The Old Firm Game, League Cup Semi-final, Hampden Park, tomorrow.

liam henderson

I stood up and cheered when we got drawn with Rangers in the League Cup. We’ve not played them for three years. We want to rub their noses in it. We’ve missed it (but only if we win). Chris Sutton is getting some stick for saying what many Rangers’ fans believe: Celtic could win playing with their men blindfolded. That’s true. We’ve got the best young players in Scotland. And in Liam Henderson we have the most exciting talent since Ian Durrant (prior to getting smashed by Neil Simpson).  Henderson, like Durrant, has no fear. He’s gangly, his first touch is good, he likes to go forwards, rather than backwards and he can score goals. I think Celtic’s youth team is better than and could beat the current Rangers’ first team. They might even triumph over the Celtic first team. What I’m saying is the bookies are giving odds of a minimum of 8/1 for Rangers to beat Celtic. That sounds about right. Celtic have better players in every single position. Even in the old days when asked to pick what Rangers’ player I’d want in the Celtic team I used to ruefully admit I’d take their goalie. Now even our goalie is better than the Rangers’ keeper. And here’s a strange thing. I don’t even know who that is. Go back three or four years and not only would I be able to tell you who would start for Celtic and who would be a sub, I could also pick the Rangers’ team man for man. Now I can hazard a guess that Kenny Miller will play. Kenny Black. Nicky Ball. That’s about it. The rest is a blank where Rangers’ bank balance used to be.

Rangers’ fans will clutch at straws. They’ll point to Chelsea’s recent defeat. Manchester City’s defeat. Tottenham’s defeat. I’ll fling in Bayern Munich’s more recent 4-1 away defeat at Wolfsburg. It wouldn’t surprise me if any of these underdogs defeated Celtic. We are not a great team, but we are a better team than Rangers.

There are certain advantages at playing at Hampden. It’s a big playing surface. That suits Celtic. Rangers will want to sit in and frustrate. They’ll look at Ross County’s recent credible 0-0 draw at Parkhead, a game in which the underdog could have and perhaps should have won the match with a clear-cut chance in the last few minutes. That’s what Rangers will be hoping for, a Ross County with that chance going in and cup glory. Everything else becomes bullshit and they get the bragging rights.

There is another, perhaps, more likely scenario. Rangers score first. After today’s New Firm semi-final between Dundee United (managed by ex-Celt, McNamarra) and Aberdeen (managed by ex-Hun, McInnes) the pitch will be scarred. Celtic’s silky soccer will be disrupted. Rangers will want to outmuscle the Celtic players and knock them off their stride. The problem with that is physically if you look at both teams, Celtic are the taller and a stronger looking proposition.  Virgil van Dijk is the best defender and header of the ball in Scottish football. He looks like scoring at every free kick and corner and frequently does. Rangers will find that hard to counter.

For Rangers to win they must play like Ross County and get lucky. For Celtic to win they must play like the champions they are. It’s not cut and dried but if you only had enough money to back either team to get your bus fare home, or walk forty miles, who would you back? Celtic to win and meet Dundee United in the final.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

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Robert Frank (2008) Richistan

superyacht

This book is outdated. It was published before the crash and unravelling of high finance in 2008, but the bounce back of the increasingly wealthy has been so spectacular and complete it’s as if that event never happened. A more major shortcoming is Frank’s believe in the benefits of trickle-down economics.  It’s worth repeating wealth flows at an increasing speed upwards and if the rising tide has lifted fewer boats during the Obama years, as one wag put it, the ones it has lifted has tended to be yachts. Piketty, in particular, nails this fiction as the convenient lie that it is. But coming from different positions both Frank and Piketty reach the same conclusion. The trend for the rich to get richer and the poor to become poorer is on rails and speed it picking up at an increasing rate.

But let’s go back to the beginning. Frank noted (like Piketty) a trend. In 2003, whilst writing an article about Wall Street bonuses he noted a wealth ladder in which households worth $10 million, $20 million, $50 million – all the populations were doubling.

