When we are down, Rangers are up. Life’s that simple. On even pegging going into this tie, we blew it. Cluj done a similar job here at Parkhead earlier in the season. Copenhagen followed suit. We get back into games and then simply make school-boy errors. Jozo Simunovic was way back in the pecking order under Brendan Rodgers for the kind of mistake he made last night. He’d overall a poor game and his pass back was short. Julien slid in and his ricochet made it even easier for sub Santos to score. Edouard’s penalty ten minutes from the end had us thinking of extra time and the possibility of penalties to decide the tie. Two minutes later. Game over. Tie over.
Biel arrows through the centre of Celtic’s defence as it wasn’t there (it wasn’t). Celtic would need to have scored two. As in the Cluj game, Copenhagen were the team to score with N’Doye milking—the culmination with his battle with Julien—with a third and final goal to put him and Celtic in their place, which was nowhere. In truth, it didn’t really matter at that stage.
We fall back onto it’s the league that matters argument. Nine-in-a-row. Then Ten. Rangers will have more ties to play and that’ll hurt them. Let’s just say that’s the kind of hurting I’d like, possible an English side and a couple of extra million in the bank. Cluj cost us tens of millions. Copenhagen cost us millions. Worse, it gives Rangers the bragging rights. Rangers, remember are a poor team that also beat us at fortress Parkhead and we won the League Final against them at Hampden only because of Fraser Forster’s heroics.
Rangers will not win the Uefa Cup, but they’re still in it. We’re on the outside looking in. Rangers have made £7 million from the Uefa Cup. That pays for Ryan Kent and boost their struggling finances. More money to come from their tie against Leverkusen. Lose-lose for us, whatever way we portray it.
Hopefully, we can go on and win the league. With performances like this that isn’t a given. The Scottish Cup would be a bonus. We’re back to the same old, same old. Pish.
I missed the first few minutes of this. I expected to see (not that I watch porn) blonde hair and silicon breasts and a solid arse so big it would have shamed a Kardashian and housed half of dancing Africa with bongo drums. Instead I got this guy, who called himself Jonathan Agassi and he was in Berlin. He dressed down to go out in a pair of tight-fitting swimming trunks. He went to a Berlin nightclub to collect an award for the being the best new gay porn star. He won the category, best porn actor, United States.
Fucker, you better believe it. He didn’t live in the United States. The best, or so he thought. This is the rise part, before the world goes back to being less than a Cabaret tune. ‘Come to the Cabaret my friend, Come to the Cabaret’. Another song set in Cabaret (Berlin of the 1930s Weimar Republic) sets the tone: ‘Money, makes the world go around, the world go around, the world go around. Money makes the world go around…’ It still does. When Agassi is the queen of the porn industry and doing what he’s told, money pours in. The next big thing is always standing behind you.
I found Agassi’s relationship with his mum weird. She’s in Israel. He’s in Berlin. They Skype. He looks for reassurance he’s still beautiful. She gives it. Then he goes back to visit her in Tel Aviv. There were some uncomfortable moments such as Agassi dressing in fishnets and high-heel shoes and his brother telling him this wasn’t Berlin, but Tel Aviv. In other words, don’t go out like that ya sissy. But he’d went to school there. Threatened suicide, when he was at school and ready to jump from a high window, his classmates shouted, ‘Jump’. I guess Israelites are too busy gobbling up the land of their poor Palestinian neighbours to be overly politically correct.
We meet Agassi’s dad back in Berlin. Things have turned more difficult. Agassi’s bum is still for sale but the price is dropping out of the market. Worse, his dad is the worst kind of arsehole. Agassi remains fixated on his dad calling him ‘a homo’ when he was twelve. We all know the cure for that from right-wing (let’s call them) Americans who imagine a good shag with a good girl will cure them of that kind of malarkey. That was certainly my da’s view, when his best mate, Jimmy Mac, told him his son was gay.
‘No, Jimmy, yeh, cannae have that,’ were my da’s immortal words.
Agassi’s da went further. When he was twelve he set him up with this then female partner. You know, the good-shag cure, which in other societies would be looked on as paedophilia and procurement, but not here. Not in Berlin.
Later, Agassi and Da meet again. His son is out of his face on drugs most of the time. He’s filmed sleeping on top of a parked car. And admits he hadn’t slept for two days. Worse, his wanger is playing up, gone off solidarity and on strike, he can no longer ejaculate on cue. The money shot is no longer the money shot. Things are slipping.
