Ex-Celtic keeper, Craig Gordon tells a story (perhaps apocryphal) about when he was number-1 keeper at Sunderland. He went into training, Roy Keane, the manager, took the gloves off him and went in goals. He told Gordon to shoot in at him, because he would have saved a shot Gordon had missed in the previous game. You know what I’m getting at here. £5 million signing Barkas is money wasted. He wins fanny of the night award, for Evander’s curled free kick. Roy Keane would have been pulling his hair out, and would have surely have pulled on the gloves.
Second prize goes to another diddy, Nir Bitton. Welsh, who was having no too bad a game, also gets pelters for giving away the free kick that led to the goal. A needless challenge is a stupid challenge (although he did get a touch on the ball). We watched the Hoops last year. No player in the Celtic back line was good enough for Celtic. We kept giving away goals from free kicks and corners. It was open season. Ralston was best of a poor bunch here. And I’m exonerating substitute Dean Murray. Perhaps his chance has come, when Bitton goes, as he surely must.
Some familiar faces in the Celtic team. Bitton, Christie and the big one here, Edouard. Needs must. With little room for error, Nir Bitton pokes Dreyer in the face after the Dane had got in behind the Celtic defence and went down on the box, hoping for a penalty. He was booked, as was the Israeli, who had already been booked. Red card coming up for us before half time.
It was another Israeli, Liel Abada, who gave us the opening goal. He was first to react to a shot from Christie, parried by the keeper, Lossi. Christie had already hit the post and looked back to his best. McGregor also showed for the ball, and played a real captain’s role. On the bright side, Barkas, in the first half, never had a save to make, which meant we never lost a goal. Good to see Dean Murray in the team. Pity it wasn’t earlier when Bitton was off injured for 10 minutes.
Dreyer evened up the red-card count in the second half and for the next ten minutes we looked to add to our goal tally. Then that stupid tackle. And the non-save. There was an inkling of what was to come when Barkas dropped a simple cross ball and got a foul for it. Celtic has one mediocre keeper in Scott Bain. I’m not counting Connor, one for the future, because he isn’t (when on loan at Partick Thistle they sent him back). Man of the match went to McGregor, but I thought want-away Christie edged it. He’d the most shots on goal and an assist.
With away goals not counting in aggregate terms, Celtic’s mission is simply to win in Denmark. That’s certainly do-able. I suppose the merry-go-round of keepers will continue. I’d hope Bain would come in, until we get somebody better. I’d also prefer Montgomery for Taylor. Dean Murray should keep his place. It wasn’t a total disaster. Everything that could have went wrong last season—did. The hangover continues. We’ve got to shake it off. I know we’ve got better players than the Danes. Edouard had his usual miss, but his hold-up play was OKish. I’m sure he’ll play next Wednesday. We’ve just got to show for the ball and shift it quicker. All the good things our new manager is trying to bring to the team. There are some things he can’t control and that was shown by two useless B’s. Both are fixable.
Ben Whiteman scored from the spot to give Preston a deserved win, mid-way through the second-half. That’s the worry for Celtic. This was no smash and grab. Sinclair also had another Preston penalty claim that was turned down. A great save from Barkas from a Preston counter-attack midway through the first half and a shot from Potts. There were some plus points. The Celtic skipper, Callum McGregor in the pre-season games has looked world class. Turnbull looks sharp. Montgomery looks ready to start every game, and, of the youngsters, he looks most likely to have staked his claim for a regular first-team start.
Moffat who scored a brilliant goal in a pre-season friendly and came on for Ajeti in the last game was anonymous. The partnership of Urhoghide, Welsh, looks powder-puff. We lost the majority of our goals last season from free kicks and corner, and we lost many of our one-on-one duels here. Ched Evan, for example, missed a late header to make it 1—0 Preston. And he won most balls he went for in the air, in the first-half. And this pattern continued into the second half, with substitute Izzy Brown failing to score from several chances.
Celtic’s defence make themselves vulnerable playing from the back. It’s easy to see that we are playing total football. I like the idea. But Bain’s passing out of defence caused problems at least three times. Preston players having a run in on goal. Bolingoli’s (remember him) first touch put another Celtic substitute Murray under pressure. Another half-chance for Preston.
