Arthur Golden (1998) Memoirs of a Geisha.

Arthur Golden (1998) Memoirs of a Geisha.

I’d already read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate in the way I should the first time. A few things I remembered:  it was set in Japan, and it was seemingly a memoir about a Geisha. The sort of information that even the outgoing President of the United States would be able to pick up from flashcards, or the cover of the novel when prompted. Perhaps he would recognise that Japan wasn’t on his list of ‘shitty countries’ (that tend to be African) or on his axis of evil favoured by George W Bush. But the moron’s moron might confuse Japan with another country he was having a trade war with in the same way he had to be reminded what happened at Pearl Harbour.

Memoirs of a Geisha uses as a framing device a historian visiting an elderly Japanese woman, Sayuri, who has stayed in the Waldorf Tower in New York since 1956. In this way history becomes her-story. She asks him to write about her memories of Japan from her birth in 1920, through her training to be an apprentice Geisha girl in the hungry thirties of Kyoto. Her graduation, the selling of her virginity to the highest bidder which set a record in Japan. This allowed her to pay off all her debts before she was sixteen (although she claimed, modestly, her mentor Mameha’s virginity had sold for more in relative terms). The increasing militarisation of Kyoto. And the war years of deprivation, when the Geisha schools and tea houses were shut. Geisha girls were sent to work in factories. How the most celebrated of Kyoto’s Geisha’s elite scrambled to survive. The loss of the war, which brought the American’s, who didn’t rape and kill, as Sayuri  supposed they would, but were rather kind, flinging sweets to children (and detonating atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki which historians, and novelists, can contrast with Japanese troops’ attrocities in the annexation of Korea, the mass rape of ‘comfort girls’ and the genocidal Rape of Manchuria, but that’s another story or stories). So here we have post-feudal Japan from 1920 to1950 before it became one of the richest nations in the world around the 1980s, to be eclipsed by its rival China (which will soon eclipse America).

In terms of emotional plotting, it’s much simpler. It’s the tale of Cinderella. An older man, the Chairman, is kind to her when she is at her lowest, and gives her money to buy a sweet. He becomes the prince of her dreams, but Geisha girls don’t marry, although they did –or do—become paid consorts to the very rich. Prince Charming may have a wife, and a Geisha as consort and lover.   

Sayuri tells us there were over 800 Geisha houses in Gion when she began her training, and now there was less than sixty. The gei in geisha > means art. Her elder sister had been sold into prostitution, which was something different. Prostitution may be the oldest job in the world, but being a consort was a dying art. Geisha girls objectified the Japanese cultural idea of female beauty. Girls train from as young as three-years-old, for example, to play the lute, sing, and act in Geisha schools, and their studies continued after graduation. A spider’s web of industries evolved in small and larger cities which everyone including the tea houses were they perform has a cut of their fees for entertaining gentlemen.

Costumes that Geisha girls cost more than a year’s wages a labourer could hope to make. And any self-respecting Geisha, Mameha tells Sayuri, (and the reader) needs a varied collection of costumes so their clientele isn’t bored with the same old thing. Reputation is all.  Losing face isn’t just about getting old, but by selling sexual favours is to fall to the lowest rung of common prostitution. Geisha girls must be virginal, without being virgins and must learn to stir the pot of men’s needs and desires, in other words, to entertain. They must also find a rich man to fund their costly lifestyle, in which their time is metered. Each Geisha girl must become, in modern parlance, their own brand and pay their debts to their house mothers.

Each brand has its own house (okiya).

‘Whatever any of us thought about Hatsumomo she was like an empress in our okiya since she earned the income by which we all lived.’

Hatsumomo is the ugly sister in the Cinderella story. But although equal in beauty, to Sakuri’s ‘sister’— a term which applies to a Mameha who takes her from the closed world of being a maid to train and introduce into their enclosed world of Geisha—Hatsumomo is nasty and spiteful.

‘This is our foolish lower maid, said Hatsumomo. ‘She has a name, I think but why don’t you call her “Little Miss Stupid”.’  

The house brand with all its costumes is Hatsumumo’s. Her house ‘Mother’ and ‘Auntie’ are depended on her, as is the other trainee geisha and the servants, the lowest of which is ‘Litte Miss Stupid’.

