Ian McVeigh (Clank) 16th July 1954—26th September 2020, RIP.

I don’t know how Ian McVeigh got the name Clank, but he was the Clank Gable of Dalmuir, only he seemed to pop up everywhere, like God or the Devil.  I hadn’t, for example, been in the John Rea’s snooker hall in years (obviously, before lockdown) I turned around and Clank was standing behind me. I went to the Drop Inn and Clank was playing pool. Later I headed to the Mountie and Clank Gable turned up. Clank didn’t as much stalk you as wear you down. I guess that’s how he was such a success with women of a certain age.

Clank was born on the same day as John Mitchell, his buddy, that died on Monday, but Clank was also the same age as Annie Lennox. Annie Lennox, now that would have been a challenge for Clank. I’ve seen him in action, close up. Clank would always be a bit short with the cash, so he wouldn’t be matching you round for round. That was more a hypothetical idea. He’d bought a pint of lager as entry fee, had a look about and if Annie Lennox wasn’t an Aberdeen wifey, smelling something fishy, he’d have sidled up and pounced. Blondie dyed hair, same age as him, bit haggard in the face and loaded. That was Clank’s type.

Everybody’s got a Clank story, some of them quite unbelievably believeable. I met him on the square outside Dalmuir library. He’d a bottom-tier flat in Pattison Street, but he was never in, he was always out, looking for the next bitty thing. He’d have gone to his own funeral to have a look about.

‘I’m aff it,’ Clank said that day. Shook his head and screwed up his face. ‘That drink doesnae do you any good.’

I nodded my head. Half an hour later, standing in the rain, I was still nodding my head and agreeing with him. But he didn’t do fitba, because he knew I was a Celtic man.

‘Rangers are shite,’ he said. I was still nodding. ‘You want to go for a pint?’

The next guy he met, he’d be telling, ‘That Celtic are a bad lot’.

As we all do, Clank moulded the truth as he went along. When he was wee, Clank got on the coach that left outside Browns and went on trips to places like Morecambe Bay with his older brother Jimmy and his Ma. Staying in a caravan the size of a baked bean with no telly and no toilet. We all did it. Clank worked on and off, but usually off, he had a few longer term relationships, but he didn’t talk about them. They were in the past. He lived in the present, like a kid. And his longest lasting relationship was with his Alsatian dog. He couldn’t bear to get it put down and practically carried it about.

Annie Lennox did the right thing, avoiding Clank. The twenty-million quid that the British Government spent opening Colvilles Steel Plant, later nationalised as Ravenscraig, the year they were born, Annie Lennox must have that kind of spare change lying about too.

One of my favourite Clank stories is when he was chatting up an older woman, a bit worse for wear, which he favoured, but came away with the immortal line: ‘I’d love to take you out.’ Shrug of the shoulders and that wee moustache quivering, face giving it large, ‘But I’m a bit short’.

She goes into her bag and pulls out twenty quid. And holds it out.

Clank reaches for it and says, ‘You no drinking?’

Another Clank story was one of his mates got jailed when they were over in Jersey. Small island. Only one prison. Clank found it and went to visit him, wearing his mate’s new leather jacket. He explained the boys had a whip round, but it wasn’t quite enough for bail. He promised to come back the following day, after they had another whip round to make up the balance. We all know how that went. His mate was sent home to think again wearing a demob suit from Hepworths.  

But you could never stay mad at Clank. He’d start agreeing with you. Explaining. Then you’d be up at the bar, buying him a drink feeling sorry for him. Not that he’d ever want you feeling sorry for him, he’d tell you. And tell you some more. Aye, life was shite. Maybe another pint would sort it. Boom and bust. Just so happened he’d a bust flush. These things happen.

