Karl Ove Knausgaard (2016) Some Rain Must Fall. My Struggle: Book 5. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Barlett.

Norway is one of the richest and most egalitarian places in the world. Its citizens are well catered for. Hence Karl Ove can bounce from the Writer’s Academy, where he gets a bit of paper, a certificate, saying he’s a writer, to work in a radio station when he’s called up and claims he can’t serve because he’s a conscientious objector, to another course studying Fine Art. That takes him from around aged 19 until he’s 26. By the time this instalment is finished he’s aged 32 and black font on the cover acclaims him as ‘The International Literary Phenomenon’.

There’s an episode of Father Ted when, where Father Ted, after successfully leading a group of Catholic clerics out of a women’s lingerie department where they’ve wandered into and get hopelessly lost, wins an ecclesiastic award.  Father Ted concocts a long list of people, who didn’t believe in him and he wants to put them right and get a few things straight.  Here we’ve got Karl Ove,  A la recherché du temps perdu, telling us a few home truths.

Karl Ove born in 1968 always knew he was going to be a writer, but wasn’t sure if he would make it. But he kept the faith, even when at the age of nineteen and the youngest student in the group at Writer’s Academy, his work was routinely dismantled by the staff and other students. Cliché after cliché after cliché reported his tutor on a piece of work he’d submitted. Karl Ove’s most successful piece of writing was something he plagiarised from another student. See how honest I am he’s saying, I really was a shit writer and a worse human being.   After reading his first ‘Struggle’, ‘ A Death in the Family’ and reporting back with much the same conclusion, I might have felt justified. But like Father Ted, Karl Ove proves us all wrong, wins literary award and becomes acclaimed, but he has to keep the faith to be the person he was meant to be.

Ensen, Karl Ove’s friend who lives in a nearby flat in Bergen, is one of the first of his acquaintances to be published. Karl Ove is 26 by this stage, Ensen 22. Karl Ove is gutted. He is better at drinking than writing. He’s better at playing the drums than writing. When he asks Ensen if he thought he’d get published, his friend says yeh, but he thought it would be a book of critical essays, possibly about art. That sounds very much to me like Nae chance, pal, you are incredibly boring and even though you’ve never worked, you should seriously think about getting a day job. That’s not quite true. Karl Ove works summer shifts at a mental handicap hospital and later a mental health hospital. I recognise the scenarios and the narrative of each day being a Struggle. Karl Ove is interesting here because I’ve been in similar institutions and have got a pet theory that they are much the same, wherever you go. Karl Ove offers evidence that I might be right. Karl Ove like most students gets drunk for days on end. Since it’s Norway he meets Bjork  in Iceland, which is next door, and is sick outside her apartment. But Karl Ove is one of those nasty bastards when drunk. He flings a shorts glass at his older brother Yngve, which hits him below the eye.  That’ll teach Yngve for stealing his girlfriend Ingvild, even though she wasn’t sure of him and they never properly dated. Karl Ove admits he’s a terrible person. He smashes up a phone box. The police in Bergen are brilliant. They send him up the road and tell him to sleep it off.  Even when he hooks up with and marries the girl of his dreams, Tonje, at 28 he does something so despicable he can’t bear to admit to his millions of readers. I’m not talking about the bit where he thinks Tonje, likes his brother more than him and leaves his future wife hysterical because he slashes at his face with a cut glass. The hardest cut of all is when he sleep with another woman. Her boyfriend turns nasty and accuses Karl Ove of rape.  Tonje at the end of this ‘Struuggle’ admits to Karl Ove that she’s done the dirty and slept with another man. We’re back in Book 1 territory with his father dead and his granny staying in the same house as her son, smelly, alcoholic and slightly loopy.  Karl Ove doesn’t know if he can forgive Tonje. Fuck off then. That’s what I say. But nobody ever listens to my bleating. Father Ted got it about write about writing, false modesty being a wholly Protestant failing.

 

Care, BBC 4, written by Kieran Prendiville and directed by Antonia Bird.