Sayuri must knock Hatsumomo off her perch, claim the Chairman as her lover and become his consort. She must learn to be always a lady, but never seen with her claws out.  In a patriarchal, misogynist world, image matters more than substance. Love conquers all or something less meretricious that that. It follows the money? Read on.

Celtic 0—2 Ross County.

Celtic were playing at Livingston last year, we were losing (it ended up 1—1) and somebody whispered in Lennon’s ear, Rangers were also losing, but at home to Hamilton. He smiled, a lip reader would suggest he said, ‘you’re fucking joking’. You can imagine how the Ranger’s manager must be feeling now.

Two things make me happy, or at least less grumpy (fuck Christmas): Celtic winning and Rangers losing.

Beaten on Thursday by a Sparta Prague team struggling in the Czechoslovakian league, yet who scored eight goals to our two, over two Europa league ties, and are no better than Kilmarnock. Kilmarnock who beat Ross County with ten men last week. A Ross County team that hasn’t won since 19th September, seven games without a win. And over seven games Celtic scored 26 and lost 1 goal, before today. This is a Ross County team that if James Forest played them himself, the Celtic winger would still manage to score a hat-trick without playing particularly well, and then add another. When Neil Lennon (surely now the ex-Celtic manager) was asked if he was able to field his strongest team this season, he was able to say ‘No’. No Forest for him, meant it wasn’t his strongest team. He’s tried a back three and back four, he’s shuffled players about, as he did again today. Same old, same old. We can’t defend and we concede with seemingly every cross ball.

A turgid first half. Celtic have a change of goal keeper, Vasilis Barkas comes in. Change of shape, with two up front, Edouard and Ajeti. We see most of the ball, but don’t look like scoring. Ten Ross County men behind the ball. Ayer loses the ball on the touchline (and most of his headers) and Ross Paton gets to the touch line. It fizzles out. A shout for a penalty for hand ball in the Ross County box, it wasn’t. A free kick from Edouard and an easy save from the County keeper.

The first goal encapsulates Celtic’s season. Josh Reid on the right wing hooks a ball forward, past Elhamad, takes out three other Celtic defenders. Reid picks up his own wayward pass, drives into the box. His cross across goal is met at the front post by the County target man, Ross Stewart. He wouldn’t have scored, but no matter, Julien clips him. Penalty. He scores from the spot. Rogic plays in Ajeti, who hits the inside of the post. Everything that can go wrong, does, again.

Second half. I can use words like ‘ditto’. Neil Lennon. ‘ditto.’

We bring on McGregor, for Bitton, who had a shocker. I don’t know if we were resting McGregor for the next big one, which is now. Ajeti, has another game where he falls over and moans about decisions, goes off for Elyounoussi, who at least plays well, in one-in-three games. This is his chance. He has a header and misses. Edouard swivels and hooks past the post.

Duffy comes on for Elhamad, and wipes out man of the match, Ross Stewart on the half-way line. Jaccovitti scores with a header from another cross ball from five yards. He’s unmarked, as you’d expect from a Celtic team with four players in the team that are over six-foot five. The League cup is gone. The one that doesn’t matter than much.

But let’s be honest, Rangers will win it now. Rangers will win the league. Transition season in which we’ll probably beat Hearts in the final and win last year’s Scottish Cup, this year. And our best chance of a trophy is this year’s Scottish Cup.  Even Ronny Delia wouldn’t have survived that one. Keep the faith, reads to me, like keep being stupid. I’m daft enough, but I’m not blind. I’ll wait and see who the next Celtic manager is. Usually, new mangers get a bounce, two or three games when pundits start talking about how much fitter the team is and how they’ve gelled. Same old pish. This season is gone.

Tear along this line. Played ten, won two. Lost to Ross County.


 Thank fuck it’s lockdown so I don’t have to listen to their shite.

The Booker Prize 2020, won by Douglas Stuart for his novel Shuggie Bain.

Who will speak for us? —is sometimes as simple as who speaks like us. We all might be Jock Tamson’s bairns, but in the real world debut novelists, and those using Scottish dialect don’t win prizes.  How Late it Was, How Late, well it was 1985 when something like this happened. James Kelman caused a kerfuffle. Rabbi Julia Neuberger saying the book was ‘crap’.  I prefer Jeff Torrington, Swing Hammer Swing, or a Janice Galloway’s memoir that’s not a memoir, or even Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, but I don’t get to choose. I’ve not even got around to reading Douglas Stuart’s book—although like many others I will, instead of reminding myself I should—so why should I be going on about it?

