Iraq Out & Loud @ the Edinburgh Fringe: my experience of reading the Chilcot Report

On Wednesday – just up the street, I was disappointed to note as an Edinburgh physics graduate, from a newly refurbished Appleton Tower (I mean come on, Edinburgh Uni, I know it was a dilapidated wreck that looked like it was made of life-sized Duplo bricks but that was part of its charm!) – I took my turn reading from the Chilcot Report on the UK’s role in the Iraq War, or “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry” to give it its Sunday name, at the Edinburgh Fringe.

To recap, or cap in the first place, the Report – all 12 volumes, 6,255 pages, and 2.6 million words of it – has, since 6pm last Monday evening, been being read out loud from start to finish in a garden shed next to Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus, by comedians, writers, journalists, politicians, law professors and indeed anyone else who happens to be passing.  Basically, when Slayer and his team learned of the vast scale of the Report, the first thought that occurred to them was, “who will actually read it?”  Closely followed by, “let’s find out!”

The format is simple: at the top of every hour, a fresh group of up to six people enter the shed.  Each person takes a turn reading while the others sit and listen.  And so it has continued, and will continue, round the clock, until the whole of the Report has been read.

The intimate venue is a key element.  You can still hear the noise and bustle of the Festival outside while you sit and read (or listen) – but somehow, as I related to one of my co-readers afterwards, it just wouldn’t quite have worked the same in a big theatre.  It had to be out in the open.  After all, this may well be the only time the Chilcot Report is read in its entirety, other than behind closed doors by lawyers and select committee MPs.

And also by so many people – it was literally a lottery who you would be reading with.  In the second of my three sittings, my co-readers included a woman who used to work for Patricia Hewitt, who crops up in the Report as a member of Tony Blair’s cabinet at the time of the war – I didn’t get a chance to ask in what capacity, but given she kept calling her “Pat” I’m guessing she was relatively senior – while in my last stint I had the pleasure of reading alongside comedian Andy Zaltzman, which made up for narrowly missing out on Ian Rankin.

As for the Report itself, you only have to read it to appreciate why it took Sir John Chilcot and his team seven years to put the thing together – there is a lot in it.  But while it is heavy going even for 10 minutes at a time, it was a totally worthwhile experience and I left wishing I could do more.

I was reading from Volume 9 when my turn came, which deals with the reconstruction of Iraq, and specifically section 10.3 which covers oil, commercial issues, debt relief and asylum and stabilisation policy – one of the lighter bits, then.  There were reports of people crying during the readings of earlier volumes, but surprisingly there was the odd moment of laughter here amid all the incredulity at the eye-watering amounts of money we were reading about.

The behaviour of the US appeared to be the source of much of the hilarity – a line about US contractors acting as if advice against travelling to Iraq “did not exist” raised a snigger in the audience, while later on I have to confess I nearly lost it myself at the bit about the UK being excluded from oil policy by the Coalition Provisional Authority because the Americans “felt it was such an important area that they would run it themselves”.

It would also appear that the line “Mr Browne reported to Mr Brown…” works rather better in print than out loud.

So, all in all, an epic experience.  If reading the above has whetted your appetite, there’s still a chance to get involved yourself, by going to the event website or making your way to Bob’s BlundaBus just off South College Street – as one person tweeted, you can’t miss it, it’s a bus – but you’ll need to be quick as at the time of writing they’re nearly onto volume 11 and are expecting to finish on Saturday.

Failing that, should your desire to read from a government document in a garden shed continue unabated, the free magazine Fringepig has already suggested the Hardie Report on the Edinburgh tram project as the text for a possible sequel…

Whatever happened to Mr. Garibaldi? Reflecting on the death of Jerry Doyle

Sometimes, things happen that make you stop and think, usually when you least expect them.  So it proved for me with the untimely death last week of Jerry Doyle, best known on this side of the pond for playing security chief Michael Garibaldi in the 1990s sci-fi series Babylon 5.

Doyle is the fifth member of the show’s regular cast to pass away since it came to an end in 1998, after Richard Biggs, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conaway and Michael O’Hare – but more spookily, the fourth in succession to die at, or in Katsulas’ case near, the age of 60.