Edouard came on for Ajeti. The Swiss international striker was poor today. He’s scored two goals in pre-season friendlies. None today. None the last match. I want Edouard to leave as soon as possible. Needs must. Against Midtylland, Edouard is the better option. That’s two games in a row we’ve not scored. The same failings as last year have emerged in starker form. The other option is to play Japanese forward Kyogo Furuhash. I’ve not seen him, but I’d play him. New signing, Liel Abada started the game on the bench, but came on for the last thirty minutes. Perhaps he should start too. McGregor has been exceptional. But the central pairing behind the strike is still up for grabs. Rogic or David Turnbull? Last season, a disastrous season, that was an easy pick. Ange Postecoglou knows the value of Rogic. We know the value of Turnbull. Then there’s Christie. Better if he, like Ajer and Edouard, leaves, sooner, rather than later. The Scottish internationalist hasn’t played under the new manager. Perhaps he’s already away. Ewan Henderson, who I rate highly, has come in and done a job. Where’s Ntcham?
The score doesn’t matter today. Better we win than lose. We know, and the Midjyland coach knows, we are going to play from the back to the midfield. Barkas has looked more assured than Bain and more likely to start. Ralston and Taylor look to be our new-look (old-look) full backs pushing up the park. Urhoghide, Welsh, in the centre pairing. Phew, this doesn’t look strong enough for me. I’m not a fan of Welsh. Urhoghide, might come good, but he looks raw. As does eighteen-year-old Murray. Too early to say if they are coal dust or unpolished diamonds. Ralston is average. Taylor not much better. Our defence, which wasn’t fit for purpose last season, remains unfit for purpose pre-season. But that’s what friendly matches are for. That may change very quickly. Here’s hoping. We’ve signed a centre-forward. Ajeti may come good—if—
Hopefully, we can protect our defence and score goals. I can’t say I’m confident. Today was just a run out. Tuesday will show who the number one picks are.
Anthony Ralston has featured on the right in many of these friendlies. Last season we had a loan player from Everton playing in that position. The best part of the deal was we could send him back. Ralston is better, but like so many of those featured, no better than back-up. I include Bain, Welsh and Taylor in that category. Although to be fair, Taylor was pretty good here. I don’t know enough about Urhoghide other than he’s a big lad (which I like) for a centre half and keen to show what he can do, which I also like. Ironically, he started his first game at right back and had to move to that position again.
We all know that we lost a goal a game from defensive fragilities last season. We also know that Ange’s teams are going to play from the back, little triangles as we work our way forward. I’d like to say like Italy or Spain. But we’ll wait and see. Scottish teams, and Rangers, in particular, quickly figured that they could push all their players into our half, and wait to pounce when we made a mistake. It’s high-risk in which we dominate possession (which is a given in the Scottish game). Ryman, for example, hitting the post after 34 minutes in a half which Celtic dominated, without having many shots on goal. And then later, with two minutes to go from a corner. Ajeti having a late shot in the first-half one of the few highlights.
The downside was a flurry of injuries. Barkas before the game started. Mikey Johnston (again) midway through the half and Keromoke Dembele towards the end of the first half. Urhoghide, who was covering for Ralston, also limped off, but after 90 minutes. Best player of the park, Callum McGregor, who lasted the fully ninety minutes.
Luke Shaw on for Soro at the beginning of the second half. (Soro may also have a calf strain). The ex-Sheffield player looks a real prospect. As does Urhoghide. But we don’t need prospects. A week away from the first qualifier in the Champions League and a stack of injuries. Let me put it this way, when we took Ajeti off, Mooney, a young winger replaced him. This was probably as close to the first-team selection for the first competitive game. Second-stringers are going to play on Saturday.
Some good football. But no punch in the final third and weak at the back. Ironically, the goalie with a pass-back nearly gave away a penalty with two minutes remaining. (I thought Connor—who doesn’t like the ball at his feet and who I don’t rate—mistimed it and it was a penalty). One of those games: should, could, but didn’t—shades of last season. Let’s hope not. Plenty of injuries to ponder. Onto Saturday’s match.
England can beat Italy and win the Euros. They’re playing at home and favourites. Even I’ll admit that. I’m not anti-English, and I don’t mind them winning the odd game. Although I was never there, I’ve telly memories of Scotland going to Wembley on the fitba specials, beating England, tartan clad hordes of Bay City Roller fans stealing the goalposts and ripping up the turf and eating it to show how hard we were. Payback for all those invasions memorised in Braveheart with Mel Gibson, an Aussie, kidding on he was Scottish, showing the English soldiers who was boss by painting his face two-tone blue and wherever colour he had left on his shitey hand. Wiggling his bare bum at them. Now, he’d just have jumped in a fountain at Trafalgar Square and hung a traffic cone from a statue of Winston Churchill’s baldy napper. But it’s not about us.