Here’s the narrative. Frank visits a yacht club in 2004. He tells us the richest 1% own $1.35 trillion a year greater than the total national incomes of France, Italy or Canada. Remember in 2015 that number will be a lot higher now. He looks at the yachts and someone remarks: ‘You look at all these boats and you’d think everyone’s making loads of money. It’s like a different country’.

That country is Richistan. Let’s go to the end of the book. It’s 2005. Frank is travelling to visit Ft. Lauderdale for the 46th International Boat Show. It’s a Richistan of boats and billionaires. Yet he notes driving to the convention the city has been battered by Hurricane Wilma. The streets are strewn with broken glass, trees and garbage. Thousands of residents of the poorer districts are homeless, most of them Hispanic or black. Many are herded into school gyms and classrooms. A few are issued with vouches handed out by a Federal Emergency Management Agency. They’re worthless. They don’t cover the cost of local rents even before the disaster. And the housing market is overinflated because of the wealth-creating towers of million-dollar condos.

Petrina Craig, a mother of six, is shipped to a homeless shelter for a week. She asks ‘Am I supposed to sit in the shelter until they kick me out with my kids?’

A few miles away in Richistan the yacht show was kicking off, packed with gleaming multimillion dollar toys for the rich.

This is a sympathetic snapshot of the wealthy. It’s an uneven world in which size matters even between these groups. A group of children of the wealthy were asked what they would do with a $10 million lottery win. Before or after tax? one asked. You get a sense of indifference. Before or after tax is the question our government should be asking not only of the poor and marginalised but of the Richistan citizens.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

William Kowalski, Writing tips for first-time novelists.

william Kowalski

I’ve never heard of William Kowalski and I’m pretty sure he’ll never have heard of me. I followed this link http://williamkowalski.com/wp-content/themes/shoelace/ebooks/Writing_For_Novelists.pdf

He gives advice for first-time novelists. You should follow it too.  If something can make you laugh then its half way to being genius. Here it’s when his mentor, Jack Kunickzak, explained to a young Kowalski that while his shipmates went shipside to watch the American military blew up some innocent atoll with nuclear weapons he saw that as the perfect opportunity to go and lie on his bunk and read. Reading, as all innocent atoll watchers don’t know, is half way to writing.

There’s nothing special about writing or writers in the same way there’s nothing special about food or water. We need stories to make sense of our world. Everyone tells stories. And as Kowlaski says he doesn’t want to hear about how good or bad a writer you are. He doesn’t want to hear about your writing block. In fact, he doesn’t want to see you at all. He wants to see your writing. Writers write and when you’re not writing you’re not a writer, but some guy talking bullshit about writing.

The biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful writers Kowalski suggests isn’t talent, but practice and perseverance. Writing is a democracy. It doesn’t care who you are or where you are. But unless you practice you’re not going to grow as a writer. If you’re goal is money or fame then it’s very unlikely you will succeed. Kowalski, like the rest of us, admits he’s not immune to their sheen, but sees them as by-products of good writing.

Good writers Kowalski suggests are those that observe the way things work. He does a natty line in which he quotes the Suffi mystics as saying we don’t have just five senses but 360 senses. I immediately observed that there are 360 degrees in a circle and that has taken us back to the beginning or end or things. I’m here on sufferance, an unsuffi-suffi.

If you think about writing it’s about channelling experience. Kowalski suggests a good young writer should live his life and have some real-life experiences to draw on to deepen his work. Reading other people’s work is piggy-backing on life’s experiences. Learning is always a good thing. The broader the learning the better the writer. The wider the base, the more perfect the summit.

That got me thinking about a friend I used to know when I was younger (about a million moons ago when Jimmy Saville wasn’t a paedophile). Mary was seventeen and had the punky-blue black hair. She was about five-foot tall and a bit stocky. Bit of a dirty laugh and a big presence.

Jean was about forty-two. Had two kids and was a wee wifey, but without the husband that had a bit of drink problem and fucked off.

Which one of these two would you want to be your social worker? Whose story would you like to hear?

