Hearts 4—0 Celtic.

harry cochrane.jpg

Celtic’s domestic unbeaten run of 69 games, almost two years unbeaten, comes to a halt at Tynecastle. Celtic have had off days before and contrived to win or, more recently, draw. Here, all over the pitch, Celtic’s passing game came unstuck as Hearts pressed high up the pitch. Celtic players slipped and slid and seemed unable to make a pass. Heart’s players were first to the fifty-fifty balls. Craig Gordon hesitated and looked uncertain. He almost lost an early goal, taking too many touches and the ball cannoning off a Heart’s forward in the Celtic six-yard box. Later, he gave away a needless penalty, hauling down Ross Callachan when he’d lost control of the ball and was heading towards the bye-line. Manuel Milinokovich scored for the Heart’s fourth goal and his second. Milinokovich’s first goal, at the start of the second-half, with Celtic already 2-0 down, to make it 3-0  and Hearts, effectively, killed the game off. Again it was schoolboy defending and a basic error that led to the goal. Jozo Simunovich, not for the first time in recent games, took his eye of a long ball from Conor Randal and Milikovich kept his cool to round Gordon and net. Dedryck Boyata also had a hand in Heart’s first two goals that set up the Heart’s win. For the Heart’s first goal, he tried to play a pass to Kieren Tiernay, who lost possession and sixteen-year-old Harry Cochrane fired in from the edge of the box. Celtic were 1—0 down and deservedly so in the sixteen minute. The second goal, nine minutes later, from Kyle Lafertty was a fantastic strike from the edge of the box, in off the post. Boyata’s loose pass to Calum McGregor had the Celtic midfielder losing that ball and the Heart’s forward running in on goal. Hearts deserved their win. Celtic’s soft centres assisted them.  Only James Forrest gets pass marks. His Celtic team mates, skid marks. Shite.


Elena Ferrante (2006) The Lost Daughter, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

the lost daugtherr.jpg

Nobody that’s a nobody ever asks what are you writing? There’s no reason to think I’m writing anything. But if that nobody ever did ask I’ve got a ready-mix answer. I’m writing about us, and I’m trying to get it right. Elena Ferrante writes again and again about Naples. Its crude dialect and its even cruder people who are not to be trusted, even among themselves, especially by themselves.

Here are some crude notes about this novel and its place in Ferrante’s oeuvre.   In My Brilliant Friend, Lila is sixteen when she marries Steffano and into the wealth of the Carracci family. Here Nina is twenty-two and married to the same kind of brutish figure that Lila married. Neither of them are narrators of their own story.

Nina is also on holiday, Leda admires her ease with her body, her beauty. She notes her family supervise Nina’s every movement and her husband pops in for conjugal visits.

Lila, of course, despite being married, and having a child, engineered a meeting with Nino.

Here Nina tries to do the same with a student who works on the beach.  Loyalty to kith and kin and clan are played against a woman’s loyalty to herself and the life she deserves away from child rearing and boring sex with your husband. This is something Leda, the narrator, and before that Elena knows about. We are in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening territory. A woman can’t have a family and career, in the same way as a man can. The idea is ridiculous.

So when the educated Leda admits to  Nina and her extended Neapolitan family that she left her daughter when they were small children for three years, she no longer looks so classy to them. The ugly and very pregnant Rosaria in particular tries to screen Nina from Leda’s influence.  There’s red flags on the beach, another prop in Ferrante’s books and with each wave that sweeps in the fantasy that a woman can, and the fantasy that a woman can’t, builds into a swell.

Here, the mad woman, a cautionary figure that makes the wrong choice and usually drowns herself, is or might be, Leda. Her hysterical attempt to separate herself from her own coarse upbringing through education and learning and therefore to be valued for herself is a Sisyphean task. In the opening of the book this shows with a car that goes out of control and she finds herself in hospital.

It mirrors Elena, the narrator in My Brilliant Friend, who also went to university in Florence, and had two daughters she left to start an affair with Nino, as Leda, does here. Leda’s unravelling begins when Nina’s daughter goes missing.

