Elie Wiesel (1972 [1985]) Night, translated from the French by Marion Wiesel.

We create connections where there are none, Elie Wiesel’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1978, was in the winter months and fell on the same day as my birthday. Night is a slim volume, able to be read in one sitting. But it is a holy book, and in these increasingly dark times, it asks the hard question of what happens when. I dreamed my elder brother stood by my bed and mouthed words of warning. Ghosts speak and what our replies will be will be determined by who we are and what we become. Too often we leave all humanity behind. Birkenau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald barbed wire and millions dead, Elie Wiesel has come back from the dead to tell us what he seen and the choices we make that make cowards of us all.

‘Oh God, Master of the Universe, give me strength never to do what Rabbi Eiahu’s son has done.’

But there are different voices, one’s that are contemporary and familiar in what they are saying. Listen to the advice of the older and wiser Kapo to the sixteen-year old Wiesel, nearing the end of his strength and his father, and so many others, starving, dying of dysentery.

‘Listen to me, kid. Don’t forget that you are in a concentration camp. In this place, it is every man for himself, and you cannot think of others. Not even your father. In this place there is no such thing as father, brother, friend. Each of us lives and dies alone.’

Pity is for those that can afford it. Wiesel warns the reader in the preface. And in this digital, interconnected, age resonate even more.  ‘Books no longer have the power they once did. Those who kept silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow.’

‘I was afraid,’ as we all are and fear calls forth fear.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget the smoke.

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the will to live.

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God himself.

Never.

And yet, like any prophet, he has moments of vision, when a child with an angelic face is hanged in front of them, his body too light to break the fall to death and who is slowly strangled by his weight.

‘For God’s sake where is God?

And from within me I heard a voice answer:

‘Where He is? This is where – hanging from this gallows.’

Celtic 3—0 Aberdeen.

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I predicted 4—1 to Celtic before kick-off. My predictions usually hit the bar and go out for a corner, so no great surprise there. The bookies were laughing, yet again.  Celtic’s hundredth-trophy win, fling in the Scottish Premier League that’s one-hundred and one and if it’s as easy as this then it won’t be long until the Scottish Champions hit two-hundred. Aberdeen got a boost before the game with the omission of Scott Sinclair who has went through most teams in Scotland like an anthrax virus. My mate Rab Wylie gave us a shock when he claimed to know the Celtic team in advance but could list only five players. That might have given Aberdeen a chance, but two of them were Tom Rogic who scored a classic and James Forest, who scored another and his darting run into the box got Celtic a second-half penalty, scored from the spot by Moussa Dembele. The Don’s game plan is familiar to anyone that knows how to string ten men behind the ball (aka Walter Smith) and hope for a breakaway win. Here Aberdeen were pedestrian and Celtic strolled to victory.   In a one off match such as a Scottish Cup tie the diddy teams have a chance, but if Celtic keep strengthening and hang onto the best players – we’ll get one more year out of Dembele before a thirty-million offer and he’s not bye, bye, but sell, sell- then the laws of diminishing returns kicks in. A new era under Brendan Rodgers is underway. In three or four years he’ll be off too, but a perfect day and a perfect start.

Celtic 0—Barcelona 2.

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Lionel Messi was meant to be a sick note, not a seen it, done it message– he only scored two goals in just over ninety minutes here, one a penalty, which doesn’t really count. His first came from another tax dodger currently under investigation by the Spanish authorities (why can’t we do that here?) Up until that point Andy Rat and me had been celebrating each ten minute spell that passed without Barca scoring, me with a pint. Andy with a coke. After all they did beat us 7—0 last time we played. That’s called lulling them into a false sense that we’re shite.  We’d almost hit the 25 minute mark. Celtic had started quite well, by that I mean they sometimes got a hit of the ball, without creating anything. Messi had a couple of half chances he usually scores from, one in particular which he miscontrolled, near the Celtic six-yard box. That was a let off.  But Neymar, from the edge of the Celtic box delicately chipped a ball over static defenders and the other tax dodger whipped it, first time, into the bottom of the net. Craig Gordon, who was Celtic’s best player and later pulled off a stunning save from Suarez, had no chance. Not even I would have saved it.