Because I’m a reader. That’s what I do. That’s who I am. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and last thing at night. I’d brush my teeth with a book in my hand, but it’s just not practical. But books should never be practical. They should be otherworldly.

I don’t change, but the world around absorbs me molecule by molecule. I look at the world differently after reading. I’m even one of few readers with input into a small Scottish literary prize. It’s not glamourous. An unpaid task to box-tick and summarise a novel in a pithy line that few will bother reading and which is churned up with other’s lines and average scores.

But, hey, I write stuff too. I’ve got a whole number of novels lying about like scrap cars with their wheels off waiting for that spark of the ignition key. When something like this happens the literary bar doesn’t come down. Failure and me get along just fine. We’ve been in a regular relationship so long some folk assume we’re married. And every spring a guy in a dress puts a black mark on my head and reminds me.

‘Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.’

I’ll leave the afterlife until after life. Still, we dream of leaving a mark—on a page. The Pied Piper of public opinion is playing our tune. We’re marching today from a slightly different beat, one that I recognise, one that others might recognise too. I’m not the type of person who writes a book. It’s only brainy and successful people that do that sort of thing. Only those sort that get published. Aye, right!  Dream on.

Hibs 2—2 Celtic

I’ve an ongoing joke with my mates. Celtic are a goal down and it’s the ninety-second minute: ‘I’ll take a draw now,’ I admit defeat. Diego Laxalt scores to make it 2—2. That’s a point gained rather than two lost. Neil Lennon will come out with the usual guff about showing character. Or even great character.

But this is a Celtic team full of doubt. The best teams have that arrogance. They turn up expecting to win. And they do. We do. We’ve done it for the last couple of seasons. Treble-treble. And counting. We’ve not turned into a bad team overnight.

The first half at Easter Road. Nothing much in it. Celtic had more of the ball—as you’d expect. Elyounoussi had two chances. Boyle for Hibs had an equally good chance when Laxalt misjudged a cross ball. The Celtic goal scorer doesn’t do that very often. Pile on the clichés about him being the one saving light. A cameo from Rogic with his dancing feet and that’s about it. We go in even and the game ends up even.

There was symmetry about the goals scored and conceded. Biton, fresh from his victory for Israel against Scotland, gives away a needless free-kick near the halfway line. Scott Brown bundles into Martin Boyle on the edge of the penalty box, near the corner flag. The Hib’s player was going nowhere, and the best he could have expected was a corner. Hib’s penalty. Kevin Nisbet misses it, or Scott Bain saves it, but it doesn’t matter. Jamie Murphy, Ranger’s loan player and man of the match, follows up to score.

Roles are reversed for the next Hib’s goal. Murphy rises unchallenged, flicks it on into the Celtic box. Kevin Nisbet powers it low into the corner.

Edouard comes on for Ajeti. Another poor match for the Swiss striker. Elyounoussi, who is either great, or invisible, was also replaced for Shane Duffy. That’s what you call having a bad game. Porteous missed an easy header to take Hibs 3—0 up. Hibs cruising.

Porteous handles the ball in the box. Edouard scores but there are only around five minutes of normal time left. Griffiths is on. Ntcham on for Rogic on the ninety-second minute, which looked like time-wasting from the Celtic manager. But hey, I always knew we’d score.

A scaffed clearance from a cross and Laxalt put it into the top corner. We couldn’t nick a winner, could we? We can’t win the league, can we—?


Every team that plays against Celtic scores. Sometimes more than once. Nir Biton looks, like he is, a midfielder playing in defence. Duffy is a bad loan signing who we can send back now. Pity we can’t send the Greek keeper back. Great that we can play Laxalt. This is the same Celtic team that ran riot against pretty much everybody in Scotland—including Rangers. Certainly, we have the players to beat them. But not if we keep beating ourselves, as we did today. Before this game we hoped Aberdeen would do us a turn. Now we need them to.

Whatever we do on Thursday doesn’t really matter. We’re in the last chance saloon and it’s still November. We’re waiting for Ranger’s luck to turn, for those little things that happen in a game to go against them and turn the tide and title race. But we’ve got to be ready. I’m not sure what the answer is. The sure sign of an idiot is to keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome.  

Small Axe: Mangrove, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, written Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen, directed by Steve McQueen.

