Celtic’s Treble Treble.

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There have been disappointing times as a Celtic supporter, but this era isn’t one of them. Celtic defeated Hearts on Saturday to complete a clean sweep of Scottish trophies for the third season running. Out of nine competitions, in three years, Celtic have won all nine. Yet, amid the joy there was a bubble and babble of discontent. Neil Lennon had been appointed the new Celtic manager.

I remember him when he was the old Celtic manager. I remember him playing for Celtic. I even remember watching Harry Hood, who joined Stevie Chalmers and Billy McNeil in Paradise. My da loved Harry Hood, he scored goals when you needed them. Like many older players he retired to become a publican. Future-proof and sorted.

I remember when we got to a cup final against Raith Rovers in Rangers, you spend a fiver, and we’ll spend a tenner era. We lost. But we found the man with the bubble perm, Wim Jansen. Some you Wim and some you lose. Thank god we were winners and that nine never became ten.

I remember the coming of the Sainted Martin O’Neil. Henrik and Lubo were already there, all he had to do was dominate Scottish football. And we’d a glorious trip in a friendly to play Man Utd, half of Clydebank was there and we gubbed them. The whole of the green side of Clydebank was in Seville. Glorious defeat, our speciality. Our season in the sun.  Maybe we should arrange a friendly against Man City and the treble winners in England should play the treble winners in Scotland? We could call it the Get it Right Up Yeh, cup.

We’ve already played Man City in the Champions league. Drawing two of the games. The second game didn’t matter to Man City, but it mattered to us. Every game matters when Celtic play. The jersey doesn’t shrink to fit the player.

We had wee Gordon Strachan, who contrived to lose the first game 5-0 to a team in Europe nobody had heard of. Oh, dear. Remember Nakamurra’s free kick against Man Utd. Home win.

Tony Mowbray and us getting scudded 4—0 at half time by St Mirren. I’d good memories of Paisley. I was there that magical night when we won 5—0 and Dundee and Walter Kidd beat Hearts. Glory, Glory.

I was there when that Murdo MacLeod rocket hit the back of the net and Ten Men Won the League, tra-la-la-la.

Remember when we beat one of the best teams of all time, Barcelona at Parkhead, 2—1, with a Tony Watt goal, and we only got to kick the ball twice than night. Neil Lennon was the manager. Glory, Glory.

Remember all the media shit about a certain Celtic centre half ripping it up in Scottish fitba but never being worth £10 million? Neil Lennon’s protégé did OK, as did Victor Wanyama. Celtic are no longer contesting European finals, but former players showcase the hoop’s mentality.

When Lennon felt he could go no further, we had the interim and experimental manager, Ronnie Deliah. He was a nice guy, but the job was too big for him. Rangers beat us in a penalty shoot-out at Hampden and Deliah was done.

Then we had Brendan Rodgers. Let’s not forget he delivered eight of those nine trophies. In his first season he could do no wrong. When playing Rangers we used to cheer their players because they were so awful and a four or five goal gubbing was pretty standard. We were football gods.

This season has been a slog. We used to be four or five steps ahead of Rangers. This year we were one. Rodgers walked into mediocrity for ‘professional reasons’ in the most unprofessional way. If he had seen the season out nobody with any sense would have batted an eyelid. It would have been the honourable thing to do, the professional thing to do.

Lennon stepped in and it’s like that film somebody up there likes me. He left Hibs or Hibs left him. Nobody cares. Then he gets the Celtic gig. Lennon goes with the old guard to get us over the line. Jozo Šimunović, number 5, scored that goal in 67 minutes that helped us finish first. Every goal we get seems to be a last minute effort. Even on Saturday, we get a penalty and then a late goal. The stars align.

The question now, of course, is what happens when the stars don’t align? We need five players, maybe six. We need a massive clear-out. Unlike our indebted Glasgow neighbours, we’ve got the money for the job. Is Lennon the man for the job?

