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?


Storyville: Blackfish – The Whale That Killed, BBC 4, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

We all know the story of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick. Man versus whale and neither wins. Score draw on the coupon. I’ve started the books a few times and never got beyond the first pages. Wooden ships used to go away for a year or more and come back loaded down with whale blubber and oil. Prototype factory ships.  Boiled down whale oil used to light our homes. Some of the bones were good for corsets. I can understand that. Food and oil. It’s a man’s world. Whales had a fighting chance.

I can even understand why, after the defeat of Japan, the Allies harvested the seas to feed a starving population. One whale can feed many mouths. Nowadays whales are still harvested for foodies under the guise of scientific research. Bullshit.

We’re getting to the stage when the only things left on the planet will be hominine and giant beef burghers with six legs. Blackfish takes us into a sewer even worse than that. It begins with the capture of a baby bull orca in the waters of Hafnarfjörður, near Reykjavík, Iceland in 1983. Spotter planes and speed boats using high explosives herded the group of whales into a watery cul de sac where they could separate the infant whale from its mother and family group. One grizzled veteran said he’s seen some heavy shit in his life, but the mother and other whales ‘talking’ to the traumatised baby being lifted from the water was something that stuck with him, even all these years later. Later in the programme another infant whale is separated from its mother, a captive whale in  Sealand of the Pacific in South Oak Bay, British Columbia and sent somewhere else because it was disruptive and because that’s where the money was. Whales have their own kind of intelligence. One expert suggests their limbic system, which mediates emotional responses, is far more developed than humans.  Sealand was in the business of transforming whale into performing pets. When we talk about a whale grieving for its baby and sending out sonic signals that are able to travel thousands of miles under water, we conflated anthropomorphism and basic science. All of the keepers interviewed here were fed the same diet of hearsay and became Sealand believers spouting the party line that these whales were better off in captivity, where they lived longer and received medical care. Dorsal fins that atrophy and collapse in isolation ponds and water pods is mirrored by those whales in the wild. Eh, no it isnae, but let’s face it, we don’t meet many whales when wondering down Sauchiehall Street.  The reality they later recognised was whales were cash cows used to fleece the public.

Tillicum (Tilly to its friends) the bull orca was milked for its sperm for breeding purposes and to provide a splash in performances. Bottom of the pecking order and with nowhere to flee two older female orcas given the names of Haida II and Nootka IV beat and slashed his body until male and female were separated.

Tilly killed three people. He grabbed them by the arm or leg and drowned them. Here Seaworld propaganda kicks in again. In the blame game those without money or power, the bottom of the food chain, a young female student and trainer, a man with mental health problems and a forty-year old female trainer were all to blame. They’d brought it on themselves. They’d did something they shouldn’t have. Tilly the cash cow was innocent. Money talks and Tilly walks. That’s the way the world works. It would be a good idea to fling in a few of those who invested in this barbarism into a pond with Tilly, because he’s so harmless. Only after they have been properly trained, of course. I’m not a monster.  Steel bucket filled with fish. Pair of flippers and rubber ring. Watch this and weep.


Tim Rhys-Evans: All in the Mind, BBC 1, 10.45pm. Director Mei Williams.

I must admit I hadn’t a scooby who Tim Rhys-Evans is. I find out here he’s the auteur of a male voice choir, Only Men Aloud, which won a competition called Last Choir Standing, which led to sell out concerts and record gigs and an MBE from the Queen. None of these things interest me. What interests me is Rhys-Evans’s admission that he’s got a mental health problem and tried to take his life. People that make lists are flagged up as in danger. Rhys-Evans made a list. People who write suicide notes are one step away from death. Rhys-Evans’s suicide note ran to fifteen pages. He’s still here and read it at the end of the programme. It’s a poignant moment. Rhys-Evans recalls as he was writing the suicide note something broke within him and he began wailing. There’s something biblical about this. A calling out of the self to the void.

I was supporting someone that was being assessed whether they were ‘fit for work’ as he had a depressive illness. Appointments were running two hours late because the assessors were on the sick and not enough of them had turned up for work. That’s irony for you. But we sat it out. We could see the different members of the latest professional group that has taken over from ATOS and most of them seemed to be female. I said to my mate, ‘you’ll get him’.  Older man, shirt and tie, shiny shoes, light-blue suit. ‘You’ll get Dr Gestapo,’ I said.

‘Aye,’ he said, ‘I probably will.’

That’s what happens when you’re depressed. You always think the worst. I hadn’t seen Rhys-Evans’s programme at this point. So I tried to cheer him up by saying just because your suicidal doesn’t mean you’re depressed. But he was having none of it. He was sure it was his fate that he was going to get Dr Gestapo.  I gave him a few examples of people that were suicidal but not depressed. I couldn’t mind the name of that group that killed themselves because they thought they were getting picked up by a spaceship, but I did mention Spock and the early Christians. Think positive, cheery thoughts. Ying and Yang.  Singing hymns and fling their weans at lions and shouting eat me first, but that ended up sounding like a Proclaimer’s track. I got him a drink of water. At least it was free. Dr Gestapo was waiting file in hand. He’d more chance with the lions, but what can you say? No wonder he was depressed. I was too.

Fate intervened in the case of Tim Rhys-Evans. His local mental health authority crisis-intervention team had him on the phone and they came to the door and rescued him. Tim Rhys-Evans had nothing but praise for their professionalism and caring. They literally saved his life.

Goldenhill Crisis Prevention Team, in my local authority, also run an out-of-hours service. But my advice is don’t bother wasting your time phoning them if you or any of your loved ones are having a mental-health breakdown. By the time an appointment is booked –three weeks on Tuesday- the crisis will have solved itself or the person will be dead. This is one of those public services that isn’t a service and isn’t open to the public. So I’m glad it worked out for Tim Rhys-Evans in Wales. It helps if you are a celebrity, of course. That makes me sound cynical. That’s depressing, but true. Even Tim Rhys-Evans with a tape of this programme in hand would still have no chance if he was being assessed by Dr Gestapo. Fit for the works.

Worth watching.