Amy Liptrot (2016) The Outrun.


Amy Liptrot (2016) The Outrun.

I like to give Scottish authors a chance. I read an extract by Amy Liptrot in The Observer ( and bought the book because I liked it. Sometimes life is that simple. What I like about it is it’s honesty. When I read Sooz’s diaries online (Harpie in ebooks) I often laugh. Yes, I’m a cruel vindictive person that revels in other folk’s misery, but only if I can imagine that could have happened to me, or did happen to me. A good book resonates with the reader and Liptrot certainly knows how to pull you in.

Liptrot admits that she’s not a great fan of Alcoholics Anonymous, but she is a devotee and that she is powerless over alcohol, and that her life had become unmanageable. We can use the past tense here. On page 248, she tells the reader she has been sober for twenty-three months. And then the reader is told ‘Orkney is trying to keep me’ and I’ll be two-years sober in the spring solstice. Anniversaries are important in AA. Place is the flip side of time, and I’m reminded of a line in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Futility’, ‘At home whispering of fields unsown’.

On Saturday a guy slapped me on the back and said, ‘That’s me been twenty-seven years sober.’ And I said ‘well done, Jim, but you were a pain in the arse when you were drunk and you’re even worse sober.’ (kidding) And today somebody told me he couldn’t handle it and was going for a drink. That’s life on the edge of the void.

Sobriety is the standing stones that mark the book. There is a before, which takes place mainly in London. And there is an afterwords that counts the cost that takes place on an island off an island off an island – Papay, off the island of Westray, off the island off the mainland islands of Orkney—and  that is off the greater island of self.

Liptrot marks out the territory well. As you’d expect there are a lot of prepositions that mark out the relations of place.  For example, home, ‘On my first day back I shelter behind an old freezer, down by some stinging nettles…The farm is on the west edge of the main and largest island in Orkney, on the same latitude as Oslo and St Petersburg, with nothing but cliffs and oceans between it and Canada…To the south, the farm stretches along the shore to sandier land, which becomes the Bay of Skull, a mile-long beach, where the Stone Age village Skara Brae, sits. To the north…’ This is the land that shaped Amy Liptrot this is home.

A place she raged against ‘I didn’t ask to be born here’ and longed to escape from to more glamorous shores of London. But defeated by drink Liptrot beats a retreat worthy of Napoleon’s army fleeing from Moscow in cruelest winter. London leaves its marks on her. There’s a lump on her head, when she got into a car with a guy she didn’t know and he tried to knock her out and rape her. But perhaps more painful is the boyfriend she lived with who couldn’t take any more of her drinking and histrionics and fled while she was at work, in an office job she was made redundant from –and left her empty, a void she tried to fill with even more booze.

Drinking is always a story of the void. Liptrot knows that better than most and how the fates tempt her, the Scylla and Charybdis, of a vodka bottle washed up on the shore at her feet on the island of Papay where there are more birds than humans. And she wants to take that ‘mouthful of oblivion’ sent by the sea, but keeps walking and thinking instead. The rhythm of movement, of therapy, art and salvation. Keep moving, keep growing, become something you are not. That’s not the answer, but perhaps that’s a beginning. One day at a time.


Not the housing problem again.

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I’m going to start boasting now. So if you’re the type that turns off the computer when someone posts a Facebook picture of their dinner or their cat or both – look away now. I got an O’Grade in something when I was younger. Yeh, hard to believe, but it was in economics. I found it quite simple. If something wasn’t a problem of supply then it was a problem of demand. Multiple choice A or B. Fifty-fifty chance of being one or the other. I might have been thick but I wasn’t daft.

Take the plunging oil price. A problem of oversupply. Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, the big three are swilling in the stuff, and the latter has frackers ready to scale up production when the global price of energy increases. Iran is scaling up oil production. The UK with less than one percent of oil production isn’t a global player, but for Scotland mooted tax revenues would provide around ten to fifteen percent of total revenues it hurts, but let’s be crude, Saudia Arabia without oil is a worthless piece of sand. Demand for oil has dropped, mainly because China has cut back on its frenetic building programmes. Oil traders and investors talk about a pain threshold –which will force the price up.

Forcing the price up is seen as a good thing for countries like Saudi Arabia, but I want to look at something closer to home. Housing.

