I Hate You Clyde The Thistle!
On Thursday afternoon, an anthropomorphic weed was lowered onto a room full of screaming and confused schoolchildren while Rebecca Adlington waxed disinterestedly about the marvellousness of it all, and the countdown to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games had begun. If you’d forgotten (or, more likely, were never aware) that Glasgow is scheduled to host the 16th most significant event in international athletics this year, well, och aye the noo: here’s Clyde the Thistle to remind you.
As mascots go, I think we can all agree on Clyde’s basic awfulness; he resembles a foamy shoggoth who uses boiled Teletubby grease for pomade. But it’s not really fair to rip on the talents of the 12 year-old who dredged him up from the depths of her nightmares, when the kids who took part in the competition to design him were almost definitely given a big fat file-o-fax full of focus-grouped buzzwords and obligatory ‘core qualities’ to incorporate. We should be thankful, I suppose, that we didn’t end up with Shorty the Kilt-wearing Shortbread Slice.
Anyway, it’s only a mascot right? The Olympic mascots were a pair of cyclopic colostomy bags that said absolutely nothing about 21st century London. And why should they? If the essence of your whole civilisation can be boiled down to a cartoon character, you’re probably going wrong somewhere. Therein lies the problem with Clyde the Thistle: it’s not that he says nothing about 21st century Scotland, it’s that he says altogether too much.
Despite what you might think, we Scots just want to be liked. We gaze across the Irish Sea towards our Celtic cousins charming the world with their craic, their horrible weather and their cirrhosis-ravaged livers, and think: why not us? So, in our quest for American tourist dollars, we have authored an alternate Scotland, ‘The Best Small Country in the World’, which Clyde the Thistle is newest inhabitant of. Viewed through woad-tinted spectacles, TBSCITW™ is a place where wild haggis scuttle over misty glens, where the bagpipers' drone cuts through the early-morning ambience like a chainsaw, where whiskey is sipped in moderation, and most notably where fucking plesiosaurus glide gracefully beneath the surface of our lochs. In TBSCITW™ heart disease only occurs when a belligerent kelpie places its ancient curse on you, and nobody ever mentions the deep fried mars bars. We're happy to present this facade to just about anyone who’s interested, except the English; a race we reflexively mistrust because we know that they know it's all bullshit. They're the ones who subsidise us, after all.
As a virulent anti-nationalist, I'd like nothing better than to lay the blame for this fallacy at the feet of Alex Salmond, our Hutt-like First Minister (seriously, once you've pictured him extending a withered T-Rex arm around Sean Connery's shoulder and slobbering "Kasu ya lee coy rah doe kankee kung..." into his ear, it will stick forever). In truth, however, he's only the latest in a long line of elected myth-propagators who’d happily attend the opening of a shortbread tin if it meant more Americans being able to differentiate us from Ireland. Nonetheless, watching Salmond at the premiere of Brave this year embarrassing our once-proud nation in his ridiculous tartan trousers, talking into any and all cameras about how an animated Disney fairytale featuring demon bears and feisty ginger princesses will "give a great introduction to Scotland," made me despair. Honestly, could we be any more desperate?
The thing is, we really could. Scotland has a lot going for it. Everyone knows that Glasgow’s the best place to party, and the neoclassical splendour of Edinburgh isn’t exactly Southampton town centre is it. Sure, I've seen nice hills in almost every other country I've had the good fortune to visit, but we've got loads of our own ones too and some people are seriously into that shit. Plus we’re basically all socialists over here, which is fun. Culturally and historically, we've always punched above our weight, which makes supplicating ourselves to caricature-hungry tourists all the more difficult to swallow.
This might seem like a ridiculous amount to take away from a cartoon thistle drawn by a well-meaning schoolgirl, and it probably is. But for the next two years, every time I see Clyde's fixed, gormless grin on the side of a passing bus or sewn onto a See You Jimmy bunnet, he'll be a sad reminder of our national addiction to cliché, and a growing contempt of our own identity.
More things we hate: