John Ferguson 1/12/1929—11/1/2020

John and May Ferguson on their wedding day.

I remember when John Ferguson slipped me twenty-quid and I went to the Oasis with the cash. My older brother Stephen—or  SEV, as pre-Banksie, he liked to artistically daub on walls or doors— married his daughter Emily. Or wee Emily. I didn’t remember how small she was until I saw her today. Platform shoes of the kind that Elton John wore to play the part of Tommy,  and sing Pinball Wizard , took Emily up to the glorious height of about five-foot (stripy-banded socks optional). She was a gorgeous wee thing, inside and out. She and her twin brother Gerry were adopted. When people say bloods thicker than water, I’ll just say Emily and Gerry were John and May’s children.

But when I count the years, I also count the bodies. Stephen’s dead, May’s dead and now John’s dead and I’ve not even got the end of the second paragraph. When John slipped me that cash, I thought he was Methuselah’s twin. But he was around the same age, or younger, than I am now.

Here’s a few quiz question which should help you determine whether you should start building a casket, or buying a used coffin (one careful owner).

  1. Do you remember the Oasis in Dumbarton Road and TJs beside the Co-op funeral parlour?
  2. Did you go to the Oasis and TJs?

If you answered YES to A and B you can start shopping for funeral plans (online, but you’re probably too old for that technical malarkey). If you answered just A, then you can probably put it off for about five years.

When John was born in early December nearly 90 years ago, we can guess it would be a dreich Glasgow day as it was when he was buried. Scottish weather, despite global warming, is consistent in its dreichness and summer is when your nose and the back of your ears burn. A £150 000 relief fund was set up to help fisherman who lost their nets and crippled the fishing fleet in a typical 1929, November, gale-force storm.  Questions were raised in Parliament, blaming the workers for not anticipating God’s wrath and taking out insurance.  The Wall Street Crash, 1929, (like the crash in 2008) which wasn’t anybody’s fault, marked the start of the worldwide, Great Depression, which continued until the second world war. Death and carnage filled to overflowing order books as manufacturing rocketed.  

John Ferguson, or Fergie as every Ferguson that lives in the West of Scotland is nicknamed, was too young to fight in the second world war, but he’d have been drafted for National Service. I don’t know about which arena of the armed forces he served in.

Full employment was the order of the day. Fergie was a bus driver. He’d the right kind of scowling face for that kind of work. Public transport was king and Fergie was riding high. Only snobs owned cars.  About quarter of a million Glaswegians, for example, lined the streets in a driech downpour to mark the ending of the tram ‘caurs’ in September 1962. As usual, one of trams broke down, delaying the ending of the end.    

Later years.

Quiz question 2.

Do you remember watching a TV series On the Buses?

Fergie was On the Buses at that time. Drivers drove and looked miserable about it and the clippies did all the work. May was a clippie. May was Fergie’s clippie. On the Buses, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. May, his wife, was lovely, no joke.

I remember the house they had half way up West Thompson Street. Knocked down and re-built now. John and May in their later years had an upstairs house, Glenhead Road, Parkhall, back and front garden.  John was diabetic and had a couple of heart attacks, but May died first.  John moaned that Gerry and the grandkids didn’t come up to see him enough. They lived just a few streets away.

failing the breathe test

John didn’t moan when he’d phone Gerry to come and pick him up from John Brown’s pub, or ironically, The Pinetrees Hotel, which is now The West Park Hotel where refreshments were served after his funeral today. Let’s hope John doesn’t phone Gerry to come pick him up tonight. R.I.P.  

Elizabeth Strout (2017) Anything is Possible.

Elizabeth Strout is an internationally and critically acclaimed bestselling author of My Name is Lucy Barton. Lucy Barton, as a stock character, is also an author who writes mostly about farm life in Angash, Illinois. How her family were so desperately poor they ate scraps out of dump trucks and were shunned. The first chance she got to get away she took it.  Later she became a successful writer in New York. The maxim ‘write what you know’ seems to apply here. This is the second of Strout’s books I’ve read and I can see how it is easy to conflate the fictional Lucy Barton with the author Elizabeth Strout. For her anything must seem possible.