Time disappears. We are back on the beach where Lila’s daughter goes missing never to be found. Later, Lila, promises that she too will disappear (on her own terms) and does.

Here the beautiful mother’s daughter, Elena, is quickly spotted by Leda and she takes her back to  Nina. But for some inexplicable reason Leda steals the infant’s doll.

You may remember that Elena and Lila begin their beautiful friendship when their dolls go missing in Don Achiche’s basement. The same basement that the narrator in Days of Abandonment, might or might not have been raped in. And the dolls Tina and Imma, find a live of their own, return in the denouement of another novel, but, in the meantime Elena and Lila have daughters called Tina and Imma and it’s Imma that is lost never to be found. Here The Lost Daughter is the doll, but it’s much more than the doll, it life and everything a doll can stand for. Not metaphor, but cold and hard with glass eyes and a body full of sea water. Scratch the surface of women’s lives and dreams and glass eyes stare back. There’s no right or wrong answers. Just life. That’s the beauty of it. Life. Education will tell. But what it will tell is a different story each time.

Christmas story. Black babies

black baby.jpg

‘You’re a fibber, Alice O’Connor,’ Clarence said, holding her skipping ropes tightly. We stood facing each other in the backcourt, tenement windows looking down at us.  She wore a smudged and baggy print dress. In the distance we heard an ice-cream van, and it was hot enough for the tar to melt and for Jesus to come down from his cross to get a ninety-nine cone.

I wanted to smack her on her big nose, but that would be a sin. It wasn’t her fault. God made her ugly for a reason. And with her untuned hazel eyes and Clarence the Cross-eyed lion on the telly, overnight Clare became tarred as Clarence. I could hear my mum’s words in my ear, she’s just jealous of you because she’s ugly and fat and you’re small and beautiful. I’d red piping like an Admiral around the sleeves of my dress and my shoes were so shiny you could see envy reflected in them. I turned the other cheek. ‘Am, not fatty. I didn’t want a black baby. I’d have preferred a dog or a rabbit, but it was just there, outside Massie’s. Nobody about.  Screaming and shouting at me, AHHHH-LICE, AHHHHHHH-LICE, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHLICE.’

The black baby had kicked its blanket from its legs and it stared up at us from the Silvercross pram.  A white doily round its head as a hat tied under its chubby cheeks. Clarence leaned in under the hood, hovering over the baby’s head and made smacking, kissing noises. The baby gurgled and smiled.

‘Leave him.’ I jounced the handle of the pram, so the carriage bounced up and down. ‘He’s mine, I bought him.’

‘Oh, he’s probably never seen a white person before.’ Clarence smiled at me and the baby.

‘Well, that’s the last thing he needs is seeing your ugly mug.’ I made kissing noises at the baby, but he frowned back at me and looked as if he was ready to burst into tears. ‘I mean you could have had a black baby too. I’ve got pictures of twenty-eight of them. But I left them lying over there in Africa, with all the priest and nuns taking care of all the little darkies.’ I smirked at Clarence. ‘Mrs Thompson said I set a great example.’

‘I’ve got a black baby too,’ Clarence said.

‘Liar, if you ever had a penny in your life, you’d spend it all on sweets.’  I bent forward and dropped my shoulder to show Clarence, and the black baby, the medal of the Holy Ghost pinned to the inside of the strap of my dress to keep me pure. I’d asked Mum about the money for the black babies, but she was too busy to answer and smacked me on the head and told me to stop blethering for once and listen. Then she stopped washing socks in the sink and gripped my arm.

‘You have been giving the money I gave you to the black babies?’ Mum asked.

‘Yes, Mum,’ I’d said, meeting her eyes, my wee brother, Timmy, behind me screaming a fuss. Only the devil and me knew about the great temptation. He’d told me nobody would ever know. And you could just tell the priest when you make your first confession and he’d never tell anybody.