We all know the rules for these types of games. i) the diddy team’s keeper must be outstanding. Tick there. ii) the other team must be under-par, in other words, play pish. Well, the triumvirate of Messi, Neymar and Messi is as good as it gets, but any midfield without Iniesta is lacking. And when Barcelona where are that very best Xavi and tick and tack was such a beautiful thing to behold that you couldn’t grudge them victory after victory and the great clean sweeps of history. Nobody could stop them. In fact, few teams could get the ball.

Initially, here, Celtic were successful in getting the ball back, pushing high up the pitch and winning throw ins and even corners. Mascherano looking particularly vulnerable to Dembele’s muscularity and skill.  iii) the diddy team must score first and defend to the last.  Celtic went in at half time a goal down. Lustig was being got at on one side of the pitch by Neymar and Jordi Alba and on the other side Messi was prowling, with Iziguerre often in the same time zone. I like Emilio, he’s a great replacement for Tierney, and Scottish football is a bit of breeze, but, like Barca, his best years are behind him (although he’s not that old) and he is liable to get caught. By that time Sinclair was off. That’s a big blow because he’s got pace and, most importantly of all, goals, the top scorer in Scottish football, behind Dembele. And it’s a blow for the league cup final, when Celtic need to play like Barca and Aberdeen not play like Celtic and give away the second goal. Game over.

But we had the dog’s chance. James Forest came on, and played well, and I don’t often say that, and as this level that’s a real compliment. McGregor, for example, was a null and void bet. Rogic missing in action. And Armstrong although he showed great running skills couldn’t pass the pall in a tenement close mouth – he was rubbish. Only Scott Brown could hold his head up and that’s something he rarely does. Forest skinned a few players, flung a cross into the box. Dembele had one of Celtic’s few chances before half time, which he largely created himself and was unlucky, but which produced a great save from Ter Stegen. It wasn’t actually a great save. It was the kind of average save an under-sixteen keeper would have made spectacular, but we lived in hope. Dembele’s big chance replayed again and again until he scores. (iv) Diddy teams must take their big chance. Forest’s ball curved onto Dembele’s napper. Five yards out. Got to score. Doesn’t.

Minutes later Izaguerre caught out by Suarez in the box, no surprise there, you might say, the attacker falling holding onto the defender’s hand so that it looks like a penalty. It was a penalty and Messi scored. Game over. Twenty minutes to go, enough time for Neymar to get petulant and not this time with the tax authorities, but with Lustig and the ref. Barca coaches played safe and took him off. They could have taken off another six or seven (v) Diddy team always loses.

So here Celtic are, the league won, the league cup on Sunday and only the Scottish cup final in May to look forward to. Then, two weeks later, it’s back to the biggest games of the season, the qualifiers for this competition, because not only is it the best it brings out the best. Celtic sit bottom of the group. Barcelona top. Manchester City, who are next up – and I look forward to that game – second. Borussia into the Europa league, where realistically we’d hoped to be. We finished exactly were pundits predicted we would finish, but so what? It’s been brilliant. Loved every minute and we’ve still got ninety to go. The old Scottish champions playing the would-be English champions. Bring it on. Let’s hope the above rules run true and we hit a run of i-v and the other mob don’t score, because we’re the Barca of Scotland, to be shot at and brought down low.  God bless the Celts.

