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Blogging 201: Set three goals.

I’d like to know what I’m doing. I don’t know for example, how the dashboard works. That seems pretty stupid. I seem pretty stupid. But I don’t mind that. I just want to do things and be one of these people that knows how to pop pictures and drawing, perhaps a graph or something that explains something. I’ll give you an example of this. When Gladstone introduced the old-age pension for Britain in 1908, he asked one question, when do most folk die? The answer was around sixty-five. A new policy. Anybody over sixty-five got a pension. How liberal was that? Now, of course, sixty-five is when pensioners start hitting cruise control. At the same time families of eight or nine children are not as common and not as many folk are being born.  If you have eight or nine children, rest assured, other people hate you. They’ll call you a welfare scrounger. The paradox is although we live in a gerontocracy we need young people to maintain our standard of living. There’s a growing deficit. This can be shown in a simple diagram. In Gladstone’s era the dimensions for age, measured in years, would be the vertical axis and the number of people alive, numbered in thousands, would be the bottom axis. I’d guess it would look something like a triangle. Now the triangle is slowly turning the other way, tipping upside down. It would be great if I’d magical powers and could do something like that.

 

  • I’d also like to find time to read other’s blogs. I have checked a few out, but sometimes it asks me something I can’t answer like who is my gravitar and I just panic and leave, working on the assumption I can and will crash the net.

 

  • I suppose what I’m saying is I’d like to be a tech geek, or at least sound and talk like one. If that’s not possible I’d just like to know what I’m doing and be able to figure out what I’m not doing. Trial and error may be great, but whoever wants to go on trial has something wrong with them.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole
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John Cornwell (2015) The Dark Box. A Secret History of Confession.

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I was looking for a review I’d written for John Cornwell’s autobiography Seminary Boy, a fabulous book, but it seems I haven’t written it. Nor have I written a review for The Hiding Places of God (Powers of Darkness, Powers of Light). An unsettling book. These are sins of omission. Ah, you may ask, what do you mean by sin? That’s really the crux of this book.

My personal definition of sin is selfishness. Selfishness in thought or deed or word. That may sound vaguely familiar. I’m a Catholic and, in an earlier incarnation, was even an altar boy. I’ve got a whole Cathedral inside my head of rote learning and memes for every eventuality.  Non-Catholics can take a shortcut and watch Jimmy McGovern’s Broken series (I watched the first one). There is a better self, somewhere inside me.   The quote by Aristotle taken up as a mantra by the Jesuits,  ‘give me a boy at seven and I will give you the man’ couldn’t be more apt. Michael Apsted’s  7-UP series was based on that premise and it did show consistently that this was the case. Sin, John Cornwell, tells us is derived of the notion of being ‘wide of the mark’ and the priests in his book, generally, are very wide of the mark. It’s no coincidence that the Irish priests on Craggie Island in Father Ted came in three recognisable stereotypes, old and alcoholic, Father Ted, a bit cynical and not yet alcoholic and then there is bumptious Dougal. Cut off from life and childhood and the outside world is something Cornwell is familiar with, a process Richard Holloway also writes about. It’s unnatural enough to produce a generation of sexual predator priests protected by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. And Cornwell has personal experience of being groomed to be abused. He outlines how it happened in his autobiography and here. The sickness in the Roman Catholic Church is systemic and derives from a hatred of the human body and a plague of priests steeped in hypocrisy and schizophrenic thinking. It wasn’t me that done it but the devil made me. God will forgive me, as long as I confess my sins.  Michael Foucault argues in History and Sexuality,  Confession shaped the modern perception of sexuality.

