Saturday Night Fever on a Tuesday

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You can see the shell of the La Scala from Second Avenue. I can’t remember the first X-rated movie I went to see there, but you can bet the fear on my face was real enough as I got to the turn at the top of the stairs and I expected the woman taking the tickes to eye me up and say, ‘Nah, son you look about fifteen’. Which would be about right, even though I did have a proper suit jacket on and open-necked collar to somehow make me look older, the more mature kind of man that wanted to see Saturday Night Fever.

My mate Burnsie went all the way with the white suit and black shirt, aka, John Travolta. I wasn’t that stupid or that daring. In a rare sighting you might have seen me falling out of the emergency door of a moving bus in Ramelton, somewhere in Donegal, with a white-jacketed jounce, and giving  it skid marks in all the wrong places, but let’s face it that’s what drink does to you. That’s Saturday Night Fever on a Tuesday or Wednesday or whatever the hell day it was. Now Nik Cohen has come clean and said Saturday Night Fever didn’t exist. In fact he just made it all up. I need to re-think my whole life and my propensity to wear parachute material for all the wrong reasons.

My first stop was the off sales. Only then could I think myself into Night Fever falsetto. Then I read Nik Cohen’s story which was the truth of Vincent and his crew’s hand gliding and foot finding. Published in ‘New York’ magazine  7th June 1976 it inspired  those in the disco scene to cut their balls off and dance, dance, prance and with the right kind of parted hair and with the right kind of clobber to take a bullfighter’s stance. Inspired Hollywood to go after the next blockbuster that would gross almost $300 million at the box office in 1976, and me to fall off a moving bus, while swearing it wasn’t really my fault.

I do a lot of reading for a little known group called ABCtalers. A weird bunch that insist we never meet anywhere but on the page. ‘Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night’ by Nik Cohen.  No cherry for you Nik. I’ve nothing against making things up. I do it all the time and imagine I could rattle something like this off in a few hours. But ‘Tribal Rites’ is so damn boring it makes you glad you’re not fifteen anymore and not a proper writer. New York that prestigious capital of magazines and books must have been a simpler place in those days.  Or I’m simpler. I no longer fling myself from buses. There, I’ve done it. Admitted it was my fault and not the feckin drivers. Like Nik I feel better for it. I’m a fraud.

 

 

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Christine Hamill (2016) The Best Medicine

 

the best medicine.jpgI can hear my partner, Mary, yakking on the phone downstairs, talking to her Auntie Mary about another Auntie- Eleanor who is dying. ‘She did have a bit of fear…’ she’s talking about her Granny, not her Auntie Eleanor, but the story is familiar, the same one. The Big C.

‘Apparently one in three people get cancer,’ Philip Wright, the thirteen-year old narrator tells the reader. That’s a 50/50 chance. That’s a joke. Jokes don’t have to be funny, but that doesn’t stop you being very trying. ‘I just wanted things to be normal. I wanted Mum to be normal. I knew she could never ‘unhave’ cancer , but…’

The structure of the book is before the but—with the usual school-boy concerns, homework and hanging out with his best friend Ang, being bullied by the Yeti, getting his specs broken, being in love with the ‘Goddess’ Lucy and getting detention, even though it wasn’t his fault—and after the but. It would also come under the letter B for Breast, but not Mum knows best because she’s being acting very strangely. Baking wholemeal buns. Tidying up the mess before there’s a mess. Ordering the cutlery drawer. And locking herself in the toilet and bursting in tears at the drop of a hat. Or the drop of her hair.  Or Harry Hill, a bit like Hara Kristna, but with big open-necked-shirt collars ‘our very own Harry Hill Appreciation Society’. That’s what Philip does, writes letters to Harry Hill asking for his advice, because laughter is the best medicine   ‘Even if Mum could write a guide and leave it – “An A—Z of Philip”’.  Christine Hamill did both of those things on ABCtales.

ABCtales is a kind of online gang hut for people with too much time and even worse literary ass-perversions. B is for Breast Cancer got my vote for book of the year. It offered advice for cancer sufferers and useful tips on topics as diverse as how to keep your head and lose your hair. When it was published it was a runaway success for older people that couldn’t walk very fast or very far. I’m sorry to say I’m in that cohort group. But positive thinking. Think yourself younger.

