George Osborne’s bumper Christmas Compendium

I wasn’t sure how to structure this. I’d a vague idea about explaining the significance of the tax-credit U-turn by George Osborne and the jibes about Mao’s Little Red Book, a joke that backfired and made the Shadow Chancellor seem the more foolish. I also thought about telling you about my visit to the dentist. We are an ageing nation of shrinking gums. So I guess I’ll start there.

I’m good on nostalgia. The dentist I go to is the same dentist I went to forty odd years ago. We used to scale the wall in the same way we got our teeth scaled and steal the needles from the dustbin. They smelled of different planets and we’d lunge at each other, wild with excitement. Boredom set in quicker than rain. We’d fling them away. Back then the dentist prodded and poked at your teeth with a hooked pick until he found a hole to fill, a tooth to take out, usually, both. It’s the same rooms, upstairs or along the extended hall, with faded white paint, but it’s a practice now, a business, the hook comes out before you’re allowed to see the leading practitioner, or business man, or woman.  Receptionists want to know who is going to pay for treatment. There’s different kinds of forms for different kinds of patients. You can get your teeth whitened for £250. An older woman, a pensioner, was told she had the wrong kind of mouth for a plate, and the practice couldn’t be expected to carry the cost.

As surely as my tongue runs over a newly-fitted filing this is the future of the NHS. People will be turning up with the wrong kind of body.  An estimated £20 billion is needed to keep our NHS treating patients until 2020. Osborne has fronted some of the money, which is a politically astute move, as it stops some NHS trusts threatening to shut at Christmas. Bah Humbug! But it’s never enough, because too many old people are living to long. Let’s call them bed blockers.

Where do all these bed blockers go when they come out of hospital? Most bed blockers become the responsibility of local authorities.  Local authorities have had between fifty and seventy five percent of their budgets cut over the last five years. The Monty Pythonesque leaked letter exchange between out glorious leader David Cameron (with less that twenty-five percent of the electorate voting for him, the ‘great ignored’ as Cameron termed them before the 2010 election, leaves me thinking what we’d call the other 75%) and The Conservative Prime Minister writes to a Conservative council leader Ian Huspeth in Oxford and asks him why he’d made such dreadful cuts to ‘front-line services’ such as care of the elderly. Couldn’t the councillor made savings by sacking people that weren’t needed and not hired people that were needed, and sold off some surplus land or council properties. But says Councillor Huspeth I’ve already cut off our arms and legs, fell on my sword, sacked 2 800 staff, sold off all our ‘surplus property’ to try and make up our £72 million deficit because we get 37% less from central government than we got last year. And this is one of the more affluent front-line areas.

Service cuts are uneven. Even the Conservative-controlled Local Government Association talks of a postcode lottery. Councils in poorer areas can no longer afford home care service for the elderly. Social care is in an inverse relationship to health care.

The Office for Budget Responsibility suggests that the Osborne has to find £22 billion of cuts from 15 departments with a total budget of £77 billion. Here’s the rub. Their budgets have already been cumulatively cut by 30% since 2010, spread unevenly with local authorities’ grants in particular hardest hit and with backtracking on tax credits and policing all signs point towards being cut even more.

This is politics at its basest level. It’s personal and it’s ideological. Beveridge described the five giants on the road to reconstruction. They were poverty, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. All are related and feed into the roots system of the other. Whatever way you measure them they are all on the increase. The idea of welfare has been a stick used to beat us.

I’m with William Keegan on this one: ‘Personally, I always preferred the older term ‘social security,’ which gives a better indication of what the social settlement during those early post-war years of austerity was all about.’

The terrorist attack in Paris dominates the headlines, as it should, when we really are all in it together. Kenan Malik idea of social and political hegemonic influence gets it about right: ‘Evil…is not simply about defining an act of being particularly wicked, it also about defining the space within which we can have a meaningful debate about good and bad, virtue and wickedness’.

France spends around 54% of its GDP on public services. The United Kingdom currently around 38%, spends less that all other G7 countries with the exception of the United States. Trying to balance the books is a good story and achieve a surplus like China is an even better story. It fits in with the Dickensian notion expounded by Mr Micawber’s famous, and oft-quoted, recipe for happiness:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

There is an element of truth in this, but only if Mr Micawber didn’t have his own printing press in his basement and wasn’t allowed to print money quicker than the Japanese. Added kudos, if like the most successful company in the world in terms of share value, Apple, they could choose to fund their growth by borrowing at in interest rate of almost 0%. Indeed buying and selling money is what the United Kingdom does best. Before the Crash of 2008 it accounted for almost a quarter of all UK tax receipts. It allowed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to build hospital and schools and invest in the infrastructure of the country, which was seen as the common good. This has been turned on its head.

We are not fighting a war against Isis, not yet anyway. Government debt has rarely been lower over the last 300 years, but with every bomb we drop over Syria (if or indeed when Cameron is given his mandate) can we expect to think there goes another public library in Islington. There goes a Sure start Programme in Drumchapel. There goes another mental health unit in Belfast. There goes free school meals. Some wars are more pointless than others. We have been lied to for too long. Shakespeare gets it about right with Shylock’s promise that he will outdo the evil that was done to him.