Da talks about his mum as if he loved her. Maybe he did. But he tells the big lie. Mummy was depressed because she wanted a girl and instead had a boy, Agassi. That set her into depression, perhaps post-natal, perhaps something else. Nudge. Nudge. Wink. Wink. Your mum hated you and it’s your fault for being born.
Mummy soon put Agassi right. She was stuck in New York, penniless and young, with two kids and daddy was out spending what little money that had and whoring. That’s when I got on mummy’s side. Now I kinda liked her. She was spunky.
Agassi dresses mummy up in designer clobber and claims she looks beautiful. The answer here on this side is no, she doesn’t. She looks like an ordinary wee woman. Since we’re on the male gaze, I don’t think Agassi looks anything special either.
He ends up working in a supermarket. The kind of guy you pass every day. Gives lectures to kids about the dangers of drugs. When I watched Louise Theroux’s programme about escorts £200-an-hour seemed to be the going rate. Agassi around $4000 an hour. Must be hard, working on the checkout, minimum wage, made to eat shit. Lack of money does that to you. Porn, like anything else, is an overcrowded market. It eats the young. Hates the old. I’m sure there’s some kind of metaphor waiting to pop up.
This was one of Bob’s book, I inherited. The second evangelic one I’ve read that somebody obviously had given him. A message inside the flyleaf: ‘Be Inspired!’ I guess Bob was looking for something. We all are. I had to have a coming-out party, when people found out—yes, I was a writer. And yes, a second coming-out party when I admitted I believed in God—well sometimes, more often than not, but not very often. Ned Flanders in The Simpsons is the archetype do-gooder and believer and you’ve got to just say, wow, to all things Godly. I was never much good at being good. I wanted to be in the same place they put the bad women and if that was hell then I was quite willing. If there was a dog to be kicked, I was the man for the job. But I wasn’t really bad, more sad than bad. That’s usually how life plays out, especially when you get older. Bob was more sad than bad. He could never bear to be alone. Books like this are honey for a bee. But I doubt he ever read it.
Barry Woodward was a no-good cunt. Then he found God, or God found him and he was saved and became an evangelic and preaches [present tense in the before-and-after story] the word of God.
I could list all the drugs he took when he was part of the Madchester scene. He was really into music and built his own deck and played music night and day for months of end. He learned how to mix decks and never really slept. He wasn’t the kind of neighbour I’d like. I’d have probably have a falling out if he stayed anywhere near me. I wouldn’t really have cared if he took heroin and speed and crack cocaine and smoked dope. That would have been his business. Not mine. If he died of these things I’d just be relieved it was quiet. But inside that the chrysalises of maximum volume noise were voices that spoke to him. Psychosis. When he flushed the toilet the voices spoke to him. When he was in the shower, they kept him company and dragged him down. More drugs didn’t still their voices. Bob was like that too.
Ironically, Bob was more at ease when he was in Greenock Prison than outside. Barry when he was inside had all kind of ruses to get his stuff in the old Strangeways. His girlfriend played pass-the-parcel when they kissed and he’d swallow and shit it out. Anything to get a hit, to be normal.
When God directs Barry it’s quite funny. He ends up naked hiding from the police in a stream he tries to dive into but is little more than a puddle. The police woman is nice and tempts him out with a scratchy blanket and kind words. He’s marked down as just another nut- job, taken to the local nick and locked up again, before getting sentenced for other misdemeanours.
When your psychotic voices in the head are part of the terrain. But there’s little to tell between Barry’s experience and Joan of Arc telling her fellow countrymen to rise up and the English to go back home. Moses talking to a burning bush. Saul being blinded and walking with scales on his eyes, only for them to fall away when he recognised the risen Christ. The trick is to make others believe the voices are real. Barry Woodward turned his life around. God bless him for that. Bob never got the chance. God bless him for that too. The voices no longer haunt him.
Olive Kitteridge aged 83 (or 84, I remember her telling ‘The Poet’, but memory is fallible is a theme here, so I’m in good company) is brash, outspoken, abrasive. All those adjectives we can associate with the orange-haired monster in the Whitehouse—those are more Olive’s words than mine—but Olive, a fictional creation of Elizabeth Strout is a human figure because she never stops questioning others or herself. To be human is always to be plural. To be godlike is to be humble. The beginning of humanity comes at the end of this collection of interconnected stories set in the fictional coastal town of Cosby, Maine—twelve hours from New York, in other words, Middle America, also a fictional construct—when Olive writes a note to herself that sticks in her head:
I do not have a clue who I have been. Truthfully, I do not understand a thing.
Olive was married to Henry and they had a boy Christopher and so it goes on. The story of living and dying. Henry dies. Olive was in her seventies then, estranged from her son, not keen on Christopher’s wife, Ann, who already had a kid from her previous marriage and seems to pop out her breasts to feed one grandkid after another in a way that is unsightly and unseemly. When they visit it’s not happy families. ‘Motherless Child’ is the story title. That’s all the clue you need, but had more to do with Olive’s relationship with her son. I could quote Tolstoy here about happy families being all the same and unhappy families being all different, but I won’t. I’m reminded of a put-down remark by Jack Kennison, whose story features in the opening tale, ‘Arrested’, a former lecturer at Harvard with two PHDs, he accuses Olive of being ‘a reverse snob’. He’s married to her by this time and he may have had a point.
I’m ‘a reverse snob’ too. Jack, for example, flies first class, but Olive refuses and is hunched up in a seat beside a fat man. This is America. Every second person is fat, including Jack, but he has little sympathy for her. His attitude that they’ve not got long to live and if they’ve got the money—spend it, seems more sensible. Put bluntly, I’m on Olive’s side here. I don’t like or trust rich people. Then again, I don’t know any. But reverse snobbery works in other subtle ways too.
I quite like Elizabeth Strout’s compendium of short stories. On the cover a quote for her British audience from the Sunday Times, ‘One of America’s finest writers’. Strout has won the Pulitzer Prize. One morning Olive is having breakfast at the marina. The waitress has a fat arse and Olive doesn’t like her or think she provides good service. She sees a girl Andrea sitting by herself. She goes across and introduced herself, Andrea is a poet laureate of the United States, but a ‘lonesome girl’ that she taught math and wasn’t expected to go far or do much with her life. Later, Olive discovers something about herself she doesn’t like, she wouldn’t have sat with the girl unless she knew she was famous. I wouldn’t have read this book unless others had read it and recommended it. That’s a kind of snobbism. Being part of the gang. Olive also though the poet-laureates poems were largely ‘crap’. But Andrea gets her own back by writing a poem about Olive’s life, holds a mirror up to her face and Olive realises what the poet says is essentially true.
I don’t think Elizabeth Strout’s writing is crap. But if I was as honest as Olive I do wonder why she is so admired and has won so many prizes. My guess if it was self-published, in competition with eight million authors, without all the other ballyhoo it wouldn’t do that great. But like Olive with ‘The Poet’ I might need to take a long hard look at myself. I value honesty in characters such as Olive. I admire it in real life too, but nobody’s perfect, although some writing can seem so. I wouldn’t say this is the case here. Read on.
I was shocked—well, that’s the wrong word, but I can’t think of the right one—that Deborah Orr was dead. She’s the same age as me, or would have been— Motherwell: A Girlhood was a message from beyond the grave. She died in 2019. She came from Motherwell. The title is a dead giveaway. And there’s a whole stack of her achievements listed on flyleaf with a picture of her, a haunting picture, in retrospect. Look at the cover image and, in contrast, a picture of Deborah aged around seven or eight, long hair, smiling for the camera, crinoline dress, blue and white pattern, white socks up to the knees and shiny white shoes. A proper little girl.
Deborah Orr’s achievements, including writing and editing for The Guardian, which at the time was as novel as a woman Prime minister, not because of her background, but despite it. One of the commonest tricks played on the working class is to point at the exception to the rule and say there’s one there. There’s a black swan. Upward social mobility is possible for those that work. My message to you and I’m sure Deborah Orr’s would be too is – fuck off. We’ve been moving backward to the dark ages bit by bit since the Thatcher/ Reagan revolution. An era when Deborah Orr escaped to the glory of a London squat, roughly, when this book ends.
Deborah was named after the film star, Debbie Kerr, her mother Win, loved all the glamour and glitter of Hollywood, but the grim reality is here in this joke the author loved (and I do too) about a Yorkshireman on his deathbed.
‘Steven? Are you here?’
‘I’m here, Dad.’
‘Mary? Are you here?’
‘I’m here, Dad.’
‘Bethany? Are you here?’
‘I’m here, Grandad.’