Well, there’s money and there’s money. Champion League winners (Spurs or Liverpool and I don’t really care which it is) will pocket around £6 million. Aston Villa win £170 million, going up to around £300 million in the first year of the Premiership. Celtic won about £3 million in prize money. If they make the Champion League you can factor in another £30 million. You can pay for a better quality player.

Brendan Rodgers had a run in with Peter Lawwell and there was only one winner. Neil Lennon in his first incarnation did the same. Peter Lawwell runs Celtic. John McGinn, who scored the second goal that took Aston Villa to the money- tree of milk and honey, would have been a Celtic player if Brendan Rodgers had his way. He didn’t.

Neil Lennon is smart enough to know who is in charge. You might not need to shrink from fitting the jersey, but you need to shrink from questioning the logic of the money men. In Lennon we trust. You can bank on it. You can bank on the supporters, but please don’t patronise us in the way that Rodgers did, with the bullshit I’d like to return some day. Fuck off and follow the money. Lennon is a genuine Celtic supporter.

Can he do the job? Well, he’s got a head start. Every manager needs his share of luck, I just hope Lennon hasn’t used all of his in these end of season fixtures. They sure weren’t pretty. Winning is simply enough, but not so simple. At Celtic we demand more. We dream of more. Money can’t buy that. Our dreams are not for sale.

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Death of a Child (2017) directed by FRIDA & LASSE BARKFORS

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‘I feel that I deserved to die…I’m worthless.’

There are no happy endings here. The crimes these fathers and mothers have committed are against themselves. An infant son or daughter died, slowly cooked, strapped in the backseat of their car, because the father or mother got distracted and forgot they were there. It happens in the United States around 30 to 40 times a year and the number is growing. I’m reminded of another statistic from a bygone era. Actuaries worked out for insurance purposes that one person a year in Britain would die because a horse kicked them in the head. They couldn’t tell you who that person would be, what class they would belong to.

Frida and Lasse Barkfors try to get a cross-section of these human casualties. We follow the relatively affluent white family, a father who left his daughter in the back seat. The black, getting-by father, who left his daughter in the back seat. The army mother, who left her son in the back seat. And the migrant who came to America to start a new life, who left his daughter in the back seat.

A psychologist was filmed to try and explain the workings of the hippocampus, frontal lobe and basal ganglia and how sometimes we use the wrong type of memory. When we drive, for example, we do so automatically. We don’t need to think about it and we’re rushing ahead to do something else. One suggestion was that those driving with an infant in the back seat should have a teddy in their lap, a reminder of the passenger strapped in the back seat. It’s not a particularly bad idea, but misses something very important. It’ll never happen to us syndrome. I would never do that. I’d never be that stupid.

Another simple rule is if you think you’d never be that stupid, you already are. My sympathy here is wholly with the parents. Madeleine McCann’s parents nipped out for a quick drink and left her sleeping in her bed in a hotel apartment in the Algarve in 2007, they didn’t know she’d be taken. More recently a little girl fell out of the window of a tenement flat in Clydebank, near me. The actuaries’ horse bucked and kicked them in the head.

I wouldn’t dream of playing the blame game. These parents have already constructed their own circles of hell. They don’t need any help from me. I’ll say it again and again. My sympathy is unconditional.

The law, of course, needs to look at these cases. The best was here, the judge in the case of the affluent white male passing down a sentence of community service, but only because the accused needed to get out of the house and mix with other people – for his own good.

In Trump’s America the toxic environment around immigrants had a familiar resonance even here in Scotland. The Hispanic immigrant was sentenced to twenty years for his crimes, followed by deportation. A law for the rich and a law for the poor. The issue of class is never brought up, but here it is in black and white.

Maggie O’Farrell (2017) I Am I Am I Am. Seventeen Brushes with Death.

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God always gets the best lines such as ‘before you were I am,’ that’s why he’s God. If you don’t do God, try some Sylvia Plath, ‘I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart, I am, I am, I am.’ I’d never heard of Maggie O’Farrell, didn’t know she existed until her name appeared on the front cover, plugging another book by a Scottish author, Damian Barr. I hadn’t heard of Barr either and for some reason I thought O’Farrell was Scottish too—she’s from Northern Ireland—but I always try to read the best Scottish writers that are not Scottish. I’ve hit enough bum notes to know O’Farrell is an exceptional writer, she is, she is, she is.