I’m wondering if Annie Lennox knows about Clank. I heard it was cancer killed him. She should really know—what she missed. I know she’s into reincarnation. You always got Clank the same way. When the great wheel of karma spins, he’ll be reincarnated as Clank.  He never let you down. Or wanted to hurt your feelings. He’d simple needs. And Clank knew everybody—apart from Annie Lennox—and he didn’t have enemies. Some people looked down on him, but they should look at themselves in the mirror. You could always trust Clank to do the right think, especially if it was the wrong thing. Clank was one of us, for richer or poorer and he preferred the former. Spin the wheel of dharma. Like many others, I’d have liked to have gone to Clank’s funeral too. Pay my respects, like I would gone to John Mitchell’s. It’s not to be. I’m sure Clank would have understood.  RIP.  

John Mitchell 16th July 1965—21st September 2020. RIP.

I live in Dalmuir, but my brother who lives in Falkirk phoned me to tell me that John Mitchell was dead. Then the house phone went and my partner’s niece, Caroline, phoned to let me know John Mitchell was dead. I dropped in on old John Brady, he’s in his eighties and the first thing he told me was John Mitchell was dead. I parked at Parkhall shops on the jaggy lines you’re not meant to park on, but it was OK, cause I was only going to be a second and I painted my van invisible to cops and traffic wardens, but then Rab McLaren parked (illegally) at the bus stop and hurried over to tell me John Mitchell was dead. Big Pat Facebooked me, to tell me John Mitchell was dead. I know what you’re thinking, that’s the kinda hoax John Mitchell would pull and you’d hear his slow laugh, and he’d spark another can.

John was the Dean Martin of Dalmuir. If that was as good as you were going to feel all day, then another drink would help you on the road, or up the road, or to find a wandering lift-button and watch it settle like a bingo number to the floor you stayed on. I used to laugh at John when I met him in the Horsie or sometimes Macs—his da, Old Joe settled in the bar and that was the last pub I saw him, about a year ago, my brother Bod was with me—and I’d test him, ‘how long you been on it now?’

He’d laugh and take a swig of lager and be able to tell me to day. And there’d be a lot of days. I think he was trying to break some kind of record. That was before—but there’s always different kinds of befores and different kind of afters —when he talked about getting back with his partner and their kids. That gap got longer too and before he moved into the flat at the bottom of Mountblow Road. The one where he phoned his da from to tell him he had chest pains.

That’s what I heard from the Dalmuir beehive. Old Joe told him to phone an ambulance. John had a massive heart attack.

Heart attacks are always described as massive. Especially ones that kill you. You never hear about the tickly heart attacks that give you the munchies.

John could surprise you, because although he could read big PC like a comic book, or tell you what Army Mick had in his rucksack without needed to check, the second eldest Mitchell, whisper it, liked real books. Some people would suggest that as a mark of intelligence, but with John you could never be sure. He’d just slag you. He knew about Tom Sawyer—tickled pink, tackling a garden fence and not allowing his good mates a shot at painting his aunt’s fence until they begged him. It was such good fun. Like a tickly heart attack you can laugh about later. Even though there’s no later.  

Now there’s only his da, Old Joe and his elder brother, young Joe. His mum died. His brother Stevie, about fifteen years ago. And Stevie’s daughter Kerry. All the numbers. The years get mixed up like slow-melted slush. She died about two years ago. John helped put the ramp into Helen and his niece’s house, when she came to visit her mum. He’d worked with old Joe as a roughing joiner, which was a different kind of rough. Then, of course, Mikey, the youngest Mitchell died first, all those years ago, while working with Stevie, which meant to have knocked Stevie off the rails. I liked Stevie, but Stevie seemed to able to knock himself—and most other folk—off the rails without any help, especially if a pool table was involved. John was the mellow one.

When John was born in 1965 a Daily Record cost 4d. I’d have been watching Captain Pugwash on the telly, only we didn’t have a telly. They were too expensive. And we didn’t have a fridge, because we weren’t snobs. We kept the milk bottle on the window sill and margarine never melted. The Mitchell’s came with the same Irish heritage.