Housing is a barometer of the British economy. Since the great British giveaway of council housing in the nineteen eighties property prices have just kept going up and up and up. That’s seen as a good thing. Our wealth increasing in windfall profits.  Investors, such as the Russians and Chinese know a sure thing when they see it. And the property market has boomed. Even the 2008 crash hardly made a dent on property prices, particular in the capital, London. Win-win. Britain is a good place to live, if you’re rich. And you don’t even have to live here, you can still make money.

Demand for housing has been increasing. An estimated 200 000 houses need to be built every year just to stand still. This pushes prices up even higher. And the market rate for housing drags up the price the council householders have to pay. The recent furore of ‘rich’ council house tenants having to move out to make room for the poor is a good example of supply not meeting demand. But let’s look at it another way –as an opportunity.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a statement saying something quite radical last week (well radical for them) it advised its members, 34 wealth countries, to ease spending cuts and spend more on infrastructure. I’ll interpret this for you. Interest rates hovering above or below zero (negative interest rates in Japan) and quantitative easing both of which directly and indirectly give money to the rich by propping up stock markets and lifting housing prices out of the reach of the poor is not working (wealthiest 10% raised their financial stake in the UK economy from 56% in 2008 to 65% in 2014). The OECD advised member states to turn off the taps of quantitative easing and invest in tangible assets. Some would call this socialism. It’s certainly Keynesian. And a return to common sense.  It exposes the big lie that austerity works.

I look forward to the day when I read that due to overcapacity house prices plunge. Traders are selling because no one is buying. The link between rising house prices and windfall profits is cut and the supply of housing meets the demands for homes and not as a tool for parking wealth and watching it grow. I look forward to the day when poor people can afford to live in London. I look forward to the time when the Scottish government, borrows money at zero interest starts training youngster in the skills needed to construct housing and builds houses for the future. I don’t think that it’s too much to ask to stop giving money to the rich and build housing for the poor. Invest in the green sector and invest in housing and a better future. Then again I wasn’t that good at economics. There seems to be an oversupply of rich people wanting something for nothing and getting it. Britain is a good place to live if you’re rich. Let’s make it a good place to live if you’re poor. Build homes for the future, but build them now.

The mad, the bad and the sad. Your number’s up.

Suzanne O’Sullivan (2015) It’s All in Your Head. True Stories of Imaginary Illness.

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I like stories of imaginary illnesses. Dr Faraday in Sarah Waters The Little Stranger errs on the side of caution and attributes a collective form of psychosomatic illness to the aristocratic Ayre’s family staying at rundown Hundreds Hall, and the subconscious as place and time combine, the equivalent of old cartographers whom declared this be the end of the world, here be ghosts. The coroner at Caroline’s death was quite happy to accept that she died while her mind was unbalanced. I thought it was her body that toppled over the balcony, but there you go, it was her mind. The two are inextricably linked.

Wilkie Collins in The Woman in White has private asylums, doppelgangers and rich hypochondriac uncles that can’t bear loud noise, or indeed most everyday noise, as key parts of his plot.

Suzanne O’Sullivan touches on The Devils of Louden and it’s clear that she doesn’t think there was anything devilish about them. O’Sullivan calls for a compassionate response to those suffering from illness, whether mental or physical, because one impinges on the other. Fling in Abigail Williams from The Crucible. It takes more than one to cry witch, to be heard and collective responsibility must be taken seriously. One of my favourite stories wasn’t directly about the sad, the mad or the bad, but the gullibility of the rich for new fads.

I’m biased in that way. Those that could afford a nurse and private asylum in Collins’s time would be treated far better than those in Bethlem Royal Hospital that coined the term Bedlam.  Just before the start of the First World War a young Winston Churchill was calling for the creation of purpose-built asylums where feeble-minded men and women could be segregated from the general population. Sterilisation of women would be compulsory to ensure they did not reproduce. These measures were introduced in some American states. Eugenics is a rallying call against the poor. I like to listen to rallying calls against the rich. If you want to look at how the poor were treated during the First World War for shell shock Pat Barker’s Regeneration novels shows the dichotomy of how anthropologist, ethnologist, neurologist and psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers treated officers of the ruling class at Lockhart hospital, most notably Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, and how Rivers’s counterparts tortured working-class soldiers until they were reported fit for duty. Post-traumatic-stress disorder treated with electric shocks to make the blind see and the lame walk is nothing new. If you’ve got an imaginary friend you better get on the blower to him quick style.