I loved this book for its simplicity and its truth. Good books always resonate with truth. This book jumps back and forward in time, in a naming game, identifying parts of the body. Chapter 1, or the first brush with death, ‘Neck’ (1990).

O’Farrell is eighteen and this is her first summer job, a break with the mundanities of normal life.

This day – and day in which I nearly die – began early for me, just after dawn, my alarm clock leaping into a rattling dance beside the bed. I had to pull on my uniform, leave the caravan and tiptoe down some stone steps into a deserted kitchen, where I flicked on the ovens, the coffee machine, the toasters, where I sliced five large loaves of bread, filled the kettle, folded forty napkins into open-petalled orchids.

This is classic show, not tell. For anybody that’s worked in the service industry (Vera Clarke springs to mind) we know this is a small operation, forty isn’t a great deal of people, but enough to keep you busy. The beauty is in the pretension, napkins aren’t napkins, but orchids. The setup, here is equilibrium; the writer’s job is to destroy it.

But O’Farrell already does that. She leaps back to where the would-be killer lies in wait for her. The reader knows she escaped, ghost writing isn’t real. She begins with the confrontation, the killer first line, all novelists need to attract the reader’s attention and keep us close.

On the path ahead; stepping out from behind a boulder, a man appears.

So this autobiographical story is a thriller. All good stories ask questions.

He straddles the track with both booted feet and he smiles.

It’s the smilers that always get you. Why is the would-be killer smiling?

Jump backwards, (‘Lungs,’ 1988)

I have never cared for gangs, for social tribes, for fitting in. I have known since I was very young that the in-crowd isn’t my crowd; they are not my people.

Jump sideways, (Whole body,’ 1993)

I am here on my way to Hong Kong, because four months ago, I went to look for my degree results…In a year or so, I realise the mess I made of my finals was nothing of the sort, it will seem to me a merciful escape. What I wished I had known, aged twenty-one, as I cycled away from the results board towards the meadow by the river in Cambridge…is that nobody ever asks you what degree you got. It ceases to matter the moment you leave university.

Jump to the present day, (‘Daughter,’) and weep.

…you are reading the story of Persephone to your daughter and you can’t quite believe how pertinent it is, and you wonder what people knew of this then. You and your daughter turn to face each other wordlessly, absorbing the tale of the girl who ate six fateful seeds, condemning herself to the underworld, and the mother who fought to bring her back.

…She is, she is, she is.

 

 

 

Damian Barr (2013) Maggie & Me

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I enjoyed this memoir. It reminded me a bit of Kerry Hudson, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. Only it wasn’t Tony Hogan that stole Damian Leighton Barr’s mum but Logan the plumber. Glen is one of those taciturn men that does twelve-hour shifts in the Craig (Ravenscraig Steelwork) and says things like ‘make your bed and lie in it’.  He makes good money and they are one of the first in the street to own a colour telly. But the colour telly is in 25 Ardgour Drive, Carfin, with their Da.

‘It’s the 12th of October 1984. I am just eight years old. Me and my mum are stuck to the BBC Nine O’Clock News in the strange new flat.

…Flat 1, 1 Magdalene Drive, Carfin.

My wee sister, Teenie, has cried herself to sleep in my mum’s lap. Our old life is crammed in the cardboard boxes bursting all around us.’

Mum is pregnant with Logan’s child. Make your bed and lie in it. Or use terms like *Spoiler a middle-class convention to alert the unwary reader to what-the-fuck?

Spoiler, Maggie Thatcher survives the Grand Hotel and Brighton Bombers. “‘Shit disnae burn, Maggie won’t,’ says my mum.”

Spoiler, Logan disnae burn either, but he really should.

Spoiler, Damian is gay, or even homosexual. In the working class community around the Craig that’s a worse offence than making your bed and lying in it. Or being a smart-arse, both of which are true of Master Barr.