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.

William Keegan suggests in the aftermath of financial crisis and fiscal policies pursued since the summer of 2010. ‘If the historical pattern of growth had been allowed to continue, output in the UK would have been up to 20 per cent higher in 2013-14 than proved to be the case.

Martin Wolf of the Financial Times in the 2013 Wincott Lecture: Monetary Policy clearly and decisively failed to promote recovery. Animal spirits were completely destroyed. Demand fell. It was a machine designed to fail.’

Joe Stiglitz notes the same pattern over the other side of the Atlantic. Subsidies for the rich, mass poverty for the poor.  A race to the bottom. The Big Mac Index, for example, is an economists attempt to measure the relative expenses of living in different countries. Stiglitz describes working for McDonalds as the income of last resort, with more than a thousand applicants for every job. Martin Ford describes how a worker for McDonalds in October 2013 called his employer’s financial-help hotline, asking for help, and was advised to apply for Food Stamps and Medicaid. Yet, the fast food industry continues to grow, at around £6.9 billion in the UK in 2012.

We don’t –as yet- pay directly for our healthcare. But Nicholas Timmins, The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State, noted the paradox of we used to send experts to the United States to advise them how to run health care, but now that has been reversed. Advisers come from the States, with the most profligate health service in the world (see Pickwick) and advise us. It’s no great surprise that Jeremy Hunt, our Health Secretary, doesn’t believe in the NHS. He’s rich and will never need it. Neither will any of his colleagues or friends. Only poor people will (short-hand for scroungers).

A programme was recently shown on BBC 2. Unlike those Jeremy Kyle-type programmes on Channels 4 and 5, and the Hollywood movie Friends With Benefits, it was meant to show the diversity of Scotland and it’s working population. For example, bespoke food from land and sea for the tables of the rich in London. Compare this with the idea of bespoke care for the poor. The elderly poor. It would cost too much. The idea is ridiculous. The difference between a fish farm and a granny farm is one of them is under water. Southern Cross and other ‘caring’ companies threaten bankruptcy unless local authorities give them more money.

Assets such as the buildings in which old folk have been corralled have been separated on the balance sheet from the cost of caring (price) of caring for residents. The problem of liquidity fits into a larger narrative of Freidrich Hayek, the title whose book The Road to Serfdom could be rewritten and neatly quipped as the slippery slope towards totalitarianism any government intervention entails.  Milton Friedman and the problem of demand is one of supply. If money is cheap enough demand for it will grow and problems such as unemployment will disappear, but only if the government doesn’t interfere. Chile’s Pinochet was an admirer. After the fall of the Berlin Wall advisers from the Chicago School helped to create a new Russia from the old Soviet Union modelled on Friedman’s principles.

The new kids of the block of the early eighties Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had won the Cold War and already set out their stall to roll back the state. Simple equation government = bad (totalitarianism). Free market = good (liberalism). The hidden hand, I want for Christmas, had never had it so good.

Why fling good money after bad on a defective product?

But it doesn’t begin and end there. We’re all familiar with the idea of bureaucracy = power. And bureaucracies become bloated and create their own reason for being. Think local government. Think any government. Companies listed on the stock exchange. They are not off the raider. They too are bureaucracies

Predatory lending. Is there any other kind? What does non-predatory lending look like? It looks like James Stewart, a man you could trust. You may remember James Stewart playing someone that was not James Stewart, George Bailey, who looked confusingly, for us old timers, very much like a young Henry Fonda, in a feel-good film, shown every Christmas about the value of non-predatory lending. It wasn’t called The Value of Non-Predatory Lending, but the more striking It’s A Wonderful Life.

It’s a simple equation: Non-predatory lending = It’s A Wonderful Life. ‘Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings’. Clarence Oddbody, that’s a good name for an angel. The run on Bailey Building and Loan would be something familiar to those over thirty watching this film on telly every Christmas, those living in small-town America of the hungry thirties, or the citizens of modern-day Greece. ‘I’ll stroll, you fly,’ was George’s advice to Clarence, but Oddbody’s however quick he or they travel can’t save Bedford Falls. George appeals to reason, those paying in and having a stake in the Building and Loan were bankrupting themselves. They weren’t just borrowers but lenders. That Tom’s money was tied up in Ed’s house and Ed’s money tied up in Mrs Davis house and when they hadn’t worked for a while George didn’t chase them for repayment. He knew they’d come good. George was just asking for the same consideration for the Building and Loan. He wasn’t asking how much they wanted, but how much they needed to get by. They were shaking the same tree.

George, of course, has hard cash to back up his rhetoric, a thousand dollar bills set aside. He runs a thrift and he’s thrifty. ‘How much do you need Tom?’ George asks the first customer, pushing to the front of the line. ‘$242,’ Tom demands, ‘and that’ll close my account’.