Deep Water written by Kris Wyld, Director Shawn Seet.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/group/b083bjdv

I’m a big fan of BBC 4 and Nordic noir. This feels like cheating, get into dialect and ask yourself how the fuck can we have Aussie noir, when everything is bright and breezy and the action takes place within spitting distance of Bondi beach? But here we have the usual motifs, an outsider in the police department, looking to prove herself  Tori Lustigman (Yael Stone) a pint-sized cop, an Aussie Sarah Lund, not sporting a Christmas reindeer on her knitted sweater, but a body hugging bikini as she swims shark-like out of the spray onto the beach. Her first case is the murder of a gay man that had been tied to his bed. The suspect apparently fled from the apartment onto the Bondi. They have a suspect, the gay man’s boyfriend who’s been chucked by the man that’s been murdered. Stir with the big spoon that the murdered man’s mum is coloured and refuses to believe her son was gay, the murdered man’s neighbour upstairs that’s clearly homophobic and has a prison record and a brother of the victim that swears he’s going to kill the Persian that killed his brother. Add the spice of  the secret that Tori can’t tell anyone, least of all her partner on the case Nick Manning (Noel Taylor) that her beloved brother was gay and died near that very spot, accidental death by drowning, was the verdict. Tori is not so sure, especially when investigating into the current case turns over a spree of similar accidental deaths, nineteen years before. There’s always a grizzled ex-cop on hand to tell it like it was. ‘Poofter bashing was a sport back then. A blood sport.’ Her boss Chief Inspector Peel (William McInnnes) doesn’t seem too impressed and tells her to concentrate police resources on the case in hand. But with the same type of killings mounting and linking the past with the present and a gang of locals led by the O’ Donahue brothers, and a weapon that forensics shows was involved in at least one killing and the paperwork trail pointing to Chief Inspector Peel being complacent then, or conspiring now, to protect local ‘poofters’ in his pay then there’s lots of circles to square in those pink triangles. Terrific and well worth watching.

Jack’s Big Day Out -Dalmuir Library

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If we exclude the launch party for my debut novel Lily Poole, where I didn’t have to do anything much, but go to the bar and buy drinks and get a couple of selfie-styled photos, then yesterday’s outing in Dalmuir Library was my first outing as an author. There were only two things made me more nervous than losing something on a flip of the coin.  A heads up (i) There would be an audience. (ii) No audience. The tale of the latter was far more likely. My partner Mary asked me if I wanted her to go. She couldn’t really be bothered. Hasn’t read the book, wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about, but on the plus side Dalmuir Library is only a ten minute walk away. I hinted if she came along at least I was guaranteed an audience of one.

As any budding author knows playing the shucks-you-wouldn’t-let-down-card, if such a card exists in modern sagas with pre-nup agreements always works. I think what swung it for me was the Waltons was on the telly and presented a picture of prairie life as it should be. Mary put me right. It wasn’t the Waltons but Little House on the Prairie. I get a bit confused with nostalgic images of long-lost yore and life in pre-Trump America, but sure as fate, a pigtailed and incredibly young looking Laura Ingalls was in the next shot. She was planning to go on a picnic with a raccoon and her sister, whose name nobody can ever remember, (spoiler *  she went blind at some point in later programmes, probably looking for food for picnics), but they planned to enjoy themselves regardless of whether they had food or not, because in those halcyon days they made do, a picnic without food was still a picnic. I guess they could have hunted and eaten the raccoon, or raccoon tail, because everybody in America is licensed to carry a gun except black men and Mexicans. I missed what happened next because I didn’t want to be late. Bob, Mary’s son couldn’t be bothered going to the snooker, so the potential audience had just doubled, or increased one-hundred percent, whichever sound more impressive. It was icy on the roads and pavement, I clung onto Mary’s jacket because I didn’t want her getting injured, and as they say in theatre land, break a leg, especially as she’d have missed all the fun. Bob had to deal with global warming on his own.

I wasn’t sure if the library was open, but three push-bikes were parked in the rack outside, which was encouraging, but then three people came out and rode away on them. On the plus side, Donny, West Dunbartonshire’s Champion Reader, which sounds like a cartoon character, nipped into the library in front of us and led the way.

