Play a game of word association and there's fat chance (pun entirely intended) you'd pair "Coca-Cola" with "healthy". Perhaps that's exactly why the world's most valuable brand is pumping millions of ad dollars into convincing us it cares about our bodies.
I remember the Queen’s Golden Jubilee ten years ago. When the commemorative flypast took place, I was festering in a box room on an ex-council estate in East London. I think I was hungover.
Actually, I was 22 years old. I know I was hungover.
Three miles west of my less-than-regal living quarters, more than a million individuals had mobbed The Mall and the wider environs of Buckingham Palace. Many were armed with union flags, others just with cameras, hoping for a fleeting glimpse of the boyishly handsome Prince William. There was, by all accounts, a party atmosphere – aided I’m sure by the fact that the Great British elements had opted not to rain on this particular parade.
But more than the event itself, I recall an outpouring of surprise from the press and the public alike that the occasion had not been a washout in the wider sense. The Windsors were perceived to have a popularity problem. Papers such as "The Guardian" decreed that they were out of touch with the populace, and the populace would be out of sight come the Jubilee.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were about to put the “Great” back into Britain. Just as the Swinging Sixties and Cool Britannia defined the youth of previous generations, the twin beacons of the Royal Wedding and the London Olympics were expected to give today’s young ‘uns something to shout about. Well, they’re shouting alright. And looting. And trashing. And burning.
Clearly, those partaking represent a tiny minority. But they’re making the majority of headlines out of Fleet Street this week.
From Harry Potter's roots in Edinburgh's Old Town (where a young Joanne Rowling started scribbling her saga) right up to the climactic, cinematic Battle of Hogwarts, Scotland has cast its spell over the series. And just as Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy had viewers salivating over New Zealand, the Potter movie anthology has done a first-class branding job for my home country.
A quick admission before I proceed. I am a former employee of VisitScotland, the national tourism board. Indeed, I was working for the organization in London when the first Potter film was released. Times were hard. The motherland was still reeling from the double ignominy of the foot and mouth outbreak and Madonna’s Highland wedding to Guy Ritchie. We were grateful for small mercies, such as Madge’s decision to leave her leotard at home.
Then, with a wave of his little wizard wand, Harry Potter breathed new life into our industry. Hagrid’s hut sprung up on a Highland hillside. Small Scottish children hopped aboard the Hogwarts Express as it chugged its way west from Fort William. The national newspapers were full of it. The rest of the world would follow.
Much attention has focused on filming locations such as London’s Kings Cross Station (bearing a remarkable resemblance to its neighbor St Pancras) and Gloucester Cathedral (whose corridors are recognizable as the haunt of Nearly Headless Nick and Moaning Myrtle). But for me - and millions of Potterphiles - the majesty of the wizarding world is most potent in its landscapes. These made me homesick as a 21-year old in London, just as they do as a 31-year old in Hong Kong. And, as such, I offer you my five favorite Scottish Potter scene-stealers:
Take yourself back to the school playground. You may have been in with the in crowd. You may have been out on a limb. You may have been a bully. You may have been bullied. But it’s likely you recall the experience.
In or out, bully or bullied, many of us secretly loathed the clique creators while outwardly expending far too much time and energy trying to ingratiate ourselves with their inner circle. Because within that inner circle there was security and there was power.
Take yourself back to those occasions when teams were being picked in gym class. You may have been first choice. You may have been last. I was personally in the latter category and I've never felt so isolated. I was not a sporty kid, and this, in Scottish terms, means I was not a football-playing kid. The epithet "beautiful" attached to the game never really held water with me back then. And, having since met Peter Beardsley, it doesn't hold water with me now.
I digress. My point is that, while the game ain’t exactly pretty at times, what’s happening in its corridors of power is positively grisly. Football itself may not overly excite me but FIFA fills me with morbid fascination. Why? Because the sport’s governing body takes playground nightmares and writes them large.
Once upon a time, Iceland was the land of geysers, hot springs and puffin stew. We yearned to navigate its rugged coastline and traverse its fiery interior. We cared not a jot if the price of vodka in Rekjavik's Ice Bar was exorbitant. Because Rekjavik was the epitome of cool. Damon Albarn had a house there. The city's Sigur Rós soundtrack was a trip without drugs. Even Take That's "Patience" video (filmed on the road to the Blue Lagoon) had a kind of craggy, rustic allure that wasn't limited to Jason Orange's facial features.
Then Icesave happened. 400,000 British and Dutch people found themselves out of pocket and not a little peeved as a result. The domino effect of the Icelandic economic crisis saw cash-strapped UK local authorities turn into cash-starved UK local authorities. Iceland the country suddenly had a greater image problem than Iceland the supermarket (whose public face Kerry Katona was simultaneously dominating the tabloids, enjoying a white substance that didn't resemble freezer frost).
Britain's northern neighbor, while not suffering the expected capitulation in tourism, found itself cast as Public Enemy No.1. And unfortunately we didn't take a basic truth into account: Hell hath no fury like an Iceland scorned.
From Abbottabad to Aberdeen, speculation is rife.
On Sunday night, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer had us in the palm of his hand. Carefully chosen words ensured that we stayed tuned to hear the headline news he was harboring.
“I suspect I know what’s going on, but I don’t want to speculate at this point.”
Closely followed by…
“Other news organizations are wildly speculating right now.”
Well, if they’re “wildly” speculating, then we probably shouldn’t reach for the remote, should we? Blitzer thought it more prudent to tantalize us – and we were, in turn, almost subliminally moved to indulge in a little “safe” speculation of our own…