This is not on BBC iPlayer, which is a shame because it’s the best thing I’ve seen on telly for quite a while. It’s quite a simple story. Young Davey (Daniel Parker) gets caught shoplifting and gets sent to Lewavon Boy’s Home, a care facility run by Carodog Council in Wales, where he is sexually abused by a paedophile ring. This is shown in flashback. When the viewer sees Davey  (Steven Mackintosh) he’s a grown man. There’s something boyish about him as he plays on the beach with what we think are his kids, but Craig (Craig Roberts and Millie (Millie Phillipart) are Pauline’s (Maria Pride) not his. And they are out on a date. And it’s went swimmingly. When Davey climbs up the outside of the roan pipe to deliver a stone as a memento to Craig and the pipe collapses and he lies on his back, although he’s in pain he’s laughing at the stupidity of it. Pauline and him share a snog and you know they’re suited and going to be a couple.

The arrest and conviction of Lewavon’s care-home manager Francis Chambers (Peter Wight) for the rape and sexual abuse of boys in his care and the publicity this generates causes Davy to have flashbacks. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with reliving those years of pass the parcel of boys and men. Pauline helps talk him round that those monsters are still out there, molesting other kids, and Davey should act.

Journalist are also on his case. The media needs authentic voices, evidence, screen-time authenticity. Davey needs to be left alone.  ‘I didn’t ask to be raped,’ he says.

Another story-line shows how the insurers of Carodog Council try to limit the damage and shut down possible claims because that makes practical business sense.

Terrific. Watch this if you get a chance.

Mea Culpa – my history of pitch invasions.

Scottish Cup Final 1980. I was part of the 70 000 crowd. Pitch invasion. Brought up in a deprived home where you always wanted the Indians to beat the cowboys, and Celtic to beat Rangers, no matter the odds and how many referees and masonic linesman they had in their pockets, I wanted one of those horses the police had.  Cup-final win by a George McCluskey goal. My good mate Dav Prentice (R.I.P) was just the kind of arsehole that would say things like ‘you might have won the cup, but we won the fight’. He always did tell a lot of porkies.

Fast Forward, 1986, St Mirren 0 – Celtic 5 and a little help from God’s own Albert Kidd and I was involved in another pitch invasion. Yes, it was a glorious day at Love Street and I got to ruffle Mo Johnson’s ginger mop. If I’d have known how he was going to turn Judas, I’d have ripped it out at the roots. But this was not about aggro, or the background noise of the Huns ‘We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood, Surrender ‘till you die.’ Or the triumphalism of ‘Hallo, Hallo, We are the Billy Boys.’ This was unmitigated joy. The unbelievable believable had happened. Hibs victory was a bit like that yesterday.

The Hibees fans invasion of the park was an outpouring of joy. Pure and simple. Their season has been awful. Defeat after defeat snatched from victory. I put a bet on 35/1, Rangers to win first half, Hibs to win the game. Almost right. Almost winning is not winning. You don’t get any money back. Tough luck.

But let’s play the blame game. First up, Rangers. 2-1 up. Cruising. They blew it. Two corners. Two Hib’s goals. Terrible defending. If they’d have won there wouldn’t have been any crowd trouble, because victory was expected. Hibs fans would have drifted away. Rangers would have done their lap of honour. So the Ranger’s team blew it.

Let’s put this into context. There would have been no pitch invasion after the recent Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final, because the police were ready for it. Here they were not. The stewards didn’t do their jobs. And if the Celtic fans had invaded Hampden Park on that day it would  not have been the Rangers players they’d have (allegedly) attacked, but Celtic players for being so feeble, clueless and pitiable in defeat to our greatest rivals. Rangers had their day then. Hibs had their day yesterday. Policing was at fault. But let’s not kid on it was anything like the riot in 1980.

And perhaps some Ranger’s fans will forget that before liquidation their supporters tried to liquidate Manchester. Do not come back was the general media consensus. Well, I voted for it anyway, and Rangers since then have done their best to make sure it never happens again by being so shite.

Sure Hibs had a few supporters that wanted to fight and scrap but the vast majority on the pitch were experiencing what I had at Love Street. Rangers don’t have any hooligan supporters. Aye right. Glasgow under -17,Youth Cup Final, at Partick Thistle’s Firhill ground, Celtic win, Celtic supporters ambushed. Let’s not kid ourselves. The police failed to do what they needed to do then and at Hampden yesterday. Rangers failed their fans, in the same way as Celtic failed us when, as overwhelming favourites, we failed to deliver. Some people should start looking closer to home. And smell the glove (whatever that means).