Julian Barnes short story ‘Harmony’ tells the story of a young musical prodigy Maria, born 15th May 175-. The child’s health was normal, until she woke up blind at the age of three and half. It was held to be the perfect case of amaurosis, there was no fault detectable in the organs of the eyes, but she was blind. Her condition was attributed to some fright the she received during the night. Her musical education continued and the blind infant prodigy was much sought after in royal courts throughout Europe. M—sought to cure her with magnetism, with some success, but Maria’s parents were not blind to society’s measuring rod and blind prodigy was a mere prodigy without her condition.

O’Sullivan notes that whilst psychosomatic disorders may be thought of an illness of perception, there’s no escaping the damning statistic that seventy percent of such disorders are suffered by women. She draws not just on local knowledge but a wide body of research. A 2011 German study, for example, showed that twenty-two percent of those attending the equivalent of our GPs had a somatising disorder. Somatising disorder means that although the illness the patient comes to get treated for is real enough for the patient those treating the patient can find no organic reason why he or she is presenting those symptoms. The World Health Organisation 1997 estimated that twenty percent of those attending their doctor had at least six ‘medically unexplained symptoms’.  More recent pilot studies in London confirms the WHO’s findings. They are the imaginary friend in the room with doctor and patient. Hollywood is good at this kind of thing. Think The Three Faces of Eve, but the patient has only brought two faces into the consulting room and is presenting with a bit of a cough. Some of the cases presented by O’Sullivan are highly symbolic and could be said to be straight forward. The woman that goes blind and is unable to keep her eyes open after her husband is taken to jail for abusing a neighbour’s child. Women that take pseudoseizures (or dissociative seizures) at work. The language is useful and how the patient describes their seizure has been modelled and analyses to differentiate between psuedoseizures and epileptic seizures. One behavioural, the other which can be accurately measured by EEG. With no increased electrical activity in the brain O’Sullivan asks and answers the question are they real? Yes and No.

O’Sullivan widens the scope to those outside her practice whom she has come into direct contact with. The estimated 250 000 reported cases classified as Myalgic Encephalomylitis (ME) and/or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Two million CFS cases are documented in The United States.  The disease or syndrome is real enough for those suffering from it. Each new case is looking for a cure, another test, another diagnosis.

The neurologist Weir Mitchell rest cure was a response to Charcot’s definition of hysteria in women extreme fatigue, but geared towards rich men in Philadelphia. The crème de la crème who were thinking too much and suffering from neurasthenia. Patients were force fed fatty foods to build them up. Discouraged from standing. A bedpan was brought to them for their toilet needs. They could not read. Have conversations, or have any type of stimulation. Although this sounds much like my local pub, they were charged extraordinary amounts of money for their cure. If the cure didn’t work, apply more cure.

Our government’s response is  predictable, a wooly response, to place wellbeing at the centre of their strategy; delay of the publication of critical report,  A Five Year Forward View for Mental Health; promises of more money for NHS Mental Health services, a mooted figure of £1 billion to ‘plug gaps in service’; whilst as Daniel Boffey notes ‘incentivising’ the 250 000 with recognised psychiatric conditions to find work by cutting currently classified as disabled from £102.15 per week to 72.40 per week. Using the government’s template those with ME or CFS could be ‘incentivised’ to be cured by cutting disability payments to a more manageable figure of £0.00.

As O’Sullivan notes most ME/CFS sufferers have good reason to be defensive. Whether in or out of employment, they are regarded as the shirkers of the medical system, using up valuable resources that could be used better elsewhere. The government diagnosis of a personal defect poor people suffer from that can be instantly cured by them finding a job and the cynicism of medical staff that grow weary of test after test finding no organic reason for illness and an increasing readiness to find the failing in the patient is a potent mix. O’Sullivan calls for ‘an open mind’ but that door is already closed.

‘Neurasthenia, hysteria, melancholia, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome, myalgic encephalomyelitis, yuppie flu, dissociative seizures, psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.’

Hippocrates 200 AD suggested hysteria was too much or too little of something: black bile, yellow bile, blood or phlegm. If any of the four humours were in conjunction the trouble may be the master organ of the wandering womb and the sympathetic responses travelling in spirit form induced in the patient. I quite liked the nineteen-century idea of such conditions being down to engorgement of the nasal membrane, but then again I do have a big nose.