‘Aaron? Are you here?’
‘I’m here, Grandad.’
‘Then why’s the hall light on?’
Here’s one of your markers if you want to apply for your passport to poverty. I laughed out loud, while recognising my da skulking in the hallway waiting to pounce because I was on the phone. ‘That’s no a piano,’ Dessy, my da said.
The memoir is structured around memento mori. ‘The Bureau, Baby’s First Haircut, The Wedding Clippings, The Dolls…The Dope Box, Letter to Crispin, Untitled, The Last Vestiges of John’.
‘I loved Win’s wide black velvet belt, so tiny that she kept for years, a reminder to herself of her lovely curvaceous figure, “before I had children”.’
John was Deborah’s dad, the centre of his world. He was the baby of a family of five, as was her mum, Win, who was English. Win was under five-foot small, but gorgeous, everybody said so. John was luck to have Win, Win was lucky to have John. They all lived happy ever after isn’t much of a story.
‘John and Win met, and had their miscegenated, cross-border romance because of the war. Without the war, I was always told I wouldn’t have existed.’
When Deborah recalls three increasingly brutal rapes by different men—the playful rape at University, if you don’t squeal, I won’t tell; to the accidental rape, you’re sleeping, so I’ll just fuck you because we talked earlier; to the hands on the throat and you might never live to tell the tale—and her mother’s surprise that sex could be pleasurable and not something done to you, then her mum sides with the rapists. She sides with women jury members that found rapists and murderers such as Peter Manuel not guilty because women shouldn’t have put themselves in such a positon to be bludgeoned.
The natural positon of women was to think of Scotland, or even England in her case, when John, a good man, forced himself on her. Her wee brother David was brought up with different expectations, he’d go on to make his mark on the world. John and Win were great believers in the natural order of things. No Catholics, no blacks, no dogs as landlords used to mark on the front door even though dogs couldn’t read.
John couldn’t read either, not really. Like many others he’d left school at twelve or thirteen to earn scraps of money. Motherwell was built on steel and coal. Ravenscraig once employed 14 000 men and was the most efficient steel makers in the world. He became part of the working-class aristocracy when he got a job in Colville, girder makers, prior to nationalisation at the age of fifteen. He even became a heroic figure to many hardened by the noise and daily grind, when he pushed a man aside and away from a red-hot girder that had slipped its chains and would have slipped through his body just as easily. Health and safety was still to be invented.
Deborah believes he suffered from post-traumatic-stress disorder and that’s what led him away from the life mapped out for him—to Essex and Win—and back again. John returned to Motherwell with his beautiful bride to working class life and the hope of a decent council house.
Win had a believe common to most rich folk, in what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine. Her father, John, as protector and saviour, aided her in this belief. His hates were his hates and vice versa. John, for example, had mates whom he thought ‘the sun shone out of their arse’, then it didn’t shine very much. Then it was them that was the arse. He ditched them. And he waged petty hate campaigns against his neighbours.
A conversation I heard today goes something like this, ‘They’ve just moved into the house for five minutes and noo they’re getting everything.’
I’ll translate. My neighbours are getting a new path. The same as other council house tenants. Imagine they were black, or homosexual or even worse English.
Deborah suggests her mum suffered from a narcissistic personality. She wasn’t a sociopath such as the moron’s moron Trump, or little Trump, Johnson, but she recognised the same self-centredness and hate. As long as Deborah remained a child and under her mother’s thumb, she was a good girl. Nobody hates so much and as well as the Scottish and we’ve got long memories. Win fitted right in. Win-win. But I couldn’t quite forgive Win and John for voting Tory. Voting for Thatcher. But I guess that makes sense. Deborah’s life ran in a separate trajectory to mine. The same, but different. RIP.
I’m reading the last bit of Deborah Orr’s, autobiography, Motherwell: A Girlhood. In many ways John Wilks, should read, According To The Dandelions: A Boyhood. I trade in the nostalgia game so recognise the junk and faux gold that some writers sell. I can sift through the rubbish (lots of it written by yours-never-truely). But poetry scares me a bit, to paraphrase Stephen Mulrine’s The Coming of the wee Malkies.
Haw missis, whit’ll ye dae when the wee bit poetry come,
If they dreep doon affy the wash-hoose dyke,
An pit the hems oan the sterrheid light,
An play wee heidies oan the clean close wa,
Missis, whit’ll ye dae?
