Who would have thought a documentary about the Forth Road bridge could be so riveting? This is also the film about a film — that of Jim Henry an amateur cameraman, aged eighteen, that wandered onto the bridge and started filming. He met the resident engineer Jack Hamilton, but the film speaks for itself and is simply a marvel. We see ships pass underneath the spans. Men high-wire walking without safety harness and not a net in the world big enough, walking the spars. It cost £12 million to build. And stories of the painters starting at one end of the Forth Road bridge finishing and beginning again seem to be true. Maintenance costs to date stand at almost £260 million. Another bridge is being constructed to take the strain of traffic. It takes 24 million vehicles across the Forth every day and it connects the Kingdom of Fife with mainland Scotland (maybe the bridge wasn’t such a good idea). In December 1963 we see the spar that joined the north and the south to make the skeleton of a land bridge fall into place 500 feet above the water. These were handy men. Men we can be proud of. Scot’s workers and engineers who built things and made things happen. Things like the first 25 mile traffic jam that ushered in the inauguration and opening of the bridge by Queen Elizabeth II in 1964. It took six years to build, a monument to civil engineering and a testament to the working men who built it.
I was sitting on the balcony of my penthouse apartment block, downwind from the Dalmuir sewerage work, looking over the latest statistics from my feeble attempts to market myself and sell my novel Lily Poole, when Batman appeared. There were a lot of guys masquerading as footballers (now Brian Biggins has taken up golf, it’s golfers) in Dalmuir — and other Jokers, so me and Batman go back a long way. Before I could speak Superman flew in. Both of them were all ears, especially Batman, they were interested in my cloak of invisibility.
Batman said, ‘I only get a Batmobile and a purrfect girlfriend (although she’s not really my girlfriend) spill the beans.’
It was a bit cliched, but his heart was in the right place and you never look a gift horse in the mouth, so I did.
‘It’s simple Batman,’ I said. ‘You try to get a book published. There’s 50 000 books published in the English language every week. Ask people to support your work and — KAPOW– you become invisible and as threatening as a fart in a broken-down lift with two old people that want to chat about the good old days.’
‘I wish I’d thought of that,’ said Batman. ‘I better make a note of it.’
‘Publish it,’ I said. ‘It’ll no doubt become a New York Times bestseller. Even Bruce Springsteen’s getting into the act, publishing a book about a rift from one of his two million songs.
‘Whose Bruce Springsteen?’ said Superman.
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘He’s already became invisible. But be warned, your writing voice is not necessarily your reading voice, or the real you.’
‘Look Jack,’ said Superman, ‘you don’t need ex-ray vision to know that. For God sake, I get changed in a phone box, or I used to before everybody had a mobile phone –’
‘Sorry,’ I said, cutting him off. Superman can drone on for Scotland. ‘I’m just a bit fazed. My marketing skills need upgrading. I don’t have the time to read or write much anymore.’
‘You need some superhuman powers,’ said Batman. ‘Apart from invisibility,’ he quickly added to make me feel better.
‘Maybe you should move to another planet,’ said Superman. ‘That’s what I did before I became all-American.’
‘Nah,’ I said. ‘I used to live in Paisley. That wouldn’t work.’
‘Maybe you should wear a cape,’ said Batman. ‘These pointy ears don’t happen by chance.’
‘Maybe,’ I said, ‘you could cut a deal with those goofballs you capture and let them off with a warning if they sponsor my book.’
‘I’d rather swallow Kryptonite,’ said Superman.
Batman laughed. ‘What kind of books do you write – fairy tales!’
‘What don’t you write something somebody wants to read?’ asked Superman.
‘Good point,’ I said, because I never argue with anyone wearing a cape. ‘I’ll stick with the invisibility.’
Kerry Hudson thanked me on Twitter for saying how much I loved her book.
She said something like ‘thanks guy’ (she probably wasn’t sure since I’ve got a picture of a koala bear on my profile and unless they turn round it’s often difficult to tell the male from the female. Even Koala’s make mistakes, but unlike me, they never blog about it. So although I look like a koala, don’t be fooled by the furry face and benign smile).
I think Kerry read my blog. At least she said she did, but she might just have been tw0-faced. You decide.