In my day Steve McQueen was the go-to guy if you wanted ride a motorcycle over barbed wire to escape the Germans, or rescue screaming women and children from a building skyscraper. We’re still waiting for the enquiry into Grenfell Tower, but we all know the score. Nothing much will be done, while the issues of class and race hatred will be quietly shunted into a side-line of something been seen to be done offscreen.

The black Steve McQueen is the new king of cool. He can do pretty much anything, (apart from ride a motorbike over barbed wire) and won pretty much everything, including an Oscar for best film, 12 Years a Slave. He’s part of the establishment and being given an OBE.  He edited The Guardian’s The New Review to publicise his film anthology about historical injustices involving racial discrimination. BBC gave him a prime Sunday night slot for his drama.

Steve McQueen claims, ‘With Small Axe I want to reshape history’.

That sort of stuff doesn’t make me think of invading Poland, but of a joke in which Jesus answers a parable with a parable in which adulterous woman are going to be stoned.

‘If anyone is without sin, let them fling the first stone.’

And the Virgin Mary lobs a big rock.

Steve McQueen can’t walk on water.  In the first episode of his series, Mangrove, depicts a true story about what happened in Notting Hill in early 1970s. His aim is to get under your skin.

Mangrove is the name of a West Indian restaurant opened by Frank Chrislow (Shaun Parkes)  and closed, nine times in three weeks by the Metropolitan Police. Chrislow was following the dictates of the Enlightenment written in black and white in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations which extolled the righteousness of free enterprise, free from political intervention, government interference or legal restraint, ‘ruled by divine law for the ultimate being of all’.

Enoch Powell’s River of Blood Speech 20th April 1968 in Birmingham. ‘If they’re black-send them back.’ Remember that? Pre-Brexit, the threat of the black invasion. They were over here threatening our British way of life. ‘No blacks, No Irish, No dogs.’ It’s just as well we’ve moved on since them and we have Priti Patel as Home Secretary enforcing a policy of deporting refugees, equally, regardless of skin colour. Anyone sleeping rough can be deported back to their country, even if they’ve not got a country. It’s just best guess.

A cameo in Mangrove shows how that works. The rookie cop at Notting Hill station is playing at cards. He picks out the Ace of Spades. The other cops josh him, ‘you know what that means?’

He’s told that he needs to nick the first black man he spots.

‘What if he hadn’t committed an offence?’ the rookie cop asks.

In case you don’t get the Ace of Spades reference, we see the cops chasing a black guy and arresting him.

Frank Crichlow has committed even more of an offence. He’s opened a restaurant that sells spicy food such as goat curry. Worse than that it’s full of British people of West Indian descent that play cards and listen to music. In cop parlance that’s dealing drugs and running a prostitution ring.

Fling into the toxic mix Altheia Jones-LeCointe  (Letitia Wright) mouthy student, and leader of the British version of the Black Panthers. Add in Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) whose study into black oppression suddenly includes his lover Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall) and their child threatened with being taken into care.

Show don’t tell is one of the rules of screenwriting (and writing in general). We can’t taste spicy food or curry, but we can listen to the music. We can see how the community lived. The before and the aftermath of police brutality and cover-ups.  The laws that are suddenly dragged out of retirement home for white people to confront a lippy West Indian community. New laws made on the spot for troublemakers.

We see the ‘riot’. We follow the arrests. There’s even time to nip off and get a screenshot of Chrichlow’s white girlfriend in the mirror telling him to come back to bed. That’s a double-dunt, in case you missed it, he’s not racist—they are. The establishment is.

Nine black men and women, including Chrichlow, are tried at the High Court, the Old Bailey. Incitement to riot and affray. They face serious prison time. Judge Edward Clarke (Alex Jennings) is described the Defence Advocate as your typical bully boy. In a different age he might well have become Prime Minister. Here he’s presiding over a case where no one will admit they’re guilty. Cops are always right, even when they’re wrong. And it’s not the Mangrove Nine who are on trial but the British establishment.

Viewers know how it ends, but we watch anyway as all wrongs are righted, or something like that. Rishi Sunak occupies 11 Downing Street, he’s looking to upgrade and evict the buffoon next door, all the better to deport even more refugees, wanting something for nothing. Even Steve McQueen OBE would find it difficult to write that script. It’s got to be Grenfell, that would be my cry. Grenfell puts these stories into the shade.     