But I wasn’t fooled or tempted, even a wee bit. Because I knew about this because of Granny. She was a holy wee women that had a mole on her chin with hair growing out of it, and she went to Holy Mass every day, hail or shine. And she’d been to school with Jesus, Mary and Joseph and she told me that if I told a lie, we wouldn’t know at first, but later when I took my shoes off I’d have cloved feet.

And granny always read to us about the saints, who could do anything. And just floated about the place, putting their heads in a lion’s mouths and jumping out of burning pits and only came down from heaven, now and again, to shout at Protestants that they were going directly to hell. And served them right. Then they’d be sorry.

‘Look,’ I dipped my other shoulder and showed Clarence, and the black baby, the matching medal pinned to the other underside strap of my dress of the Immaculate Mary Ever Virgin.

‘I’ll give you a shot of my skipping ropes if I can hold the black baby.’ Clarence bundled them up as an offering and held them out.

‘Nah, they’re rubbish. And you cannae skip for buttons.’

The baby in the pram murmured and babbled agreement.

‘Aye, but you’ve got to share.’ Clarence stood with her hand on her hip and squinted goggle-eyed, appealing to my conscience.

‘Alright then, but just for a minute.’

Clarence mate tutting noises as she picked the baby out of the pram and cuddled her into her neck. The baby patted her on the shoulder. ‘See, he likes me.’ She shoogled the baby up and down and made him laugh.

‘He only likes you because he doesn’t know you. I bet yeh a million pounds when he grows up he’ll hate you. The same as everybody else.’

Clarence turned her broad back on paced up and down near the close entrance. We heard women’s screams and shouts, but with the pub at the bottom of the tenement and nightly fights that wasn’t uncommon.

‘Your minute’s nearly up,’ I reminded her. But I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to keep the black baby now. Granny had told me that she’d found me under a cabbage leaf. And the only reason she’d found me was because of St Anthony, the patron saint of lost causes. Granny said that she could just as easily have found a tadpole, but she’d found a little girl instead. But that was just the law of averages. It could have been a little boy. Girls were more work. In the same way that I’d been lucky and found a little boy. Just waiting for me. And I wondered if the black baby, as it got older, would turn into a white baby, and go to the same Catholic school as me. Granny had told me babies were a lot of work.

The screaming and shouting got nearer and a black woman poked her head out the entrance to the close. She dressed funny in a hat and good blue coat and gloves, tears in her eyes. Mrs McKay, from the shop, was at her back, with broad arms folded across her piny.  I felt invisible. Out of the loop.  They spotted the pram and Clarence strolling up and down with the baby in the crook of her arm. The black woman screeched as she rushed at Clarence, tearing at her, pulling the baby away. Clarence stood gormless with her mouth open. I ran the other way, clutching at Mrs McKay’s legs and firm waist.

‘I told her not to take the black baby.’ I peeked up at Mrs McKay, with tears gleaming in my sky-blue eyes. ‘But she wouldnae listen to me. She told me to shut up and mind my own business.’

Mrs McKay patted my shoulder. ‘Don’t you worry,’ the shopkeeper said. ‘They Craigs are a bad bunch. Heaven knows, they’ll get whits coming to them, shortly.’




Chris Leslie (2016) Disappearing Glasgow: A Photographic Journey.

disappearing glasgow.jpg


As part of Book Scotland I went to talk Chris Leslie gave in Clydebank library. He overran a wee bit but I could have listened to him all night. Disappearing Glasgow is about us. Glasgow’s full of ghosts, one of the punters in his book says. And they’ve all got the same refrain – that used to be my house.

I always presumed the Red Road flats would last forever, but when you see it now in this state you realise it’s over. It’s not the actual building itself, but all your memories, that’s where I was brought up, that’s where I was made.

‘Bleak, depressing and out of date’. Shades of Grenfell Towers here.

‘What kind of legacy is this?’ Margaret Jaconelli asks.