Writing is a bit like when all the tribes brought their art to Gormenghast. One piece selected and the rest burned. Make a pyre of your mistakes. I like this Kowalski and may pay him the ultimate tribute and read his work. A writer can ask for no greater homage than that.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

Holocaust Memorial Day, BBC 2, 7pm

nazi

The BBC commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz, 70 years ago, the site of almost one million murdered, but also a symbol of  the six million other Jews killed and hundreds of thousands others killed in a genocidal purge of the pure Aryan-Nazi race that took place in a ring of hundreds of other camps.

As a Catholic the service itself was one I was familiar with. The solemn intonation, readings from extracts of Primo Levi, If This is a Man. Prince Charles bumbling on about the three lines scratched into a wall at Auschwitz: ‘I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.’ Then there was the music of Thereseinstadt sung by fresh-faced children of every creed an affirmation that even though the body may suffer and burn away the joy of creation of music and art will transcend self and for that moment shine.

I get all that. I understand the paradox of man being a flimsy thing, yet somehow indestructible. I understand that when the rule of law is subverted and twisted the oppressor and the oppressed can share the same body and it becomes literally every man for themselves. Then we had the  wisdom of David Cameron.

As a holocaust survivor kept repeating: ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

T.M.Devine (1999, with afterword 2006) The Scottish Nation 1700-2007

the scottish nation

It’s difficult to summarise a book that spans over 300 years, rich with knowledge and learning, which runs to over 600 pages. But it’s really quite simple. He who own the land owns the people. The Highland Clearances are an example of this. But Devine notes the Scots were always a nation on the move. Only Ireland and Norway have exported more of its people. But neither of these nations have done as well as the expatriate Scot abroad. Start haphazardly with Andrew Carnegie, once thought to be the richest man in the world, and work your way round the globe. Leaders of nations. Leaders of men have been Scots. But when sheep are more profitable than humans and there’s profit in one but not the other then as the theatre company 7:84 once lamented in aphorism of song and dance in their production:  ‘The cheviot, The stag and The black, black oil’. First came the sheep. Then the large hunting estates for the well off. Oil for the future. Black gold (or is it now fool’s gold?)  History made simple. In that agitation-propaganda era, when we were going to change the world, seven percent owned eighty-four percent of the land. Land means people. The new number’s game is ninety-nine percent own practically nothing and one percent own almost everything.

Devine precisely charts this movement from land to city and the evident pride in the British Empire that ruled the world. Scotland, viewed itself as equal partner, was the workshop of the world, and Clyde-built shipping and locomotives were a guarantee of quality. Glasgow at the hub of the industrial revolution grew at a faster rate than London. Our strength was our weakness. Local coal deposits which powered the revolution were no longer easily accessible and were cheaper abroad. Steel replaced iron, the price of which was dependent on coal deposits, but the massive investment needed for refurbishment was also dependent on other industries, most notably ship-building and its continuing ability to produce ships which could be sold abroad. Other nations, notably, America, Japan and Germany produced their own ship. Cheaper ships. Better ships. So that by the 1970s shipyards on the Clyde could no longer compete in terms of cost or the related time-frame in which ships would be started or finished.  Industry also needed an infrastructure that could move with the times.

There were and are bubbles of innovation and adaptation mainly centring on universities and involving technology and biotechnology.  Beardmore, a five-minute walk from my house, is now a NHS Hospital and hotel. But Beardmore once built ships. It branched out into building airplanes and cars. Difficult to believe that now. But we’re going back 100 years and Two World Wars. The resurgence in ship building which these conflicts brought life back to Glasgow, back to the Clyde, but it also left it dependent on industries that could no longer deliver profit and therefore jobs.

Worlds apart, even Barack Obama in his State of the Union Speech asks how much longer will we ‘accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well’?  I can assure you I’m not doing spectacularly well. And it’s a mockery of sorts, in these times of austerity, when rents go up and up and private landlords do pretty much what they like that money is being collected for a statue of Mary Barbour a First World War social activist. I’m sure what she would call for was a more just society. And it seems pointless to honour one woman and not the thousands of others that took part in demonstration that briefly changed our world for the better. It also ignore the thousands of men that downed tools and left there place of work to support these women’s actions. Tokenism is a statue. Government intervention and rent controls were a most lasting tribute. Devine covers this and the benefits of government intervention in the Scottish economy very well. The opening of the Highland to electricity, even though it was clearly uneconomic at the time, proved a crucial investment as tourism brought more money to the nation than shipbuilding, which like coal and steel becomes increasingly likely to be a memento of the past.