‘So now I’m a psycho, am I?’ asks more than one of O’Sullivan’s patients.

‘This is boring now, I think you should get better,’ Jo Marchant’s father says to his daughter in an extract of her memoir Cure.

As O’Sullivan notes, ‘In the twenty-first century psychosomatic illness is a socially unacceptable disorder’. The media plays its part in carrying the symptoms that are spread throughout the general population. But on the bright side we no longer burn people as witches.  Of course the condition, syndrome, illness or whatever label you want it put on it is a matter of perception and the votes are in. Any right-thinking type would know who can be cured will be cured, the others are psychos. In the same way the First World War the Krauts or Bosche needed more cold steel right up them to be pushed back patients with ME/CFS are a small minority of shirkers that need to find work is finding increasing traction. She is a voice of reason, but she is drowned out by those with louder voices, big sticks and the ability to push their agenda through. When we are told it is not a question of money, we can be sure it is.  O’Sullivan tells us ‘laughter can be therapeutic’. Ha. Ha. That sounds like a cheap option, but more tests will be needed.

Plan B Ronnie. Do I look like the kind of idiot that wants a season book?

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I’m not a real supporter. One of those that goes to the games week in week out. Win, lose or draw. Wind, rain, or more rain. Yesterday it was the latter. It was dreich with a capital D – as in diehard weather, in which even Bruce Willis would have been wearing a Celtic cagoule and cardigan. I opted for the pub. I love Celtic, but not that much. I’ve got a mate that’s got a season book and he’s not been to one game this season. I wouldn’t thank him for it and the reason is there on the big screen.


ronnie.jpgInverness Caly Thistle came with a game plan. I’ll tell you what it is –it’s no big secret. Every Scottish team that comes to Parkhead uses it. Mohammed Ali used it against George Foremen in The Thriller in Manila or Rumble in the Jungle (geography isn’t my strong point)and it’s called rope-a-dope. Sit in, block and ride the early punches. Ross County tried it last week at Paradise. They just weren’t very good at it. Here the Inverness played it to perfection. Fall back and let Boyata have the ball. His first three passes went straight to Inverness Caly players and Inverness began to take control of the game. I’m old enough to remember Van Vossen. Let me tell you about the Gary Warren. Boyata gives away a needless foul. The ball is whipped into the box. Craig Gordon comes out, and not for the first time the ball sails straight over him. Let me put it this way. I would have scored it from the barstool I was sitting on with big Chuck sitting beside me strapped to my back. Miss of the season. Inverness were still the better team. This was epitomised by a three against one counterattack in which if it was a training session the Caly players would have scored.

After half time Svlatchenko did what most Celtic defenders (thank god for the exception to the rule, Tierney) got on the wrong side of the opposition forward. Svalatchenko made the right decision not to pull Jordan Roberts down. Roberts made the wrong decision. He should have just crossed the ball in and it would have sailed over Gordon’s head, but he chose to place it into his midriff, which isn’t even a proper word. I’d a word for Celtic and I’ll let you imagine it.

If Caly had scored, they’d have done what they’d been doing up to that point. Their rope-a-dope tactics were working. We won 3-0 so it can’t be all bad. I’m not looking too closely at our defenders. I’m looking more at Armstrong. Invisible. Scott Brown. Invisible. Biton. Invisble. Johansen (who played quite well last week) worse than invisible. All of these are defensive players. I know it’s easier to play when a few goals up, but Scott Allan, Ryan Christie and Patrick Roberts (any boy called Patrick is one of us) came on Celtic were sweet, were before even I was booing the telly. We’ve got the Quality Street Kids to hurt teams – simple, we need to play them. It’s not about winning the league. That’s a given. It’s preparing for the Champions League preliminaries. Gerry Keenan for the Celtic job. We need the kind of guy that tell’s kids, how it is, ‘if you cannae tie your own shoelaces your no use to us’.

Where does Donald Trump (or indeed Boris Johnson) fit into The Great Gatsby?

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I’ll give you a tick box and let you decide. ‘He was a sturdy straw haired man…with rather a hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face, and he gave the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward…it was a body capable of enormous leverage – a cruel body.’ Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

He ‘conveys’…’the impression of fractiousness.  There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even towards people he liked…’ Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

His family were enormously wealthy. His wedding gift to Daisy Fay is a $350 000 pearl necklace (multiply that by ten to get something of today’s prices, or compare it with the awe which Meyer Wolfshiem holds Gatsby for being able to eat a whole $4 worth of food when they first meet). Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

When Nick Carraway first has dinner with  his cousin Daisy and husband Tom, he is reading The Rise of the Coloured Empires. Tom is worried about that. ‘Civilisation is going to pieces.’ He classifies himself as a Nordic type. He questions Daisy’s birth right, but grudgingly admits her into the Nordic fold.  These coloureds just don’t know there place. What’s worse they are breeding too much and with the wrong type of people. The message is, if we don’t watch out they’ll be taking over and we’ll be ‘utterly submerged’. And he’s just the man to tell it how it is. Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom is highly moral. Daisy’s black and blue knuckles can be taken as a sign of chastisement. He’s worried about Daisy’s friend Miss Jordan Baker. She likes to drink. ‘By God, I may be old fashioned in my ideas, but woman run around too much these days to suit me. They meet all kinds of crazy fish.’ He believes her parents should do something about it. Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom is a misogynist, but he’s a mans man, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like women. He’d a fling with the serving girl from a hotel in New Hampshire when he first married Daisy. When she breaks her leg in a car he’s driving that’s hushed up. One of those things, men do. He buys his mistress Myrtle a dog for $10 and sets her up in a room. And he patronises his mistress’s husband, Wilson, by flinging some business his way. He breaks Myrtle’s nose, when she takes Daisy’s name in vain. When Myrtle dies, he weeps for her, or so he says.  Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

‘Sun’s getting hotter ever year.’ On global warming, Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom is contemptuous of the lower classes and of his wife presumptuous enough to have a love affair with Mr Gatsby. ‘Self control!’ ‘I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife.’ He’s glad when ‘her little flirtation is over’.  He particularly contemptuous of Gatsby’s relationship with Meyer Wolfshein, not because he fixed the World Series of 1919,  and is a ‘common swindler’ but because he’s Jewish.  Tom prefers the company of swindlers of his own class, where theft is just good business practice. Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom likes to gawp at a good wreck. When he finds out it may involve him, he’s worried. But when he finds out it’s the other guy, ‘the coward’ deserves everything he gets. Anyone that’s crazy enough to kill him he’ll tell them whatever they want to hear, especially if it’s the other guy that’s going to get it, especially if everybody knows they deserve it. He’s proud to offered his guidance and done the right thing. Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Tom (and Daisy) are ‘careless people’. In other words they don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves.  ‘They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up their mess they have made…’ Tom Buchanan or Donald Trump?

Donald Trump wins the New Hampshire primary nomination for the Republic Party with more than double the vote of his nearest rival. Even if Donald Trump is fiction, history is going backwards.

Celtic’s top three centre-halfs.


celtic.jpgI’ve been accused of a lot of things, but I’ve never been accused of being a football player. Last week I read this was a big week for Delia. Three games that would set the pattern for his – and our season. Ross County beat us and put us out of the League Cup. Aberdeen beat us and drew level on points this weekend in the league. And East Kilbride, while they didn’t beat us, took the honours. I expected to win by four or more goals. We won 2-0. I’d also have expected some fringe players to have started. By fringe players I mean the best young Scottish talent such as Christie or Allan, or both. Who did we get? Charlie Mulgrew.

I’m not slagging Charlie. He’s decent enough to be a Scottish international. But he’s not good enough for the Celtic midfield. He might be able to find a spot in the middle of the Celtic defence. Certainly, he looks better in the air than Simunovich (who is injured again). We’ve already seen what Blackett and Ambrose, who started here at right back, can bring to the party, and we’re no longer laughing. Boyatta came to Celtic from Manchester City’s reserves and started badly and it’s been all downhill since then —  his speciality finding the opponent players with his passes out of defence. But, for some reason, I think he might come good. Let’s face it he can’t get much worse (finger’s crossed). Our recent signing Sviatchenko looks decent on the ball. That’s good, but he got beaten in the air for Aberdeen’s second at Pittodrie. In fact, Aberdeen while at one point in that game having only twenty-percent of possession, looked like scoring every time they got a corner. The great mystery isn’t that they won, but that they never scored more from cross balls. Celtic centre halfs are like Dracula cowering from crosses.

