Will Schwalbe (2012) The End of Your Life Book Club.

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This is an exclusive book club. There are only two people in it, Will and his mother Mary Anne, and one of them dies. Mary Anne always read the last few pages of a book before starting the beginning. She liked to know what happened. I guess we all do. Death is the great taboo. One of the guy’s I went to school with brother was in the pub after their mum died. I told him I was sorry. Recently I asked an acquaintance I’d known about twenty years, why she wanted me to cut back a tree when Tam her husband was always pottering in the garden and doing jobs like that. Tam and me usually spent a few minutes discussing what we were reading. She told me he’d died during the winter and she’d given him mouth to mouth and tried to revive him, but then she heard the death rattle and that’s about it. Death has come to visit. We’ve all got these stories.

There’s my own mum, Jean. I sat by her bed all night and in the morning death worked its way up her legs and stopped her heart. I wasn’t sad, but delighted. Dementia had taken her to a faraway place and death was a friend. I can reconcile the child I was in pyjamas and before bed, sleepy head, really thinking I’ll fly and be a man of steel. You will. You will. You will, runs through my head, because my mum’s great love made anything possible. For Mary Anne Schwalbe books were her ‘companions and teachers, they had shown her the way’.  I guess we can’t ask more than that.

Books are holy things. Will and Mary Anne Schwalbe turned to them when she developed the pancreatic cancer that would kill her. Mary Anne weighed less than one-hundred pounds had stopped eating and was aged seventy-five when she died. Patrick Swazi that old Dirty Dancer announced he had pancreatic cancer around the same time as Mary Anne, but he was playing Ghost and it wasn’t with Demi Moore and was dead within six months. Mary Anne, with treatment, got an extra two years of life. Here’s the bit I didn’t like and Mary Anne didn’t like either. That in America healthcare was a lottery and she could afford treatment, even experimental treatment that others couldn’t. That was why she hoped Obama would get elected. That as President he’d do something about Healthcare provision for the poor. But Mary Anne was also a do-er. One of the women she met in hospital was crying because of what is termed the doughnut.  That’s when the healthcare provision she had paid for runs out so she couldn’t pay for the drugs she needed until she paid a sum she couldn’t afford, but then six months later or when she was richer or sufficiently poor she’d be come out the other end and be able to access medical help and her drugs would be paid for via insurance. Mary Anne gave this woman the money to pay for her care. Mary Anne was a giver. She kept giving her whole life. At one point she went to live in Burma for six months and help children with learning disabilities. She was a great fund raiser,  raising millions of dollars for a library in Kabul, for example. Books were life givers. ‘All readers have reading in common’. Amen to that.

One thing I understood and this is covered in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist is the hypocrisy of a so-called Christian nation that proclaims piety but eats its poor and spits out the husks of their lives. As Will writes: ‘Most books surprises aren’t surprises at all, but follow a formula, like the dead body that’s certain to lurch out of a wreck being explored by deep-sea divers…’ Mary Anne loved her fellow man and in particular that dirty word, the refugee, because that’s you and me.

Will Schwalbe has added more books to my reading list, but that is never a bad thing, where there’s life there’s hope and where there’s books there’s hope. Amen to that.


Artnight BBC 2. Meg Roscoff

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Novelist Meg Roscoff examines creativity. She’s a late bloomer, coming to the writing game, aged 47, with her debut novel,  How I Live Now winning a major literary award. I haven’t read any of her work. Nor have I read the young Irish author Eimear MacBride’s A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, which won the Bailey Prize. But I do know who Anne Marie Duff is, although not her fellow thespian, Denise Gough. This duo were first up in this programme, sitting in Sigmund Freud’s workspace in London, with the couch the psychoanalyst used  to analyse  his patients nearby as a prop to discuss the relationship between the conscious mind, the unconscious mind and creativity.

Actors on stage or screen are not themselves, of course. Roscoff made the analogy that the conscious mind is the rider and the unconscious mind the horse. The latter does all the work. Getting into character is getting off one horse and onto another. Unhitching the supervisory superego and making your body into something else. Someone else. Edward Latson, principle dancer of the Royal Ballet, for example, believes it is a spiritual experience to dance and somehow and sometimes beyond his control.

Roscoff’s belief is that anyone can do it. That we can build better synaptic bridges between the conscious mind the unconscious mind. The problem here is fudging between what we mean by the brain and what is meant by the mind. But if we put that to one side and look at what Roscoff terms ‘magic’ such as the improvisation of a jazz musician acting spontaneously to a musical prompt then the science bit kicks in and we can guess that the part of the brain that manages the ego the frontal lobe, or more specifically the anterior cingulate cortex, which allows us to concentrate on one task at a time, while blocking out competing information is disengaged. The handbrake is off. Children are best are learning a new language for example, because they’re not; they do it subconsciously and not consciously ticking off the rules as they learn. They lack the inhibition of the adult self. Writers, I believe, have to write like a child, tap into that self.

I guess the best example of this is the story of the little girl that said she was drawing a picture of God. But nobody knows what He looks like suggested one interloper. They will in a minute, she said.