Take, for example,  Maria Goreti murdered by a lodger, but at least she died a virgin. Rape is a sin against chastity. A far more serious sin is the sin of masturbation. ‘Pullito’.  I, of course, have never masturbated, but I have had a few wanks. Pope Pius XI also warned against the dangers of motion pictures. This was before Dirty Dancing, but of course, any kind of dancing was frowned upon, a breaking of God’s rules. A model priest was someone like the ascetic parish priest of Ars, near Lyon, Jean-Marie Vianney. Born in 1786 Vianney heard tens of thousands of confessions and had preternatural knowledge of who was going to hell. He could tell who the masturbators where before they dared open their mouths or their flies. My favourite story of Vianney was his believe that the best thing to do to stop hungry children stealing apples was cutting down all the apple trees, which he did. Some priests attempt to, or have, cut off their penis.  God likes virgins. So it seems do many priest, based on the premise that you can’t hurt an altar boy because they are the equivalent of Barbie’s Ken.  Adam and Evil in the garden. I’ll let you guess which of the sexes was evil. The Virgin Mary balances that out. Cathars of course thought the Virgin Mary sprang from Jesus’s ear. I’m not sure how that worked. I just hoped it wasn’t a sexual thing.

Cornwell calls for the sacrament of Confession to be brought into the modern world. Children should not make their first Confession when they have no idea what sin is and therefore have as much chance of committing a sin as a banana. Childish innocence should be cherished.   He doesn’t hold out much hope of that happening. And I’m with him on that one.  I also think there is a role for the confessional, but I’m not sure how it would look or how it would work. But I’m willing to be proved wrong. As the agnostic Richard Holloway has consistently argued the most dangerous man is one who refuses to believe he might be wrong. Fundamentalists are Us.

don’t look down

grenfel.jpg

don’t look down—

poor people who work for little—

and expect little more—

don’t look down—

refuge bees like you and—and—and

shrinking away to god knows where—

don’t look down—

look up at the skyline—

glossed hegemonies timeline—

don’t  look down—

the beginning of a which hunt—

all the things you knew—

taken away from you—and

don’t look down—

piety and talk of sacrifice—

 

—  the latest trend

of the many lessons learned

don’t look down

resist the feeling of déjà vu

because it never happened to you

don’t look down

don’t expect remorse

but silence please

 

Alan Judd (2017) Deep Blue

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Any book with a cover showing a submarine in a loch gives me that sinking feeling. I’ve never read any of Alan Judd’s books. He’s prolific and has a whole stack of fiction and nonfiction published. Deep Blue was West Dunbartonshire libraries novel of the week (here’s where I do a bit of boasting and tell you my novel Lily Poole was also a novel of the week https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356) and that’s how I heard about it, from the library’s website. It’s a topical novel, dealing with fringe groups of the SNP, terrorism and the bureaucracy of government and in particular the work of M16 and M15.  The hero and narrator is Charles Thoroughgood, head of M16. He’s looking back to a time in the 1980s, when the term Deep Blue, first came into play, a relic of the Cold War, still on file, but a dead end, until, of course, it rises up again.   Narration  alternates between Thoroughgood’s past and present and the plotting is superb. I read almost 300 pages in two gulps.

Any book about agents and the Cold War automatically gets compared with John Le Carre. Judd handles superbly well the backbiting of politics, turf wars between government departments, the Home Secretary, and the heads of M15 and M16. You’ve probably never heard of special government advisors (SPADs).  Unfortunately I have. David Cameron and that other spawn of the devil, George Osborne were SPADs, unpaid lackeys, waiting for their chance to enter the House of Commons.

The Sovbloc file on Deep Blue also has a narrator, codename Badger, returning to his gulag to check out his bunk and the guards that still watch over it in Gorbachev’s era. He’s a fixer in the Politburo named Federov and has climbed the greasy poll to the top of the Kremlin. Federov, also, incidentally, writes like a novelist and his copy of that visit is pasted verbatim in English into the file on Badger.  The young Charlie finds from an old Russian crony, Joseph, elderly Russian émigré and British agent in Paris who shared the gulag with Badger that the latter can be tapped for information.  He can be turned. It won’t be easy but isn’t that difficult either, but following false trails and Josef getting drunk and nostalgic the past becomes the present and Deep Blue is something Badger mentions as a long-term piece of KGB sabotage.