The Harry Hill Appreciation Society was the bastard child of the A-Z. A book for YA. Young Adults. A kind of fictional Wright what you know. Although Philip Wright isn’t sure about that idea. As he find out on his journey from childish understanding to childish understanding the best medicine, of the Harry Hill, kind is love and laughter. As long as no one dies in the process. Spoiler here. Nobody does.  And the boy gets the Goddess.

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Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone.

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A good week for me. I’ve moved up the alphabet from arsehole to author. There was brouhaha over the other side of the Atlantic over plagiarism. You may not have noticed, but I’m attuned to these social markers. Donald Trump’s second or third wife (who is doing the counting and who really cares) in a speech supporting her husband’s suitability to lead not just the Republican party, but the American nation as President, began her speech with something familiar and along the lines of: I was brought up believing if I worked hard and done the right things I would be rewarded. Now here’s a quiz question for you, who was the female Trumpeter accused of copying i) Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame. ii) Michelle Obama, of the big White House fame, or iii) any number of rich plutocrats who all come out with the same line of sophistry and smug self-justification? Imagine a world in which one of our leading citizens stood up and proclaimed: I worked hard at being a virgin and the audience stood up and gave her (or indeed him, in these transgender times) a standing ovation and shouted, well done, Mary! The problem with The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone isn’t that it doesn’t prove the case, that equality really is better, for rich and for poor, but paradoxically, only those that already believe that is the case would pick up this book and read it. You can be very sure that if President in waiting Donald Trump, did for a moment realize that there was such things as books, this wouldn’t be on his reading list and none of his scriptwriters or sycophants would think to nudge it in his or his wife’s direction.

Thomas Hobbes’ health-check spreadsheet can be applied here. Nasty, brutish and short and oh, yeh, fat and possibly pregnant too. Sounds like a school lesson, which it is. How to read a graph lies within the first few pages. Simple. The poor people live down there and the rich people live up there, separated by white space. There is much less of them and much more of us. But they make so much noise you wouldn’t think so. They live longer and have much better quality of lives and they start to believe their own lies. This book is a riposte to that. We have a choice typically from a menu that read: education or more prisons? Black lives don’t matter. Neither do white, working class. Neither do the poor, generally. We Brits are following the American model and building more of the latter. Recycling poverty and deprivation and the same old gang profiting from the poor.  David Cameron, we are all in this together, the sick man of Brexit Britain.

Marie Antoinette’s cry of let them eat cake finds a peculiar but familiar resonance and startled tone in Cameron’s letter to a Ian Hudspeth a Cambridge and Conservative councillor and politician advising him not to shut day-care centres for the elderly and to find other local-authority services to cut elsewhere. We do indeed live in different worlds that never meet. The sting in the tail is that in more unequal societies, not only do the poor not live longer, but neither do the rich. Their health and quality of life also suffers with a particular spike in the increase in mental illness, which the rich are not immune from. One of the last bastions of the Health Service where the rich and poor meet is in Mental Health services. Try it. Go along to your local clinic, listen to the different accents and laugh yourself stupid trying to book a hospital bed.

There is also the background hum of an apocalyptic tone to The Spirit Level. 30th June, 1916, one and a half million shells had been lobbed into a patch of ground near the river Somme. British soldiers were told not to hurry. A simple mopping up operation. 24th August 2016, the four horseman of the apocalypse are on their horses and waiting to visit. Read the small print of global warming. No water. No food. Tens, possibly hundreds, of millions of refugees on the march. This book was published in 2009. How we deal with the problem of making a fairer society and a fairer world, doesn’t just affect the rich or just the poor, we really are all in it together. But we can pay the price now, or pay it later. With bitter add ons. And it’s going to be as pretty as that stroll along the river Somme, one-hundred years ago. Wilkinson and Pickett don’t offer a blueprint, but they do point us in the right direction. All yea that enter here are doomed. Ignore it at your peril. You really can’t have your cake, no matter how rich, and eat it.

