Growing up in Scotland, BBC 1, director and writer Liam McArdle.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08gd0gc/growing-up-in-scotland-a-century-of-childhood-series-1-1-education

This is fantastic viewing. I wasn’t about in the 16th Century when John Knox thought it a good idea that every village and every Kirk should have a schoolteacher, and every child should be able to read god’s word in the bible as a bastion against Popery. Until fairly recently that was the model of schooling for many children in Scotland and can be viewed through the prism of novels such as Sunset Song and characters like Chris Guthrie. The people that owned the land, owned the people on the land, then as now, but they added value to their subjects by education. This is not a new idea. Sam Wilkin, Wealth Secrets of the 1%, shows how around 115BC Roman slaves were educated to what would be considered nowadays ‘professional’ level and ran the equivalent of vast conglomerates, because educated slaves could be sold for more and gave greater value to their owner. This may explain how Scotland, a little drip of land in the Atlantic, produced so many wealthy and world leaders, but let’s not forget the role of British Empire, with many Scots as administrators.  Andrew Carnegie is another example, born and in Dunfermline in 1835, his upward trajectory to becoming one of the richest men in the world from humble beginnings has its roots in village schools, but also in the decline of handloom weavers and the movement from the land of the majority of the population to urban centres. This is shown graphically in a number of ways. Legislation dating back to 1872 that all children between the ages of 5 to 13 must attend school and must receive an education, which would be provided by the parishes and later by local authorities. With the population of Glasgow growing faster than that of London or any other metropolis, Tureen Street accommodating 1200 pupils was built in Carlton’s East End in the nineteenth century, but before the school was finished an even bigger school, St James’s was being built 150 yards away. These were ‘temples of learning’. But the writer James Maxton, the son of two schoolteachers, noted something that was picked up by recruiters in the Boer War and The First World War, out of 60 youngsters Maxton took for physical education lessons, only 30 could push their knees together. Rickets and disease was the bed companions of the urban poor and this was reflected in the school intake.

Richard Holloway remembers school as being something done to you. Rote learning and the tawse. Every teacher had one and the programme takes a step back into history and visits Lochgelly, were tawse making was an industry. I must admit I couldn’t quite work out how schools would work without pupils getting the belt. It seemed to me then a rather stupid idea to outlaw it. I’m sure if the current 680 000 pupils in Scotland had their phones and tablets taken off them and were made to walk to school and thrashed soundly every day we would have a more disciplined society. Don’t think North Korea, with more rain, but my schooling forty years ago.

The darker side to education is also touched upon Holloway and by the former Machar Liz Lochead. Protestants went to one school, Catholics went to another. This to me is an anomaly that needs to be changed. And private schools which feature here (a measly £36 000 per annum, per pupil) those social carriages of the rich, should be shut down, not expanded. But I understand why there were Catholic and Protestant school. Hate. In 1918 there were 450 000 Catholics in Scotland, most of them if propaganda was to be believed, living in a single end in Glasgow. Kirk run schools didn’t want them and Catholic charity schools tended to be substandard and their pupils received substandard teaching. The riches of local authorities were thrust upon Catholic schools and they have flourished, and their pupils have flourished, having a better educational record than their Protestant counterparts. But I’d argue their time has past. We are a secular society. No more Catholic or Protestant schools. Certainly no more tax breaks for the private Edens of the upwardly mobile. Just schools. And anybody that suggests that we should go back to testing and the eleven plus, really should watch this programme.  Didn’t work then. Won’t work now, but as we know it’s not about that, it’s about saying my children are better (and more deserving) than yours.  In the competition for top university places and jobs every little bit does help. That saddens me, but I can see through it. It’s here. Watch this programme.

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Elena Ferrante (2016) Frantumaglia. A Writer’s Journey.

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Elena Ferrante (2016) Frantumaglia. A Writer’s Journey.

All writers are historians. Subject and object. Subjecting what we know with what other people know. In other words, we read to write. We look for resonance in our writing and our reading. And sometimes somebody says it better and you’ve just got to acknowledge mastery. This is an honest book, a beautiful book in so many ways. When I start taking notes— Papers: 1991-2003; Tesserae 2003-2007; Letters 2011-2016—I find that I’ve copied word for word all 384 pages of questions and answers and it will take me another lifetime to read it, but if I pluck open any page there will be wisdom and advice. One often translates into the other as Ferrante’s Italian is translated into English and other languages, but the resonance of meaning remains true. This is a book, not so much about writing, but about living.

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. If you want to look for her, she asks you to look for her in her writing, in her novels. The media obsession with who a writer is unhealthy and unnecessary. A good book will find an audience of willing and receptive readers. This is counterintuitive advice. As a crowdfunded author, published by Unbound (Lily Poole) I should be a critic of this approach, not an admirer. I’ll let you into a secret, crowdfunding doesn’t work, even when it does. Another way of putting this, of putting Ferrante in her place, is claiming she is saying nothing new. We don’t need to know, for example, who William Shakespeare, Robert Burns or the J.D Salinger was to appreciate their work. The message of Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was the idea that somehow quality created its own momentum and would stand out. A conflation of both ideas is To Kill a Mocking Bird and Go Set a Watchman. Both had millions of world-wide readers and are financial success stories, but only one is readable. That’s a value call. A value judgement. The inference is my book flopped because it wasn’t marketed well enough, I wasn’t marketed well enough, or it was rubbish and therefore found no readers.  A combination of all three is the most likely answer. Because despite what Ferrante says, much of which purist ideology I agree with, a book I’ve never read, or intend to read has sold 125 million copies and, like Ferrante’s work, two films so far created, based on the book.. It relied on social media, word of mouth marketing and the fan-fiction community. Fifty Shades of Grey breaks all of Ferrante’s rules. And the power of social media is Trumpeted by the election of the moron’s moron as the most powerful man on earth.

After a book is published, let a book find its own way is not something Ferrante preaches. It is something she did. On the media she writes of a common predicament for the nobody of which she is champion:

Is a book from the media point of view, above all the name of the person who writes it? Is it the fame of the author or, rather the author personality who takes the stage thanks to the media, a crucial support for the book? Isn’t it newsworthy, for the cultural pages, that a good book has been published? Is it newsworthy instead, that a name able to say something to editorial offices in on the cover or some book or other?

Writing is not a game of winner takes all and stacking up the number of sales. Ferrante argues, ‘Novels should never come with instructions for use, least of all by those who write them.’ But Ferrante is saying something more than that. She is saying that writing is a private act made public. Not all writing should however be published. And not all writers have attained the skills necessary to say what they are hoping to say. I include myself in that group.  Writing which is published should be able to stand alone. And women in publishing, as in life, find it far more difficult to succeed. That’s not feminism, just fact.  This is a constant motif of her novels. ‘I’ve described women at moments when they are absolutely alone. But in their heads there is never silence or even focus. The most absolute solitude, at least in my experience, and not just as narrator, is always, to paraphrase… ‘too loud’.’ Men explode. Women implode. Melina Cappucino, the ‘mad widow’ in My Brilliant Friend, is a constant, a fragment of a life also held up to the light, similar women, but not stereotypical characters feature in  The Days of Abandonment and Troubling Love. The idea of the ‘other’ not being other, but us, is something in these troubling times we need to keep hold of.  We need to be aware of in the fight ahead. Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, yes, she is indeed. Read her.

The Scottish Bounty Hunter, BBC 1, produced, directed and narrated by Matt Pinder.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08dww6z/the-scottish-bounty-hunter?suggid=b08dww6z

Here’s the tagline Christian Matlock, aged 28, is a professional bounty hunter in Virginia. He used to be Scottish and now he’s an all-American action hero, spending days and nights hunting prisoners that have skipped bail. This is a three-act piece with a photogenic star, rock and roll music, guns, drugs, outlaws and shiny fast cars.

ACT 1. Meet Christian Matlock. The camera follows him to a lorry park in Virginia. He explains that you can get pretty much anything you need there. With a wave of his hand, the left-hand side, drugs, right-hand side, prostitutes. Heroin is on the main menu. 800 people die each year in the state from heroin overdoses.  Eighty-percent of his clients use drugs, mostly heroin.  Christian is paid by results. A bondsman posts bail so a prisoner can leave jail. If the parolee doesn’t make his or her court date the bondsman loses his money. Christian takes parolees who have skipped bail back to prison. His powers seem pretty much unlimited. He can break in and search properties of cars where he suspects a fugitive is hiding. He cuffs them and takes them to prison. Then he gets paid. Christian has diversified from subcontracting from other bondsman to working for himself and posting bail for those already in prison that can’t post bail. That way instead of getting ten percent of the fee for taking them back he gets all of the bail money. The downside is, if he doesn’t take the prisoner back, or if the police pick him, or her, up first, he loses time wasted searching for them and money.