I have long been a fan of the show, and have always found series creator J. Michael Straczynski’s reflections on the show and its wider themes in the online Lurker’s Guide to be worthwhile reading.  I found myself recalling a story related by Straczynski there after I learned of Doyle’s passing, which I reproduce below:

“Oddly enough, Jerry’s broken arm tied *beautifully* into something that had happened in the course of the episode we were filming [“Severed Dreams” in season 3], so all it took was a line or two to sell it.

“The funny thing is…in the very next episode after the incident, there was a line in the script I’d written *weeks* earlier, and it freaked everybody out…when Garibaldi asks someone to do something, and the person responds, ‘What, you’ve got a broken arm or something?’ At first some people thought I’d put it in there to pink Jerry, but it’d been there the whole time.

“Similarly, in the Claudia incident [Claudia Christian broke her foot during filming of the season 2 episode “The Geometry of Shadows”], there was a line (cut for time) where Sheridan says talking to the Drazi is like trying to talk to your right foot…and Ivanova replies ‘I’ll have you know I have a sublime relationship with my right foot.’ Yep, the next day…that’s the foot she broke.

“I have been asked, expressly, not to make any further mention of actors’ body parts in scripts….”

So why did I find myself recalling this specific story?

There is a scene in an episode early in season 4 – “Falling Toward Apotheosis” I think – where Sheridan, having survived his journey to the planet Z’ha’dum which we had hitherto been told would kill him, is given twenty years to live.  After which, he is told, he will “simply…stop.”

Sheridan replies with characteristic optimism that he will be “in his early sixties” by then.

It is, of course, pure coincidence that all four actors should die at such similar ages – and it should also be noted that Bruce Boxleitner, who played Sheridan, remains alive and well at 66.  But as coincidences go it is a weird one nevertheless, and I cannot help wondering if J. Michael Straczynski recalled the aforementioned events himself as he composed his eulogy to Jerry Doyle.

Rams stay on course for playoffs while Trojans falter

West Coast Trojans are out of the running for the BAFA National League Division 1 playoffs after suffering their third successive defeat to Yorkshire Rams at Irvine’s Meadow Park on Sunday.

The match was tight in the first half, but turned in the opening minute of the second when 18-year-old Tyler Broad returned the kick-off for a touchdown.

A double over winless Gateshead Senators is all the Trojans have to show for their efforts with one game remaining.  The Rams, on the other hand, consolidate their position in second place in the Northern Football Conference and with third-placed Manchester Titans already qualified, should clinch their place in the post-season with victory at home to the Senators this Sunday.

The Trojans got off to a good start in the wet conditions, strong defence forcing several repeat drives in the Rams half before a poorly executed punt play by the visitors on their own goal line saw the home side edge in front with a safety.

The Rams began to take control in offence as the game moved into the second quarter however, and it was no surprise in the closing minutes of the half when quarterback Taylor Umland found Andrew Cheeseman in the endzone to notch the game’s opening touchdown.  The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, leaving the visitors leading 6-2.

The hosts then went three-and-out on their next possession before the tourists lined up a field goal attempt from close range, but Jonny Dudley’s kick was charged down and the sides turned around at half time with the Rams leading by four.

This was scarcely to matter as a successful two-pointer after Broad’s touchdown extended the visitors’ lead to twelve points.

The Trojans tried to respond, but found the Rams defence in increasingly determined mood and after linebacker James Hudson intercepted home quarterback Gary McNey’s pass in midfield, the visiting offence did the rest of the work culminating in a touchdown catch from Christian Davies with three minutes left in the third quarter.

There was no further scoring after this, although James Ward-Stead thought he had a touchdown of his own early in the fourth only for his catch to be ruled out for pass interference.

The Trojans are due to round off their season at home to unbeaten Edinburgh Wolves this Sunday, with the Rams doing likewise following the visit of the Senators.

Good performance despite defeat – Trojans assistant coach Ross Wilson

Yorkshire Rams head coach Dave Pawson:

“It was a decent all round performance from the team.

“In our last game we lost our starting and backup running backs for the season, as well as one of our linebackers, so Sunday was a case of getting the other guys up to game speed as quickly [as] possible and tweak our offensive plays accordingly. Fortunately, it worked.

“The return [for the touchdown] in the second half was key. Our returner is just 18 and we moved him into the senior team at the start of the season when we realised the junior squad [weren’t] going to be competing this year.  He is steadily growing into his role within the team, and finally managed to return one which he has been threatening to do [all] season.

