Rangers 0—1 Celtic.

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Those with long memories can remember a certain Ranger’s goalie being virtually unbeatable, Celtic doing everything but score and Brian Laudrup galloping up the park and winning it for Rangers. Matt Gilks played a great impression of Andy Goram, but there was no great Dane to run away with it for the underdogs. Leigh Griffiths, in 87 minutes, set up the other best striker in Scottish football, Moussa Dembele whose sublime touch won the game for Celtic. The referee played his part (costing me £66 as my bet for first goalscorer was declared void) as Erik Sviatchenko’s header into the bottom of the net is disallowed, prompting bygone talks of Masonic conspiracy, but let’s be charitable and say the referee was  as knackered as Tom Rogic gets after half-an-hour of football, and the man in black spent more of the game following play and running into the Ranger’s box than any of the thin blue line. There was no 5—1 score line here, but on chances missed it certainly should have been. Gilks presenting Rogic with a miskicked pass in the six-yard box was the pick of the bunch. Sinclair’s free kick against the bar another standout. Matt Gilks was Ranger’s man of the match, in fact, he was man of the match overall, slightly ahead on points of Celtic’s captain, Scott Brown. If it were a boxing match it would have been stopped long before the end.

But Gilks must have taken a head knock, in his after-match interview he talked of Rangers being the better team. The coaching staff better get that looked at. Mark Warbuton, the Ranger’s manager must have headed every ball as well, because he seemed slightly concussed, gibbering that the gap between his team and Celtic has shortened. I’d check his eyesight too. The best rejoinder I heard was that was because Celtic had now lapped them.

Aberdeen in the league cup final. It will be a closer game than this one, because we know they’ll do, what they always do, go Walter Smith, sit in, and try and score on the breakaway. They’ve done it before. But they’d need their keeper to play like Gilks. A referee to disallow a couple of goals. Breakway and go up the park and score. In fact they need Brian Laudrup. And while they’re there might as well bring his brother Michael along. Look forward to the first trophy of the season.

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Michael Punke (2002) The Revenant

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Underneath the title on the cover, in brackets, is a dictionary definition of what The Revenant means (n. one who has returned from the dead). Every actor after every new release must also return from the dead. Leonardo Di Caprio banked another $20 million, and got the added bonus of an Oscar as Best Actor playing the part of frontiersman Hugh Glass, a man that just wouldn’t lie down and die. This is a novel of derring-do, with a lot of daring and a lot of do.

September 1, 1823

They were abandoning him. The wounded man knew it when he looked at the boy, who looked down, then away, unwilling to hold his gaze.

There are familiar names and locations. For example, The Rocky Mountains and Fort on the Bighorn. That’s a river, but most folk will be familiar with it as the place where General Custard and American Calvary honed the practice of genocide and were wiped out by massed Indian tribes. But this is long before this when there were no maps, but frontiers filled with Indians, with savages. Around six million buffalo still roamed the plains. Yellowstone wasn’t a park.  Punke provides a map on the first pages and time moves back and forward with Hugh Glass and where X marks the spot of the Grizzly attack that minces his body, crudely scalps him and almost tore his head off near the Grande River.

The path of Captain Henry of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company is mapped alongside the path of Glass. Both were frontiersmen. Henry’s title was an affectation (as most titles are) as he led a ragtag of men into the wilderness to trap plentiful game and bring valuable furs back to St Louis to sell. There was money in them there Black hills, but also Indian tribes warring with each other and the trickle of white men that moved through their territory. Punke leads us gently into their backstories. Winners and losers.

Hugh Glass, starts as first mate and gun running and rum running in the war of Independence with England. Captain of his own ship. Sunk, as he was prone to be. His fiancée and intended dies, but he doesn’t know this until later because he’s been forced to become a pirate sailing under the flag of the Pirate Jean Lafitte. When he escapes—in the nick of time—as is the case with most adventure stories, and finds himself wandering across vast stretches of Mexican Texas, Pawnee Indians plan to make a barbecue of his carcass, but he pulls a conjuring trick and survives. Hugh Glass always survives even though he might lose his hair now and again to passing Grizzlies. On the map is marked the First Arikara attack and then hundreds of miles North, on the North Platter River, the Second Arikara attack. Fling in the hundreds of miles Glass crawled, yomped, canoed, and covered by horseback and you’ve got a survival story worth telling.