Somehow this is tied in with the Home Secretary’s SPAD, a woman, Melanie Stokes who had no clearance from the Home Office or M16 and whose current partner, James Micklewaite is on file as having worked with the KGB and dissident members of SNP that aim to get Trident missiles moved out of the Scotland and Faslane. Amen to that (sshh I’m also a dissident and have voted SNP and for Independence).  And James’s sister was once Charles’s girlfriend and Charles’s current wife is the former wife of  the head of M16, who died suddenly and was also Charlie’s close friend. Everybody knows everybody, but this is London. This is bureaucracy at work and there’s something of the John Le Carre-ish at work here too, with the kind of overworked head of the service having to investigate Deep Blue whilst ostensibly on holiday to save money and more importantly to save face if anything goes wrong. Deep Blue is radioactive, but not as radioactive as failure, which gets everyone scurrying in the other direction and hunkering down.

The denouement is in my neck of the woods, Dumbarton and the road to Roseneath. The heroic Charles saving innocent children’s lives turns out to be bathetic, which is exactly the right tone. Alan Judd is a wonderful writer, who really knows his stuff. But there were a few minor quibbles, usually involving someone smiling. And someone is looking at someone else ‘interrogatively’. I’ll need to investigate that one myself.

Alan Johnson (2016) The Long and Winding Road: A Memoir.

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I’d like Alan Johnson to be Prime Minster. That seems outlandish as Jeremy Corbyn, but Johnson is not such a Daily- Hate- Mail figure. But he was Home Secretary under the Labour Government 2009-10, a position our current Prime Minster Teresa May held before becoming Tory leader. I guess at the end of polling today she’ll remain Prime Minister. I read an interview with Paul O’Grady on Sunday in which he wished the heads of David Cameron, and his sick sidekick, George Osborne should be placed on display on Tower Bridge. I’m not sure I’d add Teresa May to that list, but I could easily be persuaded. Cameron and Osborne poisoned debate and played to the Tory grandees by using stereotypes of working-class life taken from shows such as Jeremy Kyle to cut the welfare budget and keep cutting it with spurious claims that it was to bring the nation’s deficit down to zero. If black people were portrayed in this way it would be classified as a criminal offence. Inciting racism. The promise to cut the nation’s deficit has been quietly side-lined by May.

The Long and Winding Road at one point tells us how the Conservative Party stage manages its annual get together. That’s when they pick their victims. The usual line-up. Johnson managed to infiltrate the conference. There’s a cartoon Johnson, from The Times, May 1994, portrayed as dog, savaging the President of the Board of Trade, Michael Helseltine who had lined up the Post Office – Telecom, Royal Mail, Parcelforce and Post Office Counters – as the next public service to be privatised. All were in profit, but, of course, it wasn’t about that. It was about ideology. Privatisation is good because it makes rich people richer wasn’t one of their arguments, but you get the general drift. The buzz word is usually efficiency.

That’s two paragraphs and I’ve barely mentioned Johnson’s book. I found it a bit boring and got to page 111 and pulled the bookies slip I was using as a bookmark from the book. The chances of me reading on are slim. It’s Johnson’s third autobiography and there is repetition. He needs to bring those that have not read his first book up to speed. This Boy, which is by far his best, outlines what happens when his feckless father left his sainted mother Lily, and the family was left to fend for themselves in East London slums in the 1950s.  I started with his second book, Please, Mr Postman, and worked my way backwards to This Boy.  Alan Johnson has met his future wife, who works with his sister Linda, but already has a kid, but they settle down in Slough. He starts working for the Post Office, a postman, all childhood dreams of becoming a pop star, put out of his head, with as much overtime as he wanted, leaving little time for anything else.  By the time the reader gets to The Long and Winding Road we know where the story is going, but the narrative drifts into meeting people such as Tony Blair who are going to become famous and blokes we’ve never heard of, but are salt of the earth type. It gets cliched and boring. But that’s my opinion. You May think otherwise. I’m sure when I wake up tomorrow Teresa May will still be Prime Minster, but not my Prime Minster and she’ll write a book in later years about her Long and Winding Road. Yawn.

