Gàidhlig gu bràth!

Scotland issue cover NS Springtime for Gaelic - New Statesman

I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the New Statesman’s recent special issue on Scottish independence.

I wrote about how a burst of enthusiasm for Gaelic-medium education looks set to halt the language’s centuries-old decline. My 2-year-old nephew’s enrolment at a Gaelic-medium pre-school on Skye has sparked new interest in learning (or relearning) Gaelic among my own family members. 

The same issue included a rallying call for the Yes campaign written by first minister Alex Salmond and a fun essay on the joys of the Caledonian sleeper train by Kirsty Wark.

My article was made recommended reading on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog. Full text is available on the New Statesman website here, or after the fold.

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The bloodthirst of fungi

I’ve recently had an essay published by Aeon magazine, an online journal “of ideas and culture” recently nominated by Pando Daily to be “the best magazine on the internet“. If you haven’t come across Aeon before, please spend some happy hours browsing their previous offerings.

My favourites include Mary HK Choi’s tribute to her mother My Foreign Mom which made me cry and laugh out loud (sometimes at the same time) and Olivia Laing’s ode to loneliness Me, Myself and I. My friend Samira Shackle also wrote a great essay for them on Pakistan’s young generation, I’m No Terrorist.

My own essay, The Last Supper, was on the wonders and dangers of foraging for fungi, after a summer spent picking berries, herbs and mushrooms in the Lake District. Early forays into mycology only served to show me how much there was to learn about mushroom hunting, where one false identification can lead to death or a life on dialysis. Is the risk part of the charm?

It made Real Clear Science‘s daily reading list. Full text can be found on the Aeon website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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The call of the wild

Arctic winter cover - Telegraph magazine

My diary of the time I spent working on a husky farm in the Arctic Circle made the cover of the Telegraph Magazine shortly before Christmas.

My words were accompanied by some beautiful images taken by the up-and-coming Norwegian photographer Anki Grøthe who spent a week with us in Hetta, and was not at all phased by the sub zero temperatures or the boisterous dogs.

Full text of my article is available on the Telegraph website here, or after the fold. I’ll also post some more of the images later, if I can. Continue reading

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A weekend in Melbourne

48hrs in Melbourne - IndependentI’ve been in Australia this month to do some research and took the opportunity to explore Melbourne for the ’48 hours in…’ slot for The Independent’s travel section.

What an excellent city – brunch, beach, sun, galleries, bikes, artists’ markets, cocktails on rooftop terraces. Top recommendations: brunch in the sun at The European (opposite parliament), swim in the sea baths in St Kilda, then head to Cumulus Inc for supper & fine wine.

Full text is available on the Independent’s website here, or after the fold.

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Scottish friction, Scottish fiction

edinburgh

I’ve written an essay on Scottish literature and the independence movement for the American online journal The New Inquiry. It was made recommended reading by 3 Quarks Daily.

What could be more inspiring than the grandest of narratives: the struggle for freedom? It provides a framework for everything from the kitchen sink drama to the most sweeping of visions. Braveheart sentimentality or hoarse-throated socialism; freedom or self-determination. However you like to write it.

Novelist Alan Bissett, poet Magi Gibson, playwright David Grieg and Ross Colquhoun of the National Collective were all generous with their time & views.

Full text of the article is available here, the full PDF of the issue can be accessed for $2 here, or read on. Continue reading

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Oil islands: a trip to Azerbaijan

oil rocks

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. This is the first of a couple of articles I wrote during my trip, a piece for the New Statesman, which contrasts two island utopias off the Caspian coast: one a 1940s Soviet city on stilts for oil workers, the other a fantastical series of new artificial islands inspired by capitalist Dubai.

Azerbaijan is a newly oil-rich state, which gained independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While it has modernised at a fantastic pace, it still faces major problems of corruption and inequality.

The country’s rebrand is all pervasive. In Baku, whole districts have been bulldozed to make way for shining glass skyscrapers. In others, Soviet-style apartment blocks have been simply concealed under glossy veneers, like bad teeth.

Full story is up on the New Statesman’s website here, or after the break

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Download an ounce of Self Control

Time saving apps News Review

I had a short piece in the News Review section of The Sunday Times last weekend, reviewing apps aimed at reducing time wasted on the internet.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent countless panicked afternoons spent desperately catching up on the time lost earlier in the day to directionless internet meandering. It’s the scourge of the millennial generation.

I found an app called SelfControl to be very effective – stopping me in my tracks every time I automatically clicked on my Facebook, Twitter or email bookmarks. Zadie Smith reportedly uses it while writing her novels. Others – like TimeOut and FocusBooster – I found completely infuriating.

Full text is on The Sunday Times’ website here, or after the fold.

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Ladies of the left unite

Shortlists put women in Labour hot seats

I co-wrote a story in this weekend’s Sunday Times, after our analysis of Labour’s list of prospective parliamentary candidates discovered that they are on track to go into the 2015 General Election with the largest ever number of women candidates.

This is the result of a drive over recent years to encourage women to stand for election, and a controversial policy of all-women shortlists in many constituencies.

Encouragingly, it appears to make little difference at the polls whether the candidate has been selected through an open process or an all-women shortlist. However only two women have been selected in open contests so far.

Catherine Atkinson, Labour’s candidate in Erewash, Derbyshire, was kind enough to speak to me about her selection.

Full text of the article is available on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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Scandal of school kitchen hygiene

Mice, ants and mouldy walls in school kitchens

I had an article in last weekend’s Sunday Times after I obtained hundreds of reports from school canteen hygiene inspections from local authorities around the council.

Hundreds of schools were given poor hygiene scores of 2 (“improvement required”) or less; two schools (Sennybridge County Primary School in Powys, and Erith School in Kent) scored the bottom score of 0 (“urgent improvement required”).

Many of the reports made for uncomfortable reading: black mould on walls, broken windows, raw meat stored alongside cooked food, mice infestations, ant infestations, and poor personal hygiene among staff all featured in the reports.

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon chain of restaurants and the government’s new school food tsar, and Janette Wallis of the Good Schools Guide were kind enough to comment on my findings.

The Sunday Times data team created an interactive map for the online version of the story, so look for poor-scoring school canteens near you here. If you’d like to have a look at a report from your local school, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Full text of the article is also available after the fold. Continue reading

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Aye, have a dream: Scottish artists to vote yes

Via Scottish Political Archive on Flickr

I’ve written an article for the New Statesman which profiles the pro-independence campaign National Collective, and discusses why Scottish artists are overwhelmingly declaring for the Yes campaign when support among the general public has hovered around 30 – 35% in the polls for months.

The novelist AL Kennedy and the playwright Alan Bissett were kind enough to contribute their thoughts on the issue.

The original article can be found on the New Statesman website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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