But this isn’t just a survival story. This is a story of morality. Hugh Glass rages like a Grizzly and wants more than his pound of flesh from the boy and man that left him and been paid to stay with him until the end and bury his body. Instead they robbed him of his powder, rifle, flint and knife all the tools that could keep him alive in the wilderness and left him to his fate.

Hugh Glass began to crawl.

Jim Bridger, the boy had at least tried to make Glass comfortable before he left. He was the less culpable of the two. Glass follows Fitzgerald hundreds of miles to Fort Atkinson. He’s  a sociopathic figure, dragooned into the US army for stabbing a fellow gambler at Fort Atkinson, which was build the river for ease of access and a military presence trying to drive a wedge into the wilderness for commerce. None of these things interest Glass, he wants his rifle back and he intends to use it on Fitzgerald. It’s a hair-trigger denouement, but the book (and I imagine the film) is the righting of all wrongs (well, apart from genocide and millions of bison) and a story of human endurance.  But a word of warning, do not under any circumstances hang about with anybody called Hugh Glass or, friend or foe, there’s not a revenant of a chance, you’ll end badly.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356

ABCtales goes to the wall

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I’ll be sorry to see the end of ABCtales.com. Most folk will not of heard of it, or be that interested. In theory there’s almost 120 000 stories (poetry counts as a story) online, written by almost 20 000 writers. That works out at six stories per writer. But if you believe that you’ll probably believe some of the unbelievable shit I’ve written over the last eight years. It helps if you have no idea what moderation is. My normal day consisted of writing pages and pages of stories so fast I didn’t read them, or understand them, but I did publish them online. I’d push that button and wait for my brilliance to be uncovered. At that stage ABCtales had been online about eight years and only 40 000 stories had been published, 32 326 of them mine.  Other writers were kind

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Ewan, of soon-to-be-released Gibbous House, was an ABCtales editor. I didn’t know what an editor was, and I’m still not sure, but I did know an editor could give your work the magical glow of a red cherry. The equivalent would be when you were in primary 1 and the teacher pressed a gold star onto your jotter. It shone so bright you’d become blinded by the glory and pee yourself. Other dafties without gold stars were to be sneered at. Silver stars were OK for other people and bronze stars, well, you might as well wear a dunce hat and call yourself Noel Behan, who couldn’t put his shoes on without getting his left foot mixed up with his right. Ewan tentatively suggested writing in sentences now and again. My argument that it was bound to happen by the logic of numbers, letters and random full stops on the page, went unchallenged, but he  was the first editor to cherry-pick my work. That was a mistake, because then I upped productivity tenfold and produced even more stories. Ewan couldn’t keep up, had a nervous breakdown and went to live offline near a donkeyless track in Spain.

I joined ABCtales around the same time as Claudine Lazar. Her online name was insertponceyfrenchnamehere, (‘wrong day-go back’ motif) yeh, smartass type. You probably think I hated her and you’d be right if not write, or so it is written in biblical language. Her stories of London life 1974 and 1978 were far better than any stories I was mass producing. Then she was made an editor. So I had to kid on I liked her. That ruse has worked well right up to the present day. She even attended my book launch. I picked her up at Glasgow Airport, but she didn’t recognise me at first because she’s never met me and I’m much bigger and have more byte than onscreen. She had to light a cigarette immediately. The air in Scotland is so clear and clean it choked her smog-filled London lungs. I had to wind up the windows in my van to create a decompression chamber. When my eyes started to smart so I couldn’t see, then we could drive to the venue. I missed the turnoff, of course, but kept on the right lane (almost).  She was everything I hoped for, never bought a drink all night and tried to diddle the taxi fare. In other words, typical Londoner.

But it raises the question of whether an online friend is a friend. I doubt it. My offline friends aren’t even my friends. The affection I hold for my ABCtales crew is personal. It’s in the words they write. The experiences they create and share. The poetry of their live shaped by the frailty of normality. It helps if you’re nosey and want to know everything, as I do. I’m a reader first and a writer zzzecond. I’ll miss all these guys because they have become part of my life. You know Sooz made me laugh because her live was so shit and grounded in a reality that didn’t exist. And anybody that can write poetry, or even spell it, well, that’s special and you have telekinetic powers to move people. You know who you are. All I can say is wow and thanks for the help you’ve given me over the years.  Most online writers max out at two years, I’ve served eight years. I’d give more or do more.

ABCtales needs around £20 000 per annum to break even. It takes in about a quarter of that in dribs and drabs. I sometimes shipped the odd £20 the sites way, which made me feel like Moses with the Ten Commandments, overflowing with righteousness. The truth is in the numbers. £20 per annum. I pay £3 per week for The Observer. £156 per annum. A pint of beer costs £3 and I drink one of those every six months. I’m guilty as the next man. Some ABCtalers have proposed a subscription. The problem is it would start costing money to chase those that don’t pay and what exactly would you threaten them with? But it’s more fundamental than that. When I joined ABCtales it was free.  I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I was sure I wasn’t going to be ripped off. In a word I was scared. Scared my writing was shit (it was and still is). And scared I’d be diddled and it was all a big internet scam. The expectation of readers is books and online stuff will be free and that creates a pressure. Footfall or clicks to sites that charge will be close to non-existent and the existing membership of ABCtales will not be renewed. No new writers mean death to a writing site. Simple economics has killed us. I’ll miss my old online gang hut. I’ll miss my old gang. What to do now? God knows.

Celtic 0—2 Borussia Monchengladbach

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The better team won and deserved to win, but the Borussia goals were second-half gifts from Kolo Toure. The second goal in 77 minutes, which effectively killed off the tie, was attributed to Andre Hahn and flew into the top corner, leaving Craig Gordon, the Celtic keeper, with no chance, but a more careful viewing might show that Toure’s attempted tackle simply added power and dip to the shot. Twenty minutes earlier he’d been caught dawdling with the ball at his feet trying to let the ball roll out on the Celtic bye line. Hahn poked it backwards; Lars Stindl’s shot went through Gordon’s legs at the near post. Up until that point the keeper had been Celtic’s best player. But in truth Celtic didn’t have a best player. Perhaps the most culpable were Nir Bitton who regressed to a former player Parkhead regulars are familiar with, who, if he didn’t get caught on the ball, picked out a Monchengladbach player with his passes. It was no surprise he was hooked. Patrick Roberts coming on for an anonymous James Forest was also overdue. The German team were slicker in midfield and superior all over the park. There’ll be no Europa league after Christmas. Bottom of the group on one point, it’s difficult to see us getting another. But you know I love the Champions League. We’re not as good as we think we are and it offers the cliché of a much needed reality check.

Next up, Rangers. We may not be as good as we think we are but we are far better than Rangers. Ironically, with Toure’s performance Celtic’s best player might have been Simunovic who was an unused substitute, but might have played himself into contention for Sunday’s League Cup semi-final. Talk up the treble, because it’s coming up to Christmas and hopefully we’ll have the first piece of Rodger’s silverware in the bag.

John Lanchester (2012) Capital.

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The Prologue starts with a mystery, who is this man and what’s he doing?

At first light on a late summer morning, a man in a hooded sweatshirt moved softly and slowly along an ordinary looking street in South London…Pepys Road.’ He posts cards through people’s door: I WANT WHAT YOU HAVE.

Here’s the message Lanchester is trying to get across (without being didactic) houses by late 2007 were no longer just a place where people lived, but an investment opportunity, a barometer of wealth and indeed of Britain’s collective well-being.

This happened at first slowly, gradually, as average house prices crept up through the lower hundred thousands and then… in high hundred thousands, and now they were in seven figures. It began to be all right for people to talk about house prices all the time.