‘Have you no romance in you?’ asks George. The thousand dollars is, of course, money he’s set aside to travel with and for his honeymoon.

‘Yes, I had some, but I soon got rid of it,’ answer Tom.

Tom has made a rational choice and not a romantic choice. Ed, next in line asks for $20. Mrs Davis asks if it’s ok if she gets $17.50. George kisses her on the cheek. State regulations means that the doors of the Building and Loan need to stay open until 6pm. George and Uncle Billy kick out and have a party as they carry two crumpled dollar bills and deposit them in the vault. They have made it through the day without Old Man Potter closing them down.

Henry F Potter is a twisted crocodile. In the opening scenes he rides in a carriage and one kid asks another ‘who’s that? Is he a king?’ He is of course. But a king without subjects. Peter Bailey (senior), at the dinner table, explains to his son George why they should feel sorry for Old Man Potter. Henry F Potter has no future. He is unmarried. No children. ‘What’s he going to do with all that money?’ The message is he’ll get his comeuppance.  Later in the film, when Clarence grants George’s wish not to be born Bedford Falls becomes Pottersville. There’s bars on every corner, where people go to get seriously drunk and half-dressed girls spilling out of every club. Full employment and housing to rent. Pottersville sounds like my kind of town.

Old Man Potter is sick and he wants to infect George and the town with his values. He’s tried everything and now he tries buying George. He offers him a salary of $20 000 a year to manage his affairs. George admits the offer is tempting. Cost-benefit analysis. Money’s tight. He’s got four kids now. Around $40 a month.  An old barn of a house.  Old Man Potter offers George a thick Cuban cigar, time to think about it, reminds him that’s starting salary and if he plays along he could make more. The answers, ‘No’. The answers always no. ‘You spin your little webs,’ George tells Potter.

The problem that Bailey Building and Loan faced was they had the wrong kind of money tied up in buildings and loans. Think of poor Southern Cross and other care companies with properties full of poor people, which they could monetise and sell separately from their services. They had no way of knowing who was going to pay, when they were going to pay and if the Bailey Building and Loan would be there for them to pay into. Modern economists make short shrift of that thrift. Thrift is shorthand for the thousands of Savings and Loan companies spread out throughout the United States and loosely bound by US government support for home ownership,  the biggest franchises being Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) owned and run by the US government; the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), around 1 in 10 US mortgages at a very conservative estimate of $100 million mortgages on its books and is backed by the US government; Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporations (Freddie Mac) was a corporation created by Savings and Loan companies were backed indirectly by the US government. These organisation had like the Bailey Building and Loan, which George bailed out with a handy $1000, a problem of liquidity.

Everything is a problem of liquidity if you look at it properly. Let’s get back to George Osborne’s speech to the Conservative Party conference, October 2013, and his claim to have a seven-year plan to achieve an absolute budget surplus before 2020.

How to define it as a problem of ‘idleness’.

Here it is wrapped in the Stars and Stripes with mum’s apple pie: ‘We had the oldest secret in the world, “hard work”’. This from a man endorsed by fellow Texans George W Bush, his father George H W Bush and further afield Bill Clinton. These Presidents of the United States whom Lance Armstrong on speed-dial helped quash an FBI investigation into the activities of the seven times Tour de France winner. Let’s put a figure on Lance Armstrong, career earnings of somewhere between $70 and $100 million. That sounds a lot to me and you (who can forget Margaret Thatcher going to the European Union and crowing that she’d saved Britain a million pounds a year) but Armstrong’s career earnings were the kind of loose change ‘geek’ bond traders such as Michael Lewis of Salomon Brothers could lose without burning anybody important. Perhaps I should put in here that David Cameron was a stockbroker as was his father before him… Lewis tells us that Salomon Brothers the directors boasted that they had the equivalent of $80 billion worth of securities in portfolios every night. Multiply that by 365 and you’ll get an estimate of their annual income. Bigger than the combined profits of all other Wall Street operations. Bigger than the Netherlands GDP. Salomon Brothers, of course, later went to the wall. Financial institutions are the auteurs rewriting the economic script of what is meant be profit and loss, success and failure as they went along. In the years 1977-1986 when Salomon Brothers had almost a monopoly on new bonds they had helped create in regard to housing the trading floor jumped from millions to billions to $2.7 trillion, with ‘mortgages so cheap your teeth hurt’. That was the ‘gospel’ of the rich. What Lance Armstrong was selling was a message rich people wanted others to hear. Compare Armstrong’s message with, for example, the message Aaron Schwartz was selling, and the outcome of the subsequent FBI Investigation into Schwartz’s activities.

