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Issue 14 - Get back in the garden shed

Scotland Magazine Issue 14
May 2004


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Get back in the garden shed

Dominic Roskrow goes head to head with a top British journalist

Jeremy Clarkson is a British journalist who has made a name for himself on television for his knowledge of motoring and the motoring industry. He also writes for the Sunday Times in London and along with his pal AA Gill, provides controversial, opinionated, inspired and often excellent prose that goes a long way to keeping old paper alive.

Mr Clarkson doesn’t hold back, so when he turned his attentions to Scotland recently, I made sure I was sitting down before I read on. He didn’t disappoint. His subject? Skiing.

You may recall that in the last issue I expressed concern over Scotland’s weather and the fact that there was no snow on the Cairngorms when there should have been. Leaving aside the fact that Scotland got all its winter snow very late in February, the point was that the weather should concern us.

Clarkson doesn’t agree. Indeed, he says, Scotland without snow is a good thing. The country, he says, should never have offered skiing in the first place.

“I would imagine anyone who tried skiing for the first time in the Cairngorms would come away from the experience with frostbite, hypothermia, iced-up hair and a passionate resolve to give up the sport for good,” he writes.

“Learning to ski in Scotland is a bit like learning to scuba dive in a quarry. You get the basics but not the point.”

If that has you spluttering into your porridge, then it’s intended to. But there’s more. It’s good, he says, that the Glenshee Chairlift Company is in trouble.

“(It) does believe that a buyer can be found for its two resorts, but unless they can find someone who has the business acumen of an otter, I wouldn’t hold your breath. With cheap air fares and no sign of a recession, France and even Colorado are always going to be less wet.”

So why the vitriol? Well it turns out that Clarkson sees skiing in Scotland as a distraction. Pursuits such as skiing, running trade unions and standing for the British parliament (Westminster is dominated by Scots) have had a negative effect on Scotland’s ability to invent things, he claims.

The collapse of the ski industry is, he says, might be sad news for those who worked there but: “it’s good news for the rest of the world because John Logie Baird was Scottish. Alexander Fleming was Scottish. James Watt was Scottish. Charles Mackintosh was Scottish. John Dunlop was Scottish. Scottish people invented everything: the kaleidoscope, paint pigment, carpet cleaners, the US navy, adhesive postage stamps, hypodermic needles, anaesthetics, golf, paraffin, radar, hollow pipe drainage, breech loading rifles, the list is simply endless. Plainly the Scotch were put on the earth to invent stuff.

“And for the past 100 years or so they have been side-tracked by this ridiculous flirtation with skiing. Pack it in the lot of you, and get back to your garden sheds with your spanners and your microscopes.”

In his own strange way Mr Clarkson has highlighted something that many in the United Kingdom have forgotten but is recognised across the world: that Scotland punches above its weight in so many ways. Where he goes wrong is in his assumption that outside of politics and tourism, such a process has ground to a halt.

There will be a full report of our Icons of Scotland awards in New York in the next issue, but it dawned on me as I was working on that event how much creativity is flowing from Scotland. Writers, actors, comedians, chefs, drinks producers, technology companies; Scotland has not just made its mark, it has carved its signature at the very top of the tree.

I thought about pointing out to Mr Clarkson that there is plenty going on in the average Scottish garden shed, but stopped short when I realised how ridiculous that sounded. I will send him a copy of the magazine, instead.

What I won’t do is invite him to my Scottish skiing party. I’d hate him to get hypothermia. Or frostbite. Or both.