I WANT WHAT YOU HAVE. This is an old-fashioned morality tale told by an old-fashioned omniscient narrator, not only does the reader get inside setting, the different houses that make up Pepys Road,  the Yount family’s luxurious three-million- pound family home to the linoleum of the oldest resident in the street, Petunia, but we get inside their thoughts too. Petunia’s daughter, Mary is well-off enough to live in a house worth three- quarters of a million, but it’s her mum the clichéd ‘no spring chicken’, who did nothing more than stay put whose wealth outstripped her daughter and most other people in Britain. One of the kind of in-jokes of the book was that making such houses bigger by adding a basement effectively cost nothing because by the time the builders had finished burrowing and emerged into the light house prices had risen so high that it had cost nothing and effectively paid for itself. Everybody likes to get something for nothing.

Roger Yount works in the City for Pinker Lloyd in the currency exchange market. Bears and Bulls and all that. Lanchester the author of How To Speak Money a dictionary that decodes City obfuscation and financial weapons of mass destruction is in familiar territory here, and we know from the biography of his mother and father who was also a banker, that who you know can be more important than what you know. Roger Yount doesn’t really need to know all that much about computers and spreadsheets because those serving under him have Phds and the skill-sets of Mississippi steam-boat gamblers that never lose. Roger has the right public school accent and has lucked in with his ability wear a dinner suit and know where the silver spoon goes and to look the part, leader of a team that is on their way to achieving a £100 million profit for the company. Timing is everything and the book is set just before the financial crash of 2008.

Big City Bonuses separate the boys from the men and Roger is thinking ahead of the million pound extra that will bring to his annual salary because he needs it. Mr Micawaber’s dictum –   “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” – in this world can seem utterly Dickensian, especially when other traders such as Eric the Barbarian are making hundreds of millions of pounds for themselves. I WANT WHAT YOU HAVE.

Arabella Yount, Roger’s, wife’s religion is the conspicuous consumption marked by the passage of nannies to help with childcare, makeovers and treats because that is who she is. ‘No Plan B’ as Roger realises at the end of almost 600 page journey. In a morality tale the reader knows that she is no good and she’ll come to no good. In a way she seems so ridiculous, unable to change her three-year-old child’s nappy, for example, she seems one-dimensional.  Roger, in comparison, seems two-dimensional on the page, a collection of stereotypes rather than a character.

But perhaps the reason for this lies with the reader, rather than the writer. This is what people like Arabella Yount are like in real life.

There’s a Shallow Grave moment when the builder, Zbigniew, whom Arabella calls Bogadon the builder (think of a Polish Bob the builder) because it’s easier to remember, finds £500 000 cash, a suitcase full of ten-pound notes, behind a false wall in Petunia’s house which he is renovating, for her daughter Mary to sell for windfall profit after her mother’s death. Nobody knows about the suitcase or is looking for the money. The dilemma whether to keep it (a yep vote from me) or give it back is decided by the Yount’s Hungarian nanny, Matya, whom Zbigniew has fallen in love with, (as has Roger). It’s the most amount of money Matya has ever seen or is likely to see, but walking up any street in London and most people will be able to see similar amounts in the bricks and mortar of a one-bedroom flat, perhaps even in a parking space. Doing the right thing is the right thing because he finds out the notes were old and worthless. But such is Lanchester’s knowledge of finance that Mary and her husband have another dilemma because old notes have to be honoured by the Bank of England, but they will ask some hard questions of where the money came from and why they should pay out.

There’s lessons of other sorts for the other main characters. No good deed goes unpunished. The Kamal family that live above their shop on Pepy’s road are Muslims. When one of the brothers Shahid, who lives somewhere cheaper in London, is tricked into giving an acquaintance Qbal a couch to sleep on and an internet connection to play with it seems inevitable that he’ll turn out to be a terrorist. Similarly, Petunia’s grandson Smitty, a kind of Banksy figure, in the media-related London art scene is outed and with it his stock plummets, but it allows him to tell who is behind the I WANT WHAT YOU HAVE campaign. The most hated figure in Pepys Road, the traffic warden Quentina Mfkesi from Rhodesia is working under false pretenses and under an assumed name. She is an asylum seeker, holed up, waiting for her life to begin , but now liable to be deported back to a country where the authorities have promised to rape her to death. Nobody seems to care. Freddy Kanu, one of the other residents of the street who signed a professional contract with a prominent London club (Spurs or Arsenal) faces a different journey, and a payoff for ‘not being able to do the thing he loves’ which is to play football. But it’s a happy ending of sorts. In morality tales there’s always hope that the good will prosper and the bad will be punished. Capital is fiction. In your dreams.