Mao’s Little Red Book? Simple. A problem of liquidity. We’ve been giving rich folk billions of pounds every day to help poor folk. We can’t keep doing that (see Pickwick).  We’ve being building nuclear reactors since the end of the 1950s, but we’ve asked the Chinese Government to send experts to build one at Hinkley Point. This creates in the region of 25 000 jobs. With or without the Chinese, or any other nationality this creates around the same number of jobs. Crucially, though, the Chinese have agreed to finance it. In the short-term they transfer a few digits from their machine’s finance model, we add it to ours. We agree to the costs of any mishaps and the hundreds of thousands of years it takes to get rid of spent fuel rods. We subsidise the Chinese economy by moving money from the poor in this country to the rich in the Chinese economy. I suppose it makes a little change from subsidising the rich in this country. Win-win. Apart from the far more worrying Balance of Trade deficit. But that’s another story. I’m sure when that nice Mr Osborne will deal with it when he’s Prime Minster in five years’ time. Merry Christmas, Boris Johnson. Now there’s an angel for you. He doesn’t look like Clarence Oddbody for nothing. He winging it for now, but we’ll see how he turns out.

Requiem Ronnie

Celtic 1—Ajax 2.

writing on the wall..jpg

If you’re looking for proof – here it is. Score first. Concede a daft goal. Concede a late goal. Out of Europe. For the neutral it was a great game, end to end stuff. I’m not a neutral. Griffiths was probably Celtic’s worst player. He had a shocker – and yet he and his goals have carried us of late. You can look at that.

Compare Griffiths to Samaras. Both were poster boys for different Celtic managers. Griffiths with his work rate and Samaras with his long hair.  Lennon liked Samaras, but when Samaras was telling us he deserved a new contract and was a centre-forward, we had to look at the facts. Two goals as a centre-forward in a season tells its own story.  I like Ronnie, but perhaps he can explain how and why he doesn’t do something about Celtic conceding two goals in Europe almost every time they play. I joked before the game that Ajax would have a goal of a start. I didn’t count on two. Unlucky isn’t on the Celtic badge.

Positives. Well, for the money men the three Europa league ties have already been sold as part of a package. Going to Turkey and being home for Christmas doesn’t come into it. Wooly jumper time.

The Treble is still on. Yawn. Yawn.

Kieran Tierney’s story will run and run. Quite why he was taken off near the end of this game, I don’t know.

We’ve got the best young players in Scotland (which isn’t much). It was good to see Scott Allan in a Celtic jersey. We’ve got the best youth set-up in Scotland by a mile. Ryan Christie is still to come in from Sunday’s opponents Inverness. Whether that can translate into anything worthwhile I don’t know.  Maybe Ronnie does.

mgregors goal against ajax.jpg

David Moyes was at the game last night and so was Rod Stewart, either of them could be the next Celtic manager to win the treble. That will be Dermot Desmond’s shout.

We’ll plod through the remainder of the season. League already won. Hope we don’t have a shocker against one of the diddy teams and get to the last game of the season in May, when this day will be forgotten, and it’ll be the Scottish Cup Final. Bag the league cup in the Spring, but it won’t put a spring in our step.

These capitulations in Europe cast a very long shadow. Ronnie, like Georgios, may talk a good game, but when we start counting and it’s money that counts, we may hear a different story. Not lost glory, but around £30 million. Kerching!


michael watson.jpg

Near the end of Ropeburns, author and narrator, Ian Probert, bumps into Rob Douglas. If you’re like me you’ll not have a clue who Rob Douglas is. You’d know who Rab Douglas is – the ex-Celtic goalie that kept making a hash of it in the biggest matches of the season, most notably against Rangers. Football always finds a new way to smack you in the mouth, and I’m biased that way. Think Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and you’ll get something of the taste of Ropeburns, but the latter outclasses the former in every way. It’s a straight knockout in the early rounds.

I’ve nothing against Nick Hornby, I’m sure he’s a great bloke. But Fever Pitch is kind of wanky. A middle-class kinda bloke, (think Hugh Grant or John Cussack and make them bald) a school teacher, follows his great love for Arsenal to its natural conclusion and they win the league and he gets the girl and some mega-book deal that puts him at the top of the tree and he gets to write screenplays because – just fuck off.

Rod Douglas the former British middle-weight title holder would soon give that short shrift. Like me, I’m sure he’d be more interested in the Rocky road to redemption of living in squats, flinging tellys through the window and pissing your life away before it’s begun. Then that magical moment when Ian does something right, he writes a feature for Boxing News and it gets printed. He gets £50, but more than that. A snowball’s chance for life change and it gains momentum.  Ian hooks up with budding world champion Michael Watson at his local gym and he gets lucky. They both get lucky. Watson knocks out Nigel Benn and he’s on the way up. Ian Probert is pulled with him into the orbit of boxing and boxers and the bullshit that makes the news. He should know, he worked as a sport’s writer and agent. He made the connection, then lost them. So when Ian Probert sits down in a café with a middle-aged Rod Douglas and tells him ‘that he is writing a boxing book that is not about boxing’ you’ve got to believe in him. Knock out.

call me Dave.

dave from the hood.jpg

Beveridge’s giants to slay: ignorance.

