Brexit and fuck-you politics.

enoch powell.jpg

Ha-Joon Chang, The Little Blue Book:  ‘Economics is politics.’

Charles Darwin urged the ‘weak in mind and body’ to refrain from marriage. That’s why I never married. Contemporary disciples of Francis Galton’s scientific racism now favour that dismal science of pseudo-economics. Economic racism doesn’t discriminate against the rich. It is premised on it. The poor are feedstock for those that have accumulated land and wealth. A propaganda war, which we used to call ideology, or even Marxism, has been running against those without both for the last thirty years. It’s based on trickle-down economics. That means rich folk saying fuck you, I’m doing alright, whilst continuing to take an increasing share of the national income from the poor. Thomas Piketty, Capital shows with extensive research and an analysis of national figures the feebleness of this approach.  To paraphrase the US giant, General Motors.  What’s good for the economy is good for the rich, or so they keep telling us –ad nauseum.

The demonization of the poor is highly popular entertainment, cartoon demons that can be traced to the loss of the idea of social security. All being in it together. Remember that old David Cameron whopper, from our soon to be, Brexited, Prime Minister. Look at our glorious history. This was epitomised by the idea of homes fit for heroes after the First World War. After the Second World War, Britain led the way with the Beveridge Report and the welfare state and modern states followed our lead.  The American term welfare was exported back to us at great social cost, a  catch-all term and negative imagery carried by association. Prostitutes, junkies, alkies and council-house scum. (See for, example, ripostes from Owen Jones’ Chavs or Lynn Hanley, Estates.) Proof that welfare wasn’t working and dragging the nation down. Poor people,  whipping boys for the private sector and the top five-percent of  Eton educated and Oxbridge sponsored prevailing government ideology. Indeed, like Happy Gilmore with one golf club, they continued to beat all before them, slaughtering the poor, the public sector, and those on welfare while sweeping those before them in election after election with one idea. Rip up the social fabric. Trust us.  Give them less and us more. Nicholas Timmins, The Five Giants. A Biography of the Welfare State joked about the Tories mimicking the George Bush, Texas model, and meeting in a closed room and allocating public resources to their chums to run as part of their personal fiefdom. Who’s laughing now? Look no further than the recent debacle of those rich citizens paid rent to build and maintain local-authority schools, and even though bits were falling off, structural damage some cynics may call it, but moving sideways, with a neat trick economists call vertical integration and running the schools they build. This wasn’t called profit, but economic rent. Getting what they were due.  A quick fix was the idea of calling local-authority schools, Academies. In any language this is called monopoly. For all its faults the European Economic Union wasn’t that keen on these ideas, hence their challenge of Google’s monopoly powers to shape choices on the internet. The European Economic Unions determination that companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Facebook that have hundreds of billions in revenue pay some tax. But, of course, London is the greatest money laundering system in the world.   In comparison, try counting on one hand the number of media posts and television programmes depicting the lives of those on benefits, receiving government money. The latest ruse was to show that some of them had the gall to live in houses with more than one bedroom. Smokers. Drinkers. Obese. Round up the usual suspects. If there was such a thing as the Anglo-Saxon English race they were losing was the subtext and war cry.

Enoch Powell’s ‘river of blood’ speech in the late sixties tapped into popular zeitgeist. If they’re black send them back. A group of white working-class men were shown chanting, ‘niggers go home’ on a recent More4 programme, ‘Born on the Same Day,’ which showed the experience of a Jamaican immigrant, Ewart, growing up in multicultural Great Britain.

Remember the signs on private-let housing:

No blacks

No Irish

No dogs.


Brexit  tapped into a popular state-sponsored hate campaign.  Racism has long roots. Rudyard Kipling summed it up. ‘All the people like us are, We, and everyone else is They.’ It’s no coincidence that Robert A Douglas in That Line of Darkness, The Shadow of Dracula and the Great War has consecutive chapters on ‘Fear and Loathing of the Underclass’ (the working class) followed by ‘Xenophobia, Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism’ (replace with anti-Muslim rhetoric). It’s worth quoting Douglas below on those nineteenth-century patterns when Britain had an Empire to fleece, patterns which are recognisable today, with spokesmen such as Nigel Farage echoing the same sentiments, playing on xenophobic fears of the other, and being taken up by the Conservative Party and possibly the next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson:

Several commentators worried about Britain’s capacity for assimilating such large numbers and potential economic difficulties; however the more virulent spokespersons fed on the fears of crime, disease and tribalism to lobby for immigration restrictions…

A Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath took Great Britain into the EEC. Another, David Cameron, has taken us out. Britain no longer has an Empire. It no longer has the protection of a market to which we export most of our goods and services. We currently import around seven percent more than we export. That’s one deficit we really should worry about. When trading blocs such as the US and China, and now the EEC, play hard ball with small nations that have little or no leverage who can blame them? For we’ve voted to become a third-world nation. Fear of the other has made us a pariah nation. But the biggest fear is other nations will follow. Then with most countries resorting to protectionism there will be no common market. No market at all. What brought the world wide and general depression of the 1930s to an end was the Second World War. What brought the ideology of xenophobia and the pseudoscience of eugenics to an end was the Nazi death camps. Little England has never looked or felt so small. Fuck you, I’m alright Jack the triumphant calling card. For opportunist politicians such as Boris Johnson (and Donald Trump) that’s the only invitation they need. Fear of the other. I fear these ghoul-like creatures we have voted for most of all.