England had some fantastic players and have underachieved since their World Cup Win in 1966. Their nemesis Germany in the Euros were a shadow of the teams that used to beat England regularly in World Cup and European competition and send them home to think again. England got a bye into the semi-final. Ukraine had the kind of defensive failures that even a diddy Celtic team last season would have found unfathomable. Every corner or free kick was a goal, or near miss. Denmark should have taken England to penalties after extra-time. But Raheem Sterling fell over in the penalty box. Golden boy, Harry Kane’s penalty was saved, but he finished the rebound. Everything that can go right for England has, and now they’re one game away.
The only time I turned the sound back up was when Denmark scored. They didn’t roll over and capitulate as they were supposed to. Italy had a marathon game against Spain. It was one of the games of the tournament. I’d have preferred Spain to have won that one, because they were the best footballing team in the Euros and would have taken England apart. Rio Ferdinand’s contention that England would have beaten both of those teams is the kind of patronising shite we’re used to hearing. But he did tell a story that puts this into context. Playing against Sergio Busquets (and Xavi and Iniesta), the Barcelona player feigned recognition of the England international. ‘Ferdinand, boom, boom,’ said Busquets, emphasising his willingness to launch it, and not play the ball out from the back.
England are not so much a boom boom team in the Euros, but Pickford does launch it, and not always to his own players. But neither are Italy an open, attacking team. Playing at home, England will be expected by their adoring fans to take the game to the Italians. That will suit them. They’ll sit in and hit on the break. They’re not Ukraine, likely to fold and give England the run of the park. The Italians have better players than Denmark, but they’re not Spain. Ironically, the Italians will miss a left back that plays with his right foot. And most of their attacking flair comes from there. I’m sure Sterling will make another few dashes into the box and fall over. One of the ironies of the tournament is Sterling isn’t technically very good, certainly no match for Forlan, but he’s been one of the players of the tournament. The Italians will be ready for him. I certainly hope so. The sound will be off as I watch the final.
Celtic were two goals up at half-time. Karamoke Dembele and Albian Ajeti scoring in another low-key game at Dragon Park. We also had two shots cleared off the line. Ajeti, the better of the two, rounding the keeper and unlucky not to score at the start of the game. Callum McGregor wore the captain’s armband, and I’m sure he’ll keep it. Celtic played with four at the back. Welsh and Bitton in the middle, Ralston at right back and Taylor on the left. In games like this which Celtic invariably dominates that doesn’t matter too much. But we know other teams will recognise the keeper isn’t going to go long and play it from the back, the opposition team will step forward. In our new look Celtic, the goalkeeper in order to create space is asked to push up out of the area and receive passes from defenders. Barkas looked adept and cool enough on the ball. As I’m sure Bain will too. The problem they had was they quite simply didn’t make enough saves that mattered, as McGregor did over the other side of Glasgow. Similarly, Bitton a central midfielder playing in defence passes the ball out well. What he doesn’t do well is in the physical art of defending. More than fifty percent of the goals we lost last season were from free kicks and corners. Neither Bitton or Welsh are good enough and were found wanting. But that’s what we’ve got for now.
The second half saw two new teams emerging. Bain in goal and Montgomery dropping back to cover at left back. He’d played further forward in the first half. Mikey Johnstone came on to play in front of him. Ntcham, remember him, well, he’s back in for Soro. Turnball, who had a decent first half, also came off. Christie coming on to play further forward. No Rogic, not sure what’s happening to the Aussie. Must be injured again. Edouard up front. Celtic still dominated, but not to the same extent at the first half. Mikey Johnstone looked the most dangerous player. Maybe this will be his season (I’ve been saying that for three seasons, he’s so talented). He hit the inside of the post in 74 minutes. Osaze Urhoghide, who’s a big lad, may do a turn for us in defence. He also had a shot saved by the Charlton keeper. A few minutes later Charlton got a goal back. Connor Washington running onto a long pass to finish under the legs of Bain. Celtic saw it out. But Bain had to make a fantastic save.
Mooney came on late in the game. But Dembele looked a handful and had a great first half. We’ve went from having no wingers to having stacks of them. Edouard missed his usual sitter from six yards, a cut back from Johnston. Ajeti looks dangerous. We’re going to play from the back and it’s going to be interesting. Edouard, Christie and Ntcham can go now. Wait and see who we will bring in. Some encouraging signs but too prone to fling goals away with a makeshift defence. And we all know what happened last season.
First pre-season game and we play Sheffield Wednesday on a Wednesday. And Stephen Welsh plays in Wales, although he’s not Welsh. It’s a ninety minute game, but split into three thirty minutes segments. Over the fence of Dragon Park guys in white playing glorified rounders are oblivious that the next European Champions are playing on their turf, after they achieve one-in-a-row. Yeh, one of those games when it wouldn’t have surprised you if Johnny Depp was playing on the wing with his hat on.
Ange Postecolgou’s first call is to make Albian Ajeti captain. I’m not sure the thinking over that one. I didn’t recognise many of the players that started the first of three periods. Barkas was in goals. That’s the Celtic goalie that didn’t make a save in his first season. But it’s a new start. And Barkas was the Celtic player who got the most touches in the opening ten minutes as the ball was played backwards and backwards and backwards. He didn’t make a save here either, but we were 1—0 down as Sheffield United dominated. Barkas was not at fault. And for a change we didn’t lose a goal from a corner of free kick, as we did for most games last season. But we were still the easy touch of last season. Bannan, Palmer and a through ball to ex-Rangers’ player Josh Windass gave Wednesday the lead. And that’s the way it stayed, until the beginning of the second half.
Finally, I get to say Ajeti put the ball in the nettie. We’ve been that focussed on what’s happening with Leigh Griffiths that Ajeti has been largely overlooked. Ajeti, when he’s not falling over looking for fouls, is also a predator with a good strike rate in the Swiss league. Last season he was dreadful. This season he’s got a new start. And he’s only 24. He’s a wait- and-see player. Like Griffiths he’s a point to prove.
Red-haired winger, Owen Moffat was one of our better players in the first half. And he capped off a stand-out performance with a brilliantly taken goal. Ex-Sheffield player Liam Shaw also looked impressive, both physically and the way he used the ball in midfield as Celtic began to dominate. Soro, in the holding role, looks as if he’s going to be a regular starter.
Scott Bain came on for Barkas after 45 minutes, but wholesale changes to both teams were made. Odsonne Edouard came on and scored the third goal, near the end of the ninety minutes.
Difficult one, he’s still a Celtic player, but the quicker he goes the better, with Ajer and Christie and whoever else wants to leave. We need a whole new defence, starting with the goalie. Left back, right back and centre half. The former Heart’s player Aaron Hickey is one of a number of players touted. He played against Celtic in the Scottish Cup final and was a standout. We could have got him for a million, now its £4.5 million. Stupidity costs money, and cost us the league with a raft of sub-standard players being brought to the club. Anything that could have went wrong last season did go wrong. It’s actually quite nice to hear Rangers are so far ahead Celtic could be out of the running for the league in the first month. That’s a repeat of what was said about Rangers last year—forget it, one-in-a-row, Hallo, Hallo.
Things could be worse. Need to watch England playing with the sound down. My partner told our neighbour that I said I might hate England more than Rangers. Not even near. But c’mon the Italy. The Pope’s eleven.
I qualify for an Irish passport. My Da was born in Belfast, but lived his life in Glasgow, and fought in the second world war for Britain. When he married my mum, he moved to Clydebank. John Burrowes is telling us something we already know—many of us have much the same story.
How many? Most folk find statistic boring. My Da was born in 1923. The Irish Free State was formed in 1921, with the six counties still part of Britain. Susan McKay 2021 writes, Protestants outnumbered Catholics by a ratio of about two to one in Northern Ireland… A hundred years later almost half the population is Catholic, there are fewer Protestant than Catholic schoolchildren, and the only cohort of the population to which Protestant are in a significant majority are the over-60s. Demographics tell their own story of No Surrender being outflanked by other means.
The story of Northern Ireland is one of betrayal. The colonisation of Ireland by the English was piecemeal and ‘plantations’ were established in the North, with the richest land for Protestant immigrant settlers loyal to the Crown. Oliver Cromwell, ‘The Great Protector’s’ troops were ruthless in killing men, women and children who opposed his forces. The best Irish estates went to his followers. We all know about William of Orange, but few people acknowledge that he had the backing and blessing of the Pope at the time at the Battle of the Boyne.
This is all background stuff from sources outside Burrowes’ ‘saga of a nation and a city.’ But when we talk about Glasgow we need to speak of the Irish Holocaust.
‘The Great Famine of 1845-51 was to inflict on the Irish misery and degradation so abject that in proportionate terms it was unequalled anywhere else in the world. More than two million were wiped from the face of the land, either dying from starvation or fever, and fleeing to whatever country would accept them.’
The Great Replacement Theory sprouting from the lips of the moron’s moron Trump and his ilk has its roots in eugenics and religion. You’ll find it in the triumphalism of little Englanders who hark back to the age when Britain was a superpower with a controlling and hegemonic interest in most nations. We were the industrial workshop of the world. Britain made over ninety percent of the shipping with Glasgow at its hub. Trains were exported to these nascent and newly industrialising nations faster than we could build them or lay track. Glasgow was one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, outstripping London. The English gentleman was regarded as the apex of civilisation, worth several foreigners. At the base of the eugenic triangle were Negroes and Irishmen, regarded as workshy and of the lowest intelligence, unable to work machinery without supervision.
Burrowes quotes from Fredrick Engels the father of Communism.
‘Those Irishman who emigrate for fourpence on the deck of a steamship on which they are often packed like cattle, insinuate themselves everywhere. The worst dwellings are good enough for them; their clothing causes them little trouble as long as they are held together by a single thread; shoes they know not; their food consists of potatoes and potatoes only; whatever they earn beyond their needs they spend on drink. What does such a race want with higher wages? …Drink is the only thing which makes the Irishman’s life worth having…’
The Church of Scotland also promulgated hatred and division, regarding the Roman Catholic Irish as a pestilence an ‘Alien Race’ from which the best of Glasgow, the Flower of Scotland emigrated to avoid.
‘the great exodus of the Scottish race was going on,’ Reverend Mair declared to the General Assembly in Edinburgh.
‘Their places were taken by a people of a different race and a different faith, and Scotland was divided into two camps – Scottish and Irish.
In the great Glasgow conurbation there were now at least 450 000 Irish, almost every fourth person. In some areas, it was every third person. The figures speak for themselves. In 1881 there was some 327 000 of the Irish population in Scotland. In the year the report was compiled in 1921, there was 600 000…the Irish population had increased by 30 percent, but the Scottish population had only gone up six percent. Thousands fewer Scottish children were on the educational rolls…
The moron’s moron came out with the same crap. Burrowes points out, Reverend Mair’s made up his own facts, which sounds familiar (you can have your own opinion, but not your own facts). The fertility of the Scots and Irish were broadly similar, unlike in Northern Ireland, nowadays, for example. And representatives from the Church of Scotland, at the General Assembly in 2002, in a report labelled, ‘Secteranism,’ apologised for their distortions and lies.
Lies cost lives. Many of the passengers packed together on the deck of the overcrowded ship, Londonderry, fleeing famine on 1st December 1848, for example, thought they had escaped certain death. Many of them travelling from Sligo to Glasgow. Atlantic-gale-force winds and waves, and the engines struggled to cope. 200 passengers on the deck, including children were forced into the hold—for their own safety. Fearing flooding, hatches were closed. Screams and shouts encouraged a ship’s officer to cover the entrance and exit of the hold with tarpaulin to keep down the din and to keep it watertight. The noise stopped as the passengers suffocated. Because of the storm the ship changed course towards Londonderry. Steam and the stench of death rose out of the hold. No survivors. Cattle were better treated, because they had value.
The creation of Celtic in 1888 by Brother Wilfred in the East End of Glasgow is covered here. He modelled the new club on the success of Edinburgh’s Hibernian. Much of the ground being cleared by volunteers. Many of the players being nicked from Hibernian, who played a friendly against the newly formed club to help raise funds, which more fans attended than the Scottish Cup Final. The rivalry with Rangers was a slow burner. But it’s still burning. I still hate those bastards
In ‘Billy Boys and Tim Malloys,’ Burrowes describes the gang killing of James Dalziel (Razzle Dazzle) a runner and collector for illegal bookmaker, Pat Donnachy, and one of the best dancers in the area. The Briggait Boys from the Gallowgate invaded the Parlour Dance Hall, where Razzle Dazzle led his gang, The Parlour Boys. This was the era of No Mean City.
Billy Fullerton of the ‘Brig’ton Billy Boys’ was the kind of true blue commemorated in football chants. He worked for Tommy Gilmour, bookmaker, boxing promoter and manager, who also happened to be Catholic. Fullerton died penniless, in a single end, his funeral attended by tens of thousands, including Tommy Gilmour.
Marching season commemorating the Orange Order parading through Glasgow to remind Catholics who was in charge still goes on. It’s happening now. But whisper it, the poison has begun to seep away. Burrowes reminds of us a time when tens of thousands of Catholics and Protestants rampaged through Partick, meeting their Catholic brethren in street combat, which brought Glasgow to a standstill with rioting. A mate reminded me of the time he used to ease open his window on Kilbowie Road and fire stink bombs with a sling into the throng below. Members of flute bands now are joke figures. We no longer choke on our Cornflakes but snigger as they pass. The school system that educates Catholics and Protestants separately, however, continues. The joke is on us. No one has the political courage in secular Scotland to tackle this historical anachronism.
John Burrowes gives an idiosyncratic and entertaining look at our past. What remains are the areas of urban poverty he names such as Calton and the Gallowgate. These areas where life expectancy is around ten year’s less than richer areas such as Bearsden. Round up the usual suspects. Whatever index you choose, we lose. Catholics and Protestants having the wrong kinds of children, poor children. In some things we’re number one and remain much the same. Glasgow’s miles better. Fuck off.
Professor James Hunter revisits a student historical dissertation to remind us that it wasn’t just Ireland that suffered from famine, after potato crops failed year after year in the late 1840s, but most of Europe suffered from the fungal spores of Phytophthora infestans. The poor people of the Scottish Highlands and Islands did not experience to the same scale as the Irish Holocaust, but many of the structural problems were the same.
The aristocracy—landed gentry—who owned the land, owned the people on the land. And what they termed ‘surplus population’ was pushed off the land to less arable ground with nothing to sell but their labour. Marxism begins its case studies here with surplus profit and the rentier class. Communities became wholly dependent on the potato to feed their families. And there was no cut off point. The potato blight continued to decimate crops in the 1850s. Unlike Ireland, a subjugated nation with a constant military presence, Scotland had soldiers but they were located mostly around Edinburgh and Glasgow. They had to be kitted and transported to the North of Scotland to deal with food riots.
The Spectator, 6th February 1847, for example, reported
Food riots have been spreading in the North of Scotland to so great an extent that several parties of military have been dispatched from Edinburgh. In some parts of the country is described to be nearly in a state of insurrection.
James Kennedy, The Highland Crofter, best describes what it was to be poor and to be the property of an often absent landlord.
Frae Kenmore to Ben More
The land is a’ the Marquis’s;
The mossy howes, the heathery knowe
An’ like bonnie park is his;
The bearded goats, the towsie stots,
An’ a’ the braxie carcasses;
Ilk crofter’s rent, ilk tinker’s tent,
An ilka collie’s bark is his;
The muir-cock’s craw, the piper’s blaw,
The ghillies hard day’s wark is his;
From Kenymore tae Ben More
The warld is a’ the Marquis’s.
The fish that swim, the birds that skim,
The fir, the ash, the birk is his;
The castle ha’ sae big and braw,
Yon diamond crusted dirk is his;
The roofless hame, a burning shame,
The factor’s dirty wark is his;
The poor folk vexed, the lawyer’s text,
Yon smirking legal shark is his;
From Kenmore to Ben More
The world is a’ the Marquis.
But near, mair near, God’s voice we hear
The dawn as weel’s the dark is his;
The poet’s dream, the patriot’s theme,
The fire that light the mirk is His
They clearly show God’s mills are slow
But sure, the handiwork is His;
And in His grace our hope we place,
Fair Freedom sheltering ark is His;
The men that toil should own the soil,
A note as clear as the lark is this;
Breadalbane’s land –the fair, the grand –
Will no’ be aye the Marquis’s.
Hunter uses a novelistic technique to hook the reader into what happened. An August day in 1847, three women walking from Nowtonmore to Kinlochlaggan in the Scottish Highlands. They spoke in Scots, but Gaelic was the language of the common people of Highlands and Islands. They did not know each other, but they had a kinship and mission. Their destination was Aredverike Lodge. Thousands of acres that came with the Lodge were let to the Marquis of Abercorn. He was friends with Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. The land had been cleared of tenants for sheep. Sheep had been cleared for red deer. The three women hoped to appeal to Queen Victoria’s maternal sisterhood. David Sutherland aged 24, John Young 21, and John Main fishermen from the Moray coast had appeared in Scotland’s High Court on charges of mobbing, rioting and assault at the end of March 1847. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to seven years’ transportation. The women hoped for their husband and sons to be given a royal pardon, or that the Queen should intervene to reduce the severity of the punishment. Transportation to Australia was a life sentence, not just for the prisoner, but for his family.
In ‘A Winter of Starvation,’ George Pole visited Barra on 13th January 1847. He was a representative of the Crown and had experience working in Ireland. His experience of Barra was similar. ‘Nearly every scrap of arable land had been given over to potatoes.’
Climate and geography, limited the availability of land. Just as in Ireland, the poorest tenants in crofts had the poorest thinnest soil and paid the highest rents. Potatoes were a wonder crop. It gave enough carbohydrates and proteins to supply a body with nutrients. Deficiencies in fats and Vitamin A could be offset by buttermilk, for example. John Percival in his book about the Irish famine suggested a working man might eat 14lb (6.5kg) of potatoes every day. Highlander and Islanders were well known to be taller and in better health than city dwellers (hence their recruitment into the Glasgow police force, where they literally looked down on most people). Hunter makes the same point about the reliance on an unvarying diet with use of a joke. A school boy, when pushed by his schoolmaster to tell him what he ate with his potatoes, had thought about it for some time, and then crooned, ‘a spoon’.
Pole found evidence of starvation on Barra, the common signs of diarrhoea and typhus fever when he entered a house. Outside the houses shells from the beaches, picked over and eaten. The myth there would be cockles when there were no potatoes was quietly put to bed with the dead and dying. Sir Robert Peel had tried to offset famine in Ireland by helping set up a network of food stores. His successor at the Treasury, Charles Trevelyan, favoured a laissez-faire approach of minimal state intervention in Ireland or the Highlands and Islands.
Neil M.Gunn in The Silver Darlings recounts what this meant in fictional terms.
‘The ground sloped down to a narrow flatness before it tumbled over a steep face of earth and broken rock to the sea-beach. All that primeval hill-side of heath and whin and moss was slowly being broken into strips of cultivated land by those who lived in little cabins of stone and turf dotted here and there with rounded backs like earth mounds… They had come from beyond the mountain which rose up behind them, from inland valleys and swelling pastures, where they and their people had lived from time immemorial. The landlord had driven them from those valleys and pastures, and burned their houses, and set them against the sea-shore to live if they could and, if not, to die.’
Many of the displaced lived locally. Men, women and children in Barra, for example, collected kelp, which produced a valuable alkali. The harvest sold by their lairds made them richer. They blocked emigration. When the industry collapsed in the 1820s with the introduction of a chemical substitute, these workers became a surplus population living in want. And like the Irish, demonised, regarded as lazy and workshy.
Similarly, in the winter of severe frost and snow of 1846-47, family after family went hungry because the wood that made the new types of fishing boats had to be imported. The cost was too great. Despite living on the shore of the richest fishing grounds in the world, they starved. Those that had boats could not put to sea because of the weather. The demand for fish such as herring, which was salted and put into barrels for export, had also collapsed, with the abolition of slavery. Lassez-faire.
The laws of supply and demand dictate that when there is limited supply and high demand the price rises in step. The price of oats and grains such as barley shot up in value. Farmers were able to make windfall profits. Their response was to no longer sell oats and grains in small quantities, but to export their goods wholesale were a greater profit margin could be made. Super profit. It made economic sense.
On Saturday, 30th January 1847, for example John Chisolm planned to 400 quarters or five tons of barley to Leith from Burghead aboard a cargo ship. But he wasn’t allowed to do so. Local people organised themselves to prevent the export of crops. Troops prevented insurrection in Ireland. In Scotland, the common people’s demands were often met through collective action and strength. Hunter notes the ringleaders were often shoemakers, talking cobblers. Women and children also played an active part. Oats and grains grown locally, stayed locally. Price wasn’t determined by market forces, but determined by notions of fairness and what the people could pay.
The conservative backlash around issues of property and law and order were the arrests of people like Sutherland, Young and Main. Sentencing was suitably severe—as a deterrent. But a passive population had become radicalized. And with mass insurrection in most of the Northern towns, mass starvation of men, women and children would have been exacerbated—as it was in Ireland, where local men raised crops to pay their rent to a factor and absent landlord and for them to be exported for windfall profits. He who pays the piper calls the tune, but not always is the tune to the rich men’s liking as it is now.
I’d heard of V.S. Naipaul and even watched a BBC Imagine programme in which the author and Noble Prize Winner for literature was interviewed by Alan Yentob. I like to think of myself as a reader, but until I’d read A House for Mr Biswas I had read none of Naipaul’s books.
A House for Mr Biswas is described as an ‘epic’ which is just another way of saying it’s quite long. With an Introduction, Epilogue and Afterword, written by Naipaul in 2011. The book runs to 627 pages. I’d guess around 200 000 words, the average wordy novel being around 100 000 words and novellas around 15 000 to 40 000 words.
In the Afterword Naipaul gives us the genesis of his epic.
‘The idea for the book was simple. A dying man considers the few physical objects which he has accumulated during his life, and by which he is now surrounded, perhaps mockingly, perhaps comfortingly. He reflects on the history of each object and so his life in the end is reduced to these physical objects rather than a network of relationships.’
Just as the words caught fire at a certain stage, so the material I was composing appeared at a certain stage to lift me out of myself…
I was often asked later whether what I had written was autobiographical. The answer was not as much as it might appear.
I admit I thought the book autobiographical, but there is something everyman about Mr Biswas. I too am Mr Biswas. He’s petty and venal and cowardly, and life is something that happens to him. He is a higher-caste Hindi, but his father worked as a labourer in the cane fields of pre-war Trinidad, an immigrant from India. Mr Biswas acquires a wife almost by accident. Working as a sign-writer in the Tulsi store, he sees Sharma working behind the counter and tries to smuggle a love note to her. He may be penniless, but he is of the right Brahmi caste and in no position to demand a dowry and finds himself married and living in the Tulsi house. ‘Cat and mouse,’ he later called it, with matriarch Mrs Tulsi as the cat.
But he’s self-aware enough to know how it works as an institution. And everybody in the extended family that lives in the house with them works for Mrs Tulsi and the family business. He labels the two sons of Mrs Tulsi, the two gods, and Seth, married to Mrs Tulsi’s sister, the big boss and enforcer.
Mr Biswas’s Aunt Tara, sister to Mr Biwas’s dad, also prospered by marrying Ajodha. Each Trinidad family tries to outdo the other in their success stories both within and out with each family. Aunt Tara takes in Mr Biswas’s sister as an act of charity when their father dies as a serving girl. Their prosperity is based on their measured charity. They employ an aged gardener to work on their new property and promise to pay him thirty cents a day, but when the gardener takes a break in the hottest part of the day, Aunt Tara deducts six cents from his pay for a cup of tea. Similarly, Mrs Tulsi reduces a stonemason to tears by refusing to pay him and does not understand why workers are no longer willing to work for food and a few cents as in the old days. Mr Biswas does not even get to name his first child, Savi, and he tries to annotate the birth certificate with the name he has chosen to comic effect.
Mr Biswas has what would be called nowadays a mental-health breakdown. But being part of the Tulsi household means, despite family feuds, as one of them, he is taken care of. Wives and children are routinely beaten. Mrs Tulsi’s beatings of her own daughters was legendary and a source of great pride, but none of the children of the extended family starve.
The two gods were not beaten. They were above such things. Mr Biswas has literary pretensions. His short-story, not unnaturally, is labelled Escape by Mr. Biswas. And it begins and ends in the same way. At the age of thirty-three, when he was already the father of four children…
Mr Biswas had a problem with no solution. He wanted a place of his own to live with his family, away from the controlling influence of Mrs Tulsi. But his job as a reporter with the Sentinel, while suitably prestigious, hardly covered the cost of renting from Mrs Tulis. Even a job working for the city bureaucracy with a car and expenses and salary of $50 a fortnight wasn’t enough to move without become more indebted. The reader knows, of course, he dies in debt, because this is how the book begins—with Mrs Tulsi outliving him.
The comic aspect of the novel and relationship to family is best understood with the return of the one of the young gods, Oswad, Mrs Tulsi’s son, back from studying to become a medical doctor in England, with all of Mrs Tulsi’s wealth and manipulations allowing him to become a person of substance, which he accepts, of course, as his rightful due. But Oswad finds in England that he ‘disliked all Indians from India. They were a disgrace to Trinidad Indians…their Hindi was strange…incomprehensibly, they looked down on colonial Indians. Oswad’s friend suggested because he had canvassed for the Labour Party he was one of the architects of the Labour election victory of 1945. He parrots one of the Soviet dogmas from their constitution.
‘He who does not work, does not eat.’
Mrs Tulsi repeats the sentence and her servant, Mrs Blackie said she wished they could send some of her people to Russia.
Oswad said Russia was so modern they planted rice by shooting it from a plane instead of bullets.
Long after the little god had moved on to a new ideology, Mr Biswas was indebted, but they couldn’t stop him hoping for better, symbolised by a new home, if not for himself, for his children. A bit like the rest of us. A bit like V.S. Naipaul (R.I.P).
Yesterday, Spain v Croatia. Spain dominate, give away an own goal (to be fair it was a corker). Spain equalise before half time. Go 3-1 ahead with ten minutes to go. Croatia bring it back to 3—3. It goes to extra time. Spain win 5—3. One of the games of the tournament.
I figured the next game would be boring and France would easily brush aside Switzerland as they usually do. France find themselves ahead 3—1, without playing particularly well. Switzerland score with the last kick of the ball in ninety-odd minutes to take it to extra time. Switzerland win on penalties. Kylian Mbappé one of the most coveted players in the world misses his penalty. His net worth as a transfer fee could probably cover the cost of all the Swiss players combined. One of the games of the tournament.
I thought the England v Germany game was on at 8pm. I missed the first half hour. Lucky me. I watched the second half. If you don’t know by now Sterling and Kane scored to take England through. Pivotal moment. Sterling scores then with a dreadful passback sets up the Bayern Munich forward Thomas Müller who has a one of one with the Pickford, the England keeper. He misses. Dreadful football. Worst game of the tournament (which I’ve watched).
Ironically, Sweden v Ukraine plays for a place against England in the quarter finals. England must be massive favourites to beat any of these two teams. That would put England in the semi-final. Can they win it? Phew, certainly hope not. I fancy Spain, whose beautiful football is a throwback to Barcelona. They’re not as good, of course, but most teams aren’t. A tournament where the underdog come good (apart from Scotland, obviously, who were out of their depth). Anyone but England.