Brendan Rodgers’s Guy Fawkes’s break, which is a bit of a mouthful for a dummy.

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Scotland was playing Albania last night. Anyone that knows me would be aware if Alex McLeish had phoned and asked me to play centre-half,  I’d have told him what most of the Scotland squad told him, ‘nah, emulsioning the ceiling and I’m pretty busy this weekend, I’ll call you back when I’ve got a bit of time for Scotland.’ Which means, of course, you’ve no time for Scotland, but like me, you kinda like them to win, but don’t really give a shit. Painting yourself in a corner is a messy business.

Whereas I love Celtic and would rather watch Celtic play a tiddledywinks-cup tie against Yoker than watch the European Cup Final. So Scotland, aye and no. Let’s start with the positives. Kieran Tierney didn’t start. That’s good. Gives the boy a rest, he’s been magnificent for Celtic, no more so than that opening goal against Leipzig. That was our best game of the season and we were truly classy.  None more so than Tierney, who gave the future French left back a bit of a doing. What was so pleasing in the quartet of games before and after was the emergency of Ryan Christie, who was up for it and at it, yet again, last night for Scotland, with another superb performance.

Let me put that into context. Ryan Christie was on his way out of Celtic.  Admittedly, he was good in cameos. Running about, closing down, but doing nothing much of notes when he got on the pitch for the last ten minutes. It’s all about pecking orders.

Remember way back to the start of the season. Dembele and Edouard up front. Behind them another Frenchman Ntcham and we were playing exhilarating, attacking, football. Those were the golden boys. How quickly it all changes.

Dembele spat the dummy, we miss him, but not that much. Ntcham is injured and will find it hard to get back in. Only Edouard, who can blow hot and cold, is guaranteed a start, mainly because Griffiths in injured and out of form. We’ve one number 9, but most of the time that’s all you need and again, against Leipzig he had one run from the touchline, holding off defenders and zeroing in on goal that was almost as magnificent as his match-winning goal at Ibrox. He has the ability and has showed flashes, but a Celtic centre forward, playing so many games, should hit 40 goals a season, easily.

Calum McGregor, that other Scottish internationalist, and I don’t mean that as an insult, has had to filter back, and play just in front of the centre-halfs. We used to call it a midfielder. Then a sitting midfielder. Then we just said Scott Brown. He got injured and Calum passes the ball quicker and better. So that’s like Nitcham, we’ll just have to wait and see. Automatic pick no longer.

James Forest scored two for Scotland against Albania. One of them was an absolute belter, with most of the Celtic boys involved. I know I sound biased here, which I totally am. If Alex McLeish doesn’t start the Celtic boys then he’s more of an eejit than Donald Trump. Forest is first pick for Celtic, therefore he should be first pick for Scotland. Celtic are much better than Scotland so cogito ergo sum Alexed, or some bullshit like that.

Forest has been praiseworthy not only for going forward, but also for what we used to call defending, but is now called pressing. Let’s face it, he’s got to help out Lustig. Lustig hasn’t gone backwards. He’s stayed much the same. Reasonable and unreasonable, a replacement part we should have replaced two years ago.

Behind him, in goal, we have an adequate replacement for Craig Gordon in Bain, as he showed in his debut at Ibrox, he’s at the right club, but whether he’s good enough to fill his boots, we’ll need to wait and see.

What is clear is Boyata, who went missing when we most needed him in the Champions League tie in Athens, where we lost school-boy type goals, is our best header of the ball and our best centre-half.  But he’s off, wanting away and when it comes to Christmas, he’s a loss maker.

In fact we have a black hole in the middle of our defence that has needed filling for two years, which has been filled with chicken wire. While Filip Bankovic from Leicester has looked assured, he could be off back to his parent club too. That would leave us with Ajer, who’s been not too bad, but for such a big guy loses too many aerial duels. Jack Henry, part of the schoolboy group that lost in Athens.  I’d class him as our defensive Kouassi and fling in a bargain buy Gamboa, Nir Biton and a packet of cheese and onion crisps please and I want change back for all of them.  A bit rancid and leave an unpleasant taste, but can be tasty as that tackle from Simonvic.

Rogic is the real deal. What has been great is seeing him back to his imperious best. Scoring goals, creating chances and even lasting ninety minutes as he did he the plastic pitch at Livingstone.

It saddened me to see the loss of Daniel Arzani, his fellow Aussie, but not too much. He only lasted ten minutes and he’s not our player.