“Looking at the table a win against Gateshead should put us in the playoffs, but we are taking nothing for granted. They have shown over the last couple of games they can score points, so our defence will have to play well.”

Brexit reaction (or lack of same) not what’s needed

In the closing moments of the Blackadder Goes Forth episode “Goodbyeee”, Captain Kevin Darling – posted to the front line just in time for the ‘big push’ – reveals he captured his sense of impending doom by writing one last entry in his diary on the way out, which consisted of just one word: “B****r.”

I suspect a journalistic colleague of mine was experiencing slightly similar emotions on Friday morning when he responded to the Brexit vote by posting a slightly shorter expletive as his Facebook status.

There has been a lot of hot air expended already as we enter the first full week of the brave – or foolish, depending on your point of view – new world of Brexit, and not all of it confined to the Leave side.

“If you voted Leave because of unelected politicians, you’re about to get an unelected prime minister,” one guy posted on Facebook, doing little to combat stereotypes about social media commentary in the process.  Er, unless our electoral system underwent a radical metamorphosis when I wasn’t looking, we’ve got an unelected prime minister already – we don’t vote for the prime minister in this country.

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Then there’s the matter of this online petition to “implement a rule that if the Remain or Leave vote is less than 60%, based [on] a turnout [of] less than 75%, there should be another referendum.”  Apparently it’s under investigation because a number of signatures on it are suspected to be fraudulent, but nothing is going to be done about it anyway.

Unless this rule already existed beforehand – and it’s the first I’ve heard of it – it doesn’t mean anything.  You can’t just impose arbitrary thresholds after the fact because you don’t agree with the result.  It’s just not in the spirit of the thing.  The threshold put in place for the Scottish devolution referendum in 1979, which required 40% of the electorate to vote in favour for the result to be valid, is still controversial nearly forty years later – and that came in advance of the vote.

No, we’re on the path, like it or not, and it’s about what we do about it now.  And so far, the signs from Westminster are not encouraging.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham had the cheek on Saturday morning to accuse first minister Nicola Sturgeon of opportunism for instigating moves toward a second Scottish independence referendum, presumably unaware of – or, like a lot of others in the unionist lobby, unwilling to acknowledge – the fact that a Brexit vote against Scotland’s will was specifically listed in the SNP’s manifesto for May’s Holyrood elections as a trigger for such moves.

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Whether you agree with Ms Sturgeon’s announcement or not – and the referendum plan is only one of a wider package of measures her government are looking into – at least she’s getting on and doing something.  David Cameron, as a final “up yours” to the Leavers in his cabinet, has decided not to bother activating the Article 50 process to leave the EU, leaving this for his successor – whoever that may be – to do upon taking office in September.

Curiously, none of the heirs presumptive to the Tory leadership appear to have a problem with this, despite the new prime minister being widely expected to come from the Leave camp.

They are very fortunate indeed that despite European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s protestations to the contrary, a number of EU member state leaders appear quite happy to allow the Tories to drag their heels over this – because looking at it from his perspective, Mr Juncker is right: having voted to leave, we really should be getting on with it.

Labour meanwhile, at a time when they should be gearing up to challenge the incoming Brexit government, have leapt at the chance to turn on leader Jeremy Corbyn, whom the majority of Labour MPs have never accepted despite his popularity among the grassroots of the party.  If there is to be another change of Labour leader, here’s hoping they get it right this time as a strong opposition at Westminster has never been needed as badly as now.

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Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, on the other hand, has signalled that his party are to fight the next general election on a platform of taking us back into the EU.

Time will tell if that happens in time to avoid a protracted readmission process, although at the moment a snap election only looks likely if someone like Boris Johnson, who was not in government at the 2015 election, wins the Tory leadership.

That is not entirely out of the question.  Mr Johnson may come across as too eccentric to be taken seriously but he has won three Westminster elections – albeit in safe Tory seats – and, more crucially, two London mayoral elections, so clearly he’s got something going for him that appeals to voters.  Whether he would be able to garner the same level of support nationally however, is a matter of some debate.

In the meantime, we remain on “pause” while everyone gets their act together.

MATCH REPORT – Ayrshire Storm 22-38 Aberdeen Warriors (sorry, I leave the headline writing to the papers…)

Ayrshire Storm began life at new home Bellsland with defeat to defending champions Aberdeen Warriors.