If I included Donny and the two librarians working behind the counter my potential audience had increased by a multiple of three. A person smarter than me with a HNC in PR would have been able to calculate that number in audience growth rates above the mean, in terms of integers, and put positive spin on it (and ignore the negative and equalizing values that the audience were all paid employees of West Dunbartonshire Council). Things were looking good for a quick and diplomatic exit.

However, as anybody that’s ever been to Dalmuir Library knows that’s the place where they first got the idea for Dr Who’s Tardis. Donny the Champion Reader led me into the Tardis room and there were seated give or take a few bodies, around 15 000 folk. I recognized some of the faces. Pat McDade hadn’t given any hint on Facebook, where he lives, that he’d be making the journey to reality. But there he was seated in the back row close to Jim Mirren, his wife and father-in-law. Mary and Robert went to sit beside him. In the middle tier were the author Emma L Clapperton and her mother Margaret. They smiled to encourage me to hurry up and get it over and done with. In the front row a man with slicked black hair, blue casual wear and soft shoes clutched his ticket nervously and later asked me to autograph it.  The librarian had to bring in more chairs, which might or might not have been a good sign.

The Champion Reader graciously offered the much prized and  sought after padded swivel seat at the front as my throne. Pat’s voice drifted down, some belittling remark about me being unusually early for someone that prided himself on being fashionably late. Jim McLaren breenched in and then we needed another seat for Louise, Alan’s fiancée, but they’ll probably never get married because he’s grey and going bald. She’s already swithering, but her secret is safe with us. Don’t tell anybody, unless you have to.

John, the head of West Dunbartonshire Libraries, stood up, and  like father of the bride, did the mandatory announcement about safety issues, where the toilets were and read a short speech about me. Donny remarked that was quite a good blurb and that he should know because he sometimes had to write them. I didn’t say it was a pretty good blurb because Unbound’s was crap and I’d written it, but that was the only time I was modest. After that I claimed to have read every book in the English language and some in schoolboy French and was in the process of re-writing them and making them better. After yakking for several hours Donny had me saying au revoir and had to pull me away from my audience and push me outside where he had a taxi waiting and the meter showing a bill of £321.

‘Money well spent,’ was my parting remarks to him.

I’m not sure I’ll be invited back. But with a library card in my possession I will not be thwarted in my plans for global domination.

critique of (ABCtales) story: war to end all wars.

In a world of mud, colour was a low deceit and became his eyes, his legs and his feet tapping out messages to his body in the trenches. Bright colours such as red, orange and even blue were starbursts and new-born memories. Rail by rail, sleeper by sleeper the slow climb east or west, the locomotive found its way through craggy hills and mountain. Steppes washed red and orange by the flickering light of the day and nightfall falling like a stone and covering hay racks and stone houses, with their quaint roofs, and leaving behind the drift of wood smoke and the scent of passing history. A town glided past and on the bend birch forests turned blue and the air, higher up, tasted cleaner and crisper.

Commentary, setting the scene: first paragraph. I was trying to seize the reader and hint at the narrator being blind. In my head that was already an established truth. I wasn’t sure about low deceit. Here I was trying to link in with the ducking and diving of the trenches. But mostly, you write first and think of why you did something later. That’s called giving what you write an alibi. The question here is low deceit, or should it be simplified as low deceit? Similarly, Bright colours such as red, orange and even blue were starbursts and new-born memories. Juxtaposing trenches with train is tied in with the idea of climbing.  I’m not sure that applies. If I was writing about the killing fields around Verdun, it  is flat country. Hedging my bets with east or west. I’d need to look at that again. Be more honest. Craggy hills. Not sure craggy does anything, but impede the progress of the sentence? Craggy hills. Then the follow on mountains. A sameness, one a synonym for the other, but may aid the idea of movement? Steppes sounds pretty good, it suggests climbing, or even falling. The problem here is steppes are usually associated with the East and in particular, I’d guess, Russia. Washed red has connotations of blood. I’d probably get away with orange, the colours of change. Nightfall falling- like a stone- hits all the cliché buttons as it goes down. Hay racks and stone houses are at best a  guess. This shows I don’t know what I’m talking about with the idea of ‘quaint roofs’. The drift of wood smoke tied in with the journey and also history does work.  

Each station they stopped red-capped guards stood in attendance, a hammer ringing up out of the tobacco fug and rowdy song: so We’re here because we’re here because we’re here, and the relief of being somewhere else, anywhere else, anywhere else, away from the shells and the shrapnel and the sucking stinging mud filled with ghosts of friends and rats feasting on the finest, and overblown lice on the warm-blooded seams of sentient leftovers, and the pitter-patter of machine guns. The wheel tapper walked close to the line, tapped out the cheerful beat of the evening, and the order of nothing falling apart.  Everything in order. The rattle and shuttle of bodies defying gravity and moving on shuggling in the aisles and tilting in the compartment, and in the dining car, officers looking up from their hands of hearts over diamonds, alert, before sinking back into worn cards and playful bickering. Rubber followed rubber. The laughed as small sums of money changed hands, not lives, not in the way the most meaningless choice at the front could. Wax polish and the smell of the promised leg of lamb hung in the air, perhaps with a carafe of pinot blanch to follow and they licked dry lips. Laughed because they could, because they were here because they were here because they were here.

Red-capped guards continues the theme of colour, rising from the mud (I just thought of that, so it must be true). But the truth is I don’t know if i) guards were posted on the line ii) if they wore red caps, or iii) what they were supposed to be doing. I quite like the idea of a hammer ringing out the wheels and the wheels getting checked, wheel by wheel, by a wheel-tapper employed to do such a job because although it plays at normality it is ridiculous. Soldiers on leave are coming from a place where every minute of every day they died, yet, away from the front a parental ideal of care springs into action. I tried to show this with the anthem and rats feeding on the finest. A motif which recurs at the end of the paragraph.  

‘Won’t be long now,’ someone said. He turned his head towards the Glaswegian accent.

The movement from the general to the particular, a focusing in works here. The accent is Glaswegian, so back in familiar territory for me.

‘Where are we?’ he asked one of the orderlies. He shifted closer to the window, his body squeezed into a hard seat in a third-class compartment. The kind that his mother used to take him on when they went doon the water to Rothesay, with all the other families from the streets surrounding them at the Glasgow Fair. His mother, sitting opposite,  kept an eye on him far better than any medic, a black, winged hat buried her ears, wearing her best grey dress pinned with a large cairngorm brooch, a necklet of fur, some fox rubbed up the wrong way, her lips moving silently as she mouthed: ‘Hurry up. Hurry up. Hurry up’. Fearful of being sick and disgracing herself. George knew how she felt. His wee brother had cheered when he was called up and his wee sister had cried.

This is a kind of interlude linking past and present. The reactions of brother and sister tie the varying responses together and give a notion of home.

His fingers traced the bandage around his head, covering his eyes. They’d shaved his head on one side, minor bleeding, no lasting damage. Poked and prodded by one of the doctors. A light shined in his eyes. Then he’d slept for a very long time. Woke up somewhere unfamiliar. The smell of disinfectant and the groans of other men helped him realise he was in hospital. And that was all he had hoped for, all he dreamed of.  Felt a body filling the space, leaning over him.

‘You have to go back to your regiment,’ a voiced tolled in an upper-class English accent. ‘Royal Scots, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, sir,’ he said, sitting up square in his bed and trying to salute.

‘Good man,’ he said. ‘I see you’ve got a medal for gallantry.’

‘Yes, sir.’

He heard an intake of breath, slide of his shoes as he stepped to one side, fingers drumming impatiently on a piece of paper. The doctor acted like he was deaf and dumb as well as blind, with his instructions to the orderly to ‘get him up and get him moving, as quickly as possible’.

That was when he first heard the word ‘malingerer’.