Where I come from, you see, poetry was always for women. I admit I cheat, a bit, and read poetry as prose. I don’t gie a fuck whit the rules are. And I don’t believe there is a conspiracy to keep me silent and my poems unpublished, because, if there is, I’m part of the conspiracy. Poetry has a hard enough job without me adding to the misery of mankind.
All readers play the part of Emperor in the colosseum of words. Reading is my religion, so I plump up the cushion quite willing to give words on a page a fighting chance and a thumbs up. Too many books and words that give me a headache and it’s a thumbs down.
John Wilks, Dandelions, gets a thumbs up, because like Deborah Orr’s Motherwell, his is a world I know, I’ve lived. His words are my words. When poetry says what you didn’t actually say, without saying it, but you go— right. It resonates somewhere inside you, then, it rings true, and the wee Malkies willnae get you.
Getting the Picture, for example.
Let me draw you a picture, he said;
meaning: you are stupid.
This from someone that can barely scribble
a stick figure whose knowledge
of anatomy is crude, at best.
I hear that voice, I get that, it is part of my past of self, of self-knowing and the tribe of people I know or have known.
The Girl I Wanted
I wanted a girl who would hold my Mars bar
and use it for a microphone.
The kind of girl I could follow
up the stairs of Routemaster
and I would be watching the curves
of her cheekbones, the ozone depleting
bounce of asymmetric hair,
the nebulae round her eyes.
I can open any page in John Wilk’s collection of fifty poems and I’m staring back. The Girl I Wanted was Pauline Moriarity. Here she is on a Routemaster bus. Here she is in my heart. Not broken. Not mended. Not wiser—because I never got older. Sshhh, whisper it, that’s the secret of poetry, like the wee Malkies I’m always waiting, always there, and John Wilks has mastered it well.
Let me put you in the picture, he said;
meaning: watch your back, I’ve been talking behind it.
‘You’d be late for your own funeral’—I plan to be on holiday, somewhere nice when it takes place—anyway, here I was, struggling up Mountblow hill when the hearse and cortege passed. Flowers in the back that spelled out the word ‘DAD’. Jimmy was the father of seven kids, countless numbers of grandkids and three great-grand kids and I couldn’t even remember his second name. Me and names are a car crash waiting to happen. But I’d known Jimmy for thirty years, or more, since he moved down from Fullers Gate in Faifley and next door to the house in which my mum and dad stayed. The house that used to be Mrs Bell’s house. The house that my sister still stays in Dickens Avenue.
‘They kept themselves to themselves.’ That’s another Scottish saying. I didn’t really know Jimmy until the last couple of years. His wife died twelve years ago (and I can’t remember her name) and Jimmy retired from his job as a Project Manager with the Council. Something to do with kids. Jimmy didn’t talk about it much. I wasn’t really interested. I cut his grass for him and sometimes he’d jump into my van and I’d take him down to The Drop Inn, or The Cabin as it’s now called. My old man called the pub, ‘The Dancing Grannies’, but he died years ago. Don’t ask me when.
Jimmy was born in Pollock during the war years. It was very hush, hush but King George VI visited Scotland that year, but did not drop in on Jimmy’s mother, who also had seven children. Housewives listened on BBC radio to smash shows like Dance While You Dust. The Red Army had turned the tide on the Nazis and taken Dnepropetrovsk, city of steel and iron, a bit like Motherwell, only bigger. Men had no Rugby Union, no Scotland v England. No horse racing, no Scottish Grand National Celtic or Rangers playing, no football. I didn’t know if Jimmy was Catholic or Protestant. He was Protestant but married a Catholic from Sligo who he met while working in a grocery store when he was 15. Jimmy, a child of rationing and fifties Britain, was good at swimming and athletics which was useful because she gave him the run-around. And he’d COPD which wasn’t from too much swimming or running, but he couldn’t get a breath from too many fags. Everybody smoked when Jimmy was born, even the King, cigarette smoke was meant to disinfect your lungs.
I couldn’t imagine Jimmy not giving her his wage packet, which had been opened. Jimmy helped take care of his wife in later years. The years that I knew him, but didn’t really know him. He went to the Bingo in the hope of winning the snowball and came back with a packet of snowballs. Note to humanist presenter: Some jokes are best left unsaid.
