Our future in her hands!

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Theresa May, or may not be, the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister. But I’m with Clement Attlee on this one. :  for the Tory party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation.

Attlee was, of course, fighting his and Labour’s corner. Trying to kick-start the NHS and Welfare State and wrestle the money to pay for it away from the gentry, who didn’t require either. The fifth-richest nation in the world (so we keep getting told) didn’t even have Foodbanks then. As a plucky little island nation now decidedly drifting away from our neighbours, we are in the oxymoronic position of a political leader leading us out of the European Union she campaigned and voted to stay in.

This brings to mind a conversation I had yesterday with an old woman that said she had stolen two things in her life. One of them was a single grape and the other…well, I wasn’t even listening. I told the old woman straight, ‘I’ve never stolen a grape, in my life’.

Theresa May, as Home Secretary, despite her posturing, and the fading map of the British Empire tattooed under her hair in red, has allowed more refugees into Britain, net migration, than before she took her current cabinet position. That’s the facts. Look them up if you don’t believe me. She’s on par here with that other fabulist, George Osborne, holding up a black briefcase for the press and telling them  what  our public-debt ratio needs to be and how it  will be wiped out before the Conservative Government will spend a penny. That’s a bit like when I used to boast I’d hit 180 with three darts and pull the arrows out of the dartboard before anybody noticed I’d hit treble 1, 20 and 5. If you’re more interested in what John Maynard Keynes termed the ‘dismal science’, William Keegan’s (2014) Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment: Austerity 1945-51 and 2010— makes a comparison with the real constraints faced by Attlee and the Labour Party and propaganda war waged by the contemporary rich carpetbaggers against the poor of which ‘there’s no money’ was a key prop. Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has since Brexit conceded that he can no longer meet his self-imposed ratio. Instead, he targeted a three dart finish, with two darts, and a bit of quantitative easing, and he hoped with the markets crashing around his Noddy-like ears, nobody was watching.  There was plenty of money, then as now – for the rich. Ironically, the best definition of that mindset comes from David Wilson’s memoir, Left Field, written by the co-founder of War Child and educated at Canford, public school. ‘Language and behaviour were codified to distance the Upper Class and middle class…they were non-U to our U.’  Osborne and Cameron are the chalk dust of history.

A terrible stench still lingers. The poor, ‘non-U,’ more easily defined by a hybrid word. Benefit – add cheat. Fling in an Eton spoon, mix in healthy dose of hatred. Those that start the day in debt and end the day in debt. Those that continue, despite the largess of the state, to live and breed in public housing. This is Jeremy Kyle land. Shorthand, in the rich man’s propaganda, for scum.

We were never all in it together, as David Cameron famously lip-synced for the cameras. In the propaganda war refugees also have a shorthand ‘swarm’. David Cameron didn’t need a script writer to think that one up. It was on the tip of his tongue. We’ve had Poems for Refugees. Remember that one, issued by War Child to alleviate the suffering of Afghanistan refugees. The pages fall open, the war to end all wars,  Dulce et Decorum Est.  The trumpets call of a different kind, Berthold Brecht, Concerning The Label Emigrant.

I always found the name false which they gave us, Emigrants

That means those who leave their country. But we

Did not leave of our own free will

Choosing another land. Nor did we enter

Into another land, to stay there, if possible, for ever.

Merely, we fled. We are driven out, banned

Europe on the move. Seven million Syrians displaced. Pastor Martin Neimoller’s warning of a different genocide.

First they came for the Jew

and I did not speak out –

because I was not a Jew

Then they came for the communists

and I did not speak out-

because I was not a communist

Then they came for the Trade Unionist

and I did not speak out –

because I was not a trade Unionist

Then they came for me-

and there was no one left

to speak out for me.

Joan Smith, ‘To Avoid Worse,’ in an anthology of writing on asylum seekers, A Country of Refuge, makes the point that Anne Frank’s secret apartment in Amsterdam became a shrine and her diaries were a critical and international literary success which inspired a Hollywood movie, but if that teenage girl presented herself at our borders today, she’d be turned away. ‘By the beginning of 1939, there were 300 000 on the waiting list for American visas.’ And a headnote from history that mirrors headlines and promises from the likes of Theresa May today, ‘Tragically, the American government had recently followed the example of some European countries, instructing US consuls to delay visa approvals on the grounds of national security.’

Theresa May has already promised the party faithful that those children already here will be deported back to their homeland when they turn eighteen. Bravo, our brave Prime Minister in waiting. Joan Smith suggests that ‘Aylan Kurdi did not need to die any more than Anne Frank’. You’ve probably heard of Anne Frank and are wondering who the hell is Aylan Kurdi. But if I tell you his little body was washed up at the beach at Bodrum, red T-shirt, blue shorts, his face turned into the sand. His image flashed around the world. The Turkish policeman, Mehmet Cuplak, who gently lifted his body from the beach gaining, temporary, celebrity status.  Just think if Aylan had lived long enough we could have educated him in typical English language and values then deported him back to Kobani where a shell had blown up their house, or let him live his life in a refugee camp in Istanbul, without his drowned mother or brother, where his type belonged. Caring, compassionate, Conservatism.