David Wilson (2016) Left Field

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I share the same page as Jeremy Corbyn. We supported this crowdfunded book published by Unbound and I’d guess Corbyn shares many of my interests in equality and social justice. Left Field as the name suggests is about the You and non-You as a house master described the apparent differences between houses at Canford school in Dorset, to a pubescent Wilson, at the fag end of the not-so-swinging fifties. David Wilson or Commie Wilson as he was known as teenager, in that oxymoronic term we call public school, had decided on a path that was non-You. Consider, for example, the tweed-suited seven-year olds— Andrew, Charles and John—in Michael Apted’s 7UP series.  A the age of seven they already know the differences between You and Non-You, someone like wee Tony from the East End of London, who are a bit rough and smelly, are decidedly Non-You. They delight in reciting a mantra of how their lives are going to play out and be, preparatory public school, then Westminster public school, then on to Oxford.  And, more or less, so it comes to pass. You always know where he and Non-You is destined to be. I’d never heard of David Wilson, but he didn’t agree. He has some rich friends and some poor friends. Through his involvement in the charity, he began, War Child, he met movers and world shakers such as Luciano Pavarotti and included a walk-on cameo of meeting Nelson Mandela.  The latter asking for his advice and support. You don’t get much bigger than Pavarotti, but Mandela dwarves him. This is an autobiography worth reading not for any of these reasons, but for its humanity.

The structure of the book is quite simple. Dad, mum and family. Towards the end of the book Wilson has one of his Commie moments and rips up convention. ‘Hooptedoodle,’ he tells us was a term used by John Steinbeck in his novel Sweet Thursday, to ‘spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language’. I’d call it padding.

Wilson’s second wife Anne Aylor whom he married in 2009, for example, reproduces an unabridged ‘Behind God’s Back’ about her first trip to Mostar, which the notes tell us was first turned down by David Greenberg, Managing Editor at The New Republic in 1994, with some advice that they might consider publishing a shorter piece on the bakery. It’s interesting and insightful, but doesn’t fit into an autobiography and there is a sense of getting even.  And there’s a hotchpotch and parts of a play that are not so interesting.

Yugoslavia. Remember that place, pre-Tito and post-Tito, a Communist paradise that worked and didn’t work but with sunshine and beaches somehow seemed so much better than the others. Here is where Wilson finds himself and the woman he will marry Renata Kasun from Zagreb.

‘A foxy young woman…wearing a yellow bikini. At the beach-side café I made sure to sit as close to her as I could, but we had a problem communicating because she hardly spoke any English and I didn’t speak a word of Serbo-Croat.’

That didn’t matter. ‘From 1965 until the early 1970s, I’d board the train for Dover, ferry to Belguim and then couchette trip to Cologne, Munich, Salzburg, Ljubljana and Zagreb.’  That must have been some yellow bikini. Makes me tired just thinking about it. But it reminds me of a conversation I once had with a girl that said she’d a boyfriend in Australia and they kept in touch by email, which was a new thing then. But how do you have sex? I asked, which wasn’t such a new thing.

Nada, Renata’s mum said a prayer for them: ‘Holy Mother, please look after my family and may my daughter Renata and David stay together, get married, have healthy happy children and a happy life’.

The answer to that would be no, yes, no and yes and who knows but God?  Yugoslavia imploded into internecine strife, genocide and mass killings. David Wilson has done a very great thing. He has given daily bread to the Bosniacs, fed tens of thousands in Mostar, bread to the poor, the cut off and the suffering. He has given the children music.  Left Field it may be, but with the right heart he has made the world a better place.

David Cameron – the legacy!

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I was a bit miffed reading The Observer, ‘IN FOCUS’, that no one had asked me to write about David Cameron’s legacy. I can only guess that’s because a blank page wouldn’t appeal to the reader. They would think it was some kind of trick – like global warming on a miserable and wet Scottish Sunday. I listened to Jeremy Corbyn stand up (OK you can’t hear someone standing up on the radio)in the House of Commons (with very few commoners in the House- if any- and most of them from SNP) and thank David Cameron for his achievements. Corbyn mentioned two things: gay marriage and the release of a prisoner from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. The bar has not been set very high for the incoming Conservative leader and unelected Prime Minister, Theresa May.