Play for Today, The Black Stuff, BBC 1, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written by Alan Bleasdale and directed by Jim Goddard.

Most people my age fondly remember Boys from The Black Stuff shown in the early 1980s. Yosser Hughes’s (Bernard Hill) catchphrase: ‘I can do that, gie’s a job!’ The Black Stuff was a prequel to Boys from The Black Stuff. It had the kind of audience figures—I’d guess around 15-20 million—that had cultural resonance in its depiction of working-class life in rundown Liverpool. Ironically, the repeat of The Black Stuff on BBC 4 was preceded by another programme, as it was in real life, Thatcher: A Very British Revolution.

It was the latter, rather than the former that was essential viewing. Alan Bleasdale’s drama hasn’t aged well. At just over an hour and a half it was overlong, and I thought it was shite.

Yosser Hughes was a bit-part player in The Boys From the Black Stuff series, yet he reached iconic status. Here we get the back story. He’s a misogynist wife beater, with a couple of kids, whose wife is cheating on him. His main gripe against Chrissie Todd (Michael Angelis) is that ‘he’s too nice’.   

Nice doesn’t get you anywhere in a Thatcherite world. Chrissie even admits to being nice and what’s worse, being happy. He shows he’s being nice by bringing a goose, ferret and some other animal in the work van with him as he drives to the tarring job they got lined up in some new housing estate in the Midlands. They’re staying in swanky digs and he claims nobody will feed the animals.  

Chrissie is too nice to be the gaffer. Gaffers are always bastards. Dixie Dean (Tom Georgeson) is fighting a losing battle with Yosser from the start. The men want more money. And even when Dixie gets it from his boss, McAuley, the men still aren’t happy. Yosser demands the men get a five pound a day rise, then when McAuley agrees says they should have asked for an extra tenner.

The only worker Dixie has power to bully is his son Kev (Gary Bleasdale—I guess a bit of nepotism here with the writer’s son getting a key role in the production).   They play this for laughs, and was about as funny as Benny Hill.

Kev, for example, ogles a female student in the petrol-station café who is holding a sign for Leeds. Loggo Logmond  (Alan Igbon) nicks his food from the counter but finds its display only, not edible, and then nicks food from his mates’ plates. Inevitably, been nice, Chrissie picks the female hitchhiker up and gives her a lift. Yosser gives her a hard time about being a student, and even worse, being female. Saudi Arabia’s got it about right he says were females are shackled to men’s needs. She gives as good as she gets with a feminist manifesto that includes details such as it’s not a good idea to threaten to rape female hitchhikers, while finding time to talk to shy Kev, and make him admit that he too had dreams—but hey, needs must, we live in the real world.  

Booking into the hotel, Dixie tells Kev to stop staring at the female customers and gives him money to go to the pictures. Make sure it’s not one of those Emmanuel type movies is his advice.

Chrissie’s worried about old George Malone (Peter Kerrigan) he’s heard him spewing up in the toilets. Old George is about my age now. George says he’s fine. A former Communist, Chrissie tell his fellow workers in a whisper with some admiration and a grudging respect. He needs to work and takes painkillers to sleep.

Kev, in Benny-Hill mode, finds out the hotel has a masseur that does extras. Naturally, there’s a bit of a mix-up.  £4 for a masseur, £15 for extras. I found the financial details more interesting than the smutty strand of the storyline, which makes me think, I might be turning into my da.

The major storyline also relies on stereotypes. Here you have a major turning point. Hardcore on a farm laid, but no tar to finish it. Yosser is willing to cut a deal and drag his mates along. But they two Irish ‘gypos’ type. Easy to stiff. Right from the off, the plot goes  as you’d expect. If you can’t see the ending then you too must have been on the hard stuff.

I’m sure Boys from the Blackstuff was good at the time. Maybe I should have left it there. You never step into the same stream twice argument. To think I used to watch Benny Hill—fuck off. To think unemployment was around the fifteen percent mark in the early eighties. It’s only five percent now. Dream on. Nobody’s laughing.

David Gange (2019) The Frayed Atlantic Edge: A Historian’s Journey from Shetland to the Channel.

Historian David Gange journey by kayak around the coast of Scotland facing the Atlantic in winter sounds like madness. Takes in Ireland in spring time. He crosses the channel to the less ragged coast of Bardsey in Wales and Bristol and Cornwall in the summer.  He offers a low-down view from the sea that mimics E.P. Thompson’s bottom-up view of class history.  