Scott Sinclair, Scottish player of the year, two years ago, has been in a word, rotten. Put it this way, when Calum McGregor starts popping up at right back, as he might, then Lustig knows he’s on the way out. Worse still if Johnny Hayes deputises for you. Actually, I think Johnny Hayes would make a great right back, if we want to go the route of the richest team in the world, Manchester United and start using former forwards at full back. Sinclair, to be fair, with that back-heel goal against Aberdeen has looked back, not to his best, but in front of Hayes, but not Calum. And waiting on the wings is Mikey Johnstone who is worth keeping and Lewis Morgan, who I’ve not really seen enough of, which maybe makes its own point.

Then there’s Leigh, father of the nation. I like Leigh, during Ronnie’s reign he was the kingpin. Forty goals in a season man. He doesn’t start. Doesn’t score and gets injured, even with Scotland he gets injured. Listen, Alex McLeish isn’t even phoning him. He needs to get is sorted, whatever it is. But we love him. That’s a good start.

Brendan Rodgers might have stumbled on his A-team through injuries and it was good to see him picking it after that game on Thursday night against Leipzig, with the exception of Gordon and Bankovic, who came on for Ajer against Livingston. Christie is a standout and a new million pound player. McGregor has looked assured and dare I say it, better than Scotland’s player of the year, Scot Brown, the former beating heart of Celtic. We’ve had a heart transplant and the ball is moving quicker. Sinclair and Edouard, we need a bit more.  Lustig is Lustig, done. Centre of defence has been filled with enough chicken wire until Christmas. We might not make it through the Europa League section and European football. The treble treble? The rest of our team – God Bless the Celtic and here’s hoping. In Brendan we trust.



Doing Money, BBCiPlayer, screenplay by Gwyneth Hughes and directed by Lynsey Miller.

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There are facts and there is fiction and there is factual fiction and fictional fact, so based on a true story, well, everything needs to ring absolutely true. Gwyneth Hughes and Lynsey Miller have pulled it off. Ninety minutes of drama and not a bum note.

Here’s the facts. We get them added on at the end, a rolling script. Around five million women in the world are traded as sex slaves. Multiply that fact by a factor of two, or five or ten.

Here’s the facts. Ana who testified before the Irish Parliament and told them about her being abducted from a London street during daylight and forced to work as a sex slave led to changes in the laws regarding modern-day-slavery.

Here’s the facts (always read the small print) the men that abducted her received up to three years in prison. Let’s say they’ll be out in a year. And able to set up immediately trading other women.

It’s the economy stupid. Galway, Belfast, Cork, Stockholm.  Ana played by Anca Dumitra has one of those conversations that begin with ‘why don’t you let me go?’  with her blonde female pimp, Ancuta (Cosmina Stratan) who has learned to answer the phone with ‘hallo baby’ and hide the claws until they need to be shown.

Ana owes them money. They bought her for thirty-thousand euros and Ana has to pay it back. When Ana hits back with that she paid that back in about ten days and can’t walk because of it (anal sex cost extra and without a condom even more) Ancuta has the answer, it’s not enough. They have expenses and they are feeding and taking care of her. They can always sell to Dubai where they’ll love her until she dies.

The other girls, they can accept that. When the cops raid the place, they say they are happy working as escort girls. Ancunta, clicks her tongue and tells an Irish female officer it’s not their fault if they let themselves get fat and don’t want to do sex. They’re picking up the slack. They’re making money.

We all know about Stockholm syndrome. Skinny (Voica Oltean) has a blue star tattooed to her wrist a reminder that the boyfriend that sold her as sex slave when she was thirteen will come back for her. We all know he won’t.

This is a brutally honest drama. I hope it wins a stack of awards. But to be brutally honest we don’t really give a fuck. Trump with his build-a- wall mania and praise for telling it like it is about ‘shitty countries’, Brexit and hate Mail.  Italy, Turkey, Poland, and pan-European jingoistic hatred, which  fans the flames of in which people like Ana are disposable goods and their value is decreasing on the open market day by day. Human scapegoats. Where have I heard, ‘let them drown?’ not on scandal sheets, but from party leaders. So yeh, Doing Money, great drama. It’s the economy, stupid. That’s the reality.  There’ll be lots more than Ana Doing Money and unless it’s your son or daughter…


Geez A Break Productions of Cinderella, at 543 Club for The Golden Friendship Club.