Euro2016. I turn my back and England exits and takes Scotland with it.

I wrote this in a post entitled ‘One Nation, Aye right, What planet are you living on, pal?’ over a year ago. I’ll recap below. Another post was on Boris Johnson’s big gamble. If you’re skin is not sickly white and if you speak with a funny accent I’d be very, very worried. Perhaps we can send the over a million Polish people living here to America to help them build a big wall to keep out Mexicans. Frightening times. All we need now is for Trump to triumph over the other side of the Atlantic and we will be back in the dark ages (no pun intended).


The Scottish National Party for whom I voted with fifty-two percent of the popular vote in Scotland and 56 of 59 seats is the winner. When Osborne dismantles the welfare state and hollows out the rights of workers and reduces those on benefits to rations and foodbanks that no modern European country, or its citizens, would find tolerable, Salmond can smugly say I told you so. But he can do nothing about it. Win win for him and SNP. Lose, lose for those on less than £100 000 a year.

History is when we’re doomed to make the same mistakes. After the Scottish referendum was lost in 1979 Labour were called the ‘feeble fifty’ because over fifty Labour Members of Parliament had Scottish seats but they could do nothing to halt Thatcherism. SNP MPs mirror that reality.

The big hope is when Cameron holds a referendum over Britain leaving the EEC.  England may well vote yes. Scotland will vote no. We could have a constitutional crisis. I’m sorry to say I was right about the Tory’s winning this election, but less sorry about predicting SNP sweeping Labour aside in Scotland. They got what they deserve.

Des Dillon (2004) The Glasgow Dragon

I’m as repetitive as person with Alzheimer’s, but I think I may have picked this book up before and read the start of it. I really wanted to like this book, but didn’t get beyond page 40. We have the Triads: Tia Lo (the boss) his beautiful daughter Ming Fu. I could tell you who the other Triads are but really who cares. There’ll be another along shortly. And why do all daughters have to be beautiful? Why can’t she look like a banana? Well one reason is Bonzo in Chrisite Devlin’s crew wants to get inside her pants. That adds tension to the story line. Christie Devlin is hard as fuck. Possil. Ruckhill. Maryhill. All conquered by the time he’s 21. Married now to a posh bird that went to convent school (or something like that), with an English accent, who loves raw sex with her animal of a husband. She’s promised a house in Galloway as a love nest of a reward. That’s where eh, Des Dillon lives. And when Devlin’s crew arranges a meeting with the Triads in a casino to arrange a shipment of pure heroin, one of the croupiers is a ‘white-skinnned Scottish girl, long brown hair and straight shoulders’. That had me screaming offside. (Sorry, watching too much of Euro2016). But that’s an identikit of Connie who Manny marries in My Epileptic Lurcher and they go and live unhappily in Galloway. My guess is Devlin and this identikit will, because Dillon likes the Connie lookalike, get together later in the book. The Triads need to sort things out there end. Devlin has a hit list of who he needs to sort his end. Then the streets of Glasgow will be covered with snow. That’s the idea. But there’s one name on that list Devlin doesn’t know about. It’s all Chinese to me (yep, there are plays on the Chinky-winky jokes that us Glaswegians like more that prawn crackers) but I guess the path to Class-A drugs won’t run smoothly. The sad bit is I don’t really give a fuck. It’s a closed book.

Des Dillon (2008) My Epileptic Lurcher

I went to Dalmuir library yesterday and got three books. Two by Des Dillon and one by Jeff Torrington. Ewan had mentioned Torrington in one of his posts. Although I know I’ve read his book, Swing Hammer Swing, like most books I read I can’t remember anything about it. Nothing. Well, the bit about it being set in Glasgow. Since hearing Des Dillon speak at Dalmuir library I thought he’s one of us and I better read something he wrote. When I got his books home I realised I had read something he’d written, Six Black Candles.  I suspect this was Des Dillon’s first book. Don’t ask me what it’s about. But I’m not daft. I can read the blurb at the back of the book. I read it years ago. Vaguely remember there was a drama on the telly. Not impressed by either. But I read My Epileptic Lurcher between the three matches of the Euros and enjoyed it.