Bobo Balde despite not being able to kick a ball with either foot would go straight into this Celtic team. With 95% of balls lumped forward from the back, you’d be almost 100% certain he’d win it. But he wasn’t the best in the air. That honour goes to Paul Elliot. When playing Rangers they’d have two men, man-marking him. One in front and one behind him. And he’d still score. If he hadn’t been injured at Chelsea I’m sure he’d went on to be a fifty-plus England regular (so maybe it is a blessing then). Van Dijk wasn’t as good in the air as either of these two, but he was the best header of the ball in Scottish football in the time he was here. A partnership with him and either of these two would be ideal. What have we got now? A poor team that can’t defend. A team that will win the league but won’t qualify for Europe this year or next. We need look at the management duo now to have any real chance to do something and we really need to be looking at our defenders. Ironically, an eighteen-year old boy is our best bet. An amateur team today made us look bang average. I used to laugh at Rangers mounting a challenge. I was deluding myself. Time for a root and branch change. Start at the top.

Sarah Waters (2009) The Little Stranger

I like a good ghost story. And you can see from the number of re-prints and  the way that The Little Stranger in no stranger to the shortlist for the Man Booker that this is a good.  The book begins after The First World War then jumps thirty years to the end of the Second World War, with Dr Faraday and Hundreds Hall. The Hundreds Hall is in itself not just a Gothic backdrop but a major character in the book. It opens with Faraday an intelligent ten-year old boy being taken by his mother to the Hall for Empire Day fete. He dutifully salutes with the other Boy Scouts while Mrs Ayers and the Colonel present them with the commemorative Empire medal. Afterwards, they sat with their parents at long tables on the south lawn for a good feed. Mrs Ayres is twenty four, or twenty five, the queen of all she surveys. As a special treat, and because Faraday’s mother worked as a nursemaid in Hundreds Hall, her son is sneaked into the house to admire its opulence, and he makes his mark, stealing a decorative wooden acorn. But like the British Empire, Hundreds Hall has reached its nadir.

Dr Faraday is the third-person narrator –with the ability to recall precisely what other characters heard, or saw, or smelt, or what they said to each other – which is useful trait for any family doctor in the small and insular English village of Lipicott.  He is now an old man and bachelor of fortyish, worried what this new-fangled NHS will destroy his practice and his livelihood and leave him unable to pay debts he’s run up training to be a doctor and buying into a practice. The call out to Hundreds Hall is a welcome distraction. He has fond memories of its grandeur. But the grounds are overgrown and the stately home falling to bits.  He’s met by no one and enters the house unannounced.  Gyp, the Ayres’s family watchdog, barks and comes scuttling to announce his presence, followed by Roderick master of the house, aged twenty-six or twenty-seven, but with a gamy leg, and burns, having done his bit for the war effort, he’s at the end of his tether.  He’s followed by his sister, Caroline, a few years older. Thirtyish, unlikely to marry, but called back to duty at the Hall and to care for Roderick. Dr Farady, has been called to treat Betty, fourteen, the Ayres’s only live-in servant, but the house and its inhabitants is his real calling. Betty is feigning stomach pain and appendix problems.

Bump in the night go Gyp and the caretakers of the ancestral pile almost in the order Dr Faraday meets them. Roderick is shipped off to a private lunatic asylum, another drain on the estate’s meagre resources. But as a medical man Dr Faraday provides the voice of reason, the rational voice, to the hysterical outbursts from the women. Betty’s illness isn’t so much she wants to go home, because home is an even more dispiriting place than Hundreds Hall, rather she wants to escape the malign influence of something she can’t see, but knows is there and calls it an ‘evil servant’.  Mrs Ayres acts a mother-like figure to Betty and this allows her to manipulate the girl and cover up the little stranger’s attacks on her, the mistress of the house. Stiff upper lip, set an example and never complain is Mrs Ayres’ downfall. She believes the little stranger is her deceased first-born daughter, Susan, calling to her, metaphorically and literally, through the old pipes in the nursery. Caroline believes its poltergeist activity, a belief shared in their own way by the housekeeper and Betty. Caroline suggests the malign presence is the house is systematically targeting each of the resident’s weaknesses. She points out that the invisible attacks on Rod came in his office, which doubled as his bedroom, a place where he worried over money and how to maintain the house and estate.  Faraday’s more rational explanation for each event lacks common sense. Even his colleague suggests all that incipient sexual energy may be playing a part.