What kind of Glasgow is this the red sandstone blocks in the West End of Glasgow are feted for the warmth and vibrancy they bring to Glasgow but  in the East End of Glasgow, in Dalmarnock, they lie derelict and are knocked down. Jaconelli is offered £29 000 compensation, enough to buy a cheap caravan.  Remember these were the same tactics used by the American President before he was President when he was just a serial groper and sex pest, when trying to evict a man from his house, which stood in the path of a proposed golf course in Aberdeen. We’ve heard the lie and we here it here. It will bring jobs. It will bring apprenticeships. Not the kind of apprenticeships that boys from Bearsden or the West End would appreciate, engineering or surveying, more the kind of security and admin apprenticeships. The social divide kind. Us and them. Then, of course, if you look at Jaconelli’s poster facing out of her soon to be demolished house it reads a litany of our past and those deals done in Kensington. Thirty-percent of social housing in Glasgow disappears with the skyline. In London, Barnabas Calder tells us these Raw Concrete, Brutalist structures we call high-rise have remained, have flourished, former council houses bought up by property developers and sold at inflated prices. Labelled sink estates money defies gravity and floats upwards from poor to rich. Backroom wrangling.

What kind of legacy is this? The residents of Grenfell ask. Even then as Margaret Jaconelli says in her poster of all the Trumps of the world.

Mayfair millionaires Charles Price given millions of public money for buying a bit of land from the council and selling it back to them. Working class resident Margaret Jaconelli penalised for buying a house in Glasgow.

Ups and downs in the property market, boom time for building firms who coin in government grants for first-time buyers. Those on the bottom rung fall off. People homeless, living on the streets and  the highest figure since records began. The answer to homelessness is quite simple. Build more homes. We did it after the Second World War, we can do it again. 250 000 houses a year, just to stand still. This book is a reminder being evicted is a political decision in which only the rich benefit. The people of Grenfell Towers deserve better, but so do the rest of us.

Blue Planet II, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, Presenter David Attenborough.



The Golden Record carried by the Voyager I spacecraft by NASA on the pretext of an infinitesimally small chance it would bump into an alien lifeform that would be able to understand it missed a trick. They should have just sent David Attenborough. He would have told them we live in a wee blue planet, seventy percent water that we’re heating up like an egg. Then David could whip out his film and show them the Artic, or what used to be the Artic, but is now Butlins on sea, a bit like Skegness but with plastic seal pubs. I did my best, he could say, four years we rued the waves, 1000 hours of film just to get the picture of a dolphin messing about with his mates. The number crunchers were going wild. How could you do that? Waste so much time and money on fish that’s not even one you put on a supper and isn’t even a fish but a cetacean. Fuck sake David, get a grip. Money that could have went to rich folk. Just when they need it most, you’re out faffing about talking about pollution and plastic bags and showing why we need to get rid of the communists in the BBC that produce this kind of left-wing, Corbynite propaganda. But it’s tough for the number crunchers because in a poll of most beloved Britain and a straight choice between Queen Elizabeth II, Blue Planet II and David Attenborough I, the queen comes in last. Royalty might Trump, trump, but it doesn’t trump a walrus trying to get its seal pup onto a bit of ice when there’s no ice and a polar bear is hanging about with its cubs. Or if we dive deep into the ocean a squid putting its tentacles into a tiger shark’s gills and around its jaws so it can’t eat it. The Blue Planet we used to live on used to be a great place. Attenborough in his measured tone would tell those ETs where we went wrong. For a start, international collaboration, trumps the what’s-in-it-for-us brigade. At the end of the year, Blue Planet II will win best documentary, best drama, best screenplay and best soundtrack AND with David Attenborough. We save money because he appears and the fish dance for him. If Jesus was a white man and got to live long enough to be an old geezer, he’d be David Attenborough. Can he save our blue planet?

The programme usual ends with notes about how they filmed in exotic locations with hard to pin-down extras. The money-shot.

Pollutants: plastic, broken down and ingested by smallest creatures, plankton, eaten by bigger fish and we end with the mother’s milk of dolphins and the world’s largest whales.