Write what you know. That’s what they tell you. That’s right up there with advice about murdering your darlings. That’s why you get so many books about middle-class writers giving up journalism or leaving a cushy job to write and, horrors of horrors, finding they have a mental block. Think the smary Karl Ove Knausgaar, My Struggle, and the subtext I never thought I was going to make it as a writer, because people didn’t really understand me. I proved you doubters all wrong.  Fuck right off I say to that. But in Manny Riley the protagonist and narrator we have a guy that’s trying to write screenplays. He has a mental block because he’s mental, with anger issues, -‘I was so angry I was going to fling myself under a bus, or jump through a plate glass window’ – stymied not by his inability to produce ideas and finished projects but the real possibility nobody wants to read them. From the little I’ve picked up about Des Dillon he’s Manny right down to a tee. The gallus walk he could mimic, the working-class swagger, the anger issues and him telling us he’d turned BBC down for a £100 000 project because they had fucked up the independence debate. Integrity, that’s what it’s all about, integrity, he, and Donny the West Dunbartonshire Reading Champion (yes there is such a thing, such a person that exists outside comic books) told us that’s what being  a writer means. I remember thinking, fuck that, I’d have took the money. Here Manny Riley does take the money. It allows him to buy a house for the knockdown price of £20 000 and set up home in Dumfries with the love of his life Connie and their two dogs and a cat, in the supporting role. In the blurb on the front page Dillon writes, ‘Dogs love you…end of story’. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

            -Mummy, Mummy, I say and they go to Connie.

-Daddy, Daddy, she says, — Yum yum. Daddy’s got the biscuits, and they back they came.

There’s quite a lot of doggy talk. Some of that so bad you’ve got to look away. For example, a bit-sized morsel from the point of view of Bailey, the eponymous, epileptic lurcher:

Me flakken the Daddy he comes in from the alkies. Flakkens me flakkens me shouting he. The Daddy go on the cou and me go oof oof an flakken him. Big long paws on he chest an lickty lick his fay an bite his noy with teethy teethy no no. Nages Blongo goes like that for and Connooroo and gets toy an give toy to Daddy.

Connor is the name of another dog Manny and Connie have rescued. Blongo, you have probably guessed, is another pet name for Bailey, so called because of the colouring of the lurcher. But after reading that description of doggy love, if you are a bit callous like me, you’re probably thinking it would be best for all humanity and for literature if both dogs (and the cat) had a bolt through their head. But there you’d be wrong. For take out all the shite and this is an entertaining book about a working class bloke trying and failing to make a life as a writer, but perhaps succeeding after all.

Anger is a big part of his life, as if resentment. Manny has spent ten years in prison.  The chapters follow him picking up life and learning how to love someone else and something else and learning to love himself. It’s Odysseus in the bottom of a wine bottle. ‘Thanks to my ex-cellmate Paddy I’d not stopped drinking and I was living on my own in the pink cloud of early sobriety’. Paddy knows the score. He’s Manny’s AA sponsor and a gambling addict. He talks Manny into going to a casino with him because there’s a girl that works there that’s that bit special. It’s Connie. For Manny it’s love at first sight, but the odds of them getting together he figures in the thousands to one.

When they marry within four weeks and move to a flat away from the schemes and hassle to an unnamed Scottish island that had me thinking Rothesay, there life’s sorted. Only it isn’t. Neither of them drink and the dole pays the rent, so they’ve enough to get by, but rejection after rejection letters leave Manny full of resentment, which leads to anger, which leads to violence. After reading this I don’t think it was such a good idea to send those poor refugees to Rothesay. First there’s the resentment. People there hate outsiders. And they hate poor people. They hate people that don’t work and that falls into a zeitgeist need to hate others for the sake of social cohesion. Manny is not going to be anybody’s fucking scapegoat for fuckin anybody and neither is his fuckin dogs. Manny swears too much. He can’t help it. That’s the way he thinks. I like the way he thinks I like the way Dillon captures that animosity, the low level snipping of dog walkers getting up earlier and earlier to get their dogs out first and…fuck right off. It’s wearing, very wearing. But that gives Manny his first screenplay success. He’s commissioned by the BBC, well, not commissioned, commissioned, but his first draft is paid for, he’d given £40 000 to produce a shooting script for a series about a guy walking his dog in some out of the way place full of know-it-all arseholes that are quick to express an opinion, not just about dogs, but about life.

But there’s tension, the kind of tension needed for any good story, in that Manny needs to go to London to network and do all the kind of wanky things to make himself a big shot and have a real chance of being a writing success and just at that point he needs to do that Blongo has his first epileptic fit and it seems like the dog is going to die. Manny has a choice: stay in London or fly home. He does the latter, which leads to resentment with Connie. Blongo’s fits escalate. Manny starts to resent losing sleep. Resnts losing Connie and having to pander and revolve their life around a dog that refuses to get better. This is familiar territory with anyone with someone chronically sick in their family.  There’s no answer. That’s the way of life. But the beauty is in the telling. Dillon makes that work. He shows integrity.