Matthew Desmond (2016) Evicted. Poverty and Profit in the American City.

The blurb on the cover by Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks reads: ‘A masterpiece. Beautiful, harrowing and deeply human’. You may remember that Rebecca Skloot immersed herself in the story of how a poor black woman, daughter of tobacco farmer, contracted a virulent cancer that killed her, but her cells were taken without her or her family’s knowledge and literally spawned a billion-dollar industry while those left behind, her ancestors, remained in poverty. Rebecca Skloot is therefore qualified to speak about injustice, poverty and how poor black women’s lives, and that of their children, are routinely ripped apart in the US housing debacle, another billion dollar industry. Rebecca Skloot could not, however, step inside the life of Henrietta Lacks and narrate in the first person.  Although certain situation are contrived as the author has reconstructed what happened, the prose are Sontag-like and the drama equal to Dominique Lapierre’s (1985) novel City of Joy. But fiction can never shock in the way that factual does. This is Milwaukee, a typical American city,  and Matthew Desmond follows the lives of the poor black community trying to make rent and live another day between May 2008 and December 2009. But let’s not kid ourselves things have got better since then.

Two registers in which public discussion of housing poverty take place i) indifference ii) fear  it will become contagious. This feeds into anger and the blame game orchestrated by conservative politicians. We see it this side of the Atlantic with every programme that shows how real people supposedly live and have in their title ‘Benefit’.  Who benefits is never asked.

Rent payments typically take up 60%-70% of Belinda client’s income. Belinda also take a cut, $37 a month for her services, and she has 230 clients, as she helps manage the poorest of the poor’s money. The majority of the poor spend over 50% of their income on rent. Millions are evicted every year. In Milwaukee, with just over 100 000 rental units, landlords annually evict 16 000 adults and children. Many of Belinda’s clients have little left over for utilities and food. ‘Rent eats first,’ is the way Desmond phrases it and the way those on streets live it. In 2010 The New York Times reported 1 in 50 Americans lived in a household whose income consisted only of Food Stamps.    Arleen is not on Belinda’s list. She can manage her own money, but she can’t manage rent. She has three children and her daughter has two children. Arleen is one of the lucky ones, because of her chronic depression she gets government help. $20.65 a day. $7536 a year. The welfare cheque is not enough to live own. The US government’s own statistics show that time and time again. Welfare payments, frozen since 1997. Rent and utilities soar.  The problem doesn’t lie with the system, the problem lies with the person. That’s what they’re told.  Arleen, her daughter and her grandchildren all choose to be poor, choose to live in poverty. They do stupid things, like buy face cream, instead of putting the money aside and saving for a new and better future.  Arleen has given up hope of applying for housing assistance. Landlords, like Shareen, love housing assistance, because it can be paid directly to them, and her clients would only have to pay around 30% of their income to her. And not the 60% -70% that most pay. Or in Arleen’s case she has promised the whole of her next cheque. $675 in the hope that Shareen will not evict her. Shareen is astute. She takes the cheque for back rent and still evicts Arleen. There’s millions of reasons of evicting a family. Toss a coin.  Heads, landlords like Shareen or Tobin, who runs a trailer park, win. Tails, tenants lose. That’s the way the system works. Seventy-five percent of families do not live in public housing and do not qualify for housing vouchers. In places like Washington DC the waiting list for public housing is closed and those on the list can expect to wait several decades to get a house.

There’s more money in misery that in affluence. Renters pay for the property. They act as caretakers and when a sink gets blocked or a bath blocked or report bugs running along the walls they can report it to their landlord, to be told it’s their fault and receive an eviction notice, or they can live with it. They might even, for example, get a plumber out and fix it, but that costs money and adds to the landlord’s assets. Even if they do nothing, property prices keep rising and they pay for the landlord’s future. For a price, Shareen, for example, offers to tutor her tenants in money matters and help them buy their rented units off her. The money she makes from the sale means she can afford two more units. It’s win-win for her. Even when she has to leave the casino where she’s gambling with $50 chips because one of her units is burning down, and one of her client’s children dies, the insurance payment allows her to buy more units. Make more money from another’s misery. Shareen and her partner Quentin are black, like their client pool. They know how the world works. When there is money in the house, their units, they are there with hand out, first in line to be paid. No second chances. That’s for mugs. Don’t let anyone screw you. Screw everyone for as much as you can get. That’s only fair. The comparison with drug dealers getting their money makes them smile. That’s the way the booming housing market works. Landlords lord it over everyone. There’s an eviction epidemic.  A lucrative business more likely to be passed from father to son than most.

Children don’t protect mothers from eviction. They are far more likely to lead to eviction. And having children makes it far more difficult to rent.  And if one of the unwritten rules of rent kingdom is you don’t call your landlord to complain about anything in your unit breaking down –such as a toilet- then the other is don’t call the police. Arleen was asked to leave a unit because her son had an asthma attack and she phoned for an ambulance, which came with the fire brigade. No police presence. That’s a big no-no. Police bring trouble to landlords. They can call in social services. They can and will call for units to be inspected for violations of the housing code.

In Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch 22, Yossarian tried to get himself grounded because only a crazy man would fly any more missions that would kill him, but only those sane enough to know that could not claim they were insane and had to continue flying sorties. Desmond cites a case of Catch 22, when poor black women living in rental units have the option of being murdered by their boyfriend or ex-boyfriend, or phoning the police and being evicted. Policing in Milwaukee also means policing landlords. Those that fail to comply with dealing with nuisance tenants that contact the police are likely to be fined or face criminal prosecution. Again and again Desmond shows the police bureaucracy default position is the tenant should be evicted. That is the only ‘approved’ option. So when the Milwaukee Chief of Police when trying to explain a spike in the number of young black females killed and says he can’t explain it as they’re only a phone call away, he’s playing the part of Doc Daneeka in Catch 22. Only this isn’t fiction. Real life kills you.  No one cares. It’s only poor black people that are dying.

Evicted would be familiar to many living in London and the suburbs. To those living in Scotland, with one in four children living in poverty, poverty and profit, is something someone else worries about. Matthew Desmond complicates things too much when he’s looking for solutions. Simplify. Build more houses. Stop taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. Take money from the rich and give it to the poor. But we all know how difficult that is. No mainstream political party dares. The American tragedy has a face and it’s that of Donald Trump. And on this side of the Atlantic we have a Trumptian clone, Boris Johnson, and the Prime Minister in waiting, George Osborne. Their solutions are our problems. We have hawked all our public assets and our future to shysters and there seem nothing we can do about it.

 

 

Des Dillon at Dalmuir Library, 2pm.

Last Saturday, when I was in Dalmuir Library, Gregor Fisher was doing a gig at 7pm. It was sold out. Tickets only. But let’s put this into perspective. Dalmuir Library is not the Albert Hall. Sold out means about thirty hard plastic chairs filled by wee woman with blue rinse and bookish leanings. A stocky wee guy with a bit of the blue rinse about him was setting up the microphone, practicing saying one-two, one-two. I didn’t want to tell him that it gets harder as you get older because I was sure he’d learned that himself. I just let him get on with it.

Today I learned that wee guy was called Donny O’Rourke and he’s the dedicated reading champion of West Dunbartonshire libraries or something like that. It sounds a bit like Batman, but with books, instead of Robins. He was master of ceremonies and did the introductions for an old pal of his – Des Dillon. I didn’t know a lot about Des Dillon. I can remember Ann Marie at a film and television course making a face which meant he’s not really one of us, because he’d left early, written a play called Singin I’m No a Billy He’s a Tim.  Ann Marie probably won’t remember me either. And if she does I’m sure she’ll make the same scrunched up face. I left the course early too, never to amount to much. True, of course. But there you go. The next time I heard of Des Dillon was when I bumped into Sharpie. He told me he’d been to a play. Obviously, if you come from Dalmiur that’s not the sort of thing you admit to. You can say things like I stuck the heid on the wife, but even though it was her fault, it was a total accident. People will nod their head in recognition. Or the dog fell out the windae, but it wasnae my fault. It wasnae my turn to take him out. There’s three storeys in that one story, but going to the theatre. Fuck off. But then Sharpie explained he went with Jackie and it was her idea. That makes it kinda OK. Then Sharpie explained it was funny. One guy  jaked up wakes up in the cells and turns round and the guy sharing his cell is a Billy boy. He’s a Tim, a Taig, a potato muncher and the Sons of William and he go to it and gie it laldy. I’ve never seen it, but that’s my kinda play.

Des is a wee guy, brought up Coatbridge and the first thing he told us was he was proud of his Da, because he was 72 and went to the gym, so he could scrap, and he’d battered the guy upstairs from him that was 53. Then he told us he was here to read poetry. That’s hard for a guy to say. Especially, a working-class guy.  He played it down by telling his audience about how he’d posted some of it on Facebook and forced his fourth wife to read it. Yeh, fourth wife. We got that old story about when you’re first married and you have sex and you put a pea in the jar on the mantelpiece… and later in life when your libido fails and you take a pea out there’ll be always be something left in the jar. Multiply that by four and that’s a lot of jars. That’s a lot of mantle pieces. And Des was good at that. Telling that’s where story telling in Coatbridge begun. Elbow on the mantelpiece telling the story of who did what to whom – and that wan had a shotgun. And then there’s the drink. Des is AA, been non-toxic for 30 years. I guess he was too busy getting married. But we know about that. Then there’s the language of deference. How we are talked down to because we don’t speak Received Pronunciation. Discriminated against. Des said he turned down a contract with the BBC, a ten-part adaptation of one of his books that would have netted him upwards of £100 000 because of the BBC’s coverage of the Independence Referendum. Des is part of the 45%. Vocal in the ways that those above us with power fuck up the working class. I know all that. But it was good to hear it verbalised. Des is one of us.

Poetry wise, Des was a bit nervous. He rattled through his poems. One about Lena Zavaroni, Mamma He’s Making Eye’s at Me, and how full of the wine he sang outside his sweetheart’s house of his true love. There was a sonnet and he talked about the diamond shape of verse and how restrictions can make the poem, but I can’t remember what it was about. Coffee and tables were set up, but I nipped away. I’m not sure about poetry, but I am sure I like Des Dillon. One of us that has given voice to the violence done to our language and the poor by the gatekeepers of society. Who benefits? That’s the question Des leaves his audience with. Post your answer in poetry and give voice to working-class culture. Let’s give insurrection voice and  bring the tanks back to George Square.

Gordon Abrahams 1948-2016

I was at Gordon Abraham’s funeral yesterday. He was born in 1948. I’ll let you do the maths. Gordon was an old guy, but despite having seven kids he never really grew up. He still liked a drink and a carry on. It was good to see so many people there. All age groups. And so many familiar faces. Dalmuir faces. None of us getting any younger. I’m sure Gordon would  have got a kick out of the reason I never got allowed into his funeral. The funeral directors were just arranging who was to lift what part of the coffin and bring it into the crematorium when I arrived. I weaved my way past them.

‘Can I help you?’ said one of the suits inside the crematorium. He obviously didn’t think I was here for a funeral because I was dressed in a dirty semmit and black shorts. Rab C Nesbitt, without the hairband, without the hair. The black, in the shorts, wasn’t dirt, well, maybe a bit of it was, nor was it a concession to funeral attire, but simply because it was my working gear and I was going back to work afterwards. My thinking was I’d nip in and out, but obviously the Council official had other ideas.

Luckily I knew the other suit, Paul Harkins, I’d went to school with him. It was him I addressed and they pointed me towards the door.

‘Nah,’ I said. ‘Have you no’ got a back way and I’ll just stand at the back, pay my respects, and not blend in.’

I found a seat beside Julie McCann. She was wearing a tracksuit and I was wearing my shorts. You get that. Lots of sporty people in Dalmuir.