That’s the gist of it. We need to be able to take the handbrake off when we write, or act, or dance, or God help us, sing. We need to love what we do or else our body won’t respond. We need to be serious and play like we mean it. The ‘magic’ comes from within and without. A mental block is when we’ve lost that joy and think of writing more like a job lot that needs to be completed. I’ve gone offline here, adlibbing and adding my own thoughts to Roscoff’s insight. I guess she’d understand. Worth watching for those that want to learn.


Glaswegian dialect and how to rate books on Amazon.


If you are old enough you’ll remember the teacher at school leaving a star on the page of your jotter for writing. Gold, silver, yellow and red stars. Well, Amazon do the same kind of thing. You hover over the star and there’s suggestion of how much you liked or disliked a book. If you hover over the customer reviews and click you can read what reviewers thought about the book. https://www.amazhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356on.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356

Then if you right click on the write a customer review box you can also write a review. Try it at home. Hover the cursor over and in the Glaswegian version of Amazoneze will pop up alongside one star with the suggestion that reading this book is, one star: ‘like lying in your own pish’.


scottie.jpgTwo star:  ‘Fannywash’.

Three star: ’Shitehawk, but not as bad as you’d think’.

Four star:‘could be no bad at times’.

Nothing is ever dreamed good enough. If God made the world in seven days, somebody knows somebody that could have done it cheaper, with less fuss and better. The best a Glaswegian can ever hope for is that something was no bad. See that Pele, for example, he was no’ a bad player. Diego Maradonna, no’bad.

Five star:’no bad’.

In the Weegie language dictionary there is no equivalent word to good. Good is getting above yourself and indulging in a bit of fannywash and the best thing you can do is go and lie in your own pish. It’s a very visceral language, which is no bad for some things.

Clydesider’s Cuppa with Irvine Welsh, Issue 1, Summer Edition.


I liked Charlie Sherry’s interview with Irvine Welsh, and I talked about it with him on my mobile. I’m not a great man for phones.  Boy can Charlie talk. Irvine Welsh probably never got a word in.  But one thing stuck with me the last few days and it’s not the Renton quote from Trainspotting, which I’ve some sympathy with, ‘It really is shite being Scottish.’ Nor is it Welsh’s upbeat message, ‘Scots now have a positive can-do attitude which bodes well for the future’.  That’s the equivalent of telling your granny, ‘you’re looking great’, when you know she’s going to peg it at any minute. What struck with me was Welsh’s aphorism ‘it’s not so much what they’ve done, but what they’ve destroyed’.

‘I don’t think you can be a real crofter unless you have the Gaelic’ says Donald MacSween a crofter from the Hebridean island of Ness, in Joanna Bigg’s,  All Day Long, A Portrait of Britain at Work.

Similarly, I don’t think you can be a Tory unless you’re a selfish cunt. Dress it up as Theresa May type  lamb in sheep’s clothing when they start talking about caring and compassionate Conservatism. Look at the honours list: George Osborne. I’m all for law and order, take mummy’s money away, daddy’s money away,  horse whip him and send his children to live in Ferguslie Park, in perpetuity, for the damage he’s done to the poor and sick of this nation.  I’ve a nephew that I found out was gay. Nobody asked my opinion. If they did I’d have said I don’t care what you do with your fiddly bits. But when I heard he’d voted Tory, well, that really did disappoint me.   It shows an indecent lack of imagination, a lack of empathy.

Britain is a good place to be rich. Eton educated, Lord Summerlayton, Hugh Crossley, a hereditary lord, who inherited a 5000-acre estate in Suffolk agrees. He tells you how hard he works, the estate wasn’t profitable and how difficult it is being part of Britain’s cultural industry. What he doesn’t mention is what subsidies he and his father and his father and his father before him received and continue to receive. But one great positive from Thatcherism on was the ability to tell us how it is and being able to talk about ‘welfare junkies’.

‘We don’t have savings’ (we do have debts), says Rachelle Monte, a care worker in Newcastle. ‘Anybody can walk into a job in home care’. In the 1980s local authorities contracted out care and the big three equity firms, Allied Health, Care Watch and Care UK brought in their own ideas of flexible working. Check out Sooz’s diaries. They detail exactly how it works from the management perspective.  Minimum wage is the maximum wage. Overtime is mandatory, but unpaid. Travelling time is unpaid. Keeping a car on the road is unpaid. Mobile phones are unpaid. But you do pay for your uniform. It’s a lifetime ago when my mum was something called a home-help, remember then? Three hours a day with a particular client and there was an out roar when that was cut to two.  Four percent of the population, almost four million people, rely on carers every day.

Tres Cosas campaigned for three things we have outsourced to firms like Balfour Beatty, who have moved sideway, vertical integration, from building houses to the profitable business of acting as a middle man and hiring out cleaners to institutions such as the University of London: ‘sick pay; pensions; paid holiday’.

Who wins? Rich folk.

Who loses? Poor folk.

Who pays for it? All of us.

Renton was partially right. It really is shite being poor. And Irvine Welsh is right, ‘it’s not so much what they’ve done, but what they’ve destroyed.’ Privatisation of schools, hospitals, libraries and health care is a sure way to keep us in our place and knowing our place in the world.