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My old mate Jim McLaren invited me to the Christmas show for pensioners, even though I’m the same age as him and I’m not doddery, yet, although I can’t remember the last time I was at Panto and I hate Christmas. And I especially detest people who put their Christmas decorations up after Halloween and then wait until near Easter to put wee bunnies and eggs wrapped in red ribbons up on their walls. And you know what I think of people who buy Christmas presents in the January sales for next year. And when I come to think of it, I’ve never been to Panto before.  Boo-hiss. I think Jim was trying to tell me something, I might even enjoy myself without being drunk. Boo-hiss. (I sneaked in a half bottle of Eldorado and drank in a oner in the toilet, but sshhhh, don’t tell anybody).

But the first thing I noticed was somebody sleeping soundly, with a jacket over his head, in the seats at the corner table, near the fire exit. Perhaps he knew something I didn’t.  Right enough, his great-granny was there and when he woke up she gave him a dummy, but that was no excuse for him not greeting.

Well, the baby McLaren missed a great show. I hadn’t heard of Geez A Break Productions. I guess that’s us even, as they won’t have heard of me.

As a writer I’m interested in the use of language and storytelling. If you don’t know the story of Cinderella then your heid needs looking at. The Fairy Godmother speaks and sings in rhyme. Cinders, Buttons and the Ugly Sisters actors use Glasgow dialect. There are risqué jokes that aren’t much of a risk and singing and dancing. Over the years the wooden floor in the 543 has, no doubt, been barracked by stacks of people up dancing to The Sash and The Slosh, but I guess that’s the first time it’s been done with glittery magic shoes for the latter, and as a backdrop to being lost in the forest. And there was gies a Brecht in the best pantomime way as the performers addressed the audience directly. Oh, yes they did…Oh, no they didn’t. Oh, yes they did…

Costumes were terrific and the stage set perfect in its simplicity. My only gripe would be the use of microphones. I guess with quick costume changes and microphones attached to the collars might not be do-able on a small budget. But when The Fairy Godmother used her wand to magical effect so that Cinders could go to the ball was a show-stopping moment. With one shake of her hips Cinders had been converted from blonde, bright and beautiful with a great singing voice to blonde bright and beautiful with a great singing voice, but with a snazzy new blue dress on. A conjurer’s trick that was a delight to the eyes.

But sometimes the unscripted makes things better. Susan, who got a bit caught up in the performance and thought Lavvy, one of the ugly sisters, was a bit of a bully. She responded to requests from Buttons that anyone wanted to try on the glittery slipper that we know is a match for only one foot by wandering on to the stage. Magically, it fitted her. And as we know Cinderella always finishes with the lived happily ever after anthem and married Prince Charming. The last time I was at the 543 it was dark, miserable and less than charming, there was a punch up outside. But that’s a Grimm’s story for other times, not guilty, your honour.

The Last Tommies, BBC 4, 9pm, BBCiPlayer, directed by Nick Maddocks

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Episode One: For King and Country

This is the kind of documentary series that the BBC does so well using archive footage and interviewing those that remember The Great War. We are shown a Zeppelin, which could travel at eighty miles per hour and carry two tons of explosive and told about the raid on Hull. An eyewitness remembered how shocking it was, how families sheltered under the kitchen table, the horror of twenty people being killed and the morbid fascination of a house being blown apart and being able to see into somebody’s bedroom.

Inevitably, there’s the middle-class girl, with the pucker voice, unpaid volunteers for the WD, who lied about their age, said she was twenty, but was seventeen and was sent to war to assist (auxiliary) nurses to those nurses that had formal training and were paid. She tells us they got the dirty work. She didn’t much like carrying a leg in a bucket to be incinerated.

Then we had the other middle-class chap that thought it was his duty, everyone’s duty to repel those that were going to invade our country. All the water in the English Channel couldn’t cool his ardour.

We had the girl left behind, all four-foot eleven of her, a scrap of bones and hair, working as a house maid, when she gets that telegram. She’d wrote, of course, she had, that she’d wait forever for him. Forever came too soon.

We had the Scot from Glasgow, called Rabbie Burns, who heard the pipe music and joined up. A clerk, his boss, told him to be quick about it, or he’d miss the fun, home for Christmas.

The Battle of Loos, the Pals Battalion, mud up to the knees and lice feeding on every living body and rats feasting on the chest cavities of the dead. The pal that lost the pal, go forward go forward. Looks left and that man disappears. Looks right and that Tommy bites it.

At home, women take up the slack, twelve hour shifts in the munition factories, working day and night. I never thought I’d get through it, one woman worker tell us, but I did, and you get used to it.

The War to End All Wars. Here are those that did their bit and for what? The rich to get rich and the poor to get poorer.  Answers  not in the bank book but on the ballot box. Remember that old gag, Homes fit for heroes. How long did that last?