The game ended up as the Storm’s season opener after they were forced to postpone last week’s visit to Edinburgh Eagles due to union commitments, and the match practice of the Warriors showed as they kept up their unbeaten start to their title defence.

Both sides had a look at each other in the opening exchanges, before Warriors captain Liam Reid broke the deadlock with an unconverted try on the left after nine minutes.

The Storm responded well to falling behind, and after Ruchin Filander, debutant Liam Matthews and Jordan Duncan each had sight of the Warriors try line, just after the quarter hour Michael Kirk took a pass from Jonathan Deviney – another new face in the lineup – on the right and crossed in the corner to square up the match. Craig Williams’ conversion put the home side 6-4 ahead.

They had chances to go further in front when the Warriors gave the ball away at the kick-off reception and infringed as they tried to regroup, before Blair Jardine and Kyle Matheson made good headway from an interception in the Warriors half, but they were unable to capitalise and the visitors punished this with tries either side of the half hour.

The hosts were the architects of their own downfall in both cases.

First they conceded a penalty in midfield which the visitors kicked to the corner, and from the resulting set winger Richard Roach crossed on the left. The Warriors then pinned the Storm back in their own 20 with a clever Alasdair O’Connor kick play, and after being ruled held up on the resulting set Matt McCall scored on the right after the Storm again gave the ball away. O’Connor converted the latter to put the Warriors up 14-6.

The Storm needed a try before half time to give themselves a foothold in the game, and gave the Warriors a taste of their own medicine with a minute to go. Williams’ probing kick deep in their territory gave the hosts good field position, and Filander claimed the touchdown in the left corner to get the Storm into double figures at the interval.
The home side continued to turn up the heat on the visitors early in the second half, with new recruit Lewis Matheson forced into touch in the Warriors half from a turnover forced by captain Scott Robertson’s intelligent kick play, and Duncan nearly scoring on the right.

Disaster struck eight minutes in however, when another kick play to the corner was intercepted by the Warriors. They built the length of the field from their own line and it fell to lock forward Johnny Gray to apply the finishing touch on the left. Substitute Tom Aplin, taking over the kicking duties from O’Connor, brought up the 20 with his conversion.

The hosts were thrown a lifeline shortly afterwards however. Filander made a fine break into Warriors territory and offloaded nicely to Robertson, whose progress was halted illegally by Danny Hazzard with the Warriors defence in trouble, earning the centre ten minutes in the sin bin.

Taylor McHarg forced his way over under the posts to crown a patient spell of try line pressure from the resulting penalty, to give Williams an easy conversion to cut the deficit to four points. But the Storm were unable to capitalise further on their numerical advantage, and Gray’s second try just before Hazzard’s return, converted by Aplin, kept them in the driving seat at 26-16.

Substitute Connor Turnbull was well marshaled into touch on a typically incisive run, Duncan crossed the line only to be ruled held up, and Jardine dropped the ball in the act of scoring on the right as the Storm continued to search for a way back into the game, but it was to be the Warriors who scored next on 77 minutes.

Not for the first time in the match, the wound was partly self-inflicted. They coughed up possession as they tried to work upfield, and from the resulting set Aplin scored the Warriors’ sixth try of the afternoon, which he converted himself for a 32-16 lead.

The Warriors gave the ball away at the kick-off reception, allowing substitute Robbie McVey to play in Kyle Matheson for the try their attacking play deserved, converted by Robertson. But this was to prove no more than a consolation, and McCall’s second try of the afternoon in injury time put the icing on the cake for the visitors.
The Storm next play Aberdeen Warriors 2nd XIII in a cup tie at Bellsland, before hosting Glasgow Panthers – who defeated Edinburgh Eagles 34-26 in the day’s other match at West Lodge – in the league the following weekend.

AYRSHIRE STORM — C Stormonth; L Matthews, L Matheson, R Filander, C Williams; S Robertson, K Matheson; S Raby, J Duncan, T McHarg, J Deviney, B Jardine, M Kirk. Interchange: C Turnbull, R Festorazzi, S Docherty, R McVey.

ABERDEEN WARRIORS — D Genocchio; J Robertson, B Bissett, D Hazzard, R Roach; C Hume, A O’Connor; L Reid, M Sexton, A Robertson, A Little, M McCall, J Gray. Interchange: J Burnett, T Aplin, S Gray.