Damian Leighton Barr I admire your wit and wisdom. Margaret Hilda Thatcher I hate you with a passion as hot as the ovens of the Craig that you cooled. Making 85 000 miners unemployed was a masterstroke. Fossil fuels are killing the planet, but, of course,

‘There are individual men and women and there are families…There is no such thing as society’. Margaret Thatcher, 23rd September 1987.

Spoiler, aye there is.  They fuck you up, your mum and dad. So do working-class communities. So does society You’ll find it here in this memoir. Now fuck off and read it. Or don’t. I don’t really gie a fuck.

Lorna Byrne (2010) Angels in My Hair.

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I think I’ve read this good book before. I get that sometimes. Words wash over me and through me and I’m not really reading, although I am. For the record, I read ‘The International Bestseller’ a few weeks ago, again, or not again (as this might have been the first time). Just to remind myself, where I look at words every day, Lorna Byrne sees angels. (I don’t know if Angels is a proper noun, or is it a bit like cows or sheep? No capital letter?) Here’s the rub, I believe she does see angels.

Seventy-seven percent of Americans believe in Angels and I’m not American. Probably ninety-six percent of them voted for the moron’s moron. Around seven percent of the UK population attend Christian worship. We are an agnostic nation, verging on the atheist and that’s just the way I like it. I can witter on about cognitive dissonance, or Schrodinger’s cat, but the truth is I’m with Eva Lowenthal in that I find it quite easy to believe that ‘evil does exist’. Lowenthal was secretary to the Reich Nazi Propaganda Minster, Joseph Goebbels from 1933 to 1945 and she observed first-hand how under the right conditions evil flourishes. I read about how Alabama is trying to shut all abortion clinics and outlaw abortions, even in the case of incest or rape and that to me is an evil perpetuated on poor, mainly, black women. I hear about a five-year-old girl trafficked and taken into care in Glasgow, with no nails, kept in a box and raped. And I want to kill. To hurt. To maim. I’ve no problem believing in the reality of evil. Or even the devil. I’ve got a problem with religion and a problem with God.

Probably, the best definition of religion is the Dali Lama’s, my religion is kindness.

That makes me smile.

Karen Armstrong in her introduction to A History of God, summarises how I feel.

As a child, I had a number of strong religious beliefs but little faith in God. There is a distinction between belief as a set of propositions, and faith which enables us to put our trust in them. I believed implicitly in the existence of God; I also believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the efficacy of the sacraments, the prospect of eternal damnation and the objective reality of Purgatory. I cannot say, however, that my believe in these religious opinions about the nature of ultimate reality gave me much confidence that life here on earth was good or beneficent. The Roman Catholicism of my childhood was a rather frightening creed.

Richard Holloway, like Karen Armstrong, was a cleric and walked away but gives us an insider view of the box-ticking religion. They could no longer trust God and no longer believed in God. Holloway’s favourite novel Andre Schwartz Bartz, The Last of the Just, has a hero Ernie Levy on a train destined for Auschwitz telling consolatory lies to children about the kingdom of God. That sounds like a good fit. A good way of describing religion.

Lorna Byrne, like the fictional hero, describes our world in the opening chapter: ‘Through Different Eyes’.

When I was two years old the doctor told my mother I was retarded.

As a baby, my mother noticed I always seemed to be in a world of my own. I can even remember lying in a cot – a big basket – and seeing my mother bending over me. Surrounding my mother I say wonderful bright, shiny beings in all the colours of the rainbow; they were so much bigger than I was, but smaller than her, about the size of a three year old child. These beings floated in the air like feathers and I remember reaching out to touch them, but I never succeeded. I remember being fascinated by these creatures with their beautiful lights…angels.

I’m not one of those people that can remember being a kid. I certainly don’t remember being in my pram. I can remember being scared of trains coming into Dalmuir station, that somehow the wheels would suck me under. Sorry, no angels, apart from my mum.