As A.L.Kennedy, ‘The Migrants’ suggests, at that point the Paris bombings and shootings hadn’t happened. After Paris the face of the refugee was that of the Muslim bomber, a threat to our way of life. In fact, to our life.  Most decidedly, non-U, lower even than the working-class, non-U.  Kennedy calls the Home Secretary to account. In plain terms she calls the future Prime Minister a liar, but in mitigation, perhaps no more than say Boris Johnson or George Osborne or David Cameron. The best form of propaganda as Brexit demonstrates is fear and loathing. The Home Secretary received a standing ovation when she repeated those old favourites about immigrants stealing hard-won jobs, coming here to get treated for free by our splendid NHS and claim benefits. Theresa May has shown a clean pair of hands when dealing with the problem of immigration. I’m sure she’ll make a wonderful Prime Minister for the rich and privileged. No change there then.




Joe Reddick, 1965-2016

Funeral, this morning. Our Holy Redeemer’s. It’s not a popularity contest, but tends to be busier when someone dies young. That’s why, when it’s my turn for the casket, I hope there’s nobody there, not even me.  Joe Reddick was a bit younger than me. He was born in 1965, but followed a familiar route. He attended my primary school, St Stephen’s, but when Our Lady of Lorreto opened he moved down there because that’s where people from Dalmuir West went. Then Joe went to St Andrew’s, another of my old stomping grounds. I didn’t know him then. You’d need to fast forward (or go back) to when Joe started drinking in The Dropp Inn, having the odd pint with his dad, Joe (senior). I was on nodding terms with Joe junior then.

I got to know Joe (junior) better when Elaine, who technically ran the pub, organised a trip, where Fiona behind the bar practiced a kind of Dropp Inn socialism, one for her, one for the pub and one drink to you, and you might, or might not, get change. Lassez-faire without the inconvenience of being fair.  I signed up for the bus run because it was very cheap and it was Butlins in Ayr. There was even a bus waiting outside the pub to take us there. Young Joe was the driver.

Joe later told me that he was a bus driver, but he wasn’t, because they’d found out he was colour blind. That’s probably why he wore dark glasses; shades also helped him look cool. For Joe life and traffic lights were always changing to a dazzling green, giving him right of way. Nobody could stop him.  But when we got to Butlins I found out it wasn’t Butlins. Counterfeit Butlins  the place we ended up, was a place where people parked caravans, but it was in Ayr. There the similarity ended. They did have a kind of clubhouse, which they tried to bar everybody from our bus from getting into, or out of, on the quite reasonable grounds that we were too loud, too drunk and acted unreasonable like people trying to enjoy three days not in the sun, and this is hard to believe, a place worse than Dalmuir West, because at least you could escape from the latter, as Joe proved with his frequent trips to the Boulevard.

I didn’t really see much of Joe after Counterfeit Butlins, but he was single then and teaching Mark, his nephew, one of the twins, the ropes, how to pull women. We’d be sitting squeezed in at a table and Joe would crane his neck and spot some girl that looked quite smart. It was a barn-like room and the good-looking girl would be over the other side of the room, sometimes in company or even up dancing. Joe would start whistling. You’ve probably seen it on Saturday morning telly, or god help us the ABCminors, the type of whistling that has Lassie running up to cock its head and look at you, and say who is it exactly that wants rescued and where are the Indians. Joe whistled like that. When he got his intended victims attention, he’d keep whistling and wave the girl towards him. If you were sitting at the same table as him and Mark, which I was, you’d be shaking your head and drinking your beer and saying ‘are you fuckin, daft?’  But fair play to Joe, he kept at it, guiding whoever he targeted to within smooching distance with his whistles. Then he’d give the intended victim his famous impish grin. And he’d say something so clichéd and boring that Lassie would be shaking it’s head at you and telling you in dog language that it was woofing off to the Cat and Dog Home at Dumbarton and asking to be bulleted, pronto. But the strange thing was Joe seemed to get the green light from the girl he whistled down. It was interesting watching an expert in action. Mark, of course, didn’t have the same cocky grin, was a red-light kind of guy that needed to pay right on the knob for his pleasures.

Mark read a more sober eulogy at the funeral and got a bit of a laugh by telling us that Joe had worked for every bus company in Scotland. He met his wife at the Uefa Cup Final in Seville and they had two –young- kids. Tragic they are growing up without their dad. Let’s hope and pray there’s not a Counterfeit heaven to whistle down.