 

 

 

 

Aberfan: The Young Wives Club, ITV, 9pm, directed by Joe Williams.

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http://www.itv.com/hub/the-aberfan-young-wives-club/2a4601a0001

The Aberfan Young Wives youngest member is sixty-one and its oldest members in their nineties. The joke was that the group voted to remove the ‘Young’ part from the group title, but there’s not a lot to laugh at here. The Young Wives Club meets every week and was formed almost 50 years ago in the Welsh mining village of Pantglas after around one-hundred tonnes of coal slurry from tip No 7, resting on a stream bed, in heavy fog rolled down the hill and over Pantglas junior school and the houses on Aberfan road. 144 people died, 116 of them children between three months and fourteen-years old. Jeff Edwards was the last child to be pulled out of the wreckage alive. The National Coal Board paid out £500 compensation for every child killed. One teacher was dug out his arms around two children trying to protect them, the other infants in his classroom by his side. Innocents killed by the Coal Board as surely as Thomas Hamilton’s bullets. Lest we forget.

 

Des Dillon (2013 [2005]) singin I’m no a Billy he’s a Tim.

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This is a stage play, a successful stage play, so successful that my mate Sharpy went to see it and he doesn’t usually go to plays, but it’s about the Old Firm and bigotry, so that’s alright then, but reading a play and seeing a play are a bit like looking out the window at midnight and wondering how cold it is outside. I read the whole book in about an hour, which includes the review of Dillon’s other books (some of which I’ve read) and the afterblurb some guy telling us how good the play is.

                Two hate filled Old Firm fans are put in a prison cell and verbally lacerate each other while their teams assemble on the park. Under the microscope, Des Dillon plays out all their fears, paranoia, misconceptions and most significantly a loathing that has shaped their whole lives.

So it’s quite a simple set up. Prison cell. Harry, a 50-something turnkey refereeing and Tim and Billy (gettit? the names are suggestive of a particular allegiance) going at it hammer and tongs when Celtic are playing Rangers. Remember that game when Kyle Lafferty scored?  The Derry Pele equalised late in the game? Kinda? So do I. That’s the background noise. The gun on the table is that Tim has bet Celtic to win (or at least initially thinks he has) and Billy punted on the Gers. It’s all or nothing. All the cash they have in the world is on the outcome and if their bet doesn’t come up they do not pass Go, do not make bail and stay in jail. Early on, even without knowing specifically what Old Firm game it was, my money would have been on the draw. Both Tim and Billy will come out as losers.

When they swap shirts you know they’re fucked. Harry’s backstory involving a sick grandson and son that doesn’t speak to him is a long punt up the park. You know it’s going to be the real winner and the leveller. When someone tells you something is funny it usually isn’t. I’d need to see the show in the flesh.

One thing I am sure of is the idea that merging Celtic and Rangers into a kind of super team and letting the bigots support someone else, such as Hearts and Hibs and those teams merging, and so on, like the idea of the machine designed for perpetual motion and as the answer to sectarianism in Scotland, then it wouldn’t work.  But it doesn’t need to work. All it needs to be is funny. And it’s not my play.

My answer to eliminating sectarianism is simpler. No longer allow a statutory provision for priests or vicars to be consulted on education and school policies. All schools should be secular and local. No Catholic schools and no Protestant schools and no Muslim or Jewish schools, or Academies, or whatever you want to call them.  Withdraw government funding for all of these schools and put it in the one pot. People can spend their money in whatever way they want. And those richer members of society that want to create their own schools, or maintain schools that already exist to exclude those whose face does not fit, then that would be fine. But I’d take away their charitable status. Because they are not schools, but businesses, I’d also make them pay tax. Fuck the Pope and Fuck the Queen. That’s what I’d say. Bring kids together in nursery schools and secular schools and then football will become just a boy’s game. I’m sure hatred will find another shape. But that’d be a start.  Perhaps I’m singin from the wrong hymn sheet? Discuss.