Darren McGarvey (2017) Poverty Safari.

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Darren McGarvey was talking about his book in Dalmuir library on Wednesday. He spoke with passion, without notes, for over an hour. That takes some doing. I said to him  I knew before I’d read his book I’d probably agree with what he was saying. He’s one of us. There is different names for it. He calls it ‘the underclass’. It’s in the title. Poverty Safari: Understanding the anger of Britain’s underclass. Words matter.

I’d just call it working class. There’s no under about it. The benchmark is The Ragged Trousered Philantrhopist a book set in the early twentieth century but with many lessons that are still relevant today, perhaps more so, with all the flag waving at the royal wedding yesterday.

I read his book on Thursday. I’ve made some notes which some might call a review. I’m a reader, which, of course, gives you superpowers. The most powerful pieces of Darren’s book are the stories about himself and his family. His mum was an alcoholic who died aged 36 when Darren was 17. They lived in Pollock. Darren no longer lives in Pollock.

If he gets married £30 million of public money will not be spent on security for his wedding. Millions more on cleaning up Pollock before and afterwards.

Darren asks is in what ways are the old me different from the new me? Robert Burns in his address To A Louse nailed the posturing of the middle classes.  O Jeany, dinna toss your head/ An’ set your beauties a’ abread!/… O wad some Power the giftie gie us /To see oursels as ithers see us!/ It wad frae mony a blunder free us, /An’ foolish notion:

Knowing yourself is a religious calling. I’m quite attached to such foolish notions. And I certainly don’t know myself, but through reading I get to know others better.  I’m biased. I like calling Tory scum. I’m quoting Nye Bevan, but nothing much has changed.

Chapter 30, ‘The Metamorphosis’:

 I never got sober, at least for any length of time, until I admitted to myself that many of the predicaments in my adult life were of my own making. This, of course, is another taboo subject on the left. The idea of taking personal responsibility wherever you can and that is an important virtue in life.

Let’s look at AA’s Big Book and the (moral) premise made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

  • Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Saul on the road to Damascus became blind. Something like scales fell from his eyes. Darren has taken a moral inventory, and having taken the mote out of his eye thinks he can see clearly. I don’t believe personal responsibility is taboo on the left or right. I do believe that the Tory scum sell fear and sow disorder. The only monopoly they acknowledge is the monopoly they have on virtue. And I’m with Blaise Pascal on ‘the only shame is to have is none.’ Look at Grenfell tower and weep as the Tory leader and Tory scum at the Royal boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea council scuttle away from responsibility and play the blame game.

One of the vices Darren admits too is junk food. I watched kids in the playground running about yesterday. One of them was a fat kid waddling about chasing his friend. It made me sad. I felt sorry for the boy and others like him. But far more dangerous is junk ideas. Unthinking with other’s thoughts.

By now, I’ve hopefully established that one of the biggest problems we face as a society is stress; how is shapes us as individuals, families and communities; how it directs the thinking that drives our behaviour and things we do to manage it; and how these coping strategies impact our families and communities. Stress is the connective tissue between social problems such as addiction, violence and chronic illnesses as well as the crises in our public services. I’ve even argued that stress even plays a part in shaping the tone and substance of our political debate and subsequent direction of our society.

Poverty is not about a lack of money. Eh, aye it is Darren. That’s the message Jeremy Corbyn is selling.  The default setting for Tory scum is it’s not only about money. It’s their fault. Those people are not one of us.  George Osborne picks on those outliers, people like Darrren’s family to peddle the idea that resources are wasted on them. They create caricatures and peddle them as propaganda that are fed back to us by the media as the truth. We self-mutilate with these lies.

Show me the money. £50 million of public money paid to rich kids in Grammar schools. And as Thomas Piketty showed gathering historical data this is a worldwide trend of money moving from the poorest to the richest citizen at an increasing rate, most notably, in the richest nations of the world. Britain is a good place to live if you’re rich.