Here we are back in Illinois, in the patchwork of different stories, of people from the same place, Amgash. Strout is great at handling time, how it doesn’t really go away, but it held in collective consciousness and in the bodies of her characters.

The wisdom of folly is the theme.

In ‘Gift’, for example, Abel Blake who’d become rich after he married the boss’s daughter, but had once been very poor. A cousin of Lucy Barton, he’d once queued so the author could sign her name on her latest book. He’d showed her how to eat out of dumpsters. It was a look-at-us now moment. Both successful.  He loves his kids, loves his grandkids, but is indifferent to his wife. After a theatre trip his granddaughter had left behind Snowy, a soft toy and companion. He returns to get it and is lucky enough that the theatre is still open. The star performer has become unhinged and Blake realises too late he’s caught and he’s old and he can’t run away. He’s faced to confront the ‘Gift’, the gift of his successful life after Amgash and the compassion and empathy rural poverty had given him. He concludes with his dying breath, ‘Anything is Possible’.

The structure of most stories follow the simple pattern of the set-up, the knockdown, the dust yourself down and get up again—with life lesson learned.

Whisper it, the writing stinks.   Her stories have lots of dialogue and read like screenplays. In the story ‘The Hit-Thumb Theory’, for example, the set-up is Charlie is cheating on his wife. The prostitute he’s meeting asks him for cash, $10 000. He refuses.

Then her green eyes became like dark nostrils that flared that is the image that came to him as he watched her; her eyes moving like the nostrils of a horse, pulled up, pulled back. “My son’s going to be dead if I don’t come up with the money.” No tears now. Her breath came in little bursts.

When editing another person’s work it’s best to offer constructive criticism. Here is mine.

Then hHer green eyes flared. became like dark nostrils that flared that is the image that came to him as he watched her; her eyes moving like the nostrils of a horse, pulled up, pulled back. “My son’s going to be dead if I don’t come up with the money.”

No tears now. Her breath came in little bursts.

I’d suggest to Strout that eyes that flare are clichéd. She might like to think of something else. That I’d enjoyed her book. And apart from the writing it was great. If she self-publishes I’ll certainly give her a good review. Perhaps we could go on a blog-tour together. That seems quite fashionable. Anything is Possible.

Robert A. Caro (1990 [2006]) The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2, Means of Ascent.

On page 402, towards the end of this second volume of the rise and rise of Lyndon Johnson, Robert A.Caro offers an insight into the former President’s personality.

For a President to preserve as a personal memento a photograph showing the notorious Box 13 in the possession of his political allies—a photograph which by implication provides that someone was indeed in a positon to stuff it—is startling in itself. For him to display the photograph to a hostile journalist is evidence of a psychological need so deep that its demands could not be resisted. It is continuing evidence of the fact that even his possession of the presidency had eased the insecurities of his youth.

In a week that the moron’s moron starts his impeachment trial by the Senate this is perhaps a good book to study.

There is little doubt that President Trump is guilty of all charges levelled against him from #Me too to crook too. He’s an abomination, but that didn’t stop him from becoming President. In fact, it was regarded as an asset. He would be telling others how it is.  What the Trump team did was very much like LBJ did they used the new technology of their age to target voters.

LBJ used helicopters and control of the media, primarily radio stations. He also used slush funds to generate more cash than had ever been spent in the history of Texas to buy political power.

The moron’s moron’s team, ironically, used the Obama tactics of weaponising social media. Fake Facebook accounts were targeted at key states as they are now being for the next election. Russian influence played its part, but LBJ was one of the first to realise it didn’t matter what you said, as long as you repeated it enough it had the patina of truth and then the other guy became the liar.

In a world of right and wrong and moral order LBJ would have been as screwed as any one of the moron moron’s servants. Both Presidents shared the capacity to demand total loyalty.