Red Bull Leipzig 2—0 Celtic.


I’m not up to date on German football or the Leipzig team and couldn’t name one of their players. Well, I can now, Matheus Cunha scored on the half hour. Up until that point Celtic had been comfortable in a way we know would lead to disaster. You could say they were a bit unlucky with the opener. Christian Gamboa, our third or fourth choice full back, who will be given a free transfer in the summer took a fresh air swipe and missed the tackle and the ball. The ball went wide and then into the box. Eboue Kouassi, whose last game against Hearts at Tynecastle was so bad, I never thought I’d see him a Celtic shirt again, but here he was with Brown injured, patrolling the centre of midfield. Put it this way, we were sweating the fitness of a free transfer from Kilmarnock, Youssouf Mulumbu, who has played two games, both of which we’ve lost and he is ahead of the pecking order than Kouassi. The ball comes into the box, Kouassi takes a fresh air swipe (yes, I know I’m repeating myself). Boyatta, Celtic’s best central defender is out of position, nothing new there you might say, but he has been impressive since he downed tools, which isn’t really difficult. Beside him in Leipzig is Jozo Simunovic who can’t play on plastic pitches because of his knees, or grass either, as was also shown in his last display also at Tynecastle. On the bench was one of Celtic’s most impressive defenders since the introduction to the team, Filip Benkovic (on loan, and likely to go back to Leicester at Christmas, but we need him now). Those defensive changes alone would make you thing Brendan has his eye on Sunday’s game against Hearts. Throw in the presence of Lewis Morgan, who I quite like, but let’s face it, for big games its James Forrest. And Ryan Christie, up front partnering Edouard. The latter having at least been unlucky with a few shots on the opposition goal. And when we were 2-0 down, Bruma scoring an identikit killer second, three minutes after the first,  and Leipzig playing what from that point on was like an end-of-season friendly. But Edouard was through on goal near the end and, as everybody knows blew the dog’s chance to make a game of it, like Hibs did on Saturday.


He missed and we missed a few first team players. Game winds down. Big game on Sunday. This tie reminded me of when Brendan was Liverpool manager and they were playing away in the Santiago Bernabéu and he played Kolo Toure at centre half. Incidentally, Toure had a fantastic game, but he was so far out of the Liverpool team he was helping with the kit. So I think we can see Brendan was being pragmatic and he’s got previous. Shit team. Shit performance. Shit game. We’re out of Europa, OK, I’ll say it unless our coefficient includes the dog’s chance. Celtic have lost their sparkle, but I’m hoping we get it back – quickly. Sunday would be good.

Laurent Binet (2012) HHhH translated from the French by Sam Taylor


I had a theory that HHhH stood for Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, but I wasn’t sure who or what the other H stood for. I wasn’t sure why three of the H were capitalised and one wasn’t. I was wrong in the right way. Hitler, Fuhrer, number one in the Reich, Himmler perhaps with the largest powerbase and his number two, but it was Herr Reinhard Heydrich who was ‘killer bureaucrat’ and gloried in being known as ‘the most dangerous man in the Reich’ who fancied ousting his boss and  being number two, or possibly (whisper it) even number one.

We can talk of power behind the throne or  Himmler Hirn heisst Heydrich HHhH (Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich).

I don’t know if Heydrich did fancy being number two, or even number one and supplanting Hitler. That’s speculation, or as they say in some terrible telly drama, this was based on true events. Binet admits to knowing some of the facts, but not all of the time. He’s good at pointing out when fact becomes factional, or in plainer terms fiction. And it’s a wonderful guide, a kind of how to write a historical novel.

Fiction writers such as Julian Barnes begin writing a biography of Gustave Flaubert and ask difficult questions like why does the colour of Madame Bovary’s eyes change during the narration of Madame Bovary? Is this intentional or a textual error so unlike master craftsman Flaubert as akin to an adolescent putting his shoes on the wrong feet. This is Barnes’s jumping off point to writing something that is neither fact nor fiction, neither true nor false, Flaubert’s Parrot.

Binet does not parrot the facts of what we know, but covers the whys and why nots of those grey areas in which novelists grow like toadstools and show the before and after of Heydrich’s assassination, on the 4th June 1942 in Prague and the mass murder of the citizens of Lidice, the razing of buildings, the salting of the ground.

I still don’t have the book that Heydrich wife wrote after the war, Leben mit einen Kreigversbrecher (‘Living with a War Criminal’ in English, although the book has never been translated). I imagine it would be a mine of information, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on it.