Gange rejects a London-centric view of the world. An imperialistic vision that for example classified Scottish islands as empty land until the English arrived.  Scotland was close to home, but full of Scotsmen, women and children that insisted on speaking in their own strange tongue and had strange customs and culture. Scots Gaelic was the mark of a marked man. Similar to Irish Gaelic, or even Welsh, the language of Atlantic trading routes that predated Britain and British as a unifying narrative.

Hanoverian kings in London outlawed kilt and tartan. Daniel Defoe, a spy for the English billeted in Edinburgh before the union of Scotland and England in 1707, wrote to his paymasters and claimed that for every Scot in favour of Union, ninety-nine were against. Riots were quelled. King George, after 1745 Culloden, punished all Highlanders even his would-be supporters. ‘Butcher’ Cumberland imposed a reign of terror.

‘the English forced a union on Scotland that was as violent and unwelcome as that of 1801 would be for Ireland.’

Oliver Cromwell spoke in terms many English kings understood, ‘hell or Connact’, coastal Galway, Connemara. In Munster, in a splintery rockbound stronghold of Gaelic, 300 mainly women and children were killed by Cromwell’s troops.  A holy man, Dairaid O’Sullivan, run through on Scarif Island. Cromwell forced half the population (his troops hadn’t murdered) west, towards the coast and regions thought to be sparsely populated such as Connemara.

The brutal Sutherland clearances. Its population reduced and redistributed. Pushed from valuable pasture land towards the coast.  

‘The modern population of Sutherland is half what it was in the early nineteen century.’

Many of those that clung onto their holding or crofts were undone by the famine of the late 1840s.

‘Potatoes were the miracle food of the early modern coast. Visitors to the Scottish and Irish islands in the eighteenth century describe a population living in abject poverty, but who were tall and strong. These tubers carried far more nutrients and were more efficient, damp resistant and voluminous than the grain on which the islanders had previously relied.’

 Gange rallies against the unifying influence of Enlightenment and the notion of progress leaving those outside it in the dark. But he’s not anti-science. Just its overarching hegemonic influence that doesn’t allow other, coastal, dwellers to tell their stories. ‘The Highland Problem,’ was not an invention of Highlanders, but of the big cities, London, Edinburgh and even Dublin that managed their decline from afar and claimed the high ground. Enlightenment is not singular, but plural and many of the questions and answers for how we should live comes from the watery shores and poetic view of the world Gange champions, based on observation and direct experience.

In saving the world, you need to save the story of that world.  The British Education Acts 1870 and 1872 which aimed to unify the nation around a common curriculum and the currency of the English language excluded the Gaelic languages of the coastal people.

Gange describes their effect ‘as an unmitigated disaster for many coastal zones’ with many young people leaving and not returning. Others returning but unable to speak their native language. But here there is a happy ending of sorts in economic recession (which should be useful during the current rolling recession) which saw an island renaissance and return to the innate languages of the peoples and the myriad and enriching connections that entails.

Famine, clearances and Educational Acts are part of the narrative of who owns the land owns the narrative of what is said about the land. The languages of the people on the periphery are growing slowly back to life. Gage identifies a contemporary problem of multinational companies like Shell who buy up Britishness and Irishness and pollute the water and land for profit. They kill people in Nigeria for oil.

Ireland can be bought wholesale. (I’m thinking here of the Irish government knocking back the 14 billion euros that Apple should have paid in back taxes to the state).  And while the Irish state makes a net profit from the EEC (it receives more than it contributes) selling off Atlantic resources leaves a nation indebted.

‘Corporations registered in Norway, Russia, Canada, the Netherland and Spain draw greater profits from the waters west of Ireland than do Irish interests.’

Small and local might be better. But the paradox that Gange doesn’t address is such interests are easily brushed aside by big business, multinationals. Sometimes we need more, not less government. The explosion of poetry in the 1930s during the Great Depression didn’t change the world. W.H.Auden, Stephen Spender, Louise Mac Niece anti-war poetry didn’t prevent the Second World War. Community versus Commerce (whisper it, it used to be called Communism versus Capitalism) and we all know how that went. I’m on David Ganges side. He’s optimistic. I’m pessimistic, but I hope his vision is the one that endures. More power to the community. Less power to the rich that own the people on the coast land—and mainland—and stir our fears for their own financial gains.