Caro juxtaposes LBJ’s fight for a senate seat with ‘Mr Texas’ Coke Stevenson. Think Atticus Finch here from To Kill a Mocking Bird and fling in a bit of John Wayne.  A man that built his own house by hand and dug his own fence posts and could pretty much do anything from building bridges to representing plaintiffs in court and winning the case. He never took a case where he thought the client was guilty. Prices for his services were written on chalk for all to see. He could not be bought. He had integrity. He had core beliefs where LBJ and the moron’s moron had a for-hire sign.

LBJ was an incredibly adapt creature of the political wrangling class, a lion among wolves. The moron’s moron is a child in a man’s body that nobody has said boo too—and there lies the danger. His stupidity could lead literally to the next world war. It has already helped diminished the chance of saving our planet without a massive loss of human life and biodiversity.  

Nobody much is interested in Box 13, or that old stuff called history. The guys in the photograph LBJ showed a hostile reporter are Texans that stole enough votes and stuffed them into Box 13 so that LBJ could become a Senator in the 1948 race. The equivalent would be the moron’s moron showing a New York Times reporter Trump standing in a Moscow hotel room with Putin, while Russia prostitutes piss on his bed. Or the moron’s moron standing with his hand on the shoulder of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and a speech bubble coming from the American President’s mouth asking him to dig up dirt on Joe Biden—or else.

LBJ knew that’s not the way power works. Senators might swear to be impartial, but we know that’s the kind of horseshit Coke Stevenson would have smartly wiped from his cowboy boots. 20 Republicans need to side the Democratic block vote to win the three-quarter majority to find the moron’s moron guilty. And like LBJ, the moron’s moron is always keen to leave a paperless trail. Admit to nothing, let the minions take the hits and then damn them for being crass liars, interested only in themselves and the next pay-packet. Accuse them of being greedy, of being bought.   Loyalty to self is the only thing worth preserving. Everyone else, everything else, expendable.

The greatest irony of all is that impeachment works in the moron moron’s favour. It provides proof to his followers that he’s stirred up the hornet’s nest. With no Hillary Clinton to bait, it’s the next best thing. Power follows the money. I hate to say it about the next election, but the moron’s moron—

Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer

Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer

Billy Connolly might well be Scotland’s greatest export after whisky. Both ITV and BBC are competing to squeeze the last dregs of life out of The Big Yin. I’ve checked, he’s not dead yet. But he does have motor- neurone disease and he’s coming up for seventy-five. He said it himself, other people’s success tend to form an inverted U-shaped curve. His success is of the hockey-stick variety. Everything he shites turns to gold. Even his doodles are framed, exhibited as art in Glasgow’s People’s Palace. He’s come a long way from strumming a banjo and being a Humblebum. Remember Baker Street and Gerry Rafferty? Unlikely, unless you’re an old codger. Here’s a reminder. I once danced to this song, or at least moved my feet, which was much the same thing.

Billy Connolly conquered Scotland with his Wellie boots and took on the bigots with his Crucifixion.  He conquered London, by which I mean England, when he appeared on The Parkinson Show in 1975. But the Big Yin wasn’t as big as Benny Hill. Remember him? Semi-nude woman and eye rolling and a chase that went on for an hour.  That was comedy then. They’d chase you for that now. For drama try on Frankie Miller.  Billy Connolly had a part in Peter McDougall’s  Just A Boy’s Game, one of the Play’s for Today, everybody in Scotland watched and said—fuck—that’s us in Glasgow around 1979, the time of the first Referendum.  

Now fuck off with Boris fucking Johnson. It wasn’t until Braveheart in nationwide cinema that its small-screen reach could be matched and let’s face it, Braveheart was Mel Gibson chalked blue and talking shite.  But in the United States, where they they’re not keen on anyone that’s not American and even then they’re a bit iffy, Billy Connolly is known. He’s a brand. That Scottish guy with the hairy face that’s been in a couple of films, nobody much watched.  But Billy Connolly’s loaded anyway, so that makes him half American. It doesn’t matter. He’s one of us.