In the end it doesn’t matter.  Building tension from Gyp tearing at a little girl’s face to Dr Faraday standing alone in Hundred Hall relies on uncertainty and belief. Both rely not on the suspension of belief but a shared vision of what is happening on the page is possible, or impossible dependent on what is shown and held back, and what we believe the characters are capable of. Waters has a head start here. Previous novels set in big county piles, play rich against poor. It’s no great surprise when Mrs Ayres admitted that while she’d come to rely on Dr Faraday, she hoped Caroline would make a match from someone that was not Dr Faraday.  But Caroline seems to know her own mind. When accompanying Dr Faraday to some dreary village dance, she meets a friend, whom she doesn’t like much, but worked with as a night warden  (cameo of The Night Watch). On the way back to Hundreds Hall, Dr Faraday and Caroline have their first tryst. They park at Lemmington for a bit of backseat grappling which come back to bite. This is mirrored at the end of the novel when Dr Faraday is called out to treat an unregistered patient that has stomach pain and, unless treated, a ruptured appendix, like Betty’s phantom pains, but which would kill him and he parks again at Lemminton. By that time the parvenu Dr Faraday’s engagement to Caroline has been called off and she is selling Hundreds Hall and escaping abroad. The beauty of the ending with Dr Faraday inside tending to the Hall is the bittersweet question is he –perhaps inadvertently- not the innocent narrator he portrays himself to be, or is he too being sucked in by the house.

It’s a The Little Stranger danger that cannot be avoided.  Hundreds Hall is not the type of house you’d like to spend a night. But turning the pages night after night, well, that’s a different story.  Worth reading. Sure to be a screenplay and film.

The Trouble with Effe


I was in two minds whether to go out and have a couple of pints and watch Celtic. Well, I’ll keep you guessing what I did next. We all know the score. I had Celtic to win on my coupon. One to three, PaddyPower, but easy money.  Usually, when the diddy team beats Celtic, their goalkeeper has a blinder. Here Scott Fox didn’t play particularly well. He was workman like.  Leigh Griffiths helped hitting him with a penalty.  Ironically, since the media have been telling us how good a player he is, and how important he is, he’s been rotten. Here he should have bagged three, perhaps four and maybe even five goals overall (and a hat- trick in in the first ten minutes). This was his worst game since Molde when he was equally as profligate. But you’ve got to persevere because there are no other strikers on the bench.

Then another pattern emerges. A nothing ball through the middle of the defence. School-boy defending.  Effe Ambrose gets himself sent off. It’s not his fault because he’s Effe. We don’t need people like Chris Sutton telling us, if there’s a big game, (and this wasn’t particularly big) Effe is the one likely to turn Laurel into Hardy, because we’re watching it. Celtic fans through and through.  Here he did what Effe does. Decent enough start.  He was very unlucky not to score with a header from a corner, cleared off the line by a Ross County player. Then he missed a sitter. The type of chance that Quinn gobbled up to score County’s second. And  yes, I know Craig Gordon was being held at that goal, but deal with it. Celtic defenders can’t. Ross County showed that with Schalk and their third. And Craig Gordon didn’t cover himself in glory here.

But back to Effe. If the bookies were giving odds on Celtic player most likely to cock-up over ninety minutes only a fool wouldn’t pick out and put his money of Ambrose.  Isaac Newton gets hit by an apple and intuitively knows the laws of gravity. We get hit with Effe.  We intuitively know he’s not good enough for Celtic, shouldn’t be at Celtic and shouldn’t be first pick or even last pick.

Pattern recognition. Don’t pick him. Ronny Deila has come out and said he was responsible for Celtic’s defeat. He picks the team. Nobody is arguing with him. We go to Aberdeen on Wednesday. I’ll need a drink for that one. But win, draw or defeat, we’ll still win the league.

Pattern recognition. We’ve got the best players in Scottish football. Erik Schivatchenko looks like a good addition to the team. Certainly he should start on Wednesday night. But whether the current Celtic manager should have another pop at the Champions League qualifiers, the biggest and most lucrative games of the season—before the season has begun properly—well, I think there’s something of the Effe about Deila, it’s time to move on. The worry isn’t that Ross County beat us, and they’re not a good team, the worry is that Rangers will beat us. They’re shite, but so are we. Pattern recognition.