Born on the same day, More4, 14th June, 9pm

7th March 1944, three babies are born in different parts of the Second World War is just finishing and there’s a population boom as the soldiers come back from the front. The format is familiar. Granada broadcast the original 7UP documentary series in what was meant to be a one off, World in Action programme, in 1964, directed by Michael Apsted. 7UP was meant to tell us something about class. And it followed the same cohort every seven years until we’ve now got 56UP. Michael Apsted shows how easy it was in those days; he went on to direct Coronation Street and the latest James Bond. It’s difficult to deal with that kind of longevity and glamour. Born on the same day is some snapshots of lives and its aim is to tell us something about our society.

The hook for the viewer here is the well-known figure of Ranulph Fiennes, distantly related to royalty and as we know a man that’s been on every pole with the exception of an ice-cream pole. His dad was killed in action at the end of the war. A commander of The Royal Scot Greys. We see a photo of him. Ranulph is determined to be on par with his dad and also command the Royal Scot Greys. The Eton connection is, as 7UP shows, a good place to start if you want to command a television station, an army company or the economy, but Ranulph has the drawback of being rather dim. Even though he serves with honour and distinction in the army, in the Royal Scot Greys (I doubt the regiment still exists) they’re not keen to keep him. By this time he’s married Ginny. She’s a good old girl that persuades him what he needs is a challenge. That’s what God made Englishmen and the Poles for. Ranulph loses a few fingers to frost bite and Ginny to cancer. None of these things are really his fault. Stiff upper lip. Memories such as ‘Antarctica, decided just to go for it’ are par for the course.  Conquers Everest and fathers another child at 62. No doubt that child will too conquer Eton and Everest.

Frances Kelly was born on the same day as Ranulph. Mum and Dad were shopkeepers in Leeds, with their home upstairs. Three years after the NHS had been set up Frances was a child patient. Her parents were sleeping upstairs and she strayed too near the open fire. Almost twenty years later the same thing happened to my brother. In his case he was playing with matches and it set his pyjamas on fire. Frances nightdress burst into flames. Third-degree burns. Both she and my wee brother’s faces were saved because the flames reached only to their chin before being smothered. But for Frances a policy of strict segregation in the NHS meant that children as patients could only see their parents once a month. That day had already passed, so it was two months before she saw her mum or day. She felt she would never see them again and felt abandoned. This marked her life as much as her stay in the burns unit. She didn’t feel anyone would want to marry her. But she does get married and have two children. She is the real hero of the programme, fostering 97 other children and adopting two of them, Andrew at twenty-one months and Helen at three. Helen has a hole in the heart and Frances is told by the paediatrician, ‘there’s nothing we can do’, she’ll not live long, make the best of it for her. In hospital Helen didn’t believe Frances would be back for her. Mirroring her own experience, Helen gave the little girl a bag and told her to keep a hold of it, ‘don’t lose it’, as she’d be back for it. That gave Helen belief.  She came back for the bag and the girl, making her one of her family, until Helen died, 1993, a beautiful summer’s day, at home with her –new- mum and dad.

There’s mirroring of a different kind following Ewart, a naturalised British citizen born in Jamaica. Mum and dad and their nine children swapping the sunny climate for the smog of Birmingham. Newsreel footage shows the reception they got, ‘niggers go home’ was the message to the camera, much the same message as today’s refugees from our right-wing, Brexitt supporting, white friends. They take all our jobs – don’t they? Yeh, yeh, yeh, it’s a familiar tune. There are familiar staging posts for each individual. 7th March 1962. Ewart is 18 and gets his first full-time job in a steel company. £2.12 shillings a week. The gaffer asks Ewart to come in on Saturday, unpaid, to wash his car. Because that’s what black people do. Ewart doesn’t. He gets paid off. The only way he can get steady work is to join the ground crew of the RAF. But he leads a double life. He’s also lead singer in a soul band, hoping to make it big. He doesn’t, but meets his wife and mother of his children through his nocturnal activities.    After the RAF he finds work as a salesman. He’s a natural, but he doesn’t find the promotions he’d hoped for. He switches to another company, less racist. He thrives and admits he’s had a good life.  An interesting programme, but not a patch on 7UP – to 56UP, the prototype and still the best, something we can be proud of.

Postscipt: I begged my mum not to bring my wee brother back from hospital, but she didn’t listen.


Thriller in Manila 1975

Director and script editor John Dower takes us back to 1975, The Thriller in Manila, the fight of the century and the last of the three bruising encounters between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier. Score card, one win each.   Note the running order of syntax in most guides. Muhammed Ali comes first. Then Smoking Joe Frazier. One an iconic image, perhaps second to Nelson Mandela in the late twentieth century, certainly during the seventies eclipsing the latter, it would have been no surprise if astronauts in space had claimed to see images not of The Great Wall of China, but Muhammed Ali. Muhammed Ali was everywhere and later able to sell part of his copyright image in a deal worth fifty million dollars. Fast forward thirty years to 2005, Smoking Joe Frazier lives in a back room in a gym he named after himself to remind people who he was. Aged sixty three he was still wrapping up his hands, hitting the bags and training boxers, in one of the most deprived parts of Philadelphia, a place where black people like him lived. Go back further, Joe’s mother smoked a clay pipe and, aged seven, he was sent into the fields, but it was to work and work hard and not to play. Boxing was his salvation, but you’d need to knock him out to add, and his downfall. Asked what he thought of his old adversary, now stricken by Parkinson’s disease, Muhammed Ali, who carried the Olympic torch for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, 1996, Frazier remarked, ‘it would have been better if they put him in the flame’. For Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali really did have feet of clay. Larry Holmes who trained with Ali and as one World Champion to another took his mentor out, said Ali did a lot of great things, but in boxing terms was overrated, ‘he stung like a butterfly’ but it was Frazier that ‘stung like a bee’.