I’ll tell you a secret, I remember Billy Connolly and I heard his jokes, but I didn’t laugh. I’m funny that way. I get them, I really do. He’s a representation of the guy we all know that’s funny as fuck.  Connolly is a nostalgia feedbag for a better Scotland that you can strap over your nose to feel better. I like him better now. I often chuckle at his jokes now I know the punchline, in a way I never did then. Drumchapel, a desert wae windows—that’s genius, in anybody’s language.

Billy Connolly is still working, he must have Cadogan Street on his back. 5000 folk died while waiting to be re-assessed and that’s no joke. That’s the Scotland we live in now, so there’s a lot to be said for nostalgia.

While the BBC archives are trawled for stuff that tells the Billy Connolly story it’s wrapped around a poor man’s excuse—it’s all about art. Here’s the sketch, three different artists get to paint a picture of the Big Yin. Cover your ears, I never thought I’d say I was a conservative, but see that modern art-shite. I’ve really got no standards worth talking about. Here’s my preference reading from left to far right:     John Byrne, Jack Vettriano and Rachel Maclean.

Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Director Ben Steele

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

King James Bible, Matthew 18:16.

I’ve never heard the term ‘de-arrested’. Yet this is what happened to The Right Reverend Peter Ball in 2012. He was re-arrested in 2014, charged and pled guilty to two counts of indecent assault and one count of misconduct in a public office after admitting the abuse of 18 young men from 1977 to 1992. In October 2015 he was sentenced to 32 months in prison. He served 16 months and is now dead. Job done?

Sheep in wolf’s clothing and paedophile priests have become clichéd. Cover ups in the Roman Catholic Church – see for example, the book and film Spotlight – and the pronunciation on the issue by Pope Francis and promise of reforms in reporting clerical abuse are rightly seen as too little and too late.

‘God weeps for the victims of sexual abuse.’

A whole army of churchman go to work applying whitewash and victim blaming. People in high places don’t like to be screwed. They prefer to do the screwing. Institutional cover ups are old news.

I was reminded watching this programme of an unpublished book written by scratch on ABCtales. The protagonist is taken from church school and sexually abused and passed around the clergy. Phil Johnson reports a similar, but historical narrative. He only went to the police after her realised his brother has also been sexually abused as a kid. Choosing the victim, isolating him (or her) and making them feel powerless and terrified of being caught for a crime they didn’t commit is the first step.

The Reverend Roy Cotton, for example, ‘groomed me (10-year-old Philip Johnson) pretty much from the first time that I ever met him’.

Johnson was working class and easy meat for politely spoken middle and upper-class men in positions of power. In March 1954, just six weeks before the date of his intended ordination, Reverend Roy Cotton was banned from the Scout Movement. A Scoutmaster, he was found guilty of indecently exposing himself to a child in an organ loft. He was still ordained and reports of him sexually abusing boys followed him from school to school. He was re-appointed as a Scoutmaster. Perhaps that’s where we get the term re-arrested.

Cotton in 1974 was appointed as parish priest at St Andrew’s Church in Eastbourn and Johnson was a choirboy.

Cotton took Johnson, when he was 15 years old, to stay with Reverend Colin Pritchard. This bit is pretty much identical to how scratch described the scene in his unpublished novel. Johnson awoke the next morning to find himself naked in Pritchard’s bed, having being plied with booze having no memory of the previous night. Pritchard then sexually assaulted him in the kitchen, He would later plead guilty to this assault and like Cotton had a long string of previous that where logged by Church authorities and buried.

Johnson reports another visitor to the gathering of paedophiles. The Right Reverend Ball had Johnson sit on his lap and felt up under his shorts and stroked his genitals as he had a conversation with Cotton. Ball was sexually aroused.