In 1965, Charlie Tully left Celtic.  14 were arrested in a ferry blockade in Skye about Sunday opening.  The Wee Frees weren’t for it, not just pubs (obviously) but ferries too.  John Mitchell was lying in his cot, chuckling. But the Wee Frees got their own back and all the pubs shut earlier and earlier now.

John paid attention and took the government’s advice and spent most of the hours of daylight outdoors were it was safe to talk pish. In fact, he encouraged it. His brother Joe, could play the guitar and sing. His brother Stevie had magical feet and was one of the best players I played with. John had the ability to look like a swarthy skinned Italian and his face became as weathered as his jacket.  I once saw him, Clank, Brownie and Tam Collins (senior) going for a bracing walk up Duntocher Road and a circuit down Mountblow hill, without any of them having a can. That’s called the exception to the rule-rule.

The shop at the bottom of the hill served the discriminatory drinkers that were thinking of venturing inside the public park, or public golf course, or public canal path. John was very public minded. He’d put his empties in public bins. And he’d always have a laugh and tell you the truth, which was always a worry, but you’d think he was kidding.

John Mitchell’s dead. That’s a real shocker. He’d a massive heart attack. We know about that. But never think it’ll happen to us. Another Mitchell gone. Another funeral, I can’t attend. That’s the least of my worries. Spare a thought for his ex-partner and their kids. Spare a thought for old Joe and young Joe. And if you’re the praying kind don’t chain yourself to a fence to keep the pubs closed. The governments doing that for you. And you can’t afford to drink in pubs anyway. For John Mitchell that would be a kind of sacrilege. Live life as it should be lived. That’s the sacrifice. I just hope he’s not buried in that jacket he always wore.  And say a wee prayer, for one of us. RIP John Mitchell.     

Edvard Radzinsky (2000) Rasputin, The Last Word, translated from the Russian by Judosn Rosengrant.

At just over 650 pages this offers a comprehensive account of Grigory Efimovich Rasputin’s life and deaths. Deaths—plural. Most of us are familiar with the legend that Rasputin was poisoned, shot and finally drowned. His bound hands still clawing underneath the ice. Radzinsky takes the reader through different versions, but with the same outcome. Rasputin was murdered. The question of why he was murdered in much the same way that the tsar, tsarina and the Romanov children were murdered, he leaves to the last paragraph of his account.

Rasputin is the key to understanding both the soul and brutality of the Russia that came after him. He was a precursor of the millions of peasants who, with religious consciousness on their souls, would nevertheless tear down churches, and who, with a dream of the reign of Love and Justice, would murder, rape, and flood the country with blood, in the end destroying themselves.   

There is an Afterword, in Putin’s Russia the name St Petersburg had been restored (formerly Petrograd and Leningrad) and the coffin of the tsars (like Rasputin’s body their bodies were burned to ash, so it would be an empty coffin) was returned from Ekaterinburg and laid to rest in the great cathedral. Putin said he wouldn’t attend, but did. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra (Alix) and their children Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexi were feted as living saints by the Russian Orthodox Church.

In a black and white, cartoonish, world it was Rasputin that led they astray, and while he lingers in infamy their goodness vindicated shines anew.

When you look for miracles, often you find them, especially if you are one of the last autocratic rulers on one of the biggest and richest, but technologically backward countries on earth. The 1905 war against Japan had ended in Russia’s humiliation. I’m no fan of Shakespeare but Richard II and the appeal for treason is perhaps a good place to start if you want to understand autocracy.

‘The unreal world of miracles and prophecies was increasingly becoming Alix’s real world. In Sarov they spent whole evenings by the spring and the rock where Serafim had lifted his voice in prayer. At night she and Nicky would bathe in the waters of the spring, putting their trust in the saint’s help and praying for an heir.’  