Moses and the burning bush. Jesus in the desert. Buddha under the tree. Muhammed in the cave. All saw and heard things beyond themselves. Holloway describes this as a kind of psychosis. Hearing voices and seeing things. What made them real was their ability to convince others that what they experienced was true.

Here’s the testing, here’s the knowledge gained, here is salvation. God does not take kindly to being questioned if we follow the precepts of the Book of Job… Where were you when I created the universe?

Well, according to Lorna Byrne, she was in heaven and she has been tested by Satan himself, she has met with the Virgin Mary and Archangels Michael and Gabriel, been tutored by the Prophet Elijah, she has met the Son of God and I’m sure there’ll be a place in heaven for her.

I’m not too sure about myself and the rest of humanity. We read our own belief into others. I recognise the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the possibility of runaway global warming and nuclear winter. I know that’s an oxymoron. Evil does exist. That I know, I’m not so good at the good stuff. Lowenthal, aged 103, said something quite profound. ‘There is no justice’. She could just as easily be working for the antichrist Trump, bookended by the fundamental Christian Right and Vice President Mike Pence. There, I’ve done it now. A victim of my own verbosity. As soon as you mention antichrist and  Hitler you lose the argument. But here’s the rub again. Hitler could not wipe out humanity. Trump has the devil’s own pride. You don’t have to be able to see angels to notice it.

We can call on The Angel of Belief. The Angel of Strength. The Angel of Courage. The Angel of Miracles. The Angel of Patience. God knows we need a Guardian Angel and all the help we can get to avoid Armageddon. I believe that. The message of religion is quite a simple one. What matters isn’t yesterday, or tomorrow, but now. What matters is this moment. Hope in the now.  May my religion be kindness too.

 

Matt Haig (2015) Reasons to Stay Alive.

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This is a short enough book to read in one, longish, gulp. It begins with an admission Matt Haig makes about 2014.

Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen.

I was going to die, you see. Or go mad.

There was no way I would still be here. Sometimes I doubted I would even make the next ten minutes…

One of the key symptoms of depression is to see no hope. No future.

A book about depression need not be depressing. We all nod at the statistics; one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem. Then there’s the call to list people who suffered from depression to show how normal it is. Matt Haig does it. Gawp at pages 166-168 which list some celebrities. We all know about, for example, Princess Di and Winston Churchill and the black dog of depression. I didn’t know about Halle Berry. I wasn’t shocked. I don’t really care enough to be shocked. I’m indifferent. I’ve a knee-jerk reaction to Tories like Churchill, but depression humanises him. When I hear about somebody committing suicide I don’t find it that weird, or strange. Life is like that. Diseases like depression and dementia are democratic. It doesn’t really matter who you are or what you do, or how much money you have, you can suffer from depression. You can get dementia.

I also like Haig’s admission that depression can be strength rather than a weakness. It’s a perspective that offers futility as a starting point and humility as a finishing point. When you think you are, the worst you can be, then that warped vision sometime allows you to see other’s clearly.  Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression all his life. It wasn’t black and white, but a humaniser in inhuman times. Lincoln, like Churchill, was a leader, not a follower of fashions.

Haig offers Reasons to be strong. We know them, family, friends…but it’s the kind of reminder you get at AA meetings. One slip and its downward. Here we’re talking to the better self that listens and responds.

The trick is to befriend depression and anxiety.

I like that idea. But then my mind goes off on a tangent, if Jesus was to fight Buddha in a square go, who would win?

Haig’s better self needs to write. I get that too. I need to write. To create. And hope there will be somebody to read what I’ve written. The better self, like the lower self, does not live in isolation. Our smallness is our strength. When we lose the path we need to seek others to haul us up. Andrea, Haig’s wife, is the hero here, but so is he. He calls us all to be heroes. As Bertolt Brecht says, ‘Unhappy is the land that breeds no heroes. No Andrea, Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.’  Haig asks for enough room to flourish and make choices. We don’t need more stuff. Reading is a kind of superpower. But the krypton is social networking sites like Facebook. I guess we talk the talk. All the rest is bullshit. That’s a depressing thought. This short book is a delight. Taste it and see. Use your superpower, and read on.