The Reverend, who conducted the funeral, was good in that he did the God bit, flung in a wee bit about C.S. Lewis, but he’d done his homework on old Gordon. His marriage to Anna and their honeymoon feast. A 64 bus to Partick and a fish supper out of the chippy. Panel beater. Every expense spared. I liked that. One of a family of seven, Gordon knew he didn’t have a penny to spare. And a family of seven. Well, eight, if you include Glasgow Rangers. They played a big part in his life. But at least Rangers, despite all their travails, never ended up moving back in with his and stealing the remote control and his cans as young Godge was prone to do when he got chucked. I’m sure old Gordon would have got a kick out of Rangers recently beating Celtic (grudged, but they deserved it) and Celtic being beaten, on the day of his funeral, by St Johnstone, by anybody, in fact. But that was the thing about old Gordon, he was in the Orange Order, in the Masons, went on enough Orange walks to wear out the heels of a decent pair of weejuns, but it really didn’t make a great deal of difference to him whether you were Catholic or Protestant, just as long as you weren’t mad Danny. Gordon had time for everyone, even Danny.

Some people remember Rangers in Manchester. Old Gordon had to go. A piss up and Rangers didn’t happen unless he was there. But I like to think of Accrington Stanley. The bus weaved its way home. Casualties a few. But Old Gordon made it up to the bar, ordering pints. Now he is no more. There’s a space where he should be. The old guard is changing. I’m sure he’d have been pissed that he missed the party in the pub yesterday. The spirit is willing, but the flesh weak.

Karl Ove Knausgaard (2014) A Death In The Family. My Struggle: Book 1. Translated from the Norwegian by Dan Bartlett.

I was vaguely aware of Karl Ove Knausgaard, having read some reviews of his work. So I knew that the life that he lived was the material he used to build the narrative of his life and tell a story of how he became who he is.  Some of my favourite reading material comes from Harpie. Thanks for the Vodka 2004, for example, tells the reader through a diary format what happens to her day to day. Her life is a shipwreck and as she goes under she tells you what she clings onto. Some of the things that have happened to her, in no particular order, includes rape, working in a sex shop, becoming an author, working as a nurse, marrying into gypsy hell and getting her son stolen, and if it all gets a bit much she tells you how she ended up singing in the Karaoke down her local, with her gay best friend. I know, I know, this review is meant to be about Karl Ove, but My Struggle really was a struggle. It was the worst of all sins for a reader –boring and not particularly well written.

cliché

ˈkliːʃeɪ/

noun

  1. 1.a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

Let me give you a few examples. ‘Then I met her gaze and a chill ran down my spine.’

‘Children were not supposed to predecease their parents.’  This isn’t a cliché, simply Karl Ove generalising about the death of his father. The problem may be one of translation. I can tell you I’ve never predeceased anyone in my life, and I guess I’m about the same age a Karl Ove.

‘Dad had also affected my self-image, of course, but perhaps in a different way [to his elder brother] at any rate I had periods of doubt followed by periods of self-belief, it was all mixed for me, and the doubts that coloured such a large part of my thinking never applied to the larger picture, but always the smaller picture, the one associated with my close surroundings…I never had any doubt that I could attain whatever I wanted, I knew I had it in me, because my yearnings were so strong and they never found any rest. How could they? How else was I going to crush anyone?’

My dad Dessy would have something to say about this. I can hear his voice in my head. Complete fannywash.

I was going to give another few examples, but even I’m bored with this I remember ever fart I held in scenario. Karl Ove does tell the reader that he was going to have a wank in the shower. I guess that makes him a wanker.

What makes it interesting is finding out who dies, because they are all relatively young, middle-class and in good health. When Karl Ove’s dad gets divorced, remarries and drinks himself to death the story does get a bit more interesting. Karl Ove is good describing the cloud patterns and the way the light shines. But Daddy, dearest Daddy, never did find out his son’s first novel was about him. That’s probably why he drunk himself to death. So Karl Ove grows up goes to school. Goes to University. Never does a lick of work and then aged about 27 or 28 starts a family and has a separate office from his partner in which to write. Shit I’m moving to Norway. They sure give their kids some leeway, only by that time Karl Ove isn’t a kid, but a father, burying his father.

The International Bestseller. ‘It unbelieveable. It’s completely blown my mind,’ Zadie Smith is quotes as saying on the cover. Really? So it isn’t fannywash? Well, I guess my yearnings aren’t strong enough and I’ve always got doubts. How else am I going to crush anyone?