The tsarina Alexi resented that Alexander II who was appointed by God to rule over the Russian people could no longer do so directly be decree. He had to pay more than lip service to the Duma. And she feared her son Alexi would inherit the wind. His powers would be curbed and he would be little more than a token head of state like her grandmother, Queen Victoria. But the blood of the Romanov’s was tainted. Alexi was born with haemophilia. There was no cure, but Rasputin. 

As a peasant he was a direct link to the Rus, the real Russian people that provided the bread that they all ate. He called the tsarina, ‘Mamma,’ and tsar, ‘Pappa,’ mother and father of all Russia. God’s anointed. And he prophesised that their paths and that of all Russia, were inextricably linked.

Radzinsky allows Rasputin to be both miraculous and diabolic. The spirit the peasant channels he suggests, however, is Alix’s. Semi-literate, he could read her easier than he could any book. Her wishes, where his wishes. ‘Pappa,’ needed to be sure that God was watching over him. Rasputin gave him evidence of this. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a useful tool.

Sex plays a big part in the legend of Rasputin. Radzinsky links it to secret sect of Christianity that didn’t come from the West of Europe and was purely Russian in origin, but were more universal in their ideas of chastising and subjugating the body for Christ’s glory. The Skoptsy (Castrators) cut off their penis.  The Kylysty (Flagellants) was another heretic sect with a belief in the second coming of a Russian redeemer to liberate the oppressed and dating back to the seventeen century to the time of the first Romanov’s. A mixture of paganism and Russian Othordoxy. It taught that every man should become Christ and the Holy Ghost would descend upon him. Self-scourging, Christ-like flagellation and ascetic practices were one part of their belief. But during radenic (rejoicing) at communal gatherings, when the Holy Ghost descended an orgy took place. Svalnyi grekh (group sinning)  promiscuous sex between men and women took place in order to conceive as many new ‘Christs’ and ‘Mothers of God’ as possible.

Rasputin when having sex with many women followers was healing them and himself of the sin of lechery by having sex. Tautological reasoning, but for Rasputin it was a living creed. He wore out many couches he kept in the houses in which he lodged and his sexual appetite was overwhelming. ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa,’ believe none of these government reports, believing him, Christ-like, to be unjustly accused and vilified.

With a direct link to the highest of the high, the tsar and tsarina, Rasputin pedalled public offices and millions of roubles passed through his hands. Much of it stolen by his ‘secretaries’.

The plot to kill Rasputin came from the highest reals of Russian society, member of the Yacht club. The war with Germany was a debacle mirroring that of Japan. While condemning the tsar would be an act of treason, criticising his Germanic bride was not, and demonising her proxy Rasputin was aligned with a malignant hatred of a peasant interfering in matters of state. An act of righteousness would wipe out Rasputin. Peasants could be quietly flayed and beaten to death. But there was a note of caution.  Rasputin’s supernatural powers, his guards, and ‘Mamma’ and ‘Pappa’ watching over him, yet the plan to kill him was quite straightforward.

‘At Midnight A Friend Will Come To See Him.’  (16th / 17th December 1916)

The Friend is Prince Felix Yusopov, a bisexual, who dressed in girl’s clothes as a little boy and had sex with other men and women. Radzinsky hints he may have been treated for his homosexuality by Rasputin, in what ways is not made clear. Yusopov had millions of roubles and thousands of hectares of land, he was friends and neighbours with the Romanovs. Yusopov’s wife, Irna, a society beauty was the—missing—bait in the trap. The hypocrisy of the widespread acceptance of Yusopov’s sexuality and the condemnation of Rasputin’s was based on class. Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich who was briefly engaged to one of tsar’s daughters, before it was called after a behind-the-scenes scandal about his love affair with Felix, was said to have fired the final shots at Rasputin and left him for dead (although water in his lung suggested to pathologists he’d finally drowned). Felix shot him too. And tried to poison him. Radzinsky explains these failures were not supernatural, but amateurish attempts to take his life.