Jeff Torrington (1996) The Devil’s Carousel

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After the success of Jeff Torrington’s Swing Hammer Swing!,  The Devil’s Carousel is his follow-up novel. Only it isn’t. It’s not a success and it’s not a novel. The Devil’s Carousel is a collection of short stories, versions of which are listed and have appeared elsewhere, such as ‘The Poacher’ in the Glasgow Herald, ‘The Sink’ in BBC publications, ‘The Fade’ in the Scottia Bar Writers prize. The setting in each story comes from the same place, Centaur Car Co in Glasgow and the dinosaurs that roamed the planet when workers used to make things. Think of Linwood as a place where they used to make cars and I don’t suppose you’ll go far wrong. It’s an Us and Them world; management and workers. The end of a line when the opening bars of the song ‘You won’t get me I’m part of the Union’ meant something. A time when fax operators in the plant where ‘finkle fingers’ and high-tech whizz kids in the plant. A sequencer who sent telexes and worked in the MAD squad and not on the Widow, ‘a nickname from the main assembly track’.  The play on words is familiar from Swing Hammer Swing. Thus, here in the opening page, you’ve got ‘Starting’, and you’ve got much the same story of booze and derring-do, with not much derring and with stoppages and the threat of strike action, even less do.

                Shoes in hand, each boozy breath cautiously drawn, mindful of the notorious creaking seventh tread, Steve Lake tipsy-toed up the dark staircase. His stealth paid off, he made it to the bedroom landing without disturbing the snoozing trio. It was an accomplishment that even the most experienced cat burglar would have applauded, but he was only too aware of what proverbially follows pride.

Joining together each chapter is, ostensibly, reproduction of a samizdat Centaur Car Co publication called Kikbak, A Laffing Anarkist Publikayshun. Issue 97, for example, offers a poem. ‘The Coming of the Centaurs’ ‘Where cars stand now/There once grazed cows/And ‘hairy engines’ / Pulled the plough/ As close to heaven/ As the Lord allows/ That was Chimeford/ Before the Centaurs came.’

I didn’t bother reading any other ‘Kikbak’ publication, but I did finish the book. Characters such as Tombstone Telfer who believed that smiling caused cancer didn’t make me smile. There was recognition of an industrial past long gone, but in Swing Hammer Swing we have the real thing, this is cardboard tatters full of punch-hole japes, by larger-than-life men, in the wrong place, in the wrong space, and clocking out was more of a relief than a hand job. Job done. This is the second time I’ve read this book. I couldn’t remember it.  I won’t be back.


John McGinley, 2nd March 1958-30th June 2016

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John McGinley would sometimes amble down and play, when we played fitba, about twenty-a-side at Singers, but he was a busy man chasing down Maggie McIver who lived two doors down from his house in Shakespeare Avenue. Swings and roundabouts. He ended up living back there with his saintly mother, Nan and still chasing Maggie in his later years.  He wasn’t bad. Fancied himself as a big Shuggie Edvaldsson with Jinky Johnstone tanner ba’ tendencies. But what made him stand out was Maggie was quicker on her feet, and just about everywhere else than him, and he wore a Hib’s top. He used to go to the games at Easter Road. A Hibees man. They’d not a bad team. Celtic were on their nine-in-a-row glory years and every time we played Hibs, Dixie Deans filled his boots, scoring hat trick after hat trick. I don’t think John was that bothered. He supported the Hibees, not Celtic to spite his da, John senior. Later on in life John junior grew a moustache so he wouldn’t look like John McGinley. But he ended up looking even more like John McGinley than John McGinley that even when he shaved it off he went missing for a while, until it grew back again.

When the world was younger the great love of John’s life wasn’t Hibs, or even the glorious Glasgow Celtic, but Maggie McIver. Or so we kept reminding him. John didn’t get ratty about that, or anything much. He’d just sup his pint and laugh.  He was an easy-going type. Nothing much riled him. The Horse and Barge and the bookies liked him. William Hill’s flag is flying at half-mast.  Brownie told me John once won £1200 and they wouldn’t pay out. Had to check his moustache a few times to see if it was really him. Then tried to hive him off with a payment plan, as if he was applying for  a Provie check under the name of Walter Matthau and not trying to cash in a winning coupon.

The only topic off limits was his mum Nan and wife Marie, which was fair enough. It’s a sobering thought to think that his brother PC’s birthday and his wedding anniversary were both on the same day they buried him.  And it’s a sobering thought to think his stepdaughter, Bernie’s daughter, Princess Stephanie, is no longer a teen, because for us older guys time stops. We still imagine kids being kids and remaining knee-high. In the same way, I guess, we imagine we’ll never get old. Never get cancer. Never die.

Brownie did a nice wee speech at the funeral mass. Telling us that John started work in Singers. For us older guys we remember it not as a train station, but the factory that used to get bombed by the Luftwaffe. It’s probably no coincidence that when John started work in the stores he was sent for a long wait and when he came back the factory closed. Then he worked in the flooring business. But his real glory years were as part of the Chuckle Brothers, Independent Traders and Builders, with Tam Collins. I’m not sure what part Clank played in their organisation, but he was always on standby to offer independent advice. Drunk or sober you always got John the one way. One of the good guys.   R.I.P.