I’ve shown quite a lot about discriminatory bias in the past. (It’s the economy stupid!) And I’ve written quite a bit, perhaps too much, about how those nice Conservative gentlemen in government, who won an election victory fair and square (well, kinda and not even kinda in Scotland) are simple folk who want to make the world better by handing increasingly large sums of money to rich folk to help poor folk get richer. But it’s Pantomime season and I like this story. I’m sometimes not sure who is the back end of Dobbin, David Cameron or George Osborne. The latter pickpocketed money from poor folk, but perhaps he hoped they wouldn’t notice his weasley scheme, and if they did, he’d be Prime Minister himself by them and could blame someone else. Now, even I’m flabbergasted.

John Niven, in the Sunday Mail, shows David Cameron really must believe that when we pull back the curtain and he’s peddling furiously, moving the scenery and shouting, telling us where we went wrong and how we can make it right – that he actually believed it. The Conservative Prime Minister writes to a Conservative council leader Ian Huspeth in Oxford and asks him why he’d made such dreadful cuts to ‘frontline services’ such as care of the elderly. Couldn’t the councillor made savings by sacking some dreadful working-class people that weren’t needed, not hired people that were needed, and sold off some surplus land and council properties. But Dave says Councillor Huspeth I’ve already sacked 2 800 staff, sold off all our ‘surplus property’ to try and make up our £72 million deficit because we get 37% less from central government than we got last year. Surely you can see that? And we’ve not even made inroads to the cuts needed for this year.

‘Sure,’ said Dave. ‘Don’t tell your mum and I’ll slip you the odd £100 million.’

[Hint: I made Dave’s reply up]

This week – last week

peace in paris

This week I’m reading about the attack on Paris. I don’t need to tell you about it. The media is full of front-line news on continual loop. It’s got that feel of 9/11 about it, but closer to home.

Last week I was reading Reportage, Cemetery of Lost Souls, photographer Giles Duley on the Greek Island of Lesbos, where many refugees end up on the beach. Some die, as the image of the Syrian boy that went global show. Perhaps it softened Western European perceptions of refugees a little, and for a short time, but most live. On that day 3rd November 2015 an estimated 7000 men, women and children had landed. Two men and two children had drowned. An Afghan father, with baby in arms, tries to find a place to for his wife and child to sleep. Here we are in the familiar world. When the father asks at a local hotel for a place to stay it wouldn’t surprise us if he’s shown round the back to a stable and a couple of guys riding camels appear with gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. That doesn’t happen. The proprietor explains there’s nowhere left. Families are sleeping where they fall and they can’t even offer blankets. The father’s response is poetic, ‘Touch me, am I not human too?’

The answer of course is he’s not. Shylock says much the same thing to Salerio in The Comical History of The Merchant of Venice (although I can’t say I see much comedy):

   I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

Solerio describes Shylock as, ‘A creature that did bear the shape of a man’. In the same way David Cameron, accidentally, on purpose, described refugees across the channel as ‘a swarm’. Swarms aren’t human, but something that needs to be contained. Shylock is a creature that is kicked, spat upon, and beaten. Shakespeare understood power. There’s been a shift in power and perceptions of what needs to be done. The disturbing news that Isis terrorists posed as refugees, at least one with a Syrian passport, passing through the Greek island of Leros in October and from there into mainland Europe, is a godsend to the far right. Overnight Angela Merkel and Germany’s humanitarian response to the movement of three million refugees is called into question, as is her leadership. Razor wire and border controls are the new real-politik. Poland’s new right-wing government have refused to play by the rules and take the 160 000 refugees that were to be re-located in their country as part of a pan-European agreement. As all those tens of thousands refugees hunker down in whatever shelter they can find tonight they will find that the Muslims are the new Jews. In this more bitter world, right-wing voices demands its pound of flesh. They will pay and keep paying, because what other choice do they have?

Your Days are Numbered.

It’s in the papers – so it must be true


I read the papers on a Sunday, starting at the back with the sports’. It’s called haruspex, a bit like looking from omens that Celtic are getting better by examining a sacrificed animal’s liver, and I wear my green-tinted specs when looking over the evidence. If the portents are good, or sufficiently bad, I’ll read the real news.

Two stories caught my interest. I’m prejudiced like everybody else, but not prejudiced in the same way as everybody else. But these got on my goat. The first one is from Norman Silvester the Sunday Mail. It’s quite a simple story. The high-hied yins of the police have decided they don’t like smartphones. They’re not banning them. Gee-whiz thanks Mr Dixon of Dock Green. But they’re just reminding us that they can and will take smartphones off us for obstructing justice and preventing their officers performing their duties. I’ll translate. No I won’t. If you don’t understand what they mean you shouldn’t have a smartphone, because you’re not smart enough to use it. But I’m prejudiced here too. I’ve not got a smartphone.

But I’d just add as a clincher, they quote FBI boss James Conway. He tells us smartphones have led to a rise in violent crimes in the US. Police officers in ghettos don’t put on a uniform and go shooting black people without good reason. I know that.  See, I’m smart that way. If I’d a smartphone I’d be violent and I’d be out mugging grannies. Filming it and putting it on YouTube.