Devine does not shy away from the more brutal aspects of sectarianism, hatred of Catholics and calls from them to be deported back to Ireland from inside the Kirk and from leaders of the Church of Scotland. It was no coincidence, he says, that an Orange hall was built to face the gates of John Brown’s shipyards, which was about a mile from my home. Catholics were viewed as an inferior race which should not be allowed to work heavy machinery. Devine notes that the growth in educational opportunities and growth of an educated Catholic cohort has largely eroded this ingrained and built-in prejudice. But it was only yesterday, my mate Sharpy told me when he was interviewed for agency work and he was asked which school he went to. The wrong answer meant no job.

Devine, writing in 2006, ends on a hopeful note. He notes that the gains made by the working man during the fifties and sixties, were never equally shared and have largely gone but the reliance on manufacturing industries no longer holds true. Relative to other nations ‘productivity levels may be weak’ but gives examples of good and sound Scottish businesses such as the Royal Bank of Scotland (nationalised at a cost of billions of pound, one of the most toxic banks on earth) and HBoS in banking (ditto); the Wood Group (with oil under $50 a barrel the chairman estimates the North sea has only about ten years oil and this may not be economically worth taking of the sea) Cairn Energy (ditto); Scottish Power in energy (a subsidiary of Ibrerdrola with profits flowing out of the country to Spain); Stagecoach (it still exists and expanded into trains and the company owns franchises in North America and is still Scottish, whatever that means).  The future’s bleak. The future’s Poundland.

He who owns the land owns the people. It doesn’t matter if it’s Iberdrola in Spain or the Ineos plant in Grangemouth with profits going to North America. Jim Ratcliffe, Ineos chairman, faced off union involvement in his business plans and was rewarded with the promise of block grants from the Scottish government. Money flows at in increasing rate from the poor to the rich and the working man and woman clings on and hopes for better days. The Scottish Nation 1700-2007 shows he’ll have a long wait. The blip that was the 1950s to the mid-1970s is a folk memory of when British governments, for all their faults, offered welfare to the poorest members of society. Now government offers welfare and bespoke tax packages to the richest members of society. We’d need to go back about 100 years or more to see a more socially unjust society. Devine did not predict that or the face-off between SNP and the London paymasters in a 55-45 split nation. But it’s always easier in retrospect.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

Insane Fight Club II, BBC 1, (Scotland) 10.35pm produced and directed by Stephen Bennet.

insane fight

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02dlcf3

Lots of folk may be asking why I’m watching Insane Fight Club when I live in Dalmuir and am living it. Well, quite simple. I went out to watch the Celtic game in the Horsie and we couldn’t watch the second half because the internet was buggered and it was a crap game. That’s the kinda insanity I’m forced to put up with and if I put insane before most of my actions it makes them looking slightly interesting. So I came in after a couple of pints and the choices were watching Justin gets an insane amount of beaver or he goes insane turning it down. And remains just friends with some super-hotty. Or friends with benefits. Well, we all know how much the media and government hate people with benefits. I know it’s insane so I had to block such wankcraft.

The only options were going to my bed and getting an insane amount of sleep or watching insane fight club. Insanity, but I chose the latter. Must say I’m a bit insane but I quite enjoyed it.

The first scene is the bloke that manages insane fight club being filmed up in our very own Titan in Clydebank. It’s an insane idea. Only I think it was more the producer/ director’s idea. Getting up an insane height with a panoramic view of an insane little town makes everything else feel normal.