It’s a catchy title that titillates. You know when you open the pages it won’t be like wading through text book squiggles of grey snails lining up to teach you something meaningful about the author’s life that you don’t want to know. It won’t try and regress you or teach you that God is on your side if you can just [well, fill in your own bit here].
To begin with Hudson’s book disappointed me. It has been described as autobiographical. Here, the narrator Janie, describes her birth: ‘“Get out, you cunting, shitting, little fucking fucker!” were he first words I heard.’ Janie’s Ma is prone to these sudden attacks of verbosity. Janie develops a similar foul mouth, ‘filthy temper’ and stubborn streak associated with the Ryan woman. Her little sister Tiny has a different Da, one that filled the familiar pattern of fucking, fucking it up and fucking off. Janie’s Da was an older married man in London. Sometimes Janie’s Ma made the decision to move on — they, for example, went looking for Janie’s Da, described as an American — and sometimes the decision was made for her. Tony Hogan pulled her earrings out of her ear with a yank, but he wasn’t an American. He was a low-level gangster and drug dealer her Ma had hooked up with. He took care of Ma so well she was hospitalised and Janie taken into care. Ma survives on Crisis Loans from the DHSS, Giro payments and Housing Association homes that fleas wouldn’t live in. Worse though was the slum landlords that rented out Bed and Breakfast, locked them out during the day and asked for extra in cash. Mrs Sheathes had a number of houses in Canterbury, such a pretty city, but it could have been anywhere, Aberdeen, even fucking Airdrie which was supposed to be Glasgow or Great Yarmouth, that wasn’t so great. By this time Janie is pregnant, being viciously bullied at school and is threatening to follow directly into her mother’s footsteps of anywhere but here.
‘I stood up and she did too. I was an inch, maybe two, taller than her, even barefoot, but she got right into my face, pushing my head forward into the space between us so she was shouting into my mouth: “Do you know what I’ve done for you two? What I’ve been through? You’ve no idea! I sacrificed my whole life so you an’ Tiny could have a good start. So don’t call me a bad ma”’.
The reader does know what sacrifices Ma has made. The problem of the omniscient baby narrator grows long enough legs to support the narrative. And you’ve got to love Ma and Janie, Tiny and Findus Crispy Pancakes. Remember them?
‘When I speak of Tories,’ Bevan said, addressing the Durham Miner’s Gala in July 1948, ‘I mean the small body of people who, whenever they have the chance, have manipulated the political influence of the country for the benefit of the privileged few. I am [son of a Welsh miner] prepared to forgive and forget the wrongs done to me. I am not prepared to forgive and forget the wrongs done to my people.’
Labour’s response was the creation of the NHS and the welfare state.
Miliband and his cronies response is…?
Scotland will be free of all vermin.
Jon Robson has the kind of rock-star name and job I covet, he meets Noel Edmonds — and other strange folk doing strange things. Deal or No Deal Jon – you come and live in Dalmuir for a week and I’ll try Seattle?
Who can forget the pretext of Bill and the Ufo was that angels disguised themselves as aliens and went to live in Faifley because nobody would bother them when living there? Well, me for starters and I wrote it.
Aliens are only aliens when you have to turn the telly up because you can’t hear yourself think. The contestants in Deal or No Deal are penned together in a hotel and left to simmer until the programme is recorded.
Disney Wonder is Deal or No Deal on a cruise ship. There are 2455 passengers and 1000 Oceaneers or employees that live in an airless cupboard-sized space below the waterline. Cameras follow everyone’s every movement. There’s work and there’s water. When twenty-four year old Rebecca Coriam didn’t report for work at 9am, she was tannoyed. The ship was searched and a Mexican coastguard searched the water. ‘Lost at Sea’ is not that uncommon. Forty-three people disappeared from Carnival cruises between 2000 and 2011. 171 disappeared, in total, over all cruise lines. Investigations are ongoing. Some crew members are more easily lost than others. The common denominator is there is no mystery. Poor people are expandable. There’s no cover up necessary. Let’s move on. People are trying to enjoy themselves. Naturally glum dead people are bad for business and make bad Mouseketeers. Live with it.