The second story that got on my goat comes from Carole Cadwalladr and it’s all about MOPAC, which sounds, if you stretch it a bit like the bleating of some animal. I love these acronyms. It makes everything sound so modern and sensible. I’m not even going to tell you what it means, because you’d just be disappointed. You probably don’t remember when landowners, such as the Duke of Buccleauch, or Duke of Argyle, or pretty much any noblemen used to have the power to raise their own private armies. Here have a few regiments they used to say to whoever was king or queen. You probably don’t remember when there used to be a private police force. Good news. It never went away. London boroughs are offering a buy-one-and-get-one-free. £200 000 a year will buy three police officers and the public purse will fund another three. Hampstead and Highgate are getting a couple of those MOPACs for themselves. I just hope these officers bow their heads and salute as their owners pass in their cars. Perhaps they could train their children to fling rose petals. They could live in a gatehouse and make deliveries on demand. Do a bit of gardening work to supplement their income. Convene a Neighbourhood Watch scheme in case anybody has smartphones, know how to use them, and subvert the natural order of things.

Celtic 1 – Molde 2


Celtic 1 – Molde 2

One of my fellow bloggers, Joe Black, suggested after watching Celtic get beaten in the away tie by Molde that they were rubbish and not one of them would get in the Celtic team. I can’t argue with that. Ronnie Deilia whose impressive record of winning the Norwegian title with a little known team, the equivalent of managing a team such as Hamilton, and winning the Scottish Premier League,  said the very same thing. None of the Molde team are good enough for Celtic. In our Europa League section Molde have 10 points. They have beaten Celtic in back to back ties. They have drew with Ajax at home. We got a decentish result in Holland, or in other words we weren’t soundly beaten. Molde have beaten Fernebahce away. We drew with the group favourites at Parkhead, after being two goals up. This is a familiar pattern. We regularly lose one or two goals in European competitions. Last night we lost two. Could have been more. Eighteen-year-old Kieran Tierney was the one shining light that Celtic have made progress under Deila. Celtic have breezed Scottish football. Salaries are a conservative ten times more than their rivals. But it’s got to be asked, are any of this Celtic team, Tierney apart, good enough for Celtic.

Walk me through it. Craig Gordon? Decent, but seems to have went backwards. Came out and flapped at a cross ball last night and nearly cost us a goal. Good kick outs. Good reflexes. You’d expect that and a bit more from a Celtic keeper, but when was the last time he made a save that mattered?

Michael Lustig unlucky with a header, which brought a great save from the Molde keeper. Spectator with Boyata as Mohammed Elyanoussi hit a strike from the edge of the box to beat Gordon. I don’t like Celtic players to be spectators. Attack and be a participant or you are just not Celtic class. Lustig is often injured and can’t be relied on defensively.

The problem with Dedryck Boyata is that he’s not injured enough. We’ve already bought him from Manchester City and can’t wrap him up in a box, with Effe Ambrose attached, in a two-for-one deal- and send him back with a ‘no-thanks’ note.

Jozo Simunovic lasted around three minutes. He played 90 minutes in the away tie against Ajax, where he did ok, but tended to get bullied by centre forwards going for high balls. That doesn’t fill me with confidence. But we’ll wait and see. So far so bad, something of the Daniel Prodan about him.

Tyler Blackett, a replacement for Simunovic. Let me put it this way. When the choices of a replacement are Blackett or Eff Ambrose, the latter who regularly sells at least one goal in every big game and is congratulated when he doesn’t, and when the replacement finally turns out to be Blackett, then you’re pleased. But after the game you wish it had been Ambrose. That’s how bad Blackett played. Blackett’s been on the fringes of Manchester United’s first team. He’ll be on the fringes of Celtic’s first team. That’s how bad we are. I imagine Celtic will not be extending the loan deal and they’ll be looking upstairs for some clause that can send him back early.

Michael Tierney. Last ditch tackle. Ran all night. Went forward. God bless you. Celt through and through.

Kris Commons. I’m biased here. I like Celtic midfielders to score over thirty goals in a season. And he did it here. Flukey, but they all count. If he scores he stays and plays. If he doesn’t score he doesn’t. Simple. Didn’t come back on for second-half horror show.

Stefan Johansen, played a deeper role than normal, played like he normally does of late. Shite. Certainly not a patch on the Scottish Player of the Year winner he was last year. Whatever’s happened to him he’s going backwards. Inhabits a Celtic shirt but doesn’t fill it.

Nir Biton had an early goal chopped off for offside. Another player that has went backwards. Decent at times – but that was last year. Injured all the time. In a second-half reshuffle in a managerial masterstroke in which we replaced substitute Blackett a couple of times just to make sure he was coming off, Biton went back into defence. Maybe try playing him in defence at centre half. Not doing it in midfield. Was sent off here. Talk of him being a transfer target. The way he’s been playing he can fuck off now.

Tom Rogic is a big boy and he was playing in that advanced midfield role, only he wasn’t. He didn’t do much wrong, caught ball watching (like the rest of the team) at Molde’s first goal. Didn’t do much right. The clock’s ticking on his career at Celtic. Needs to pick up his game big style.