The Mole: Infiltrating North Korea, BBC iPlayer, writer and director Mads Brügger.

A cautionary tale. Otto Warmbier, a student of the University of Michigan was freed by North Korean officials after being detained and sentenced to 15 years for allegedly stealing and defacing a poster from a North Korean hotel where he was staying as an exchange student. He remained in a coma and died upon his return 13th June 2017 to Cincinnati, the United States.

That puts into perspective the risk Ulrich Larsen, the Mole (of the title), took in infiltrating North Korea in a sting operation to set up a factory to buy arms and manufacture methamphetamines on an island in Uganda, selected by ‘Mr James’ using Google maps for that purpose.

All good thrillers look at motive. Danish director and writer Mads Brügger made a documentary film, The Red Chapel, which had mocked the absurdity of life in the Democratic Republic of North Korea (DRNK). It made him persona non grata with DRNK officials but his documentary was well-received internationally. Mads Brügger received an email from Ulrich Larsen. Larsen asked the Danish director if he would be interested in making another film about North Korea.   

Ulrich Larsen born in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Catapulted into the West. Works as a chef, but is on long-term sick leave and lives off sickness money paid by the Danish government to him and his family. There’s nothing here that marks him down as a risk taker or suggest motive.

In contrast, Jim Latrache-Qvortrup ,who is given the name ‘Mr James’ and the false identity of a billionaire playboy, willing to gamble, is ex- French Foreign Legion, ex-crook and ex-businessman, which may be the same thing. Mr James is a risk taker. It’s there on his CV.

So here’s the sting. Ulrich Larsen joins the Korean Friendship Society in Denmark. Very quickly he moves up the ranks and comes to the notice of Alejandro Cao de Benos. Alejandro runs the Spanish Korean Friendship society. He’s a Spaniard, but with dual citizenship and a North Korean passport, and he has contacts to the very top of Korean society.

Oslo 2106, Alejandro asks Ulrich (they are on first name terms now) wants him to find people who’ll invest money in North Korea. From 50 000 to one million Euros. This needs to be done discretely. United Nations sanctions against North Korea mean exports and imports are closely scrutinised.

Mads Brügger assigns ‘Mr James’, an actor with the perfect background, to support Ulrich. Ulrich and Mr James meet Alejandro in Madrid 2016. Mr James explains ‘our minimum investment is 50 millon Euros because otherwise the revenue isn’t interesting’.

Alejandro lets his friends in North Korea know they have a potential investor in North Korea.

Mads Brügger gives Ulrich and Mr James a chance to step away. We know they won’t. But he warns them not to mock the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un or former leaders (his father) or any senior figure in North Korea, not even in a light-hearted way. He tells them there will be lots of toasts, lots of boozing, and if they can’t handle that they shouldn’t go to Pyongyang. His last stricture is they shouldn’t record anything. But here’s where it gets interesting.  Ulrich and Mr James agree to go to Pyongyang in January 2017.

Ulrich Larsen is now regarded as an insider. He is encouraged to record meetings because they assume it is for the benefit of the Korean Friendship Society. It is, however, for the benefit of Mads Brügger documentary film maker.

Ulrich makes several trips around Europe in 2017. Alejandro has been arrested by the Spanish authorities on illegal arms offences, and can’t travel. Ulrich needs to go and see him in Madrid to report back to his leader. Ulrich has already been to Pyongyang, and now it’s time to go back to the North Korean capital with Mr James. 

Mr Kang Chief of Cultural Affairs, Mr Ri Cultural Affairs are there to meet Mr James and Urlich

Mr Kang comes up to Ulrich’s room and asks him, ‘this man, are you sure he has all the money he is talking about?’

No real security checks have been made on Mr James. Two days of courtship, seeing the sights and drinking. Then it started getting serious

They leave Pyongyang, and visit an arms factory in what is described as a slum town.  In the basement, with big conference table, they meet the President of the factory Kim Rong-Jul and other officials. The President of the factory speaks good English. Taking out the catalogue of their weapons systems and allows Mr James to peruse it.

Menu: this is what we can sort you out with

Scud Missiles $14 million

Scud-E Missiles $25 million 1350 km range

Agreement between James (Taga Investment) and Narae Trading Corporation (arms factory)

July 2017

The trail goes cold for about a year. Then Alejandro and the North Koreans come up with a strategy to avoid United Nations sanctions and American satellites tracking exports and imports.