The police account of hearing three or four shots and having seen Prince Yusopov and his butler crossing the courtyard of his palace was significant in that office was a public servant, little more than a jumped-up peasant, the other a Prince. One’s testimony could be believed, the other ignored. Class matters. And it never mattered more in the cover-ups then and after the 1916 revolution. Rasputin was said to have prophesised his own death and the Bolshevik revolution in the name of natural justice that would end with the Romanov’s deaths mirroring Rasputin’s.  He created his own hell and he paid the price of being an upstart peasant. The Romanov’s are in heaven looking down on us. Aye, right. Believe that and you’ll believe anything.  Read on.

Lena Dunham (2014) Not That Kind Of Girl.

‘A young woman tells you what she’s “learned”.  Learned is kinda ironic, I guess. I’m Scottish, not sure who Lena Dunham is, but it tells me on the cover she’s the Creator and Star of HBO’s Girls. That helps. I imagine it’s a successful comedy franchise in America and it involves Girls. When I check her biography I find her show has won a stack of international awards and she has too. Lucky her. I guess that goes with the territory of the American Dream.  I’m Not clued-up, or That Kind Of Girl either. In fact, I’m a guy. The cynic in me asks if an unsuccessful and unknown called Lena Somethingelse had submitted the same manuscript for publication, well, would she be laughing now? Would we?

I quickly read through the book, missing out bits about dieting. Like reading an ex-girlfriend’s diary, (sorry about that Jackie Reid) or her copy of Cosmopolitan. I liked Dunham’s parents in the same way I liked reading about the Scottish Makar (Poet Laureate) Jackie Kay’s parents, but not as much. After all Jackie Kay’s parents were Marxists and true believers. Kooky in the right way. Lena Dunham seems kooky in the right way too. I’m not sure what I’ve “learned”, but bits of it were entertaining. I picked it up on its way to charity-shop junk and kept reading. Sometimes that’s all you can ask. Read me. Read me. Read me. I know that feeling well. Read on.  

Robert A.Caro (2012) The Years of Lyndon Johnson, volume 4, The Passage of Power.

We’re all aware that with great power comes great responsibility, after all these were the lines mouthed by Batman with the pointy ears before he jumped off a tall building. The moron’s moron, who anybody with any sense would like to see jumping from a tall building, reaches new lows in grasping one and abdicating the other. But that’s another story unless the moron’s moron stumbles into an Armageddon strategy to remain power, a historical aside.  Cato charts for the reader the Cuban Missile Crisis and Armageddon obverted.  

Here we have two heavyweights Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) and John F Kennedy (JFK) (chants of let’s make America great again would be met with a snort of derision). The United States was at its peak and entering a ten-year period of post-war prosperity. The Soviet Union was in decline and to feed its citizens having to purchase wheat at lock-bottom prices from the American surplus. The plan to place Chiang Kai-shek a sympathetic and Congress backed Protestant-Christian nationalist ruler in China had backfired, but the largely agricultural country was experiencing famine and lockdown under Chairman Mao (with the odd breakout of one million soldiers to challenge American might in Korea in the early 1950s).   America was the only game in town and the most powerful man on the planet was by some way, the American President. Robert A.Caro goes with the maxim, power corrupts, but twists it a little, in adding, power also reveals.

Here in the penultimate volume is  he sets out of show what it reveals about LBJ,  (seven years later we’re still waiting on the final volume and I’ll guess we’ll hear more about Vietnam) but also the American dream before it turned sour in South East Asia and in the flower-powered sixties.  The Passage of Power had me thinking of John Irivine’s classic A Prayer for Owen Meany in the way that when the call came LBJ, despite all his faults, many of which he shared with the golden boy of American politics, JFK,  the Vice President was ready. He’d been ready all his life to be American President. He’d gambled that he was only a heartbeat away from the top job as Vice President and that gunshot put him in the seat of power. Kamala Harris odds are a lot less than the four of five to one that LBJ gambled on.  