I kept hearing about how independent Jimmy was after his wife died. He was lonely, I guess. I used to see him in The Horse and Barge. Later in The Drop Inn. Cathy was in tow by then. The fastest growing rate of sexually transmitted disease is in the cohort I’m moving into, which at least guarantees sex. Jimmy moved into Cathy’s house near where I lived. I used to see them ambling to the pub. I picked Cathy up from the path that runs into our scheme a few times and helped her into the house. And I could lift Jimmy as a dead-weight, pick him up and carry him home. I got good with practice. Sometimes he battered his head, but when roused he didn’t seem that bothered. He made a joke about it. That’s what men in Scotland do.
Cathy got taken into a home on Great Western Road. Jimmy moved back to the house next to my sister. That’s when he was really independent. Taxi to the pub. Taxi home. Oxygen tank on standby. Jimmy slipped away quietly at home. That’s the kind of crap we always come away with, Jimmy would have recognised that. RIP.
I’m a hypocrite, in the week that Britain formally leaves the European Economic Union, an act of economic mutilation the equivalent of, for example, California seceding from the United States of America, I want Scotland to opt out of Britain. My fealty is not to Nicola Sturgeon or the Scottish National Party, but to the commonwealth of the Scottish people. Put simply, the future is green and will be built on interdependence not independence. Thatcherism and trickledown economics has never worked. It simply exacerbates the existing gaps between rich and poor. The direction of travel of Boris Johnson and his ilk has not changed so we as a people, we as a nation, need to leave them to their own short-term folly—for our own good, and perhaps theirs.
Democracy is a sham. But reading Robert A.Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnon, is a reminder that sometimes it can work for the greater good. As it did from roughly the end of the second world war to the rise of Thatcherism and Reaganomics when there was—limited, some would argue, very limited—upward social mobility. Now it is downward. Poor people die sooner than rich people (and yes I do go to more funerals now) but they are doing so in such high numbers the life-expectancy of both men and women in Britain, despite technological advances, is declining.
We get Boris Johnstone’s mussed hair and, staged gravitas, as he bangs a gong at 11pm on Friday, 31st January that ends Britain’s formal membership of the EEC after 47 years. Perhaps the one good thing is the reptilian Nigel Farage, and fellow old Etonian, will no longer be able to claim tens of thousands of Euros in allowance and will become just another stooge in the moron moron’s background team.
The defining image of the week isn’t of mussed hair of President Trump or of the Boris Johnston thatch, but a video of an eight-year-old girl easily climbing up and over a mock-up of Trump’s ‘virtually impenetrable’ wall with Mexico. Certainly, there should be calls to elect the eight-year-old girl to become President rather than the moron’s moron.
The impeachment of President Donald Trump in the chambers of the United States Senate as political theatre has turned into a damp squib. The senate has overseen fifteen previous impeachments, which included two presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon resigned after the Watergate Scandal and before he could be impeached. The moron’s moron, as we know, wants much more than that and another term in office. He is liable to get it and get away with breaking the law at will.
Cato’s examination of the Annals of Congress are instructive of what democracy should look like but doesn’t. For example, the trail of Samuel Chase, in the Senate could also be applied to Bill Clinton, but not Donald Trump who has committed much greater crimes—both public and private—than request a blowjob.
His footsteps are hunted from place to place to find indiscretions.
Listen to the words of Vice President Aaron Burr (indicted for murdering Alexander Hamilton) and his defence of the right to try Samuel Chase not in the halls of public opinion but in the Senate.
The House is a sanctuary; a citadel of law, of order, and of liberty; and it is here, here in this exalted refuge; here if anywhere, will resistance be made to the storms of political phrensy [sic] and the silent arts of corruption…
Or the words from Robert Byrd, who served the Senate, two centuries later.
The Senate exercised in that fine moment of drama the kind of independence, impartiality, fairness and courage that, from time to time, over the years, it has brought to bear on the great issues of the country.
We see the opposite of that in the Senate, and in the world, generally. We see the partiality of the rich and powerful and politicians who bend at the knee. We see unfairness and a lack of moral courage. We see a President who when the call came refused to fight for his country leading other weak men who refuse to see any wrong in their leader. We see the politics of the ghetto given national stage.
We’re not comparing like with like. Samuel Chase was, by Caro’s account, an intellectual colossus whose inflammatory rhetoric led to him being impeached. The moron’s moron intellect is the kind of genius that if he went head to head with the eight-year-old, who climbed all over his pseudo-fence, I’d be backing her.