May’s Magic Money Tree and other stories

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I usually vote SNP, but will vote Labour. The first-past-the-post system means that my vote is meaningless, but if everybody thought the same thing the Tory party would win by a landslide.  Teresa May obviously thought that way. Her Damascene moment came while walking the dales. It had nothing to do with local government elections, where historically the party in government gets trashed, but the Conservative Party gained seats, even in places like Ferguslie Park where nobody knows what a Tory looks like, or has ever met one, because if they did they’d get a good kicking. It was probably a novelty vote, like voting for Mr Blobby.  The tory swing-o-meter, however, pointed to a Conservative (post-Falkland) victory of 1983 proportions, with Teresa May the new Thatcher Boadicea of the Daily-Hate-Mail ready to take on Brussels and get a good Brexit deal.

I do know what Brexit is, but I’m not clear what a good deal it. Brexit is Britain leaving the European Economic Community and customs union, one of the major power blocks in the world, and one which we do most of our trading with. We, however, import more that we export. That’s called a trade deficit. Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit and is particularly dependent on EEC funding and exports.   Withdrawing from a trade agreement with your most important and influential partner doesn’t seem very smart. Canada recently thrashed out a trade deal with the EEC it took years and 300 dedicated Canadian negotiators, multiply that by 100 support staff for every negotiator and you’ll get some idea of the complexity of a trade deal. Will Hutton reports that Britain will have to renegotiate 759 trade deals with 168 countries out with the EEC. On the bright side this could lead to full employment. Unemployed individuals could retrain as negotiators, with years of work in prospect. That’s what I’m doing now, brushing up on my pie-charts and colouring in graphics.

Some 55 000 work in the NHS and University departments report the loss of 3000 staff since the uncertainty of Brexit. It’s been called a brain drain. Boris Johnson and Teresa May have stayed to fight on. That’s a no-brainer.

I’m still not sure what the difference between a hard and soft Brexit is and I’m not sure they know either. World Trade organisation estimates ‘no deal’ with the EEC  and British exports will half and the sales of our invisible services fall by sixty percent or more. We laughed at the Greece government threatening to leave the EEC while taking another bailout to pay for its public services. It’s the economy stupid. The M20 and M2 can and will become gigantic truck stops full of goods by their sale by date and those in Northern Ireland will nip over to the Republic to stock up on cheap groceries and booze before bringing them home to Great Britain.

But it’s not often you hear an ex-chief office of the Metropolitan Police calling the Prime Minster a liar. Asked if that was what he was saying he said yes. She’s a liar. But not a lot of folk know that she’s also a Marxist.

If the energy cap fits, wear it. Our Prime Minister went along with the rhetoric that Ed Miliband, then Labour leader ‘lived in a Marxist universe’ because he wanted to cap energy prices for the major energy companies that have been ripping off exiting customers for years before angling to do the same thing. The difference between Marxism and Mayism needs to be looked at more closely.

Marxism is associated with the magic money tree. Karl Marx, 1860, in London libraries, was considering the idea of surplus value. He used the example of a worker that in two hours produced enough from his labour to pay for his food and accommodation, but worked on for another thirteen hours in a fifteen-hour day. The extra thirteen hours extracted from his labour was surplus to his requirement but the value was paid to his employer. So what, you’re probably thinking he probably works for Amazon or in a call-centre annoying folk. The killing line was the boy was only nine-years old.

The richest man under thirty in the United Kingdom is the Duke of Westminster. In a meritocracy he would be rich because of the skills he acquired. But he was also the richest under twenty in the United Kingdom. The richest under-ten in the United Kingdom. No need for him to labour for fifteen hours in a mill, creating surplus value. Others were doing that for him. He was the richest one-year old in the United Kingdom. And no doubt he was the richest placenta in the United Kingdom history. That’s democracy at work. Cradle to grave, he’s stinking rich.

Britain is a good place to live, a tax haven for the rich.  Money at increasing rate flows from the rich to the poor. You’re probably wondering what happened to that magic money tree that is going to pay for all those goods and services. Monetarism has also got magic dust when the Bank of England creates billions of pounds of bonds electronically and gives money to the rich folk and bankers that caused the financial crisis, ostensibly to help elasticity. Remember that film Happy Gilmore, well if you don’t, here’s how it goes. Happy Gilmore didn’t need golf clubs, he only needed one club, which he used to win competitions. Well, that’s the Tory secret, give money to rich folk and they’ll give it to poor folk. Trickle-down economics. It’s the kind of thing that the moron’s moron and US President believes in. You’re either for or against him, but there are pictures out there with Teresa May holding the orange sex pest’s hand and gurning at the camera.

Mayism unlike Marxism has no core values, no value at all. It’s junk bonds, but no doubt with an enlarged majority that rictus smile will be on the front page of every paper and on the news. Bad news for me, and people like me. Good news for the rich.

 

 

Scottish Book Trust.

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Writing is the easy part. That’s what I tell folk. That’s when I learn what I think. And others think about me. Reading is the engine of writing. I’ve had a long love affair with books, with bouts of promiscuity. As I get older I find time not reading is time wasted.  Selling yourself, well, that’s the hard part. Not many folk know about Scottish Book Trust. It’s a national charity.  Until I started writing a few years ago I hadn’t heard of it either. Here’s what they do, they encourage children and adults to read books. http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/about/what-we-do. They link it with that buzz word, wellbeing. Whisper it, the key factor is class. Literacy rates in Scotland (and elsewhere) have been falling and this is linked to the gap between rich and poor. The earlier you get kids to read the better quality life they will have. The postcode lottery of what school you attend, whether, for example, Drumchapel High or Bearsden Academy a mile or two away, but on a different planet, determines life chances. Reading is the one thing we can get right, but we’re getting it wrong. The gap remains and has grown in recent years, despite much bluster. The Scottish Book Trust tells us it gave one million free books away last year. They organise festivals and supports authors. I’m a supporter of the charity work of the Scottish Book Trust. I attend most of their festivals in West Dunbartonshire libraries and write about the authors on my blogs. And last year, I gave a reading in West Dunbartonshire’s Dalmuir library of my debut novel Lily Poole (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356).  In a way I’ve worked for the charity for free. It’s win-win, as I get free publicity. My debut novel was novel of the week in West Dunbartonshire libraries. That’s as good as it gets. Most debut novels get published and are pulped within a week. Mine is no different. But for me, books are holy things. To be a published author is a big thing and to be on library shelves next to other novelists that’s a blessing.

My gripe with Scottish Book Trust is I’ve found they’re not to be trusted, don’t acknowledge me as a published author, even though I’ve appeared at one of their festivals as a published author. They can’t deny that I’m Scottish, I’m guess it may be a matter of number of books sold. The underlying question is quality. They don’t want to acknowledge a numpty like me as an author or the whole edifice of Scottish Book Trust will crack and fall to the ground. They may be right.

I’m a big fan of the Scottish Book Trust and have been trying to join them for years, but I fear it’s easier for a Catholic to join the Masons. Over the years I’ve applied for mentoring, the New Writer’s Award and later the Next Chapter Award. The first time I got an email back saying we enjoyed reading your application I thought it was true. After ten or twelve emails saying the same thing you recognise that no they didnae, it’s junk mail. Published authors can apply for inclusion in the Live Literature Database. It makes such applications easier.  BBC Script room, in comparison, are a lot better at that sort of thing. Over the same period I’ve been longlisted twice. They tell you for example, you got an A, but not A-plus for your attempt and your thirty pages script got a full read through. And they give you numbers, out of 13 000 scripts submitted, you were in the top 10%, perhaps even 1%,  but they don’t say we enjoyed reading your script, because they didnae, that’s their job.

To be honest I don’t really think of myself as a writer either. You probably wonder why I keep bothering the Scottish Book Trust with my lame efforts. Simple, they offer a gateway to writers that have been where I am, that will read my work and give an honest critique, point the way forward. That saves me time. Saving time and money, that’s what it’s all about. Unfortunately the Scottish Book Trust enjoyed reading my novel, but they didnae, I don’t exist.  Yet I persist.  Writing is a strange beast.

Bill Cosby: Fall of an American Icon, BBC 2, 9pm (BBC iPlayer) Director and Producer Ricardo Pollack

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08tj1kx/bill-cosby-fall-of-an-american-icon

Today, 5th June 2017, Bill Cosby faces four charges of first-degree aggravated sexual assault against Andrea Constand. A possible ten-year prison sentence hangs in the balance. He has pled not guilty. In many ways this is the reverse of the OJ Simpson trial. When Constand made the allegations against Cosby that he had drugged and sexually assaulted her in summer 2004, the Hollywood star was not prosecuted, but an action was taken through the civil courts and an agreement was reached. What that agreement was and the damages paid was incommunicado, the silencing of the witness by giving them money, as compensation, with a legal provision that they keep stuhm.  It’s a rich man’s injustice. And Cosby was rich and so famous he wasn’t even regarded as black. From the 1960s onwards his success as a comedian, actor, writer and producer of the The Cosby Show, which ran for eight series and some shows were watched by over fifty-percent of the telly-watching population made him and the characters he created, paediatrician, family man and all-round good guy, Cliff Huxable, the face of television and America’s dad.

You here that quite a lot. Lili Bernard, for example, told how he mentored her, took her onto the set of The Cosby Show and offered to give her a part. After about a year of mentoring he took her to Trump’s Taj Mahal hotel ostensibly to meet a producer. In the suite he’d leased, he force fed her Quaaludes, but she trusted him, thought it best to go along with his wishes, so she drank them down, but even as he was raping her, there was a disconnect, because Bernard couldn’t believe a person she thought of a dad, was raping her. Cosby warned her not to speak out.  ‘You’re nothing,’ he said.

Cosby was always something. I’d never heard of OJ Simpson, but I could place Cosby. I watched bits of his shows.  I guess like many others, I conflated the character Huxtable with Cosby. If the character was called Bill Cosby and this was his family I don’t think many people would have complained or noticed. Cosby did have a black wife and five kids.

He was also a serial rapist. Let’s use the tip-of-the-iceberg argument. Thirteen women testified to attorney Gloria Alred that Cosby had drugged them, raped them and then threatened them afterwards not to tell anyone because they were nothing. Victoria Valentino a former Playboy bunny tells us how Cosby at the end of the nineteen-sixties, promised her and a friend he’d an eye for, an audition in a forthcoming show, but asked them to take pills that would make them feel better, which they did, but felt nauseous. He took them for a ride in his limousine into the hills and orally and vaginally raped her. He left her and her friend in the hills and told them to ‘call a cab’. She didn’t report it, because of whom he was and who she was, but even when she did, nobody seemed to want to listen.

It takes a lot to knock an icon from a pedestal. Ironically, it was a joke, Hannibal Buress, calling Cosby a rapist, which did the job. It was filmed; one black man calling another black comedian a rapist and it exploded on social media sites, being picked up by mainstream media. A statute of limitations meant that victims such as Valentino would not have their day in court, but they can be called as witnesses and it won’t be for the defence. Cosby is guilty as OJ was guilty, but he didn’t kill anybody, but both black men will join the largest concentration of citizens in the world that are serving time in prison, the majority of whom are also black. There’s justice and there’s justice. We’ll wait and see if that other serial groper and potential rapist the moron’s moron who is president is, in the years to come, charged with sexual assault. That would be an even bigger trial and I’m sure more viewers would watch that than The Cosby Show.   Perhaps we’ll finally see the footage Putin has of Trump and the prostitutes he’d hired. That would be a show-stopper that could go nuclear.