Johnson VS Kennedy 1960. Both are running for President. When it becomes clear that LBJ doesn’t have the numbers for the Democratic Nomination to run for the Presidency and JFK does, they cut a deal in which LBJ agrees to become his running mate and when they win the election, they’ll be number one and two. President and Vice President of the—then—greatest nation on earth.

Coming second, unless it’s the Second Coming, means coming nowhere. Vice President is an honorary position with as much (or as little) power as the President’s wife.

Caro begin where he left off with Master of the Senate. LBJ is running the world from his Senate office. Eisenhower is relinquishing power and his Vice President, the young Richard Nixon, is the Republican Candidate for the top job. LBJ has two strategies that he tries to implement to retain power in the Senate (where if a President proposed a Bill, LBJ had the power of Caesar to give it a thumbs up or down) and to change the roles of President and Vice President to more of a job share. LBJ’s plots were simply brushed aside.

Here we have LBJ’s low period, when the Master of the Senate is no longer courted but avoided by Senators and a bit of a joke figure—nicknamed Rufus Cornpone, because of his flailing arms and long-winded stories—in  JFK’s new Camelot. ‘Power is Where Power Goes’ declares Caro and there were few Presidents as popular as the youthful JFK. LBJ is Vice President, but hears about the Bay of Pigs fiasco from the media. He’s so out of the picture he reverts to what worked before for him with older, more powerful men, and becomes a sycophantic arse-licker and sends JFK one—unwanted gift—after another. JFK instructs his cabinet to deal with the Vice President with the greatest courtesy.

JFK’s brother Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy (RFK), the Attorney General and former committee member and supporter of J. Edgar Hoover’s Committee on UnAmerican Activites, but as Caro shows, also JFK’s alter-ego and real number two, hates LBJ. It’s one of the great American no-holds barred feuds. Before and after the fall. Both men never forget or forgive and hold a grudge longer than Satan.

When JFK is President, Rufus Cornpone is regularly savaged by RFK. With another election on the horizon JFK assured LBJ that he’ll still be on the ticket as Vice President, but that seems doubtful, as LBJ does not seem to be in positon to deliver the Southern States in the Electoral College that gave JFK the 1960 Presidency. JFK is an idealist, but he’s also a pragmatist.

In October 1963, LBJ’s protégé and bagman Bobby Baker was involved in a sex and cash scandal that mirrored the Profumo affair in London. The media had begun investigating ‘Lyndon’s money’ and made a direct link between the tens of million dollars he’s made in his Texas radio and television empire, which he purchased for peanuts, and his political office, where he sold ad space for political influence. Quid pro quo, something for something. Oil men like Brown & Root, for example, pledged millions and bought Congress, then Senate and then the Presidency.    

LBJ did something remarkable after President Kennedy’s death, he united the American nation in a way not seen since President Roosevelt, perhaps even more so. But he did something even more remarkable, he faced down Senators from the South who’d formed a coalition to stop people of colour integrating and committing what they saw as the sin of miscegenation. Roosevelt, Trauman, Eisenhower and Kennedy were unable to pass civil-rights legislation because of the way the Southern senators used arcane rule, filibustered and top-loaded influential committees with their supporters and held hostage the passage of other bills in the legislative chamber to bend the will of their rivals and force them to retreat. LBJ had been a key player in this cabal led by the Georgian senator Richard Russell, who like many opposed the desegregation of the army and believed men of colour lacked natural courage and moral leadership. LBJ had in the previous volume helped fund Russell’s run for the Presidency. LBJ was the ultimate insider. As President who’d stolen his seat in the Senate, nevertheless he flipped the Southern Senators and passed civil-rights legislation, created Medicaid and a nascent welfare state in America.  Power is as power does asserts Cato. LBJ stands tall among his Presidential peers.