We’ll miss Antarctica but Miami will be under water and we can cruise around its remains.

Wars for food and water, ironically, and tens of millions on the move.

Bleached coral theme parks filled with small people dressed as fish and fat people dressed as polar bears or walruses. A job’s a job.

Jackie Kay (2002 [2011]) Why Don’t You Stop Talking.


I’m one of the few that reads short stories. They don’t sell. There are exceptions such as Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahari and George Saunders. Poets sell even less of their work than short-story writers, but usually make the best writers. I like Jackie Kay’s autobiographical writing and I admire her parents, who I’ve met on the page. They’re the kind of people that make the world a better place. But for all her awards and glitz and glamour I found this collection a bit boring. The first story in the collection ‘Shark! Shark!’ to me read like one of Billy Connelly’s jokes. If you’re so afraid of sharks just don’t go in the water. Nobody’s shoving you. So the second story ‘Big Milk’ about a different kind of fixation, a lover’s breast fixation…ho-hum. I never went in the water. I quite liked ‘Married Women.’ Possibly, the best story in the collection is ‘Out of Hand’.

Fifty years ago, hand over heart. Rose McGuire Roberts stepped off the Windrush, with her dab hands.

Britain, then as now, wasn’t ready for her. We hated immigrants, especially black immigrants. Black women immigrants that think they are something. Yes, Rose remembers how it was, the hostility, the monkey noises, the night-shifts at hospital nobody else wanted to do. All the worst jobs in the hospital given to the black woman, who should be grateful. Yeh, that strikes a note. That resonates with me. As all good stories must. Perhaps there are some stories in this collection you will appreciate in a way I could not.

Blitz: The Bombs That Changed Britain, BBC 2 9pm, BBC iPlayer, director Ben Chrichton.

clydebank blitz.jpg


The focus of this episode is the Clydebank Blitz which took place on 13th March 1941. Only twelve houses in Clydebank were left undamaged. Over three-quarters of the sixty-thousand Bannkie trekked away from the bomb sites into the surrounding areas. John Brown’s shipyard with upwards of 5000 workers and Singers’ Factory with 40 000 workers producing munitions were, ironically, largely unaffected. After a few days production returned to pre-Blitz levels and then exceeded them. But Clydebank was never the same again.

This episode concentrates on the biggest loss of life a single family, The Rocks’ family, 60 Jellicoe Street. Fifteen family members lost their life that night. The father of all those sons and daughters had swapped with his son and worked a nightshift for him, so he could tend the weans. When he came back there was no weans to tend to, no wife, no family. Tommy Rocks who was thirteen at the time of his death is brought alive by his pal Brendan Kelly, an eight-year-old who lived beside him but got to grow old. Here he is outside the new and modern houses in Jellicoe Streets telling the viewer how it was. And how much he still misses his mate. A whiff of there but the grace of God.

A second strand of the narrative of that night is class warfare. No mention is made of that other snapping jackal of Scottish politics, religion. The Rocks were a Catholic family. Here we have the case of John Moore, a Bannkie, part of the Red Clydeside movement that so worried the government they sent in spies.  Moore was an apprentice that brought 600 of his colleagues out on strike for better terms and condition. Long apprenticeships meant that men got paid boy’s rates. Not enough to live on, or bring up a family. Apprentices could be as old as 21. This at a time when they left school at 14 or 15. They were paid thirteen shilling and six pence. Moore demanded more for the apprentices that help produce the ships that powered the war. He argued that the high-heid yins could afford it. It was a boom time for profiteers. The case was postponed and bombs fell on Clydebank. When the apprentices went back they won their review. Men used all kinds of transport to return to work after the Blitz. Even government spies showered them with praise. But, of course, there’s no money in praise. Shipyards are a thing of the past. A living wage. That’s a laugh. Housing was a problem then. Housing is a problem now. The Clydebank Blitz. Aye, sad, part of our heritage. Things change, but as John Moore would appreciate they stay the same.