For a man so verbose, the one man’s opinion who is missing from this documentary is Muhammed Ali. Joe Frasier laconic, who did much of his talking with his fists John Dower had to assemble a cast that could speak on his behalf about that fight in Manilla, and what went on before and afterwards, and to get someone from Ali’s camp, to speak for Ali. For the latter he had the outspoken Dr Ferdie Pacheco, Ali’s personal physician and corner man, and he was happy to tell the viewer that Ali was in the Philippines for the pussy –he took a Porsch but her name was Veronica, leaving his wife at home – and the six million dollar payday; he thought Frazier’s hammering at the hands of George Foreman had broken him and it would be a matter of just turning up and turning over the old ‘gorilla’. Pacheco made no secret that those two had history, but it was Ali that was cashing in the chips and offering the ex-world champion a derisory amount for the rematch of the century. Hype and hyperbole where Ali’s punch and counterpunch. It was a call Joe Frazier was waiting on. He would have paid to fight Ali, because the latter had publicly shamed him. This wasn’t a matter of selling tickets, but personal. What neither boxer had planned for was the intense furnace like heat in the auditorium where the fight was screened in the early hours of the morning for American fight fans. Temperatures were over 100 degree centigrade. The fight should never have taken place, but neither Joe Frazier nor Muhammad Ali could stop it and neither of them were willing to budge an inch of canvas.

Carlos Padilla, the referee didn’t let Ali hold Frazier by the back of the neck, in the way he did in their second fight in which Ali stayed out of range and outpointed Frazier. Nor did the rope a dope tactics he’d used against George Foreman work against Frazier. Frazier explained he just punched him on the hips so Ali couldn’t walk and hammered his liver and kidneys so he pissed blood and that slowed him down. Ed Schylauer, Associated Press, said after the early rounds, when they went toe to toe in the middle of the ring, Frazier was ahead and Ali was wobbling. Rounds five to eleven, Schylauer only gave Ali one round. Pacheco said of round 14, it’s the closest I’ve ever seen someone to death’. He was talking about Frazier, but he could just have well have been talking of Ali. Jeremy Izenberg a fight correspondent said ‘I love boxing, but I thought somebody has got to stop this.’  Frazier’s eye was closed, but what nobody knew was that he was fighting blind. He’d lost all but his peripheral vision in his left eye since a fight in 1964. Willie the Worm, a fighter that fought out of Frazier’s gym, was signalling to Frazier’s son Marvis and Eddie Futch that he’d heard Ali say to his manager Angelo Dundee that he couldn’t carry on, ‘and he was to cut his gloves off’. We see footage of Eddie Futch and his corner man arguing with Frazier; he ‘is desperate to continue’, but his manager throws in the towel. Unrepentant, Futch later explained, ‘No regrets. I seen eight men die in the ring’.

Ali gets off his stool, as victor, holds his hands in the air and then collapses.  Frazier has been beaten, but Ali had been beaten too, he will never box again with any conviction or any of his old fluidity. Then again part of his mythology was that he ever did. Ali by then was an aging athlete and an aging boxer. The difference between the two is an athlete can train through injuries, but inside the ring another athlete’s job is to add to them, to exploit them.

Thomas Hausser, Ali’s biographer explained that when he challenged Ali about whether he, then known as Cassius Clay, had thrown his 1960 Olympic gold medal in the Ohio river as he had claimed and asked him to swear on Allah that he did, Ali came clean and said he’d lost it. In his first fight with Sonny Liston for the World Championship, he claimed Liston thought he was crazy and that was the one think that scared him. Ali played on that, but it was him that was scared. He needn’t have been. His hand speed and ability to dance out of trouble meant Liston couldn’t put a glove on him. The only trouble Cassius Clay had in the second fight and rematch was when a substance on Liston’s glove temporarily blinded him (the latter worked for the mob) but Clay was able to stay out of reach. Ali was more a print the legend and not the facts kind of guy.

Frasier’s sense of hurt and is believe that God had punished Ali for his lies and deceit with Parkinsonism can only be understood in the context of what had gone previously. When Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammed Ali and had refused to go to Vietnam and been suspended from boxing Frasier was there for him. He gave him money, said he ‘talked to him every other day’, helped him out and went to Congress and to Nixon to get Ali’s boxing license renewed. Frasier was in Ali’s corner. This wasn’t sheer altruism. Frasier recognised that to be champion of the world he first had to beat the myth that was Cassius Clay and later Ali. He might have been dumb but he wasn’t that dumb, neither was he an ‘Uncle Joe’.