Neil Todd also described how Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball asked him to strip naked and beat him with a whip. Ball was also naked, but claimed in a police report that if he did ejaculate it was out with his control and accidental.

He’d appeared on The Terry Wogan Show as the friendly face of Anglicism and a saintly figure that has set up an informal monastery to channel young men into a Godly life and find their vocation. He had friends in high places. The same friends as Jimmy Savile, most notably Margaret Thatcher.  Prince Charles who provided a house for Ball in the Dutchy of Cornwall, and through him connections to other royals such as the Queen Mother. Friends in the House of Lords and of course friends in the judiciary such as Lord Anthony Lloyd who was Lord Justice at the time and was more than happy to pick up the phone and give any local constabulary plod that dared to question his friend Reverend Ball an earful.  Anglican Church leaders at Lambeth Palace, Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey.

Here we have a Keystone Cops type interlude in which Carey appoints another Bishop who used to be a private investigator to use funds from the Anglican Church to investigate the victims of Ball’s crimes and rehabilitate him. The report concluded that Ball was a multiple abuser in cases which had stretched back years. The report like many others from victims of Ball’s crimes was buried.

Guilty Peter Ball.

Guilty Roy Cotton

Guilty Colin Pritchard

Guilty of criminal neglect: Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey et al. Prince Charles. Lord Anthony Lloyd. David Cameron’s godfather, Conservative MP Tim Rathbone.

Neil Todd R.I.P.  The Establishment fucked you up. We did not listen. We have let you down.

Louis Theroux, Selling Sex, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Director Joshua Baker, written and presented by Louis Theroux.

Louis Theroux is repeating himself. He’s done this before, tackling the sex industry, but now he’s looking the British model. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, in a Carry On kinda way. Sex sells even if it’s documentary sex and Theroux has pretty much a free hand with the BBC who buy any old muck he wants to sell.

Selling sex is legal in Britain as long as it doesn’t involve coercion, exploitation or public nuisance.

Ethical or moral issues are more difficult to resolve. Let me put this quite simply, sticking PROSTITUTE on your CV isn’t going to open many doors, but it may lead to a few enquiries about how much you charge.

Theroux, of the raised eyebrow to indicate emotion, does a good job of sitting on the fence. Friendly and distant enough to be a good guide for us to look into and at this self-selecting cohort.

They must agree to be filmed. Many prostitutes wouldn’t want to be filmed on national telly. Maybe they wouldn’t want their mum or dad to know, or their neighbours or friends. What seems quaint or even funny, Theroux investigating legal brothels stateside, or the porn industry, generally, seems more like exploitation this side of the Atlantic. More of the Jeremy Kyle brand of establishing faux truths while making cash from selling sex with the trademark shout – go and get a job.

We frequently hear women talk about empowerment. Victoria is 25 and has four kids. She uses social media to contact clients and charges £250 an hour. Four clients a day and she’s home for the kids coming home from school. Good job. Wages of sin pay well.

Ashley’s 23 and she’d got Asperger’s and is a student. She sells her body to fund her studies. Her flatmate and friends are cool with that. She says she only picks guys she’d fuck anyway. One client, for example, is 25 and has hundreds of positive reviews, proclaiming what a big cock he’s got and how he knows how to use it. Louis follows her to the meeting with him. And she comes out happy with £300, saying she wouldn’t have minded him as a boyfriend. One of her pals has agreed to book Ashley for sex. Afterwards they’ll just go back to being friends. All her pals agree that’s what will happen.

To balance it out a bit Louis follows an older couple Graham and Caroline, probably late fifties. She works as an escort, not really for the money, but because it turns her on. She was frigid and now she’s free line. What turns Caroline on, turns Graham on. Most STD are in the over-fifty grouping so being hip and modern and flower power and yeh, yeh, yeh, personally, I don’t care. These are the least interesting of the group. Dressing up the issues.  

Let’s talk about class and exploitation. I’m thrown back to another one of Theroux’s documentaries in which he asks a  women that’s going to kill herself—she does—because her boyfriend is dead, she’s in a wheelchair and she’s going to lose her home, what would you do if you had enough money?

Commonalities. Victoria’s mum and dad were a mess and she was out of the house when she was 15, pounced upon because she was homeless and vulnerable by an older man in his twenties. He had a house, she didn’t, but she did have a body he could use.

Ashely was abused by a family friend between the ages of six and twelve. It left her feeling reckless and betrayed. Selling herself was her revenge.

Victoria has a daughter, Sapphire, who knows her mum’s a prostitute. The boys are too young to be told (emm they know and if they don’t there pals will soon tell them after seeing mum’s big tits on BBC 2).  Theroux asked the question. ‘Would Victoria want Sapphire to be a prostitute?’


Victoria knows the answer to that one immediately. He didn’t point out that’s the age she started selling herself. Like mother, like daughter?

That’s all the answer I need. People want a better life for their kids. Traditionally, middle-class doctors and lawyers wanted their sons to be lawyers and doctors and carry on the family tradition, perhaps get a bit higher. They didn’t want their daughters to be prostitutes. That was a path marked out for the lower class. Here it is again, re-emerging in new clothes. We live in a fucked-up world when you need to sell your body to pay for education or to feed your kids and provide a roof over their head. Perhaps a bit more.  That’s what I think. No sitting on the fence for me. We’re back to Victorian society. Them and Us. It’s all to do with class.

Social mobility is dead – long live the queen, social media and false gods of making yourself famous.

We’ve always had prostitutes argument (check your Bible) missed the point. We’ve always had people sleeping on the streets, but now it’s an epidemic and normalised. When the best society can offer our youngsters is to get their tits out for the boys surely that’s not empowerment?

Max Porter (2015) Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

I’m a bit stupid. I wasn’t sure if this was fact of fiction or fictionalised fact. I’m still not sure. This short book had me thinking, which is often a good thing. But I don’t really get it, which is a bad thing – right?

I’ve been to a few funerals this year and I wrote in memorial that ‘Grief was too small a word’.

Setting the tone in Max Porter’s book, split into three short chapters –beginning, middle and end—is not so much a prologue as an intrusion, a short verse by Emily Dickinson.

That Love(Crow) is all there is/Is all we know of (Crow)Love/It is enough, the freight (Crow)should be/Proportioned to the groove (Crow).   

Crow is pencilled in (which isn’t possible in printed books) but it seeks to given that effect, a kind of graffiti.

Having read the book, quickly, as I’ve a tendency to do, I’m assuming it’s kinda hip. Crow as a narrator is mocking the more genteel poetry of Dickinson.

Boys as narrators, motherless sons, would I’d imagine call this wanky. They did seem to get it right.

We found a fish in a pool and tried to kill it but the fish was too big and the fish was too quick so we damned it and smashed it.

Dad as narrator.

Four or five days after she died, I sat alone in the living room wondering what to do. Shuffling around, waiting for the shock to give way, waiting for any kind of structured feeling to emerge from the organisational fakery of my days. I felt hung-empty.

‘Hung-empty’ is genius.

Crow as narrator.

Very romantic, how we first met. Badly behaved. Trip trap. Two-bed upstairs flat, slightly barbed-error, snuck in easy through the wall and up the attic bedroom to see those cartoon boys silently sleeping, intoxicating hum of innocent childhood…

I get that part, the narrator whose wife has died and left two sons is a Ted Hughes scholar. Crow is part of the Hughes cycle of poetry. I sped-read through a few of Hughes’s Crow poems and I guess Porter mimics the affect.

I lack the key to decipher meaning. Some mentor would have to guide me through it word for word, image by image. When reading becomes work, I switch off. My eyes are seeing, but my brain is unconnected. There is no emotional resonance. This is babble to me. Poetry is never finished, just abandoned school of thought.  I have failed as a reader and remain in limbo. Life is too short to worry. No need to crow about it.   Read on.