Compromise is not a crime. It’s an essential part of political life and life in general, but if the men we elect do not act in the interests of future generations then they shouldn’t be in office. We can no longer think locally, or national, but need to think globally, to work together to save our planet. Ironically, that means Scotland leaving Great Britain. An act of economic mutilation akin to Johnson’s betrayal, but necessary for the greater good of all and not just the super-rich few.
Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, tells the story of how he went from spike to spike and from town to town. The hungry and downtrodden were given a few slices of bread and some sweet tea. A bed for the night. Moved onto to anther town. They were not allowed to settle. Moved on to another town, a circuit of homeless, hungry men and women moving in an ever-expanding circuit of misery. This was the nineteen thirties. The Beveridge Report and full employment meant the citizens of Britain would be taken care of from ‘cradle to grave’.
Fast-forward to the seventies of high unemployment and stagflation. This is my era. I was on the buroo. Can’t say it bothered me much. I’d a home and family. One of my mates who got a diagnosis that suggested he might want to start looking at funeral plans gave me one of those: ‘I’ve worked all my day’s’ speeches beloved of Jeremy Kyle.
I had to stop him. ‘No, you didnae. You were there when Hamish (R.I.P.) scored a screamer when we the Unemployed club played another club at Milngavie.’
I had to remind him that I’d also been on the Job Creation scheme and I loved it, meeting good people, doing a wee bit and getting paid a wee bit extra.
I knew how the buroo worked and didn’t work. It was part of our non-working life. When I hitchhiked down to London, summer 1984, and moped about for a few days, and slept outside, I remember an advice worker walking across the road near Euston station and talking the DSS into giving me an emergency payment for accommodation. The DSS system was a patchwork quilt of different benefits.
Read Kerry Hudson’s books but, in particular Lowborn, to see how the system didn’t work very well, but at least was a safety net for women and children. Read Sue Townsend’s article in The Guardian to give you a feel of how things were before the safety net was torn away.
Every time I hear the figures for unemployment are continually dropping I listen to a lie. If you’ve read Sue Townsend or Kerry Hudson’s books, you’ll know that mothers suffer most from any changes to the benefit system. Townsend had to wait a week to get paid. Those were the good old days. Nowadays we can be talking three months. We didn’t used to have foodbanks. Now we do. For those that begin the day in debt and end the day in even greater debt to be told their claim will be sorted in three months is beyond rational belief.
250 000 officially homeless in England, 130 000 of them children. By 2023 an estimated seven million people will, according to government reports, rely on Universal Credits.
Universal Credit (UC) is based on the American model of deterrence. Welfare is a dirty word. People claiming are held at arm’s length by overworked staff. Universal Credit gave us the Windrush scandal. In order to qualify for benefits people have to prove who they are. Claimants have to have the right bits of paper, or else not only will they not receive any delayed benefits. They may also be deported.
Universal Credit also has a housing benefit element. Often the largest part of the payment to the claimant. Bureaucratic delay can often lead to landlords not being paid on time, or at all. Because the housing benefit is paid directly to the ‘customer’ to pay to his/her landlords such as housing associations also lose income, because people simply spend the money allocated (their benefits) and don’t pay their rent. The old system of paying the landlord directly helped those that couldn’t handle money, but it also helped agencies such as housing associations to continue with their work.
If we look at Declan, for example, who has been made homeless and is sleeping in a park—nobody cares. Or Ernie, who lives in the flats in Dalmuir without electricity and is reliant on foodbanks, but is expected to go online and jobsearch for 40 hours a week. The chances of that happening are zilch. He has no phone. No mobile. One sanction follows another. His money is stopped. He appeals and during the appeal process is given a little money. Nobody cares. It’s top-down government policy based on stripping away any rights the poorest of the poor have to a life. This is us now.
The Social Security Staff that used to sit behind screens no longer exist. It’s an open-plan office and they are now just as poorly paid as Townsend’s time but are now called job coaches. Most of the misery lifting is done before their clients of customers come in the door. Job coach’s job is to sell a lie. Their job is to sanction customers. Their job is to make sure those that can’t work are made so miserable they no longer attend their office or they find work—of any kind. Their job is to make sure they have a job, because they know the alternative. The down on their luck story is no longer an option.