Stuart Armstrong. Invisible. Left Celtic playing with ten men (or nine men and Blackett). An intelligent guy. Celtic don’t carry deficits.

Leigh Griffiths is our number 9 on merit. He’s scoring a goal a game. He was flagged offside and interfering with play for the Bitton shot which was ruled off for offside. That’s understandable.  A few minutes later he’d the ball in the net, also ruled off for offside. Unlucky with a header. But like any Celtic striker, 30 plus goals a season should be a minimum. He’s half way there before Christmas. Good start. Promising.

Our management duo, non fatman and robin. Taking Blackett off for Blackett was good. I’m not really buying into all this fitness thing. What are other teams doing going to McDonalds and eating cheeseburghers instead of training?  Daniel Hestad bullied our defence to score and had a comfortable night and he’s forty. Class should tell in the end. Keep getting beaten and losing the same type of goals over and over, we will follow you. They might have the answer stored somewhere in the fat cave, but they better bring it out pronto. It’s not disrespectful to talk about the treble. It’s stupid not to. Just as its stupid not to think if things don’t improve in Europe our directors aren’t no jokers and they’ll change things for the dynamic duo. Roar. Roar.

Imagine. Antony Gormley: Being Human BBC 1, 10.35pm

gormley angel of the north

Like Antony Gormley, best known for Angel of the North, I can imagine being human. I can imagine lots of things. As a wee boy I imagined what it would be like to live in a sweet shop, to slay a dragon, or right every wrong. There were lots of things I wouldn’t admit to imagining. Like Antony Gormley I came from a big Catholic family, big on Catholicism, five kids and a few near misses. There was seven children in Gormley’s family, he was the youngest. Like me Antony Gormley hitchhiked to Lourdes, the Disneyland of Catholic faith, and had a look around. Lots of clerical big wheels, plaster cast Virgin Mary with doe eyes, and lots of people that should have been working and not kneeling about, scrounging and claiming supernational benefits. I hitchhiked to Biaritz, where women showed their tits. Antony Gormley had to go one better. He went to India for two years. Discovered a skill he developed as a kid, his inner guru, how to meditate and connect with that inners space that makes each person different but the same. I’ll let you decide tits, or the meaning of life? Antony Gormley channelled his search into a career as a sculptor and artist that has lasted forty years. I’m still slaying dragons.

Could I slay the Angel of the North? Aye, if I’d a sword big enough. I guess I’m one of those Neanderthal Northern wankers that shouted ‘fucking wanker’ at him when he unveiled the Angel. One of those like Yosser Hughes in Boys from the Black Stuff that claimed, I CAN DO THAT! All I would have needed was a gigantic pair of wings, like mega-aircraft wings, and a human model. A person rolled up neatly in a spider’s web, much in the way that Gormley encased himself in plaster to create casts from his body of the universal everyman, but also something more than human, gigantic and intimate, like the Angel. I’d have been one of those spitting mad, flinging bottles as his installation in Northern Island during the Troubles and seeing it as gigantic waste of public money. And I’m ashamed. Because all art is a waste of money, a luxury good, an added extra. So begins the choreographed championing of ignorance. The burning of books and those that write them. Nice things only for the deserving rich.

But I’m not wholly penitent in sackcloth and ashes. His Florence installation, cuboid and classical Gormley figures still leaves me cold. And I’m with those marvellous Italian cleaners who separated the chaff from the wheat, the cigarette douts for the bins and recycled glass and binned a modern art installation. Tracey Emin’s unmade bed needs spin washed. When a warehouse containing her ‘artwork’ burnt down, you can imagine how gutted I was. Tens of millions in insurance compensation paid to the ‘artist’ just wasn’t enough? Art has always been about fashions. The next big thing. Marketing more important than the product being marketed. Take bottled water. Anyone that buys it in Britain (and in Scotland in particular) should have mug tattooed with Indian ink on their forehead. That’s my opinion. Arts different from other commodities, but quantified and given monetary value, it isn’t.  It’s only human to think the Emperor has no clothes. Well, sometimes, he or she hasn’t.

Pat McDaid marries Pauline (nee Ward) McDaid


Pat did me a favour. His wedding was in the Town Hall. He knows I can’t be bothered going anywhere, but it was only ten minutes along the road if you were walking. But it wasn’t all plain sailing or even walking, since I took my van, and even took my partner Mary. Celtic were playing Aberdeen in a big top of the table clash at 12.30pm. Pat’s wedding was at 2pm. You can see my dilemma, can’t you?

Pat should have planned it better. I’m not blaming him. But he should be getting better at it, he’s already been married once, and he’s not even as old as me.

Anyway, I’ve been to lots of funerals lately. And I guess both offer free drinks and a free meal, but only one has a stinky corpse. There was no way of getting out of it. I had to go.