The idea of banning McDonalds or modifying my own lifestyle and taking personal responsibility reminds me of a conversation I had with someone that was on a macrobiotic diet. He tried to convince me that if Hitler had been on a macrobiotic diet the Second World War wouldn’t have happened. Stress and a poor diet were synonyms for each other. They changed the world.

A wee story. Wullie, a successful business man, with the big house and a mobile home worth the price of a house thinks people in Drumchapel and Ferguslie Park are lazy bastards that don’t want to work. He can say that because he was brought up in Ferguslie and moved to Drumchapel. Both areas are poor by any measure, but he is now relatively rich. Lived experience trumps the paper tigers we put on the page to fight our rhetorical battles. This is Wullie and Darren’s strength.

Darren’s message is the personal is political. A throwback to the counterculture of flower power and the sixties. Yes, it’s true. Undeniably so. But let’s not forget people who hold the big stick and take delight in beating you with it for your own good belong to one class and we belong to another. They have won the propaganda war. We have lost most of the post-war gains that were made up until around the mid-seventies and they have gone back to the ways of the rich. The billionaies. Oligarchs. The 1%. The upperclass.  We the working class are being fucked over good and proper (no excuse for the language) and they want us to smile and say thank you. Fuck you, I say. Fuck you, Maggie Thatcher and all Tory scum. That’s personal. That’s political.  Moral inventory, let them make amends for the damage they have wrought on people like me with their foodbanks and hatred of us and I’ll change my point of view.   More chance of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely.

 

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True Horror, Channel 4, Thursday 10pm.

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http://www.channel4.com/programmes/true-horror/on-demand/62853-003

This is my guilty secret, takes me right back to my childhood. I’m a BBC 4 kinda guy. The kinda guy that sneers at people that watch soap operas like River City, Coronation Street, Emmerdale or Question Time. Yet, here it is, factual stories based on a recipe borrowed from Hammer House of Horror. Remember the rule. Vampires. Scary Christopher Lee. Wrap the blankets around your neck and hope they bite your wee brother in the bed next to your own. Sit in the sunlight. Or if it’s a shark, do that Billy Connelly thing and hold up two fingers with your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Terror in the Woods.  Do not get lost in woods with a capital W and camp beside the most haunted cathedral in the world which has access to a long forgotten plague pit and the gate to hell. Two teenagers that like to mess about in front of the camera and play at being dead gay with each other, but not in that way, spend a night in a wood. There’s a mock-up of what happened. Scratching on the tent. The portable DVD doesn’t work. Your torch doesn’t turn on. And you keech your pants as the ghost of a wee lassie with no eyes floats through the tent. Who need the Blackpool rollercoaster?

Then you go home – with a big scary ghost in your haversack. Aye, the ghost knows where you live now. Ghost sat-nav. So you call in the Scooby Doo bunch of ghost busters. What do they do? Whistle it down. Hi, silver bullets. Crosses. Exorcisms and priests. Nah, tell the ghost to go and shaft itself, but it doesnae.

And you get the two wee guys, now a bit older saying we kidded on about ghosts until we met a real one. See telly, that’s educational, doesn’t need to be BBC 4 or a version of Ghost on Benefits. Smoking.

Ghost in the Wall. So you’ve got this woman with dyed red hair telling you, aye, I’d seven kids and eh, my man’s dad died in that chair. We could smell his cigarette smoke and he was doing a bit of haunting. He dragged my baby daughter through the walls and held her like a rat in the spaces. When I dragged her out her eyes were black. You know what they say, don’t go into the cellar. Move house. Nah, hang about. He was only kidding on. He’s settled down to baby sitting and making knocking noises. Families, eh, they fuck you up.

Hellfire Farm is right next to Terror in the Woods, but without the trees. It’s deepest darkest Wales, boyo. Look out for a massive electricity bill hitting you right in the eye. Ghosts are murder on the electricity. Shining pupils in the corner of the room. Farmyard animals that mysteriously hang themselves and a pig that does laps of the farm and runs itself to death. The focal point seems to be the dad. He seems cursed, but quite likes it. He’s like a pig on speed, drawing all these pictures that look vaguely like something you don’t want to look at, but can’t look away. Option A, go to the local cinema and watch The Shining, or jump in the car and fuck off. No. This couple and their children carried right on. It nearly cost them. They brought in an exorcist. He burned the Harry Potter books and the Satanic Bible and all of da’s painting and the outstanding electricity bill no one on earth could pay.  You know what happened next, don’t you? It followed him home. I want a legless leyless lined  map where these places with capital letters are so I can avoid them.  No floaters. Can’t wait until next week.

 

 

Tej Lalvani on Richard Feynman, Radio 4, presenter Matthew Parris, and expert witness David Berman, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary University of London.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b0pwgl

Richard Feynman was part of the team that designed the atomic bomb. He was the opposite of a Yes man. Despite being one of the youngest physicists, he was head of calculations in the computation division (remember no computers in those days; calculations were done in the head). If a physicist had a problem at Los Alamos Feynman was the guy you’d ask. He also saved lives. The storage of fission material at Oakridge was at that time likely to lead to meltdown. A problem he recognised and had fixed.

He won the Nobel Prize for Physics but appeared underwhelmed, saying he didn’t believe in such prizes and the real job was in that eureka moment the discovery of verifiably truth.

His friend and fellow physicist Freeman Dyson called Feynman, half buffoon and half genius, only to modify his opinion to full buffoon and full genius. In his book, Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman, he gave vein to his love of stories and as well as playing the bongo drums, he was a great raconteur. One of the stories here is that Feynman liked to go into topless bars and work on physics problems. He was a trial and error guy. Sometimes it worked and he got the girl, sometimes it didn’t. His first wife, Arlene, had died of TB, and his own mother didn’t want Feynman to marry her in case he contacted the disease.

Feynman was a notable anti-authoritarian. He was asked to solve the problem of what happened when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. He was able to show that it was down to the elasticity of a rubber ring.

He was an atheist, but that did not stop him being labelled Jewish. His parents having settled in Queens following the Russian pogroms. He gained a scholarship to MIT, but his application to Columbia was rejected because the science department had filled its quota of Jews. Princeton where he did postgraduate work asked the question if he was Jewish.  In those early years, of course, there wasn’t physics departments. As an undergraduate at MIT he had two papers published and he rewrote the Science syllabus for Cal Tech. He often joked that nobody understood quantum mechanics. The Feynman diagram made that impossibility more likely. Richard Feynman died aged 69. A true polymath and true genius.

 

Timothy Snyder (2017) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century.

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On the eve of President Trump’s ‘working visit’ to the United Kingdom this is a handy book to read. President Trump features more than Putin, or other twenty-first century despots. I guess this short book is a riposte to that shock election result, which wasn’t a shock to Snyder. Depots don’t read books. And Trump doesn’t read. His library consists of stored Tweets.  Snyder’s lessons  On Tyranny shifted through the sands of the mass killings of the Holocaust and Stalinist purges looks at then and now. It’s a call for vigilance, but more than that it’s a call for democracy to be transparent and for that to happen we need a more equitable and just society in which each citizen can be held equally accountable for his or her actions.

Our own traditions demands that we examine history to understand the deep sources of tyranny, and to consider the proper responses to it. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communisim…

1 Do not obey in advance.

A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do. #MeToo

First they came for the Socialists

I did not speak out.

I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Windrush generation

I did not speak out.

I was not black.

Then they came for the homeless and unemployed.

I did not speak out.

I was not homeless or unemployed.

2 Defend Institutions

We do not subscribe to the view that Mr Hitler…will suddenly deprive German Jews of their constitutional rights.

We do not subscribe to the view that Mrs May…will suddenly deprive us of the NHS and we will need to pay for health treatment.

We do not subscribe to the view that…some people do not deserve housing, or food, or their children should be educated.