Ali played to the cameras with his rehearsed thriller, chiller killer speech with a gorilla on the Parkinson show before the fight in the Manilla. He flattened his nose and called Smoking Joe and ugly pug. He claimed that Joe was worse than Parkinson. What he meant was he was worse than a white man. According to his newfound religious beliefs blue-eyed white men were responsible for all the world’s woes. Uncle Joe worked for the white man, and ‘Uncle Joe’ was worse than being white man. The Nation of Islam was the black mirror image of the white supremacist Klu Klux Khan, which advocated separation of the nations into black and white. Abdul Rahman from the Nation of Islam explained how they advised Ali to say ‘No Vietcong never called me a nigger’ and they advised him to take a firm stance with Smoking Joe. They offered the same scriptwriting support as the later President Reagan was offered by his rich pals in the Republican Party. Was Ali manipulated? ‘Absolutely,’ said his personal physician and corner man, but it suited both parties. After Smoking Joe beat Ali in the first contest, by a unanimous referee’s vote, Ali’s plea that he would go on his knees and proclaim Smoking Joe the greatest, didn’t happen. Ali said he was robbed by biased and prejudiced referees. Frasier’s retort ‘go get Clay- tell him to come in here and kneel’ was all but forgotten. Ali the showman, even in defeat, was better box office. Frasier did not forgive Ali, for what he had done and for what he had not done. When Ali after that fight in Manilla tried through intermediaries and through Marvis Frazier to apologise Smoking Joe’s response was straight and unequivocal: ‘Why don’t he say it to me? Let him come and tell me.’ Ali never did. If this was a morality play Smoking Joe wins by a knockout, but it’s boxing and box office and entertainment. America likes it’s boxers to be great, in victory and in defeat, but only as long as they are undefeated. Ali never could and never would admit he was beaten fair and square. I’ve got more respect for Smoking Joe now, but let old boxer lie.

James Kelman (1998) How Late it Was, How Late

How Late it Was, How Late won the Booker Prize on its publication in 1994. It was a controversial verdict. Rabbi Julia Neauberger one of the judges is quoted as saying, ‘Frankly, it’s crap’ and threatened to resign from the panel if it won. Written in Glasgow dialect and telling the story of Sammy who did a bit of stealing, did a bit of time and has become blind after taking a hammering from the cops that arrest him, I don’t think it’s crap, but without knowing what else was up for the prize that year I wouldn’t have voted for it. I started reading it a few times, the language is familiar to me, as are many of the places, but I couldn’t really get into it. But I did finish it at the third attempt and I don’t want you to think it was a chore, because it wisnae, but neither was it a joy.

‘Yeah know the auld saying: life goes on. Sammy made it across the flats; it wasnay a scoosh case; he battled it out; he went for it and made it. So there you go and that’s that. Plus Helen hadnay come back. He knew it as soon as he stepped out of the lift. The fucking wind blowing in from the corridor as usual.’

Helen works as a barmaid in Quinn’s Bar and is Sammy’s partner. Sammy’s already been married and has a son Peter, who appears with his pal Keith to take some photos of the injuries Sammy suffered at the hands of the police or ‘sodjers’. That was Ally’s idea, he’s on a third of whatever compensation Sammy might win from the Sight Loss Department of Central Medical. Ally is an unofficial welfare right’s officer, the kind that many of us knew in the late eighties, a know-it-all that for a wee bit would help people fill in forms and get what they were entitled to and frequently werenae. He’s an expert in the system and humanity, bit of a pest and Sammy plays along with him even when he turns up at Helen’s flat at 5 am because he figures Sammy is one of those people that doesn’t sleep much, who lives on their nerves, much as Ally does when he starts washing Sammy’s dishes because it gives him something to do and helps him think. Sammy had to tell Ally to fuck off, but even that doesnae work. The threat of violence wouldnae work either, so Sammy plays canny and just lets Ally get on with it, even though he’s no intention of playing along. That’s the best way to get rid of him. Knowing people like Ally and knowing how the buroo worked as social satire it also just doesnae work, but I’d give it an A for effort, even though effort begins with an E.  Finding Helen with a H is an entirely different kettle of fish. She might just turn up. Then again she might not. When he goes to Quinn’s Bar to find out what might and what might not have happened, he’s flung out and is none the wiser. Being blind is most folk’s biggest fear. Sammy doesn’t let it get him down. He just soldiers on, regardless.

It takes immense courage to write in dialect and the number of rejection letters from publishers would be exponential to yer ordinary, proper English dialect. Kelman, Alasdair Gray, and more recently Irvine Welsh, to name a few, have taken on the establishment and won. Like Sammy they have shown immense courage rooted in who they are and who they arenae, for those that don’t like them, like Rabbi whatever the fuck, fuck them. The iconoclasts are better men than me, but I’m a better man for having read them.



It’s great to see the football back on telly. The best part is it’s on normal telly and you don’t need a special box or to pay a subscription because then I just wouldn’t bother. That’s a bit of a shame because I watched almost every match in the Euros and World Cup since Scotland humbled Brazil in 1974, never lost a game in the tournament, and still got sent home to think again. 1978 was good as well. Mario Kempes sticks in the mind. Argentina weren’t yet the enemies.

England always are. It always surprises the English that we Scots support any team but them and every team against them. Imagine England won the Euros. It’s a possibility. They played brilliantly against Germany in a recent friendly. But then the put Vardy and Kane wide and brought Rooney through the centre. Keep with that formation Hodgson and us Scots will back you all the way.

I thought I was late for the opening game, France who I backed to win the tournament, mostly because I couldn’t think of anyone else and don’t really care. In the first half of the game against Romania, the French team must have wished they could play Scotland every week. I don’t watch these pointless friendlies, especially if Scotland are playing because we are so boring and lack technical ability. In other words we’re shite. Here France the favourites and Romania offered up as a gift in the opening game of the tournament, we had the meat and bones, but it was all scrag ends and tasteless fare. The French authorities despite strikes (vive le strikers –yes, I also make up French words when I get bored by sideways passing) and terrorist threats have did a wonderful job of rounding up all the ugly women in Paris and excluding them from the Stade de Paris. They must have used gauges because all the women on show had cheekbones so sharp and high it left me feeling dizzy. Pre-match entertainment at football used to be a guy in a rain-mac carrying a tray shouting ‘Get your Mac-a-rooooon bars and Spear-ment-chewing-gum’.  Now it’s a festival of advertising. Scrub it. Let’s get back to basics. ‘Get your Mac-a-roooon and Spear-ment-chewing-gum.

The second half wasn’t too bad. The French took off Pogba, which was a surprise to the commentators, but not to me. I could hear my da’s voice in my ear, ‘fanny dancer’.  They should have taken off Evra. Fanny. Full stop. The penalty he gave away was reminiscent of  Effy Ambrose, an international football player and African Cup winner, currently plying his trade at Celtic. Hopefully, I pray Effy won’t be there much longer. We’ll put him on the ferry to Marseille. The winning goal was a thing of beauty from a West Ham player, Payet. Who would believe that?  West Ham provides the best player in a French shirt. But the Bayern Munich winger looks like a winner. Then Martial is played wide, what’s that about? Next up Albania v Switzerland. Then England v Russia. You don’t need to ask who I want to win. Lose and it’s a gulag for Roy Hodgson. But I’ve a sneaking suspicion England can do it. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I’m going to live in Siberia.

Erwin James (2016) Redeemable: A Memoir of Darkness and Hope.

‘Writing makes me feel I was really living.’ There’s irony in when Erwin James writes that he’s a Category-A prisoner and banged up for killing two people. He doesn’t dwell on that. No excuses of how it was a robbery that went wrong –twice- and turned a thief and his mates into murderers.  I’m not usually criminal, although sense of humour border on it, but I  also write to make sense of the world and there is a lot of Ewin James I recognise in myself. This is Jack Abbot territory, an insider account ‘In the Belly of the Beast’.  Not a plea for redemption, but understanding. The material Erwin James works with is himself, his memories:

‘Understanding how I’d become what I’d become before prison was central to me agreeing that is was possible for me to live again.’

His father Erwin senior was born in Stevenson, Ayrshire and his mother from Paisley. Erwin was born in April 1957. There’s a post-war boom and the family move to England. Alison, a baby sister, soon follows. Fast forward to when Erwin junior is inside serving his term for murder. He’s told his dad is dead. Ewin senior was sixty-four and he’d been found alone lying on the floor of a sheltered housing complex. No great loss was my way of thinking. He’d smashed up people’s lives, beat up whatever girlfriend he’d hooked up with, abandoned his kids, and spent all the money that should have went on caring for his kin on drink and drunk himself to death. But here’s the rub, Erwin junior always dreamed of living with his dad. Of his dad loving him. And them living happily ever after. The boy that was in the man never gave up on that dream, even when he was inside.

Erwin junior and Alison’s life might have been different if his mum had lived. But their dad insisted that one of their pals drives her home, even though he was incapable of turning the ignition key in the barrel, and he drove off the road and killed himself and the kid’s mum. Erwin senior survived. People like him always do.

John Steinbeck got it about right, ‘A sad soul can kill you quicker than a germ’. And for a boy aged five, his sister aged two, he latched onto the only thing he knew, his dad. One of the images that sticks with me is young Erwin sent to school with a cut down pair of wellies and on the school trip the teacher rounds up all the other pupils as his mum had ‘forgotten’ to make him a packed lunch. Erwin eats everything thrown at him before the bus leaves.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s,  The Spirit Level, gives a checklist of some killers i)low social status, ii) lack of friends iii) stress in early life. Erwin had all of these things in spades. He ends up in a care home and graduated with honours in drinking, fighting and stealing.

