yet, that would imply there was a higher intelligence at work, ‘intelligent design’ as the euphemism is called about God’s hand, a plan in other words, and clearly there isn’t. In many ways it would be better if there were a plan as it would show some thought. No it is much worse, it is a lack of effort, vision and imagination of the most colossal kind in broadcasting.
So many wonderful things about Scotland don’t get celebrated or reflected upon or more widely understood because of this. Our culture, geography, history, our very sense of ourselves and who we are.
This is part of the wonder of Jonathan Meades’ gorgeously filmed and put together series, giving us a glimpse into another world about Scotland, a kind of parallel, magical place, which is clearly Scotland, but feels foreign and continental.
It is aided by camera shots at different angles of vistas and buildings, and Meades standing, brooding, staring, making a statement looking out at us sometimes silently, but always saying something even in silence. The background music contributes to this sense of Scotland as a foreign land, accordion music being used to give the air of ‘The Third Man’, while in the closing parts addressing Donald Trump coming to Aberdeenshire, the Beach Boys are used.
I know Aberdeen well and yet Meades found parts of the city I had no idea existed, such as the old fishing village by the harbour, and waxed lyrically about the qualities of granite in a spellbinding manner.
He even got controversial about contemporary issues, not just past architectural crimes. He railed against Ian Wood’s criminal vandalism to rip up the park near the city centre and build an art centre, shops and underground car park, but he found even more voice with that preposterous son of Scotland coming home to be hailed, Donald Trump.
Trump’s ‘vision’ to build an exclusive, gated community around a golf course development, met Meades full scorn. This was a project in which everything would be ‘world class’ from the golf courses, to the hotel, luxury homes and affordable flats, all aided by the encompassing architect firm’s belief in delivering a ‘sustainable’, ‘eco-friendly’ paradise for the rich. To Meades it was the equivalent of a ‘Trumpton on Sea’, a deliciously mischievous comment which pored scorn on the sheer scale and horror of Trump’s vision.
This was inspirational, considered TV offering a whole new take on Aberdeen and showing a very different side of Scotland to the one we are constantly feed. It shows what can be done with talent, ingenuity and taking risks. Well done Jonathan Meades!