We do not subscribe to the view that 1 in 4 children live in poverty.

3 Beware the one-party state.

‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’.

‘The hero of a David Lodge novel says that you don’t know when you make love for the last time that you are making love for the last time’.

We don’t know that when we see a Tory gerrymandered system based on patriotism and lies that we’d see such atrocities such as foodbanks on our streets and some children labelled at birth as being the wrong kind of children. Rejected.  Shame on us.

4 Take responsibility for the face of the world.

The symbols of today are the reality of tomorrow.

In the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin prosperous farmers were portrayed on propaganda posters as pigs.

Under the Cameron and Osborne era anyone on benefits were portrayed as the worst kind of scum. Channels 4 and 5 tried to outdo each other featuring characters, that happened to be –stereotyped- real people, with programmes ending in the tagline Benefits.

‘A neighbour portrayed a pig is someone whose land you can take.’

‘Thus the German who marked shops as ‘Jewish’ participated in the process by which Jews really did disappear.’

Amber Rudd’s migrant memo and ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants in which she did not/ did have targets really did make immigrants disappear.

5 Remember professional ethics

Before the Second World War, a man named Hans Frank was Hitler’s personal lawyer. Later, governor general of Poland where millions of Jews and other Poles were murdered.

I G Farben and other German firms exploited the labour of concentration camp inmates.

Poundstretchers take on staff from benefit office to ‘train’.

‘Just following orders’ doctors and nurses in the health assessment centre in Cadogan Street.

‘Just following orders’ the benefit clerk who sanctions the unemployed.

‘Just following orders’ care staff who puts your mother to bed at six o’clock

6 Be wary of paramilitaries.

‘American state government pay corporations to run prisons, the use of violence in the United States is already highly privatised.’

‘As a candidate, the president ordered a private security detail to clear opponents from rallies.’

Mob violence and the ideology of exclusion.

The British government pay corporations to run prisons…and schools and railways and the NHS.

7 Be reflective if you must be armed.

The evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers doing irregular things. Be ready to say no.

In the Great Terror of the Soviet Union, NKVD officers recorded 628 691 executions of supposed enemies of the state.

The Holocaust began not in the death facilities, but over the shooting pits in eastern Europe.

Black Lives Matter# because time and again it’s proven they don’t really.

8 Stand out.

Remember Rosa Parks.

Remember Hillsborough.

Remember Grenfell Towers.

9 Be Kind to Our Language

Read books.

Victor Klempner noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition. The people always meant some people and not others (the president [Donald Trump] uses the word in the same way) encounters were always struggles ( the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the word in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).

George Osborne used the word welfare to legitimise the use of taking money from the poorest members of society and give it to the richest. This wasn’t called theft but wiping out the deficit and balancing the economy.

10 Believe in truth.

The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Victor Klempner – truth dies in four modes.

  1. Open hostility to verifiable reality. e.g. One attempt during the 2016 presidential campaign found that 78 percent of his factual claims were false. e.g. the cladding on Grenfell towers was fireproof.
  2. Shamanistic incantation and endless repetition. e.g. Build the wall. Lock her up. e.g. the NHS is safe in our hands
  • Magical thinking, or the open embrace of contradictions. e.g. president’s campaign involved cutting taxes for everyone, eliminating the national debt, and increasing spending on both social policy and national defence. e.g. George Osborne and the Conservative Party promised to eliminate the national debt and maintain the same levels of services. e.g. The NHS is asked to find savings from its savings and decrease bureaucracy by appointing more managers to manage change.

A blatant abandonment of reason. Amber Rudd’s I did not set targets for deportations of immigrants from the UK. These were set at a local level and they weren’t really targets.

  1. Misplaced faith. e.g. the Fuhrer’s all-knowing greatness. Trump’s ‘I alone can solve it’ from local crime to the problem with Russia or North Korea, but not Israel. He’s already solved that. e.g. the doublethink of Osborne cutting money to the poorest in our society and telling them he was helping them.

11 Investigate.

Like Hitler, the president [Trump] used the word lies to mean statements of facts not to his liking, and presented journalism as a campaign against himself.

We will be better off after Brexit. Lies.

The NHS will gain an extra £150 million a week. Lies.

There will be no hard border in Ireland? Really? How?

12 Make eye contact and small talk.

It was no great surprise that Teresa May fled from victims of the Grenfell fire. Like Trump she doesn’t like dealing with minions. They leave that kind of things to their servants.

13 Practice corporeal politics.

Power wants your body softening in a chair.

Solidarity in Poland began small. #MeToo. #Black Lives Matter.

14 Establish a Private Life.

Scrub your computer. Tyrants seek the hooks on which to hang you. Try not to have hooks.

Facebook theft and manipulation put Trump in the White House. Few journalists talked of Russian involvement and the trashing of privacy codes.

Hannah Arendt suggests totalitarian regimes seek to remove the idea of privacy, everything is public, unless you’ve got something to hide (tagline). Society becomes a mob seeking sanctioned scapegoats.

15 Contribute to good causes.

Support civil society and help others to do good.

16 Learn from peers in other countries.

Russia used many of the cyberwar techniques against the Ukraine that is deployed against the United States.

Most Americans do not have passports. Most claim they would die defending America, but against what?

17 Listen for dangerous words.

Extreminsm. Terrorism.

Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotism. We surrender freedom for safety against the other. Immigrants. Asylum Seekers.  Health tourists. Families on welfare. Feral children.

Extremism, those not in the mainstream. The poor and disadvantaged who need to be controlled. Locked up.

18 Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.

The oldest trick in the book, burn the Reichstag, blame the Jews, suspend freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, the only way to deal with terrorists is to torture and terrorise.

Create a hostile environment in which asylum seekers do not have legal aid, do not have the right of appeal, do not have any rights. Send them home. Don’t worry where home is. We will define it for you.

19 Be a patriot.

Mr President. What is patriotism?

It is not patriotic to dodge the draft

It is not patriotic to mock war heroes.

It is not patriotic to discriminate against active-duty members of the armed forced (i) in one’s companies, or (ii) to campaign to keep disabled veterans from one’s property.

It is not patriotic to compare one’s search for sexual partners in New York with military service in Vietnam that one has paid to dodge.

It is not patriotic to avoid paying taxes, especially when American working families do pay.

It is not patriotic to expect American taxpayers to finance one’s own presidential

campaign and then to spend their contributions on one’s own companies.

It is not patriotic to admire foreign dictators

It is not patriotic to share an adviser with Russian oligarchs.

20 Be as courageous as you can.

Be an enemy of the people, if that what it takes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celtic 5—0 Rangers

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Odsonne Edouard scored the first goal and the second, and teed up McGregor for another. Mikhael Lustig celebrated by putting on a policeman’s hat. Lustig also indicated to one of the Ranger’s players that he had him in his pocket. All over the pitch Celtic players were checking their pockets to see they didn’t inadvertently carry a Rangers’ player to seventh heaven and the championship party. Rogic pinged in another. James Forest even scored against Rangers. It was that sort of game.

In truth losing by five goals flattered Rangers. Andy Halliday rolled off the park and back onto it. He was better staying off and every time he took a throw in was cheered by the Celtic support. Morelos had his usual miss, but not as much of a shocker as his usual sitter. He too was cheered by the Celtic support.  Rangers were beaten in every department. No statement came from Ibrox. On and off the park they lacked class. Steven Gerard should have brought his boots.

 

Kirsty Logan (2016) The Gracekeepers.

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Kirsty Logan is appearing in Dalmuir Library as part of West Dunbartonshire Libraries’s Festival of Words. Her novel The Gracekeepers is currently novel of the month. I usually have a crack at novel of the month, having been nominated myself, but also because my reading tends to be predictable and sometimes it’s good to shake it up and try something new. I wouldn’t usually have picked the The Gracekeepers and I certainly wouldn’t have finished it. There’s lots of good things in it, but just not my thing.