Erwin recognised that is needed not be that way. He had a choice. But the pattern was there. ‘The majority of people in prison had similar life experiences to mine – they had been in care, limited education, had family problems from a very young age, had issues with alcohol, drugs and mental health.’

The father of two kids he’s abandoned, Erwin found redemption in the French Foreign Legion. He didn’t know that the majority of recruits don’t get into the Legion. They are rejected. He was used to that. On another school trip a swarm of school kids had poured into a public toilet, he was sleeping in one of the stalls and the school kids had rejoiced that they’d found a tramp. Erwin was twenty-three. In the Legion he found the French language and that he was a natural soldier. Everything he did, he did well and got into an elite regiment in the Legion. But wanted for murder he decided to go home.

Erwin finds hope in Joan Branton, a prison psychologist, who believes in him and his ability to change. And Erwin finds education allows him to think. Writing in beautiful prose allows him to create a voice out of the mosaic of his past. It’s a voice that holds true through the difficulty years inside. He wins the Arthur Koestler award and gets to write for The Guardian.  Twenty years later he walks out the door and into a new life. The old lives are not forgotten, but part of his new life helping rehabilitate other offenders. Erwin knows better than most that when cuts to the system come they start with the poorest and those most in need, they start with the prison system. Lock them away and forget the key. That’s not a solution we can trust but is a vote winner. There is no redemption there.

David Millar (2011) Racing Through The Dark. The Fall and Rise of David Millar.

Today Maria Sharapova, the winner of five grand-slam tennis tournaments, received a two- year ban for failing a drugs test. It’s an old story, from hero to villain quicker than Honk Kong Phooey could do a karate chop. And he really was a super guy. What do I know about cycling? Not a lot. If I cycle along the cycle path to Clydebank, which is about a mile, I expect people to stand aside and applaud as I pass and to hold out bottles of water (or stronger stuff, wink, wink) to keep me going. That’s where David Miller went wrong.

It’s a familiar narrative told in simple short sentences that grind through the gears of story-telling. As Millar recalls, ‘I was born in Malta… I’ve always thought of myself as a Scot.’ Dad was a pilot in the RAF, retraining as a civilian pilot and relocating to Honk Kong. Mum was a housewife. They divorce. David goes to private school in Honk Kong, graduates from BMX bikes to proper racers, Junior World Championship, professional cyclist and becomes a star wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Well, it’s not quite that easy, but I’m giving the boring bits the karate chop.

David was one of the few British and English speaking cyclists. Miguel Indurain was the main man. David was expected to learn French and to learn about how far he could take his body and then turn it up a notch, then two, then ten. Suffering was his vocation. Bike riding was destroying yourself day after day after day and getting on your bike again to do it more and to do it better. David was nineteen. He didn’t catch on at first that other professional riders were going missing, had fridges in their rooms and were doping. He naively thought people talking about doping were jealous of other rider’s success and looking for an excuse to bring them down to more mortal level. That naivety didn’t go away. Millar’s autobiography published in 2011; he’s already been caught doping and is out of the sport. But he’s determined to be clean. One of the people he bumps into is Lance Armstrong. They’ve been in the same team, competed against each other, but Millar is appalled he’s made a drunken fool of himself with Armstrong.

Only the foolish get caught. For David it began with recovery injections at Tierenno. The drug authority, UCI, were testing for the use of EPO, and in a desperate attempt to race the erythropoietin out of their system the pre-race training, usually a stroll, turned into a gladiatorial contest. ‘The stages were all fast and crazy… I did everything I could to hold the wheel in front of me…Robbie Mc Ewan, the Australian sprinter screamed, ‘FUCKING JUST STOP! THIS IS NOT FUCKING BIKE RACING’.

But it was. Injections of iron vitamins. Trust the doctor. Recovery injections. They don’t work, but who cares, they might work. EPO, Amphetamines, Antibiotics, Cortisone, Testerone and pills to help you sleep, help you recover. These do work. Tried and tested. The end justifies the mean. If you want to win don’t leave yourself short, do what everyone else does.

Prize money and sponsorship money follows winners, not losers.  Dopers like Sharapova lose their sponsor and lose their means of making a living. Millar had money in the bank. A partially completed home in Biarritz worth millions.  Then he got hit with a tax bill which wiped him out.  Here Millar makes claim to virtue. He was determined to pay back every cent he owed. He could have gone bankrupt but did not. Whoop-te-doo, he sure is a super guy.   My sympathy lies with those hardheads at the French tax office. Guys making millions should be paying tax is the stance I’d support. I just wish some of the Tory supporters that ostensibly reside in Monaco were hunted down in the same way.

David comes back into the riding game. One of his team mates piss him off a bit – Bradley Wiggins plays mercenary and jumps ship from Millar’s new and improved clean team. I wonder whatever happened to that Wiggins fellow?