Here he tells the reader about a night he spent watching a documentary about General Patton.

The documentary consists entirely of showing extracts from the film, then interviewing witnesses who explain, ‘In fact it wasn’t really like that…’ He didn’t take on two Messerschmidts that were machine-gunning the base, armed only with his Colt…He didn’t make such-and-such a speech to the whole army, but in private, and besides, he didn’t actually say that…He didn’t disobey orders and take Palermo…He certainly didn’t tell a Russian General to go fuck himself…So, basically, the film is about a fictional character whose life is strongly inspired by Patton’s, but clearly isn’t him. And yet the film is called Patton. And that doesn’t shock anybody.

It might have if it was called Patton’s Parrot. Binet’s intention is to write the truth about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich and the reprisals which followed and it’s all there early in the text in Chapter 6 when he enters the church crypt in which the assassins died fighting to the last with 700 SS guards outside.

The props are there for the unfolding story told in the bullet holes in the vaulted ceiling, (here, I, the blog writer, am using fictional means to keep you the reader entertained, you don’t really need to know this)

There were photographs of the parachutists’ faces, with a text written in Czech and English. There was a traitor’s name and a raincoat. There was a poster of a bag and a bicycle. There was a Stern submachine guy (which jammed at the worst possible moment) [standing facing Heydrich and his driver when the car has slowed and stopped] All of this was actually in the room. But there was something else here, conjured by the story I read, that existed only in spirit…

Binet sets out to wrestle with that spirit and tell the story of the assassination and in exploring his own inadequacies somehow he makes the story more human, more believable, and more true. This is why HHhH won the prestigious Prix Goncourt and other awards. Not bad for a debut novel that is not a novel. Bravo.



A Dangerous Dynasty: The House of Assad, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director Nick Green.

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Panorama, BBC 1, BBCiPlayer, editor Rachel Jupp.

Civil War in Syria has lasted seven years, around 13 million of its citizens have been displaced and the refugee crisis in Europe has led to a right-wing orchestrated backlash against those who dare to cross borders and not die quietly at home.

Bashar Al-Assad the President of Syria was never meant to be in the position of leadership, never meant to be a mass murderer of around half a million of his people, never meant to sanction the use of barrel bombs, low-tech chlorine and high-tech Sarin chemical weapons against men, women and children, in the city of Idib, targeting hospitals – and then of course, deny it. He was never cut out to be a war criminal that should be charged under the 1949 Geneva Convention for crimes against humanity.

Bashar Al-Assad was destined to be a run-of-the mill eye-doctor who trained at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, London. A largely forgotten figure outside his own country, where his father Hafez was a conventional Middle-East dictator with a billion pound sea-front property in which to bring up his five children.  A pragmatic man who seized power in a 1970 army  coup d’etat and intended to keep it by whatever means necessary, which included bombing and killing up to 20 000 of his own citizens in Homs and jailing and torturing many others.

Not surprisingly, when the Arab Spring flooded the Middle East in 2011, Homs home of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni Muslims was anti-Assad. Again unarmed civilians were murdered and tortured, prisoners in Syria’s largest prison massacred.

Watch what seems ancient footage of newly trained recruits stabbing puppies as a mark of loyalty to President Hafez, but they had it easy, female soldiers had to bite the heads off live snakes.  But Hafez also saw off Israeli advances in Lebanon, a state he kept firmly in his grip as a satellite and he lived long enough to see off six elected American Presidents.

Bashar’s eldest brother Bassel was in line to take over from Hafez. He showed the right credentials. When a fellow army officer in a horse-riding event, for example, beat Bassel in an equestrian championship he was arrested. It doesn’t tell you what happened to him next, but we can guess. Bassel also liked fast cars and that’s what killed him.

Hafez had to decide who to pass his crown to, his daughter, of course, was ruled out for being the wrong gender. We can take the script from a cross between the Corleone family in The Godfather and King Lear, ‘nothing will come of nothing’. Quietly spoken Bashar comes from nothing to lead the family when his father dies, but he has married wisely and married well, Asma’s Lady Macbeth and would-be first lady of Syria, but supermodels herself on Lady Di.

Fast forward to 2013, millions fleeing Syria, the advance of Islamic State and Bashar’s family only controlling 14% of Syria, and the rebels three miles from his presidential palace.   One word: PUTIN.

Poems for Refugees (2002) edited by Pippa Haywood.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) The Second Coming.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosened and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction; while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity