Gerry Farrell: You can decide to make a difference

People from all ethnicities and backgrounds are welcomed at Punjabi Junction cafe to eat traditional curry recipes and learn how to cook them. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
People from all ethnicities and backgrounds are welcomed at Punjabi Junction cafe to eat traditional curry recipes and learn how to cook them. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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Zsuzsa and I arrived half an hour early for Leith Decides 2016-17 so we went for a coffee in Mummy Bear’s Cafe. On the sofas opposite were three girls of primary school age. They were eight-nine years old and deep in conversation. Their chat was so sparky and grown-up that I felt my lugs flapping and I started eavesdropping, nudging Zsuzsa to tune in too.

The girls took turns to talk, listened respectfully to each other and debated like adults. Their chat was loud, passionate and articulate: “In general, primary school playgrounds are ok but ours isn’t.” “Yeah, I agree, we’ve got the best school in the world but we haven’t got the best playground.” “Is it okay if I speak now? You’re right, our school is great but it needs to be fun as well as putting out good students. There’s no play equipment, no swings like other schools.” “The government isn’t doing anything about it, the council isn’t doing anything about it, we need to change this ourselves.” “You’re right, we should sit here discussing this all day till we get the answer.”

This from children who hadn’t even reached double digits yet. When I started listening, I felt amused. By the time we got up to go, I felt humbled by their energy and determination. We met the girls ten minutes later in the main Kirkgate Community hall where 56 different community projects were pitching for the Leith community’s votes to win funding from a £1000 to £3000, among them the girls’ passion project, getting play equipment for Hermitage Park Primary School.

They got a big vote from both of us because we loved their spirit and hated the photos of their bare, uninviting tarmac playground. But it was hard not to give the same vote to every initiative. All of them are worthwhile, all of them deserve financial backing but when the votes are counted, some of them will inevitably miss out.

There was hip-hop collective The State, whose mission is to “get Scotland dancing”. At Leith Late’s stall they were appealing to get a mural funded to bring art and colour to the former railway bridge site on Leith Walk. We met the proud women of the Sikh Sanjog who provide social and wellbeing support for young women from settled migrant communities as well as welcoming people from all ethnicities and backgrounds to their Punjabi Junction cafe to eat traditional curry recipes and learn how to cook them. And who knew that Leith has its own Community Cinema at Pilrig St Paul’s Church offering affordable film events for all ages?

In the same week that that Tory Home Secretary Amber Rudd has been calling for British companies to keep separate lists of all their workers who are “foreigners” and the Education Minister is suggesting that English schools keep a record of all their pupils who aren’t “British”, it’s a relief to know that we have a multi-cultural community in the heart of Edinburgh where social enterprise is flourishing and people think of their neighbours as fellow-Leithers, not “foreigners”. If you live, work, study or volunteer in the Leith Neighbourhood Partnership boundary area and you’re aged eight-plus, you can take part in Leith Decides by voting online from now until October 22. Just go to https://edinburgh.participare.io.

National Treasure’s music goes over the score

Have you been watching National Treasure on Channel 4? The plot is simple: a well-loved old actor, Paul Finchley, played by a real-life “national treasure” in the fleshy form of Robbie Coltrane, is accused of rape by a number of women, including his own babysitter from years back. He protests his innocence.

His long-suffering wife Marie played by Julie Walters (whose Scottish accent is awfy gid) isn’t so sure. He’s been a naughty boy during their marriage but she’s taken him back despite his lies and affairs.

The script is sharply written, with the ghost of Jimmy Saville breathing shivers down writer Jack Thorne’s neck. My only complaints are the direction and the music. Every time there’s some suspense in the story, the lighting goes blue and weird bendy notes appear in the soundtrack. In a really great piece of cinema or TV, you shouldn’t notice the music or the lighting at all. Everything should blend together in a single, multi-sensory experience that draws you towards the edge of your seat. Instead, National Treasure’s director Marc Munden and music composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer like to tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your ear: “Oi, this is a scary bit.”

Truth, but not as we know it

“Pravda” is the Russian word for “truth”. This always struck me as laughable, given that for decades it was the official mouthpiece of the Soviet Union’s ruling elite

Now a re-born, modern version of Pravda has launched an online news service in Edinburgh. This is no broom cupboard office with a couple of laptops. There is £8.3 million backing from a consortium of mysterious Russian “businessmen”.

Pravda’s editor, Oliver Haste, will be trousering a fat fistful of that money “to provide an alternative narrative to that being propagated by mainstream Western media”. In other words, Pravda’s stories will be telling “the truth” as presented by Vladimir Putin’s one-party Russian state. So Mr Haste, what’s Pravda’s spin on the indisputable evidence that Russian jets have been deliberately bombing hospitals and UN aid convoys in Syria?

Trump’s party stumped Obama

The cover artwork of Nirvana’s classic album Nevermind shows a baby boy underwater, swimming after a dollar bill impaled on a hook. It could easily be a metaphor for Donald Trump’s life as well as the lives of the millions of largely white Americans who repeat and applaud every lie and insult that drips from his mouth as if it were Holy Writ.

Want to know who incubated and grew this orange-faced, fake-haired, Hallowe’en monster? The Grand Old Republican Party.

For eight years, America has been graced by its greatest president since JFK, Barack Obama. But his hands have been cable-tied behind his back by Republican senators who serve the interests of their big business overlords rather than those of the American people.