We used to have a system of carrot and stick. Neil Couling, director general of Universal Credit the person responsible for keeping the reforms to benefits on course will give us the usual party line. Now it’s no carrot and works by using the stick. Let me paraphrase Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk, who when duty called walked in circles and agreed to everything and having no idea, had a fair idea how the system was supposed to work for the patriot and little person.
There’s no doubting that a good officer had the perfect moral duty to beat his batman to death to enforce discipline and doing so twice was to be commended. And military doctors had a perfect moral duty to root out malingerers that feigned blindness and deafness and having only one leg by starving and beating and forced purging which killed many and cured others. Recent estimates suggest 5000 people die while awaiting their appeal for sickness benefit, which is rolled into the umbrella term, UC.
Universal Credit gives beating of a different kind, but no less harmful. No one with oodles of cash was hurt in the making of this policy. George Orwell would have recognised it at once. Class war.
In 2019, Edward Cairney and Avril Jones are jointly charged with the murder of Margaret Fleming and brought to trial. The accused lived in Inverkip on the coast of the Firth of Clyde, a backwater (near where my sister used to live) but there’s no body, and little forensic evidence. Until recently bringing out the body for examination was necessary before a murder trial could take place. John George Haigh or The Acid Bath Murderer, as he was daubed in the early twentieth century was convicted of the murder of six people (he claimed nine victims) but there was still enough physical evidence to convict him. Forensic evidence in the twenty-first century is no longer a pony and trap, more of a high-speed-express train that often pre-determines which way a jury is going to vote –guilty, not guilty, or in Scotland, the case being Unproven.
The prosecution were able to show what little forensic evidence that appears in the case of Margaret Fleming was ambiguous. Bone fragments, which were fragments, but which could have come from any number of animals and not necessarily from the body of Fleming.
There was little doubt the John George Haigh was guilty of murder, but he was asking the prosecution a simple question—prove it. Edward Cairney and Avril Jones are saying the same thing. The case rests on who has the best story?
Here we move from the whodunnit to the whydunnit. We’re looking at motive. Agatha Christie, who was guilty of a well-publicised disappearing act of her on, much quoted saying suggests, ‘very few of us are what we seem,’ and is the basis of most of her work. The before and after shock of J.B.Priestly’s An Inspector Calls.
Margaret Fleming, thirty-five, disappeared before or after police called at the depilated property investigating inconsistencies in form filling. An application for Personal Independence Payment which had been filled in by her carers, Edward Cairney and Avril Jones quickly became a missing-person enquiry then a murder trial. Margaret Fleming, the two accused suggested, had simply ran out the back door as the police came to the front door. Cairney suggested that she had run away with gypsies. Jones went along with whatever Cairney suggested. But the last person to see Margaret Fleming was her GP and that had been in 1999.
Motive for murder, improbable as it seems, seems to have been diddling the benefit system for sixteen years. Witnesses are called to establish that Margaret Fleming had been a happy-go-lucky girl before her protective father Derick died and she was given into the care of the accused.
The only witnesses that Margaret Fleming was no longer happy and no longer lucky afterwards were Edward Cairney and Avril Jones. A doughnut shaped hole exists in the prosecution’s case. They can’t provide the body and they can’t provide evidence that Margaret Fleming was maltreated before she was murdered.
In the Whydunnit story something always turns up—the moment in Scooby Doo when the hood is pulled off the ghostly figure and he cries, ‘I’d have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for you damn kids.’ The Scooby Doo moment arrives after Cairney and Jones are arrested, wheeling their trolley, ready to board a train to London. A supposed typed letter from Margaret Fleming to Edward Cairney and Avril Jones has a hotel address in London. You know the sort of letter, I’m doing great and I’ve ran away with gypsies, but I’ll be home soon, and p.s. you definitely didn’t kill me. In Scooby Doo setting up your alibi sets up your fall.
To recap, the police have the letter. They have the typewriter it is written on. They have dates and time in which Edward Cairney and Avril Jones were in London staying in the same alleged hotel Margaret Fleming was staying in. Time enough to post a letter to themselves, which is franked with a London postcode, and which they collected themselves as proof of Margaret Fleming’s continuing disappearance, but sudden re-appearance using language she was not grammatically capable of. The jury could decide its circumstantial evidence—because it is. In terms of a double-twist narrative either Margaret Fleming’s body has to be found or the victim has to turn up in court the day they are convicted.
No double-twists—yet. Apart from a local vigil for Margaret Fleming. Bit late for that, vigilance should be for people that are alive.