There were echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s call for national unity 4th May 1979 and holding out the olive branch of St Francis of Assisi’s prayer in Theresa May’s speech to the media in the aftermath of her procession to Number 10 Downing Street. ‘Where there is discord, let me bring peace.’ Thatcher’s legacy lives on.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; [Brexit, hatred and fear of the foreigner wins a Referendum. Nigel Farage resigns, claiming job done.]
Where there is injury, pardon; [Highest prison population in any of the modern economies, excluding that paragon of Black Lives don’t matter, USA.]
Where there is doubt, faith; [the great lie there is no such thing as society finds expression in George Osborne’s insistence on the government bringing down the Government’s deficit to levels below that of his hero Thatcher, or even that cartoon villain John Major. A Trojan horse for cuts, cuts, cuts that Thatcherite’s love so much because it is monopoly money ringing in the ears of the rich.]
Where there is despair, hope; [social mobility has went into reverse gear since Thatcher. The class system has become a caste system, with little or no intergenerational mobility. The sins of the father affect the son. The wins of the father stay with the family.]
Where there is darkness, light; [White lives don’t matter, if they are poor and working class. Chavs. Scum. Council House welfare cheats, how many Channel 4 and Channel 5 programmes must we endure Lord, how many, before You strike down Jeremy Kyle and the other middle-class  lovies and Little Britoners?’]
Where there is sadness, joy. [always end on a joke. There was a kind of parity. George Osborne booed at the London Olympics and David Cameron booed at Wimbledon. Sadly, I wasn’t at either of these events to boo.

But Theresa’s May’s speech and her insistence on continuing with the successful electoral policy of punishing the poor while ostensibly helping them, via focusing on sleight of hand and the GDP ratio deficit, had me thinking of the London bankers threatening to move lock, stock and barrels of oil to New York unless they got the bonuses their work deserved and those New York bond boys swearing they’ll move to London unless they get the bonuses their work deserved. We sure did give them hell of a beating Mr Cameron. We sure did. What was it your dad, did again. Oh, yeh, create tax loopholes for the rich? All in the past, of course. History. Cameron who?}

Jeff Torrington (1992) Swing Hammer Swing!

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Swing Hammer Swing! won the Whitbread Book of the Year. I like whitebread, but scientists with Twitter feeds say it’s not good for ducks or swans. The latter can’t moult and the young are unable to fly. This book does fly, but doesnae go very far. It’s the Gorbals, Scobie Street, when all the houses were falling down and the less-well heeled populist sent on their way. The ne’-er-do-well narrator Tam Clay, 28, wordsmith and would-be-author is aware that Scabie Street has its faults, all of which he’s keen to document, and even the rats have tucked their tails in and, moved out, enmasse, but an invitation to visit the housing office in Castlemilk, or the option of the high-rise ‘Barlinnies in the sky’, doesn’t appeal. It’s a Friday to Friday stretch in the falling-down life of Tam Clay.

Plot is where you bury somebody so he would have the reader believe, but you can’t believe a word Tam Clay says. On the day of Talky Sloan’s funeral, for example, Matt Lucas pelted by snowballs, undisguised as bricks, and dressed in strips of sheet as The Mummy to advertise Planet Cinemas screening of a film of the same name, stumbled onto the road and is knocked down by a bubble car. But a lot has happened since the reader had come in on the opening paragraph a week and 406 pages prior to that, with Matt’s wife Rhona in the Maternity waiting to have their first child and his in-laws none too happy about Tam’s decision to devote himself to drink, and dereliction of duty and finding the right path not to work, so he can find time to work on his writing, isn’t as easy as it sounds. A problem many of us are familiar with.

Something really weird was happening in the Gorbals – from the battered hulk of the Planet Cinema in Scobie Street a deepsea diver was emerging. He hesitated, bamboozled, maybe by the shimmering fathoms of light, the towering rockfaces of the snow coraled tenements. After a few moments the diver allowed the vestibule door to swing closed behind him then, taking small steps, he came out onto the pavement which in the area sheltered by the sagging canopy bore only a thin felt of snow. Up the quiet little grave for privileged snowflakes desecrating feet had trudged a pathway which shone with a seal-like lustre.