Anyway the insane fight club crew go on tour to Geordieland, Liverduddlyland and Brummi-engerland but they’ve not done much prepping and nobody expects them. Insane or what? They take a campervan and bundle everybody in it. Drink and eat shite and ape to the camera. They make plenty of fart joke like this place is so bouffing. Dirty weekend. Insanity. Sorry, you had to be there.

They come back and do a gig in Barrowland. Sell out. Pack the dafties in. World Championship and all that. Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki were there. Insanity or what? Looked like good clean fun. If the guys can make a few bob, why not? Good luck to them. I’ve got an insane amount of reading and writing to do, but if there’s another episode on I’ll watch it.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

The Big Freeze

frosty

Being Scottish we take a perverse pride in the weather. It’s too cold. It’s too wet. It’s too sunny. And that’s just in a morning. Made in Scotland. It’ll never last is the common refrain. That’s just about right. We do however take a particular delight in snow. Kids love it, for ten minutes. Adults love to moan about the state of the roads. Everybody’s happy because they are unhappy. This week it’s meant to stay below zero. Ho. Ho. Ho. We say. And turn the heating up.

In my day, of course, you’d do no such thing. The electric fire in the living room had, theoretically, two bars. One bar was for everyday living. The other bar was for when the Klingons attacked and you needed to get up to warp speed. That might have happened in every episode of Star Trek but in my house cold was never interplanetary cold enough. Double glazing was when you had ice inside the windows. It was the old school – if you’re feet are cold put a pair of socks on and thank god you’ve got toes.

There was, of course, another school were you could use the negative on your wedding photos, or some old first communion photos, inserted in the gap between casing of the electrical meter in the hall, which acted as a pin and slowed down and stopped your bill going up and up and up. In such a school you could turn on two bars with impunity or even put the oven on. Heating rooms of course was still needless extravagance that only the super-rich and needlessly wasteful could afford.

No matter which school you went to a simple rule of thumb was no energy company could cut off electricity to the vulnerable and those with children. Those were the good old days.

Smart meters were smart because energy companies no longer had to worry about cutting off their consumers. They would cut themselves off by having no money to put in their meters. What is more those least able to pay would be charged more than better-heeled neighbours. The majority would in effect subsidise the minority. And at the very top, shareholders, the richest members of society, would gain increased dividends.

Energy apartheid is made worse by poor living in the poorest quality housing. Housing most likely to lose heat and consume more energy. Higher bills by those least able to pay it. My 1970’s house, for example, was a metal shell with a roof and no insulation. The Government’s recent Green Deal gives money to richer homeowners to help make the changes they need. A growth industry based around green certificates and assessments and cashback schemes. In schemes and housing estates there is no cash back guarantee. But there is also a growth industry in bailiffs and sheriff officers coming to cut off those that have not paid their bill and to install pre-payment meters. So who can you expect at your door when this happens.

Firstly, a representative of the energy company. They will not be directly employed by them, but in the fertile soil of high-cost debts, one of the many debt-collection agencies. The debt collector will have a legal right to enter the named property. A lock-smith and dog handler will be on hand. A police presence can called upon. Here’s a wee trick that energy companies and debt collectors love. Cut a person’s power off and put the power back on again. Even if it’s only for five minutes. Kerching. A simple letter to the criminally poor can cost £150 extra onto the existing debt. Kerching. All these people who attended the call-out need to be paid for. Kerching. Higher fuel bills, indefinitely, but the powers on.

You’d expect those receiving such call outs to be outraged. But here’s the rub. Having spoken to someone whose job it was to enforce this debt payment she said in most cases they were grateful. Not really sure what was happening. Glad of the company. Glad to get it sorted. The pitiful of society on which we have no pity.

We expect adults to make rational choices between heating a house, eating and paying household bills. But when the poorest in society start the day with a deficit in one sphere that feeds into every other sphere and keeps growing and spiralling out of control we punish not only them, but the millions of children that do not have the luxury of an adequately heated home. We store up problems for the future, but hey, the rich get rich and the poor get poorer that’s a growth industry. When it’s cold the rich get rich. When it’s hot the rich get rich. They’re the one group, the 1% weatherproof guarantee, but you won’t get your money back.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole