Glasgow 1967: The Lisbon Lions, BBC 1 Scotland, directed by John McLaverty.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08rg0bd/glasgow-1967-the-lisbon-lions?suggid=b08rg0bd

Narrator Rory McCann had an easy job, everybody knows the score. Celtic were the first British team to win the European cup. Inter Milan had scored from the penalty spot in seven minutes, cancelled by an equalising second-half goal by Tommy Gemmell and a late winner from Stevie Chalmers. ‘You’re a legend John. You’re a legend.’ Bill Shankly famously said of the late great Jock Stein after this win. The anniversary of the fifty years since that famous win in the Estadio Nacional, near Lisbon, in Portugal on May 25th 1967 is commentated today, and the strange thing was I was biting my nails as if the score was still in doubt.

The joy of that victory still resonates. Celtic will never again win the European Cup or Champions League as it’s now called. Even getting into the competition is regarded as a mark of success, something to be proud of, and rightly so. It’s difficult to imagine Scotland being a powerhouse of European football. Rory McCann reminded us that in 1967 Rangers reached the final of the Cup Winners Cup and Kilmarnock the semi-final of the Fairs Cup. These were remarkable achievements. Even Ranger’s captain of that time and voted Ranger’s greatest ever player, John Greig was wheeled out to say this Celtic team were something special and in Jock Stein they had a twelfth man. He didn’t include the referees, of course, because they were always Ranger’s men, but that didn’t matter. Celtic were so good other teams needed thirteen men.

But they were also innocent times. Bobby Lennox travelled 30 miles from Saltcoats. He was the furthest away player recruited into the European Cup winning team. The other ten players were recruited from a ten-mile radius of Parkhead. Spitting distance. Bertie Auld was in fine form as a raconteur, talking about his old Panmule Street team, that had their own song, which he sung. And how one family in a single end had 15 boys, but they didn’t have a good inside right.  We were shown families crowded around tables in dilapidated and grim tenements and outside playing football. It was played 24-hours a day, boys dreamed about football and playing for Celtic (or whisper it, Rangers). Bertie Auld’s signing on fee was twenty quid. The note was the size of a telly and Bertie recounted how his mum had folded it up and shoved it down into her bra. A neighbour of Jimmy Johnstone’s recalled how he used to practice, dribbling between milk bottles, but he used put on his dad’s steel toecaps first thing in the morning and kick the ball up and down the living room. Non-stop.  The pictures here are of boys, fresh faced and in their prime. Stevie Chalmers was the big money signing for £30 000, but for the post-war NHS and a Ranger’s daft surgeon he’d have died of tuberculosis and meningitis (meningococcal meningitis)  in1955 as most others did. With such crowded conditions TB was common, but he lived to score that winning goal.

It’s hard to imagine in the media world of WAGs Jock Stein’s belief that wife’s shouldn’t be allowed to watch their men at work. Bobby Murdoch’s wife who attended most home matches laughed when she recalled Jimmy Johnstone’s wife Agnes coming to one of the games asking her which team was Celtic and where was wee Jinky? Imagine Posh Beck’s asking what team David Beckham plays for and where is he? It’s just so unbelievable. Jimmy Johnstone voted Celtic’s best ever player worked as a building labourer for Lawrence, and I remember my brother Stephen, saying that wee Jinky had been his labourer. Marking wee Jinky was ‘like trying to pin a wave to the sand’ was the epithet a Dukla Prague defender gave after their semi-final defeat to Celtic that year.

I’d have been four or five when Celtic won the European Cup. I wrote a story about it (luckily I can’t find it, or I’d be attaching it here).  It’s one of the few childhood memories I retain. My dad eating his dinner and watching the game on telly. When Celtic scored that winner he jumped up and flung the mince and potatoes against the ceiling. He was younger than I am now. But these memories never age.

The fans here relive them. The guys that travelled by plane, bus, car, whatever way they got there, they got there. There’s a beauty in that belief. Times were hard. One guy said engagements were a big thing then, but I had to tell her, I’m going to Lisbon. Sauchiehall Street was deserted on the night of the game. Ghost town. The Celtic players sung ‘It’s a grand Old Team to play for,’ coming out of the tunnel that night. The Italian players look like film stars, but Bertie Auld as usual had the last word, ‘Aye, but can they play?’

The answer my friend is Caesar holding the cup in that iconic moment. Upwards of 150 000 met the Celtic team coming off the plane and crowded the streets in a procession. Parkhead full.  I’m sure my dad would have been one of them. Him and his sidekick, my Uncle John, they couldn’t afford to go to Lisbon. But they’d have been there. Celtic in their heart and in their blood. Passed down from generation to generation.  It’s a Grand Old Team…

OJ: Made in America, directed by Ezra Edleman. Storyville, BBC 4, iPlayer.

OJ.jpg

Winner of the 2017 Academy Award for best documentary this five-part series is an investment of time. The premium dividend is it shows how America is polarised around issues of class and race. Karl Marx’s dictum that history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce is apt. OJ is the poster boy. A black all American boy that went to a white college, became the All American hero used by Hertz to sell their cars. ‘Go OJ,’ the tag, but used white actors to screen wash skin colour away. He became an actor, starring in films, such as Naked Gun, the biggest role he played being himself. He was involved in the trial of the century. Accused of killing his estranged, second wife, white beauty queen, Nicole and a male visitor to her house 13th June 1994.   Evidence, including forensic evidence, placed OJ at the scene. Black jurors remained unconvinced. One of them agreed that it was ‘payback’ time for a Los Angeles Police Department that acted like an invading army in the black community and regularly got away with murder and the maiming of those of African American ethnicity. Polls taken after the trial showed that over 75% of white thought OJ was guilty. Over 80% of blacks thought him innocent. OJ proved himself more stupid than guilty, ghosting a book, ‘IF’ in which he admitted his hypothetical guilt. He was later jailed for thirty-three years for a botched robbery in which he tried to take back sporting mementos he had once owned from a collector and seller of memorabilia. Black and white commentators suggested this was payback time for OJ.

There is a postscript of course with a black president Obama, in the White House, followed by the moron’s moron, convicted in the supreme court of discriminating against blacks in term of housing, but still elected president on a platform of racial hatred – and appointing a member of the Ku Klux Klan to a senior position in his White House.

If you think black lives matter this is worth watching.   One of the stories OJ liked recalling was after retiring from American football, and becoming a full-time, paid, celebrity, he overhead a little old white women saying ‘she’d seen OJ, but he was sitting with a lot of niggers’. Race didn’t matter. OJ’s celebrity made others colour blind. Until it did. In the same way that class doesn’t matter, until it does. This is the best documentary you’ll see this decade.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08qldj6

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb30l

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb4wh

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb6f2

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb6zx

 

Manchester – united.

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Stephen Dunn Sweetness: Staying Alive

Just when it seemed I couldn’t bear

one more friend

walking with a tumour, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness

has come

and changed nothing in the world

 

except for the way I stumbled through it

for a while lost

in the ignorance of loving

 

someone or something, the world shrunk

to mouth-size

hand-size and never seeming small.

 

I acknowledge there’s no sweetness

that doesn’t leave a stain,

no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet…

Tonight a friend called to say his lover

was killed in a car

he was driving. His voice was low

 

and guttural, he repeated what he needed

to repeat and I repeated

the one or two words we have for such grief

 

until we were speaking only in tones.

Often a sweetness comes

as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive

then returns to the dark

source. As for me, I don’t care

 

where it’s been, or what bitter road

it’s travelled

to come so far, to taste so good.

Three Girls, BBC Drama, written by Nicole Taylor and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe.

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I watched this on BBC iPlayer. It was shown over three consecutive nights and was based on the Rochdale child sex scandal.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08r8pvh/three-girls-series-1-episode-1

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08r8s12/three-girls-series-1-episode-2

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08r8vp5/three-girls-series-1-episode-3

There is institutional cover up, issues of class and racial bias. A blackness of themes that seems to find its way into the character’s voices I often shape in the stories I write. Nobody listens and it’s here in spades. Pseudonyms are adopted for the characters of Holly Winshaw (Molly Windsor), Amber Bowen (Ria Zmitrowicz) and Ruby Bowen (Liv Hill). They represent hundreds of children, perhaps thousands, who have been raped, beaten, tortured and terrorised into silence in England. White-working class girls. These girls do not know what justice looks like. In truth, neither do I. Imagine instead of the actress Holly Windsor, the queen or her daughter, Princess Anne, were fed burghers, told they were beautiful and then raped, ‘quid pro quo’ and ‘passed around like a ball’ for other Asian men to rape orally, anally and vaginally.   I’ve never before sided with the British National Party, until now, who are by any reasonable standards, friends and allies with the moron’s moron in the Oval office. There only answer is Guantanamo Bay for those of the wrong colour and sending those non-whites back to the county of origin. In this case Pakistan.  I’m all for it here. The nine convicted Rochdale rapists are from Pakistan. I’d torture them and send them back.

Daddy (Simone Nagra) a Rochdale taxi driver who we first see giving away freebies of vodka and fast food from ‘Speedy Kebab’ argues it’s not his fault if these young girls go about with their tits hanging out, asking for it. Girls from good Pakistani families don’t. Muslim girls don’t. Girls in Rochdale do. Eve testing, which came publically to the fore in 2012 with the  Delhi gang rape of a physiotherapist. Six people on the bus raped her, including the driver. She was asking for it, of course, travelling on public transport. The ‘Eve testing’ argument is also played outside the courtroom with a public meeting after the trail with members of the Rochdale taxi community moaning that the general public no longer trusted their Pakistani drivers. And a young firebrand saying the usual stuff about it’s not their fault if young girls flaunt themselves on the streets, good Muslim, Pakistani girls don’t do that sort of thing. The flip side of the argument was the general public were associating these heinous crimes with the general Pakistani community and they didn’t know anything about it. Yeh, yeh, yeh, somebody knew about it. That is how this drama works. Somebody knew about it and did nothing, or when they tried to do something where silenced. This drama is real, because the characters are real life people.

When it comes to passing out awards at the end of the year when gongs and awards are handed out  best director, best screenplay, best drama, best actress, best supporting actress…Three Girls should take a wheelbarrow and take the silverware away.

But when it comes to real life, nothing has changed. The heroes here, for example, Rochdale Sexual Health Worker, Sarah Rowbotham (Maxine Peake) who continually tried to get the abusers of these young girls and had a paper map of who the abusers where and where they stayed, was sacked, or in institutional jargon, made redundant. And DC Margaret Oliver (Lesley Sharp, who ironically appeared on Loose Women) were sidelined from the Rochdale investigation and forced to resign. These are women that should receive the highest awards in the land and be allowed to continue and carry on with the investigations of other male abusers of children, whether they are from Pakistan or China or Timbuktu. But institutions are designed to protect themselves and those that have failed such as the police, social work departments and judiciary remain the same old familiar faces. A triumph of drama. The question of what does justice look like? It doesn’t look like this. Cover up and scandal. Same old. Same old. Lack of transparency.  No one is to blame and it wasn’t our fault. It’s only white working class girls. Fuck off.

 

 

Gail Honeyman (2016) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

eleanor oliphant.jpg

This book has not been officially release yet. I was lucky enough to buy a copy at West Dunbartonshire Festival of Words at Parkhall library on Monday night. Gail Honeyman was doing her first gig. Ahhhh, that’s nice. She seemed very nice and self-assured. It was the usual format of someone asking her questions about the book and Gail reading two short excerpts from the book. And later questions from the audience.  She read, first page, first paragraph:

When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, dental hygienists – I tell them I work in an office. In almost nine years, no one’s ever asked what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can’t decide whether that’s because I fit perfectly with the idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether people here the phrase work in an office and automatically fill in the blanks themselves –

First-person narrative for almost four hundred pages can be hard work. I must admit that if I’d picked this book up on spec and read a bit I’d have put it down again before the second chapter. A simple tale of boy meets girl isn’t really my thing. It does help the boy is a figment of Eleanor Oliphant’s imagination. He exists, but doesn’t know she exists. The other boy, Raymond, that works in IT, is the kind of anorak that anoraks avoid. Eleanor and Raymond seem a good match, but Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine in her own company. Other people are the problem. Will they? Won’t they?  I’ve only read to page 70, but I take it Eleanor’s mum, who plays a big part in the book, is a controlling Myra Hindley type figure that set out to destroy her daughter and largely succeeded, and may yet have the last snarl. Eleanor is weird, even by Glasgow standards. I’m sure Eleanor and her mum set themselves apart, by being different, and this proves to be the point. As a child, Eleanor does not watch telly and doesn’t know what an oven chip is. There was a bit of brouhaha at the reading about not giving too much away. Oh, no, I may be indicted, but it’s all there on the first page for the reader.

I’m nearly thirty years old now and I’ve been working here since I was twenty-one. Bob, the owner, took me on not long after the office opened. I suppose he felt sorry for me. I had a degree in Classics and on work experience to speak of, and I turned up for the interview with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm.

A budding author in the front row of the Parkhall gig asked Gail about agents and getting published. Like Gail she had won the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award. Like Gail she wanted to create a buzz, have her book reviewed, sold internationally, be optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s company, with possibly Witherspoon playing the part of Oliphant. Yep. That’s a good question. I’d quite like to know the answer to that one too.

Elena Ferrante (2013) Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

 

This is the penultimate book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet. It picks up where it left off in the second book, with ‘Middle Time’ and Elena Greco narrating what happened to her and her brilliant friend Lila Cerrulo after her disappearance in the winter of 2005. As the storyteller Elena has access to Lila’s motives and actions because her friend had given her diaries to her –asking her not to read them. She did, of course. There’s no secrets between brilliant friends. Immediately when they return to Naples they are dragged into the past, with a body in a flowerbed, near their old elementary school. Lila recognises her immediately. It’s Gigolina Spagnuolo, ex-wife of  gangster Michele Solaris.

‘I hadn’t seen her for several decades. Her beautiful face was ruined and her ankles had become enormous’.

This is a familiar figure in Ferrante’s books, the woman abandoned that goes mad and becomes suicidal. Love has sharp edges and women, rather than men, fall off the sides and are lost to themselves. The other constant is everyone loves Lila and the apparent success of Elena has its foundations in Lila’s charisma and brilliance. As a first-time author Elena draws on her experience of rejection by Nino Sarratore, whom she has always loved and desired for literary success. Her dream lover takes up with Lila, even though she’s married. The drives of lust and competitiveness with Lila combine to let Donnato, Nino’s father, have sex with her on a beach, as a kind of way of getting her own back – on Lila and Nino, even though they don’t know about it – and depite Donnato having sexually abused Elena, when she was a girl, . But more than that Elena draws on the magic of Lila’s childhood book The Blue Fairy, which she’d penned when she was ten, and a precocious child.   Lila flings the copy of The Blue Fairy, Elena presents her with as a precious memento, into a brazier outside the sausage factory in which she works and faces daily humiliations. Bruno Soccavo, the owner, for example, and son of a rich industrialist, tries to grope and rape her, because, droit de seigneur, he could. Circles within circles. Bruno Soccavo, the gallant and gauche boy that courted Elena on the beach in Ischia, a friend of Nino and tried to kiss her on their holiday vocation, but was rejected.

Elena’s life is on the rise. As she rises Lila’s life turns to shit and vice versa. Elena is engaged to be married, does marry, Pietro Airota and lucks into the higher echelons of the movers and shakers in Milan and Italian society. Pietro is destined for a brilliant academic future and already has tenure at a university when they marry. He too, when he meets Lila, at the house of Marcello Solaris, who lives with Elisa, Elena’s younger sister, is drawn to his wife’s brilliant friend, affected by her, in a way he doesn’t seem to be affected by others. He describes her as highly intelligent, but evil.

Lila is on the way up, Michele is obsessed with her, in the similar way his brother was, and wants to own her and be near her. He hires her, paying her thousands of lira a week to manage his computer stock system for his stores. Lila picked up programming skills from Enzo Scanno, who saved her after Nino had deserted her, the former fruit and vegetable seller, bringing up the bastard child, Gennaro, whilst living in San Giovanni, near the sausage factory. Elena gets published and, later, is much praised for her insight into working conditions of woman in the sausage factory that leads to violence, but much of the writing is culled from Lila’s notes.  Lila wants to return to her former home in Naples, and Enzo a devoted follower gives her what she wants. Lila admits she’s not really interested in sex, always found it disappointing, but hints she might sleep with Enzo, as a kind of reward for his unfailing love and loyalty, which she values more.

Elena loves sex, but doesn’t really love Enzo. Although making her pregnant with a boy and girl, he’s a bit of a disappointment in that regard and more generally. But she and her friends are over thirty, she’s no longer able to write and settled for domestic existence. She still fantasizes about Nino and when Enzo bring a university colleague home, Elena tries to hide her delight. Nino is married and has a daughter. His wife is rich and loves him, but Nino, finally admits he loves Elena. Love conquers all –only it never does, if you are Elena Ferrante (or mankind, generally). I look forward to the next instalment.

 

Donald J Trump is a threat to humanity.

donald trump.jpg

It takes a war, a Great War, a Second World War to teach us values. It’s crude but effective. Thatcher before the Falkland’s War, behind in the polls, goes on to win in a landslide. The problem with the dead is they don’t stay dead. The Somme, six-million Jews, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. The dead stay frozen, when homes fit for heroes remain unmade, and resurface minutes, hours, days, years, decades later as a soundbite to be counted off, or a source of information. Then we’ve done our duty and forget them. In today’s world it’s difficult to imagine the publication of the Beveridge Report being a bestseller at home and with our servicemen abroad coming home to vote in a Labour and Attlee government.  Labour’s finished. We’d hope for the future then. We can denigrate the dead –six million Jews didn’t die, they stayed in Butlin’s holiday camps and were allowed out to eat ice-cream but never came back – and say an action, a genocide, never happened. Information does not add up. Bullshit. False new. Lies. Propaganda.

The moron’s moron that avoided the draft to Vietnam because he was rich and white, not because it was right, has blundered from one thing to another in a long list of photo opportunities in which he plays the leading man.  Prime Ministers such as Teresa May are dragged onstage and made to smile and dance to his tune. His latest ruse was to sack the director of the FBI, James Comey and explain why it was necessary tweet by tweet in which the narrative changed. You’re fired is not a reality TV show, but real life at the White House.  He’s tried to govern by executive order and found his path blocked. On the international stage he’s come up Trump with the Mother of All Bombs. That’s a flexing of muscles. I imagine him as  the kind of crazy rear-hatch gunner role in a Chinook that plans to kill all gooks, especially those North Korean bastards, while everybody in the KKK tells him what a great guy he is. Reality bites. He has the nuclear capacity to end all life in his locker. The moron’s moron is dumb enough because he doesn’t believe in science, doesn’t believe in certainty, it never ends badly in the movies and he did want to become an actor.

When you surround yourself with right-wing hawks everyone else begins to look like carrier pigeons. Fresh meat. The moron’s moron is blocking the future. I’m worried. And I’m not the only one.

I was reading an interview with Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and all those scribbles in my notebook made sense.

‘What do I have to complain about? There’s no possibility of living anywhere other than on a knife edge of terror when Donald Trump is president. Every sentient being has to be widely alarmed’.

Amen.