We see Christian trying to track down two fugitives that haven’t made their court date. These people are cheques he’s waiting to convert into cash. Duanne is a heroin addict. Raven is a heroin addict. He finds both of them on Facebook. That’s his fist pit stop. Most folk he tells the camera tell you exactly what they’ve done and where they’re going to be. He compares the mug shot of Raven from prison with the glamourous posting of her on Facebook. Duanne’s profile, true to form, shows where he is. Christian phones him up, and his Scottish burr, turns into an American accent as he makes the connection, pretending he’s looking to score heroin. Christian uses Google Maps to look at possible parking places where he can observe properties unseen.  Duanne arranges to meet him at his parent’s business and Christian rolls up and takes him into custody. Some folk are just dumb that way. Raven is much harder to find. She’s gone underground and is likely working as a prostitute from hotel rooms to feed her drug habit. Later he find out the police have arrested her. Money lost.

ACT 2. Christian comes back to Scotland for his sister’s wedding. He’s already explained that he went off the rails when he was younger, and was heavily into drink and drugs, ecstasy mostly. But he’d left it all behind when he followed his father to America and made a new start. This is classic William McIlvanney territory transported from Glasgow to Brechin. ‘It was Glasgow on Friday night, the city of the stare.’  Brechin, is the ugly sister, he’s left behind. The camera follows him about, his mates crowd him. At one point, he has to give one of them a warning, ‘Enough!’ The message is clear. Even in Scotland, without a gun, he’s still the big man. And he is, about a head bigger than most of his wee pals that are nutters. Look at them, he’s saying, the left behind.

They all play their part. His mum saying how shit Brechin is and how it’s went downhill in the last ten years. We’re shown shots of the High Street. This is Christian; he could have been as depilated as those empty shop fronts.

ACT 3 Christian flies home to the United States. As long as he doesn’t get shot or injured and health insurance eats him alive, he’s a made man. He takes on the case of Colby. He’s a kid, eighteen, that’s been smoking pot. He takes him back to prison. The kids crying in the back of his car, but it’s for his own good. There’s lots of people thanking Christian for taking them to jail. They think it’s best, or they’d be dead from drugs. He thinks it best too. In fact, not only is he providing them with a service, he’s saving them from themselves. But now he’s got a big decision to make, an ex-cop Johnny Milano and his wife, to try out a different life, working for him in Florida. A bond in Florida can be $40 000 and upwards. In Virginia it’s a tenth of that, if he’s lucky. But it’s the same job. Milano is that rich he’s got the big house and more money than he knows what to do with. All courtesy of the justice system. Christian decides to stay home in Virginia. He feels a sense of duty to his clients. You know in the end I get to quite like Christian and his sense of Christian duty. Here’s hoping he never gets sick or poor.

Robert Burns – The Scottish Bard.

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Fiona Macdonald (2011)  Robert Burns. A Very Peculiar History.

This is a children’s book or a primer. ‘With the Bards own rhymes’. That suits me. I was once a child, and I’m always ready to be primed. Ignorance is a great motivation. I once shared a desk with the august figure of Professor Gerry Carruthers, Director of the Robert Burns Centre, University of Glasgow. I don’t remember him as being particularly smart, or brainy, as we used to call it. His recollections of me would I guess be as an eejit, best avoided. I suppose it should be Professor Carruther’s book on Burns I should read. But I can’t really be bothered. If he reads my book I’ll read his.

As Hugh MacDiarmid, nationalist, and poet (A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle) says of Burns: ‘Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name – than in ony’s barrin liberty and Christ’.

This is easy for me, because I’ll just follow the Futureshock course questions and that’s a bit like copying someone else’s answers, even though they are your own.

What does Robert Burns mean to you?

What little I’ve read of Burns what struck me most is his humility in search of a muse, and a good drink, of course. And his anger at the way some people are looked down on by those lucky few who have inherited a bob or two.

Here’s what Gerry Carruthers says (and he should know).

‘Even the idea of the ‘native language’, Scots, is here far from straightforward, since from 1784, Burns had been reading the Scots poetry of two earlier eighteenth-century writers in particular, Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson. The really clever trick that Burns pulled off was in bringing Scots poetry back into vogue within the west of Scotland, including not only the Scots language but the ‘Habbie Simson’ stanza that we see, for instance, in ‘To a Mouse’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/works/to_a_mouse/).

From his mother and other female relatives, Robert Burns imbibed a love of Scots song, and just as he disinterred the Scots poetry of Ramsay and Fergusson, so too he became an avid collector and editor of older Scots songs, as well as writing many new ones himself.

 

‘It is perhaps in the songs more than the poetry that Burns’s colourful set of identities explodes. His song ‘Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hyj6c5VPLHQ&list=PLWJo7KojlfaGjcKa4rco_Eki32YEZNbMJ&index=16) looks back with regret on the union of parliaments in 1707 and ‘Scots Wha Hae’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgskbClWZ68&list=PLWJo7KojlfaGjcKa4rco_Eki32YEZNbMJ&index=14)

celebrates his hero William Wallace, the thirteenth-century Scottish leader, against the attempted colonization of Scotland by England. This text though – like ‘Is there for Honest Poverty’ (‘A Man’s a Man For ‘a That’) –( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hudNoXsUj0o&list=PLWJo7KojlfaGjcKa4rco_Eki32YEZNbMJ&index=18)

 

‘Less open to interpretation, perhaps, is Burns’s status as a lover. Here we have a man who, on the most conservative estimate, made at least five women pregnant on at least thirteen occasions and who sired at least twelve children.

 

‘Out of a clearly turbulent biography, however, emerged some of the finest love songs ever: ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMmtBgMaF5I&list=PLWJo7KojlfaGjcKa4rco_Eki32YEZNbMJ&index=2)

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8Hx7wm0Y0s&list=PLWJo7KojlfaGjcKa4rco_Eki32YEZNbMJ&index=28)

 

‘A Red Rose’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtV5a42dlUI&index=5&list=PLWJo7KojlfaGjcKa4rco_Eki32YEZNbMJ)

and many others (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLuKGirqgIs&list=PLWJo7KojlfaGjcKa4rco_Eki32YEZNbMJ&index=20).

‘In the final analysis, what we are left with are Burns’s writings, and among these, perhaps, the songs about love are the least ambiguous and the most passionate.

‘Burns was a writer born in 1759 and dead by July 1796, at the early age of 37. He was also a farmer in two different periods of his life, and an Exciseman – a salaried government employee – through the 1790s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYfvbQjl9Ek&list=PLWJo7KojlfaGjcKa4rco_Eki32YEZNbMJ&index=19).

Ignorance and poverty, Burns writes in 1787. ‘We lived very poorly…A novel writer might have viewed those scenes with some satisfaction, but so did not I; my indignation yet boils at the recollection of the scoundrel tyrants [landlord’s factor who wrote threatening eviction when William Burns (Robert’s father) was unable to pay the rent] threatening epistles, which used to set us all in tears’.

Here’s a secret, Burns did not look like a young Scottish Elvis. He looked like he was a Scottish farmer, with a ba’ face. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtesXpGFIDY Not that it matter, his words and songs live on. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/works/address_to_a_haggis/)

(http://www.burnsmuseum.org.uk/collections/object_detail/3.5005)

 

 

 

Edward Bunker (2000)  Education of a Felon.

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There is a moment at the end of the 1960s when race war is engulfing and burning America and the ‘chickens have come to roost’ in prisons, when Bunker is taking from his cell block in San Quentin to visit a parole officer. The parole officer laughs. Bunker’s file is the biggest he’s ever seen, the size of a phone book. He stops laughing when he reads the note attached, see File 2.

This is File 1 and 2, not written by the state, not written by those with an agenda. This is a book written by a writer, a great writer, telling you how it is. Take it or leave it. He usually took it and left what he didn’t want. That’s what got him into so much bother. Walking among 4000  prisoners in San Quentin’s yard he reflects on the eighteen years, most of his life, he’d spent in America’s children’s homes, toughest prisons and psychiatric institutions. The former differs from the latter in that the cure ensures vegetation of the mind and, like James Bond, has a license to kill – to cure. Bunker by this time is dealer inside, a kingpin pal trafficking drugs on the outside sending him an ounce of heroin a month. He explains the power that gave him.

A gram of heroin, a tiny fraction of an ounce, would, for example, easily purchase a murder from many takers. When someone wanted to know, who had heroin, they asked, “Who’s God today?”

Bunker earned his place as God. ‘Over the years I had assumed an attitude that mixed John Wayne with Machiavelli.’