This episode was the way the story played out in my head. My intentions were to juxtapose the way that soldiers from working-class backgrounds, in particular, were tortured by those of a different class in the belief that would make a man of them and cure them. But the story didn’t quite work out that way.  

They walked slowly arm in arm, giving the others plenty of time to climb onto waiting buses and trains and leave them behind. The whistles and hissing of trains, the shouted greeting of other passengers meeting loved ones. An amputee beside them swung himself sideways and forward with the aid of crutches. He tilted his head and shifted his weight onto his good leg.

They would be best modified by giving the orderly some kind of descriptive presence. That way the linkage of past and present would seem more real. Arm-in-arm. The bustle of the station is alluded to in the next sentence. The problem with the amputee isn’t who he is or what he does, but a logistical one. There’s a shift in point of view. Who is seeing him? Especially if George is blind.

‘George, is that you?’ he called over his shoulder. ‘It’s Frank. Frank Lodge, we were together at Verdun.’

George had been with tens of thousands of others, on paper part of a centripetal force attacking a hill. A worm’s eye view of the trenches separated the men from the boys. Shivering boys who had soiled themselves, standing beside you, blown up. Men buried alive, some unearthing themselves, only to die later. Rank decaying body parts shovelled into bags. Left out in the open. Bayoneting and shooting of prisoners because the only way to survive was to remain alive. Gas drifting and men vomiting up their burnt lungs, the only cure a bullet. Fields of mud, vast cemeteries without end.  He turned sightless, some plangent note in the voice calling him back.

Worm’s eye view is clichéd. The idea of starting with shivering boys and then in the next sentence allowing them to be referred to as men works, but perhaps some or all of it should be moved to the opening passage, second paragraph, and tied in with the pitter-patter of machine guns.

‘We met at the delousing station, shared a half of whiskey before going on leave.’ There was a pleading tone to his voice. ‘Remember?’

I wasn’t sure how much whiskey the men at the front had, but I remembered reading how the Germans, when they raided the trenches were astonished how much food and booze was on the other side.

‘Aye,’ said George, trying to sound convincing. But then it came to him, a man with hardly any hair and a nose so long it appeared no just on his face but on different time zones. Now it had come to meet him as he felt the man’s arms around his neck as his crutch fell and he awkwardly hugged his head. ‘Frank, sorry mate, I just can’t see you.’

Hardly any hair, i.e. balding or some variant, shorten. His nose being on different time zones – attempt at Glasgow humour.  

The orderly bent down and picked up the crutch, he positioned the pad under Frank’s oxter and the crutch in an upright and steady position, allowing him to move his foot and let it take his weight.

‘Cheers pal,’ Frank said to the orderly. ‘Going home to meet the wife.’ His voice seesawed up and down. ‘Never thought I’d be able to say that.’

The orderly appears again here. A third body between George and Frank. The case for the orderly to have some kind of descriptive tag so he stands out is clear.

‘You’ve got a wife?’ George sounded surprised.

‘Aye, she couldnae resist me.’ The smile was slow in coming. ‘Just thought I’d say hello. We used to talk about you, you know, how you got transferred and then the terrible day. If you’re numbers up, it’s up.  All dead – apart from you, of course.’ He bit his lip and nodded, even though the other man couldn’t see it. ‘Keep in touch.’ He steadied his crutch, but before striking out, reached out to embrace George once more.

Bit muddled here. Leading the reader into flannel land. how you got transferred and then the terrible day.

George flinched at the touch, but then he stepped inside the crutches, and placing his arm around his friend’s powerful shoulders, swaying and supporting his weight, he felt his unshaved cheek press briefly against his own.  ‘Take care of yourself.’ George felt his eyes moisten beneath the bandages.

Need to re-order or rewrite sentence so the whose unshaved cheek is being pressed against flesh is clear.

‘You too,’ said Frank.

George waited until he could hear the tap and swing of the crutch as he took the first step and moved away.