We were fashionably early, 1.58 pm, parked up and met Betty McCann wandering about and searching for an entrance to the building. Vince, her partner, said he didn’t recognise me without my lawnmower, which is my kind of joke, because it’s not funny. We followed them inside. It’s always good to have someone to blame if you’re in the wrong place. Old folk take the fall. We were just through the back bit of the museum and into an adjoining hall. I took the credit for following the right kind of people.

Pat was at the front, waiting for his bride. Stevie McCann, the best man, was beside him fizzing about like a firework. He’s the best man for being uncomfortable with being the best man, but the best man for the job. The place was already mobbed. We took seats in the back row. I pushed right along to the end. Mary sitting beside me. The back row has got a bit of street cred and sure enough Bernie (Bernadette) McCann and Kenny joined us in the back row. Mags and wee Rab, who didn’t cut the mustard as back-row material drifted in just before the piper droned to the wedding dirge. Pauline floated in, white dress, bridesmaids and, well, you can imagine, she was wasting valuable drinking time and everybody was hoping she and the registrar would hurry up and get on with it.

The registrar had announced the ceremony would be short. She had requested that everyone turn their phones off and that nobody take a fly look at the Celtic score. Alright. I just made that last bit up, but it was just a thought at the time. What she hadn’t requested was people shut up during the ceremony.

Being in the back row, of course, as all those years of going in school trips, and everyone knows, makes you invisible. Mary and Bernie wittered, snorted and giggled all the way through the ceremony. The fitted two-years of gossip into twenty minutes. It might seem, looking from the outside, everyone was turning round and staring sideways, that kind of feat was a physical impossibility, but you’ve never heard these two talking. Even the bagpipes and Pat and his new bride walking down the aisle didn’t shut them up.

We were free to get a drink and the drink was free. Are there any sweeter words in the Bannkie vocabulary?  Mary had a quick one-two vodkas. I, of course, was more restrained. I played tig, with Laughing Boy’s son, Jack. He’s only six and could never catch me. I guess that’s maturity for you. He wanted to go outside to play, not outside, outside, but a spot through the glass, separated from Hall Street by a wall from the old Municipal baths. There was grass and a few trees and old stone benches which I told him were tombstones under which my mum and dad were buried. Pat and Pauline, the newlyweds, were outside, doing that photo thing that takes several lifetimes. The weather was great. I told Pat if he fancied a break and perhaps a few drinks I’d stick his jacket on and take his place in the wedding photos as the betrothed. Nobody would notice, as nobody ever looks at more than one wedding photo. But, although we were mates, I wasn’t willing to put the white dress on and fill in for Pauline.

Wee Jack had a great time. There were a few hedges. Ornamental, but I showed him how to jump over them and do the Grand National. He bucked and stopped short, but soon got the hang of it. We had to be waved away as our jumping about in the background was spoiling the wedding photos. Spoilsports.

Between the grass and hedges of the Grand National were paths filled with blue stone. Jack asked if we could eat them. I said they didn’t taste too bad, but he was too smart for me and didn’t try any.

The main hall was ready for the meal and more free drinks. Laughing Boy was meant to be sitting at a table away from us. He thought that was Pat’s idea, but it was actually mine. But anyway LB wangled a chair at our table. Me, Mary, Robert, Mag’s – LB wangled a chair in here – Tracey (Stevie the best man’s wife) Andy Rat and Mrs Rat. Well, she wasn’t actually a rat and they weren’t married. But I’m not very good with names. Everybody took photos of each other with their camera-phones, apart from me. I’m not  photogenic, didn’t have a phone and I don’t like cameras. That’s two good reasons, out of three, but not good enough, I got stitched up and ended up online.  Mags had said the Mrs Rat looked like Simon le Bon’s wife, because she was tall. Kinda taller than her she meant. Even Robert’s taller than Mags and he doesn’t look like Mrs le Bon, but we’ll let that roll.  So I called her Mrs Rat, Mrs le Bon, for a while and Mary wittered away with her. Andy Rat managed to swap the wine we didn’t like for something cheaper and nastier Clydebank people would drink in extremis. Red Rossi, Buckfast for the better class of person. I’d the vegetarian option. Lovely. Most everybody else had steak-pie and potatoes. Funeral grub. But it went down well.

I met Mark McCann in the gents and he told me Stevie had writing twenty-three pages for his best-man speech. I expected him to cut it down a bit to a shouted ‘Well done, big Man’ and leave it at that. He’s not one for being in the limelight. Stevie did well.

My Mary did less well. We were sent merrily on our way as they cleared the tables for the dancing into the adjoining room we’d be in earlier. Two seats. About fifty folk. Made the musical chairs of the Ranger’s board look like a tea party. I got one chair, but gave it up to Betty, because she was slightly older. Mary had another vodka. If I’d been counting I’d have said that was about her tenth. Four freebies. Two from LB. Couple from me. Few glasses of Rossi red. This vodka didn’t work like the other vodkas. She tried to hold the glass horizontal, which I guess is better than upside down. I’ve just wrote a blog about physics, called ‘seven lessons’.

‘You’re steamin’ I said.

I’m the bad guy. Coco and slippers. Up the road before ten. Usual Saturday night.