‘Is She for Real?’ Jon asks of psychic Sylvia Browne. Sylvia is said to divide public opinion because she tells such whoppers. Interviewed on CBS television on the Montel Williams Show, in 1999, she told the grandparent of missing Opal Jo Jennings snatched from her yard in Texas that the girl was alive, but the girl was taken on a boat or plane and taken into slavery in Kuouro in Japan.
Opal’s body was found buried in Fort Worth, Texas. She had been taken and murdered by a local man the same night she went missing.
Sylvia Browne is a best-selling author and she’s on a meet-and-greet with her fans on the cruise ship Westerdam. She doesn’t like Jon because he doesn’t go overboard about her psychic talents. I’m sure we’ll hear about that nice Jon Robson again. I predict he’ll make a splash.
To paraphrase Goffman, all institutions replicate themselves. The police will always defend their legitimate right to use violence. Wrong or right, doesn’t come into it. Institutions are like gods, infallible, even when they’re proven wrong. Police are largely unarmed in Scotland. But black is shorthand for poor, easy pickings and a moving target. If class was a colour bind everything would be black and white. It’s not as simple as that. Poor people always get smeared with shit and told they smell. The officers of the law know where and when to find there victims. I’m white. It’s not my war. Does saying it’s wrong make me right?
We all know that hands raised in the air at a moment of conflict indicate surrender. They say, “I’m unarmed” or “I’ve laid down my arms” and “please, do not harm me” and “I am in your power.” At least, those of us who watch tv and films, read cartoons and novels, track newspapers and magazines. This “I surrender” sign is a global vernacular, taught and circulated by children’s cartoons. (We might need to ask why children’s cartoons teach this vernacular.) And so, what is striking about “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” as a chanted slogan and as printed words on handmade, often homemade, signs is that it indexes the failure of this bodily vernacular when performed by a black body, by a killable body. Blackness becomes the break in this global bodily vernacular, the error that makes this bodily action illegible, the disposability that renders the gesture irrelevant.
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Luke Neima, the equivalent of Luke Skywalker on ABCtales, asked me about story structure. I gave him the short answer. Each word in a sentence has a weight that makes up the ongoing narrative. I mentioned tropes, flung in a bit of trophallaxis and ended by feeding him the story of my life in which the words which were flew from the page before he could read them. I noted them down quickly, but they didn’t make any sense, but then life never does. Look over my shoulder, I’ve got my arm over them pinning them down.
When I was five I stole a gun. Dad got mad and told me told me to take it back and shoot somebody. That way I learned social responsibility and since that day I’ve not shot anyone else.
Setting the scene:
We lived in a house so dirty it was always night. Family portraits were hung facing the wall to keep them clean. Our house, in a derelict street, didn’t smell as much as ooze. I call that stage of my life early fauvism.
Transitions (Sentences always look forwards and backwards):
Early desuetude, of course, led to late desuetude. Dad had a good job breeding lab-rats, but he didn’t know where his work started or ended. They developed diabetes and were heavy smokers, like him. He became strapped to the chair, grew depressed and the rats took over. They ate our shoes and clothes. Our wardrobe squeaked. Even the shadows groaned and moved out. People smashed our windows and shouted in at us, sitting quietly in the parlour, that our house was haunted.
Mum had a foul temper and a war trumpet for a mouth. She would never let them get away with that. She haunted them. Sometimes I take her picture off the wall and look at it. I hung my picture next to hers so we could get closer once more.
We were forced to move, but nobody wanted us in their neighbourhood. Jails were full. The Insane Asylum had stopped taking people that were sane and The Poor House was full of cheap, no-good chisellers. We fell into the official categorisation of the ‘Unlucky Luckies’. We were left in isolation, but they had already gone over budget. Our only option we were told was the office of Remedial Care when only came into effect, retrospectively, when you didn’t need it.
We took to sleeping outside their office—leaning on each other—listening to the vinyl scratch of a long playing record telling us the long wait was almost over and the short wait would soon begin. We became as immune to it as a Status Quo record.
Clichés and False Moustaches – wrapping up:
Revolution was not about corruption, but apathy. In the chrysalis of waiting we grew wings and became ourselves.
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