Characters like Tam’s bosom buddy, Paddy Cullen, who ‘would spend Eternity chasing a mobile pub barefooted across a jagged terrain of smashed whisky bottles’ leap from the page, but no very quickly, because they’re usually pissed. I think this is called, indirect free style. But like the Dab Four, the Beatles 1968 hit film, which come Judgement Day they hope can save Planet Cinema shutting once and for all, all you need is love. Jeff Torrington loves his city and loves his characters. He does not bring them to life and leave them stumbling around a cardboard Glasgow mumbling like a Mummy lines nobody want to listen to. Nor does he fall from character to caricature, which, admittedly is easily done, and as Torrington tended to do in his follow up novel (The Devil’s Carousel) and which really did not have a plot, or even a story worth listening to.

Swing Hammer Swing! really does sing. If you want to know what it was like in Glasgow, in the Gorbals for the ordinary man, or even the odd woman, like Becky that bit on the side whose man beats her, then read this. If you want to know how to mix four parts hypocrisy to three parts religion read this. It’s right up there as a Glasgow and international classic alongside that jewel in the crown, Ralph Glasser, Growing Up in the Gorbals.

Carmine Gallo (2014) Talk, the 9 Public Speaking Secrets, Like, of the World’s Top Minds, TED.

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Aye, I can hear you thinking. What’s he reading that shite for? Well, as you probably know I’ve been trying to sell my book Lily Poole to the unsuspecting public. For two years I’ve been making promises and telling enough lies to become the next Tory Prime Minister. Well, that wasn’t to be, but I did get a lot of support from a couple of homeless folk that I bribed with a bottle of Eldorado and the promise of enough cheap wine to float off to Renfrew without the ferry. But my book Lily Poole has hatched and with a drunken wobble in it legs is making its way into the big bad world. The problem here is, as the asshole author, I can no longer hide behind the written word and need to come down from my penthouse garrett and mingle with the common people. In other words I need to stand in front of an audience, with an adult-sized incontinence pad and not smell of keech and say something faintly amusing. You can see why I wanted to TALK LIKE TED.

I don’t really want to talk like TED, I want TED to step in and say, don’t worry about it old China, I’ll do all the talking for you. More to the point, in words of my old man DES, ‘away you and hide yourself’.

Ok, I’m on to a hiding. ‘Ideas Are the Currency of the Twenty-first Century’.

‘We’re all in sales now.’

‘Unleash the Master Within.’

‘What makes your heart sing?’

‘The New Science of Passion and Persuasion.’

‘Your Brain Never Stops Growing.’

‘Master the Art of Storytelling.’

‘Stories are just Data with a Soul.’

‘Three Simple, Effective Types of Story.’ (i) Personal (ii) About other people (iii) That Nurture (not undermine) Creativity

‘Give me one character I can root for.’

‘Have a Conversation.’

‘Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.’

‘Talk, Walk and Look like a Leader.’

‘Fake it till you make it.’

‘Teach Me Something New.’

‘Explore Outside Your Field.’

‘Successful Presentation Reveal Something You’ve Never Considered.’

‘Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments’ (thou shalt not deliver the usual shite).

‘Create a Holy Smokes Moment.’

‘End on a high note.’

‘Lighten Up.’

‘The Brain Loves Humour as the cock loves talking fanny.’

‘Stick to the 18-Minute Rule.’

‘Listening is Draining.’

‘The Brain is an Energy Hog.’

Three story structure

Paint a Mental Picture (cheers pal) with Multisensory Experiences and two cans of Stella.

‘Multitasking is a Myth.’

‘Stay in your Lane.’ (Don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living in the same way a good boot in the balls in a good boot in the balls).

‘You can learn from others’ (ouch).

I’ve slightly modified some of the TED advice to DES advice so it makes more sense this side of the Atlantic. Truth is keeching myself about standing in front of an audience and mumble-speaking. Back to my garret to practice booing folk.