In a world much like ours, the reader gets a sense of sameness and difference in the opening paragraph.

The first Callanish knew of the Circus Excalibur was the striped silk of their sails against the grey sky. They approached her island in convoy: the main boat with its bobbing trail of canvas-covered coracles following like ducklings, chained in an obedient line.

The world is split between those that live on the land (landlockers) and those that live at sea (damplings). Seas have risen. We learn later that it has something to do with banker’s greed and land is rare as the charity landlockers give to damplings. Our world is torn.

‘Gracekeepers were given one cup, one plate, one bowl, one spoon. They were not expected to entertain visitors.’

Gracekeepers, as the name implies, give grace and bury the dead at sea. In a world made of damplings and landlockers, gracekeepers have a house, which the waves wash against. Callenish is a landlocker, but she has a secret, and her secret is the secret that drives North, who performs with her bear on The Circus Excalibur.  Read on.

 

 

Alan Warner (2012) The Deadman’s Pedal.

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I’ve read Morvern Caller, The Sopranos, The Stars in the Bright Sky, and The Deadman’s Pedal. I liked them all, or I wouldn’t have finished reading them. Life’s too short to mess about reading shite. The Deadman’s Pedal, when we take the foot off the gas the train comes to a halt. There’s a metaphor there somewhere. The Deadman’s Pedal is my favourite Warner book of this collection.

The other books involved gaggles of young girl narrators from the Port, a wee town up past Fort William, making their drunken way into a world that doesn’t offer much, but fuck it, they’re taking it anyway. Red Hannah, for example, has a walk on part as Morvern Caller’s dad who adopted her, but has retired from the railways and ends up shagging her mate.

For those looking for clues who Alan Warner is then the dedication is a dead giveaway, ‘for Mike Moorcock and for all the boys of the old station’.

Red Hannah, also gets a walk on part, or train ride here, because he’s part of the twelve disciples, the train workers that run the trains from the Port to Glasgow and back again. Simon, the Young Fellah, leaves school and falls into the job of trainee driver, much as I’d expect a young Alan Warner did.

Warner is great at group gigs and his plotting runs as sweet as a British Rail timetable. Simon, being a bit of a shagger, has a number of girls on the go, but it never seems that way. We meet Simon on page 15, aged 15, outside the school gates with his pal, Galbraith and they’re talking about leaving school, but there’s no real need. Simon’s da is pretty wealthy, he runs a road haulage firm and has ten lorries on the road. Road haulage is replacing the railway as the way to transport goods. Simon can’t drive a lorry until he’s eighteen. No such age restriction apply to school girl Nikki Clarke.

As Galbraith says, ‘Imagine riding it. Legs. Little shoes with heely things.’

Simon fancies her, of course, he does. But he also fancies Nikki Caine’s older sister, who’s gallus in a way that we know from all those other Stars in the Bright Sky.

Hing on a minute you’ll be thinking, how come we’re at page 15 before all this happens? Well, the first part is about Little Moan, and goes back ten years to 1961, the ancestral home of the Bultitude’s and the Queen is paying a visit. As you’d expect it’s not a council estate, landed gentry, rich cunts that robbed the land.

Page 83, June 1973, Simon, his wee brother Jeff, Galbraith and Big Davie trail behind the Bultitude’s, ‘eight horses and their erect riders’. That’s not the only thing erect.

Big Davie puts Varie in the frame, much like Galbraith does with Nikki Clarke. ‘Davie said patiently, “That’s the daughter: Varie Bultitude. Fucking spunk-dripper on a set of legs, man. I’d shag her bedroom floor.”’

Good looking, beautiful, she looked like a young…Bridget Bardot, but with black hair, aye, if you’re trying your hand at creative writing I’ll let you away with the latter. ‘But fucking spunk dripper on a set of legs,’ aye, that’s more than beautiful, that’s so fucking true. Simon’s not so simple. Read on.