REFEREE — Mick Henry

MAN OF THE MATCH — Kyle Matheson (Ayrshire Storm)

Ayrshire Storm head coach Alex Bibby:

“I was happy with the commitment of the players and we were a bit short of match fitness, but with only two training sessions under our belt and a few new faces in the team we worked hard, made a few wrong decisions and got punished. But it’s our first game together so if we can hold on to this team, things will come together [and] we will have a good season ahead of us.”

Welcome to “Del’s Deliberations”…

Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Derek, a rugby enthusiast and reporter based in Ayrshire.  I don’t know if I’ll keep “Del’s Deliberations” as the title, but the only catchy title I could think of was “Derek’s Drivel” and that seems to be taken already!
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I’ve been a dual code rugby supporter since 2007 when I took my first tentative steps into rugby league after several years on an union-only diet.  And since you generally don’t last long as an ordinary supporter in grass roots rugby, they had to find me something to do.  Which is where the other tag comes in.
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I joined the committee of Irvine RFC in 2010 and in my first year spent my match days keeping score at home matches and occasionally, when they were really scraping the barrel, running touch.  At the end of that season I turned up at Ayrshire Storm RLFC’s first match of the 2011 rugby league season, looking forward to getting back to just relaxing and enjoying the game again for a while, only to find they wanted me to work behind the scenes for them too.
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My role with the Storm gradually evolved into that of the club’s official match reporter.  This career got off to a somewhat inauspicious start at the club’s second home game against the then seven-time champions Edinburgh Eagles (the Eagles are basically the “Real Madrid” of Scottish rugby league).  I thought I’d got my preparations spot on having armed myself with a clipboard and plenty of paper but I had reckoned without the pouring rain which made my writing increasingly difficult to read owing to running ink, and after persevering to half time I ended up watching the rest of proceedings from the bar.  (Fortunately the design of the Irvine clubhouse is quite advantageous to the fair weather supporter.)
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Anyway.  Apart from putting one Storm player’s nose out of joint after reporting him as throwing a “wastefully forward” pass, I managed to get through that summer without embarassing myself further, and my work got me appointed to do the reports for Irvine as well.  They even got me one of those fancy Weather Writer clipboards so I could write up the action in the aforementioned pouring rain, which was awfully good of them.  And that has been the cycle of my rugby life ever since.
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The seasons to come for both Ayrshire Storm and Irvine are set to be exciting ones, so there’s never been a better time to start this blog and showcase both clubs, and those they meet along the way, to the wider world.
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The teams in Scottish rugby league’s top flight are about as evenly matched as they’ve ever been, with each of the four harbouring ambitions of lifting the trophy in August.  Champions Aberdeen Warriors naturally start as favourites, and underlined this by trouncing Glasgow Panthers 52-18 in their opening match, which just happened to be a replay of last season’s Grand Final.  The Panthers, already hurting from that defeat, will now be more determined than ever to land that elusive first title, and a 34-26 victory over Edinburgh Eagles at the weekend tells you everything you need to know about what damage they can do.
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That just leaves the Storm – I’ve dealt with the Eagles already – who finally broke their trophy duck last season, three years after agonisingly squandering a 34-point lead in the Plate Final in their inaugural season back in 2010, and are looking to go one better this year by getting to the Grand Final and winning it.  These ambitions took a slight knock at the weekend with defeat in their opening game, but with only a brief pre-season and several new faces in the lineup it was always going to be a big ask to hit the ground running.
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So, with everyone having their own point to prove, needless to say it’s going to be an exciting summer of rugby league up here.
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Interesting times are also afoot for Irvine, with national league rugby returning to Marress for the first time in three years.  Most of the teams they will be up against are familiar faces from previous years, but there are first league meetings with Hawick YM – four years after they knocked us out of the Shield – and West of Scotland, who appear to have fallen on hard times of late.  After winning the league and the West Regional Shield, as well as heartbreakingly losing in the semis of the National Shield to Preston Lodge – another of next season’s opponents – Irvine will be hungry for more success and with a history of winning back-to-back promotions, I wouldn’t bet against them being there or thereabouts again this season.
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So that’s the scene set (I hope).  I intend to post my match reports on here, which I hope you’ll enjoy – there’s certainly never a dull moment from my point of view – as well as previews and other things that might be of interest.  All feedback in this direction is more than welcome, feel free to leave a comment.
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It now only remains for me to say, if you’re still reading this far down, watch this space, and thanks for your attention!