But even God has to come down to earth and wants something better for himself. Bunker, a voracious reader, and an IQ of 154, wanted to be a writer. He’d written six books and sent them out for publication. Rejected. Let me put that into perspective. In 1970 less than one-percent of engineers in the United States were black. His chances were slimmer than that. Bunker, no fool, realized, ‘Without a miracle I would return to crime.’ Bunker becomes the exception to the rule with the publication of his manuscript No Beast So Fierce. ‘I had no idea if it was any good,’ he admits.

But a man needs more than one miracle to live. Look back at the message on the book, written from a sixty-five year old writer and actor to his five-year old son. ‘This one’s for my son. I’ve waited many years so I could deal him a better hand than I had. I’m sure he’ll play his cards better than I played mine. e.b.’

I laughed at one prison psychologist’s assessment of Bunker’s writing as ‘a manifestation of infantile fantasy.’  That’s a convoluted truth any would-be writer, including myself, would fully embrace. Write what you know and the truth will set you free. Not always, but sometimes you meet someone on the page that understands what makes us human.

I’ll end not with Edward Bunker, but with another writer, a middle-class woman writer, who sheltered behind anonymity, Elena Ferrante, ‘often between the poor areas and the rich areas there are distances that can’t be crossed…If the poor spill over, washing up against the border of prosperity, the wealthy get frightened and turn violent.’

We live in violent times, especially with the election of a moron’s moron as American President. Edward Bunker from his odyssey from the hungry thirties to a bit part as Mr Blue in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, which features as the cover image of Education of a Felon, playing a villain, understands that best of all.  We have an American president playing the role of being human. No Beast So Fierce.  Every educationalist, and non-educationalist, should read this book.

 

SAS: Rogue Warriors, produced and directed by Matthew Whiteman.

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Episode 1, Series 1, BBC 2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08f00s0/sas-rogue-warriors-series-1-episode-1

epistemology

noun PHILOSOPHY

the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.

I recently reviewed a Channel 5 series, Secrets of the SAS: In Their Own Words. Other programmes have SAS tags in their title, or synonyms such as Special Forces. Scroll through channel listings and you’ll see them. Even I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, which I’d rather chew my way through a nest of killer ants than watch, has its roots in the do-derring macho male with a weapon and a cause. The SAS came to fore, front page news and televisual clips of  masked men abseiling down from the roof of  a  three-storey building and the noise of  stun grenades being heard all over the world, with the Iranian Embassy Siege in March/April 1980 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_p4DmuGyehc). The SAS were first to yomp across the Falklands in 1982, when the word yomp hadn’t been invented. They were British and they were ours and we were proud of them. The Falklands War was enough to put Margaret Thatcher, who was lagging in the electoral polls back into office. Wars are good at that kind of thing.   We look back nostalgically to the First World War, a small island nation, had a quarter of the population of the earth under our control paying fealty and homage to the notion of Empire, and another half of the world’s population paying for our imports, but now, although we had become an economic backwater and second-class nation these programmes are telling us we can be great again. We still had the men. But here’s another secret, when you’re watching a different and more popular kind of propaganda with the tag Benefit in it, the SAS is a meritocracy. Ninety-nine percent of the SAS are white, working class males. Losers by any other name. Benefit scum. Should be aborted at birth…[stick your own propaganda ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5 tag from TV listings in here] When we celebrate the SAS we should be celebrating the idea of how a meritocracy should work and compare it with how the rich, one percent, and their middle-class cronies, profit by  dividing a nation and sinking like the Belgrano, the jewels in the working-class crowns, the NHS,  local authority housing and comprehensive schools’ system, not for glory but for their personal gain. Then look across the Atlantic at the billionaire bankrupt moron’s moron that has been elected President, who went to military academy, but refused to fight for America, and is the most powerful man on earth and most likely to end us all with the push of a button. So how do we frame a force of fighting men that are defunct as dreadnoughts when with new smaller weapons nuclear war is seen as being winnable?  The smart money, the Silicon valley super rich are buying up bolt- holes in places like New Zealand in the hope that nuclear winter will not kill the rich, only the poor and misguided (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/29/silicon-valley-new-zealand-apocalypse-escape). When we talk about the epistemology of the SAS widening out the scope of what they are and where they came from shames all of us mean-minded money grabbers who always put themselves first. The secret of the SAS, if you watch closely , is not about individualism, but teamwork. It’s about treasuring and making use of the rogue elements in our population, not caging them and letting them rot in prisons. Not waging a propaganda war that has its basis in eugenics. This is a programme about men, real men, who dare to think differently.