I used to be a stripper – and a liar. Happiest days of my life. Sad thing is, at 67, nobody wants to see me strip any more. Or read my lies. Before I pursue this rather weak joke, let me explain that for about three years in the 1990s I wrote first of all a somewhat puerile fantasy column in The Herald
called The City Crofter
and then it transmogrified into a daily cartoon strip. I also did a few days similar work for both the Express
and The Week
I should perhaps immediately confess that if the cartoon strips were any good, which they sometimes were, it was largely down to my genius partner, the late Hugh Dodd, whose coat tails I grimly clung onto, even though we fought like cats in a sack when we were writing the copy. We needed the needle to sew the strips together. After work, we were pals again.
I miss him desperately, indeed, whenever there is a new twist to the bizarre Brexit circus we are currently witnessing, I long to be able to phone him and suggest some idiotic cartoon lines we could possibly use that I think might make some of the Glasgow folk laugh, knowing that his pen would probably add the tinsel of magic so they actually would. I say probably
because it's easy to write a rubbish cartoon – we often did – but sometimes we did nail it and could elicit the odd guffaw from some of the citizens of Glasgow as they sat sadly in their commuter buses on their way to their daily trachle. Nice work if you can get it.
I did have one card in my hand that enabled me to cling to my job as the genius Hugh's ideas man. You see, I had thought of the concept for the strip. It was my only stroke of genius: five people living in a cold wet cottage who absolutely hated each other, not least because they all came from radically different political perspectives. They were called Red Pete, Green Geraldine, Blue Peter... you get the rainbow – which was Scotland – and once we had that golden idea, all we had to do was read the papers that day and wonder what our rainbow of opinion would say to each other to wind each each other up at breakfast.
Except it was tougher than that to get to our wages, the pot of gold at the end of the City Croft rainbow. Any fool can think of one good joke a week. It takes a genius to think of one a day, and I am no genius. Which is why Hugh and I had to turn to thievery to make our living. It was a tough life, but I miss it. We would take rides on early morning Glasgow buses and hassle anyone we saw reading our strip, go to Glasgow parties purely to steal other people's jokes, cross question innocent folk at bus stops, football matches and political demonstrations, for much the same reason.
We were like whales sifting the oceans for food – in our case jokes. We just loved the work and were desperately scared of getting our jotters so we were constantly plundering the humour of Glaswegians – surely some of the funniest people in Britain – to nick their jokes for our column. We were also trying to work out what our clientele found amusing, overly vulgar or plain asasine.
So let me come to the serious part of this piece. Our behaviour in those happy days was usually met with good humour. Glasgow is a great place to write cartoons for. The old chestnut about Edinburgh being so serious that nothing is dreadful and Glasgow being so dreadful that nothing is serious carries a lot of truth in it.
But what if we were to behave like that today? Can you imagine two people with irritatingly anglicised Scots accents like ours getting onto Glasgow buses or going into the Scottia Bar, sidling up to strangers and asking them what they thought of Brexit or indeed independence today without being feart of at least having their glasses broken? We live in tormented times when, even in Glasgow, people are becoming less tolerant of other people's political opinions, and this is more than just a sociological observation, it's a genuine worry. There are now lines that you just can't cross. Salmond's coming trial; suggesting that Johnson isn't an eejit; that Eton should be accepted as the rightful greenhouse of our best leaders... you just wouldn't dare. And it looks like it's going to get worse.
Let's assume that the current Brexit fiasco goes on for another four years or so, by which time global warming will be more than just the nonsense people talk about at dinner parties and we start seeing mass migration on a scale never seen before in our lives. What kind of levels of social fractionalisation are we going to be seeing in Scotland then? Particularly when Johnson starts consulting Trump on wall building and insisting that the Scots pay.
Next month I am returning, if you can believe it, as the storyteller in residence at Mississippi State University. They haven't asked me because of my good looks so much as the fat file of cartoons I will be taking with me and will be using to illustrate concepts of humour being used in silly stories to create bridges and grease away friction so that difficult issues could be explored without rancour. And with the racial and pro- and anti-Trump disharmony that is sweeping their nation, such techniques may be as relevant there as they are here. These are hardly new ideas.
My family come from the Hebrides where it used to be common for itinerant agricultural workers to sometimes have additional jobs as musicians and storytellers, wandering between weddings and funerals, or even places with domestic disputes and acting the goat perhaps to ease disputes, or bring about laughter. Or both.
Storytelling is hardly new or out of fashion. Most religion, sport, advertising and art has an element of storytelling in it – it's how we manage our storytelling that is critical and I would suggest that the mounting tension surrounding Brexit and independence calls for more foolishness, more bridges, fewer red lines, and more listening. This is not to trivialise such issues, or indeed to make them go away. The gross injustice in our communities need addressing. Change should be welcomed.
The best way forward would be so see more cartoon strips and I am bursting with ideas. So if you can draw as well as Hugh Dodd used to, give me a call.
Come back Green Geraldine, your country needs you!