Robert Kennedy’s assertion that JFK would have got around to achieving those great legislative peaks shows the Attorney General’s loyalty but also his political naivety. Only one President, supreme master of politics, LBJ, could have achieved what he did. His time had come, but at the peak of his power—it was gone. He won the election by one of the biggest landslides in American history, but we know what comes next, or at least we will know when Caro finishes his final volume. If you want to know about how we came to be where we are, read his history of LBJ. The old hates never went away, they remain, and are in the White House now with the moron’s moron as President. God bless America, indeed, and God help the rest of us.

Kevin Crowe (2020) No Home In This World

In these six short stories Kevin Crowe favours the fallen and the vulnerable. I like that he takes on difficult themes. Involuntary incest. Involuntary and false imprisonment. Deported gay refugee, who can’t prove who he is or what he is. A Mary and Martha story, a soldier that loses his wife and gives up on life, but finds another partner. Historical romp and misunderstanding of the slave trade. And gay, coming-of-age in the age of AIDs, narrative.

Short stories should be like a corkscrew and come to a point (in my opinion). In the first story of the collection, the balding third-person narrator Tom and red-haired Gail hook up –eventually. She’s fiery, he’s sand. I guessed the denouement from the first clues. Most stories followed the same predictable path and the Scottish Highlands provides a backdrop of write what you know. 

I wouldn’t normally have gone beyond the first story, but persevered. You may find better pickings or feel differently. We’re all struggling for meaning in life is the subtext (whatever that is).  Read on.

Matt Gaw (2020) Under the Stars: A Journey into Light

Matt Gaw’s son mused that we spend 26 years of our life asleep, or if you’re my sister who is apt to like her long lies, 50 or her 60 years asleep. Gaw gives us a wake-up call in six chapters that begins in moonlight and ends in darkness. His family remain largely, unimpressed by his journey that takes him from his home in Bury St Edmonds, Thetford, the bright lights of London, Oban, and Isle of Coll, which is designated a Dark Sky Community.

I look out my back gate at night and my neighbour has a light that seem to jump on and off and illuminate my living room. My neighbour to my right has a light that turns on and off and is noise activated. I too have an unnecessary back light, because my partner wants to check when the cat comes to the back door it doesn’t have anything in its mouth. I didn’t get a vote in this. We have two streetlights, one outside our kitchen window and another less than one-hundred metres away, illuminating the back yards.  My old neighbour, Daft Rab, used to go out in his moped and check street lighting hadn’t blown a fuse, working twice a day. If he’d any sense he’d have just sat in the house and checked them once a fortnight, but not only was he daft but he was diligent. It’s all done electronically now, of course.

Gaw offers some statistics, to put this into context. ‘Nine million streetlights, one for every eight people –light pollution.’ We can no longer look up at the night sky and see the stars, or even the moon. He argues we have lost something.

To walk at night has been a night twice lived.

The natural night has shrunk back into the shadows.

But there’s more than a sense of vertigo when we leave our overly bright rat runs.

Dark nights are on the wane. Just 21.7% of England has pristine skies. Between 1992 and 2009 there has been a 39% increase in dimly lit areas across the UK and a 19% increase in brightly lit areas.

The World Health Organization classified night work as a probable carcinogen in 2007.  Yet more and more of us are—forced to—work at night. But it’s not all about us, humans. David Attenborough, Blue Planet, on BBC1 dramatically showed turtle hatchlings going in the wrong direction, away from the beach and crushed under car wheels after being drawn to coastal lights rather than the reflection of the moon on the sea. Gaw reports that ‘a recent study estimates that between 100 million and a billion birds are killed in the US alone as a result of light pollution. Artificial light has changed everything, in often unpredictable ways.’

Gaw’s conclusion:

Light is part of the same toxic cocktail as habitat fragmentation and human development. An imbalance in the natural world that impacts on plants, pollinators, mammals, birds and eventually, us. 

Will we change out habits? Like the real big one, global warming (cities as well as being over lit are also much warmer than surrounding countryside) Dark Skies will be an anomaly, an outlier in the larger picture of destruction on a global scale. Gaw’s outward journey takes him inward to reflect what was and what can be.  I’m a pessimist.