It involves using corrupt officials and buying an island in Uganda for $5 million. Flying a plane from Pyongyang with ‘humanitarian aid’. Loading the plane with weapons and flying it to their island. North Korean officials provided blueprints to construct a hotel and golf course on top of the island and below it, facilities to produce methamphetamines and weapons. It would be protected by Ugandian officials and labelled tourism. Payment for their services would involve triangulation, because it would come in oil.

Amman, Jordan, 2018. Mr James and Ulrich go to Jordan to meets Mr Dousouki, face to face.

North Korea needs oil because of sanctions. From Russia to Dubai to North Korea?

‘It’s like the mafia. Russia gives you the contract.’ Ulrich (laughs) ‘We are the mafia.’

Mr James signs contract for $3.2 million shipment of oil.

Mr James is an actor with no money. Ulrich is a filmmaker with no money. Yet they have exposed corrupt officials in Uganda and Jordan. They have infiltrated the top levels of North Korean society and showed how sanction- busting works. They put themselves in mortal danger.

For what? Entertainment? Ulrich admitted he’d been lying to his wife about where he was going and what he was doing. Wow, that must have been some whopper of a lie. I’m just nipping out to Beijing to meet some dodgy characters; I’ll bring back a pint of milk.

Mads Brügger when he made his own documentary was risking himself and other actors—with relatively low risk—the product, a documentary, only appearing when they were outside North Korean. Here the risk doesn’t seem proportionate to the gain.   Jim Latrache-Qvortrup and Ulrich Larsen got away with it. What if they hadn’t? Otto Warmbier defaced or stole a poster. North Korea, a militarised society in which loss of face can mean loss of life, who pays when things go wrong?

Entertainment and entertaining, but not at any price. Mads Brügger has externalised costs, but reaped the benefits. Capitalism in tooth and claw.

Joe Biden wins- alleluia!

I’m delighted. I kept checking the US election results in the same way I usually check the football results to see how my team, Celtic, are doing. I get it. I really do. I’m not American. I was not going to influence the almost 75 million polled votes for Joe Biden, nor the just over 70 million votes for Donald J Trump. For the last five years I’ve called him the moron’s moron. He is no more.

When the 45th United States President was elected, I said he’d won the biggest beauty contest in the world. I naively thought that the scrutiny would unman him, even unPresident him. Like Narcissist looking into a pool of water he would somehow fade away. The opposite happened. The moron’s moron claimed, with some justification, he ‘could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters’.

20 000 Trump lies later, fact-checked by the New York media, we’re back in 2016. Trump didn’t expect to win in 2016. All his crooked-Hillary lies were in place for Trump to claim he should have won and could have won and he’ll win next time. Next time he’ll drain the swamp. The has-been President will find, once more, that Rupert Murdoch won’t be taking his calls. Fox New has already made that screeching U-turn and asked him—at the very end, when it’s no longer needed—to behave like a President.

The has-been President will find all that other people’s money he’s been using in a Ponzi scheme will begin to unravel. The buck will begin to stop here. And he won’t be able to pay his creditors. Especially, his foreign creditors.

What of the former President’s tax returns? That should make interesting copy and should at least keep the moron’s moron in the news.

Allegations of rape and sexual assault that have been kept at arm’s length by litigation and, like so many others such as Weinstein, Cosby and Jackson, by a wall of money. That should make good copy too.

We’ll be able to find out more about how Russia was involved in the 2016 election. It might even be worth looking again at the Senate’s roll in failing to impeach the former President for his role in tarnishing the current President.

We might even find out more how Facebook and Cambridge Analytical stitched up the Presidential election of 2016 and the Brexit vote by targeting voters. Despite this, no one much was calling the 2016 election fake news. Trump won, so it must be true.

All of these things may come to pass or may not. Truth is variable. I wish the very worst thing that could happen to the moron’s moron. We follow the lead of New Zealand Prime Minister—and not just in the battle against Covid-19—Jacinda Ardern, and refuse to name evil, give it a face, give it a voice.  Silence the moron’s moron. Not giving him house room. Laughing at him. Giving the peddler of hate and his childish rants the respect he deserves. That’s all I ask. Count the carnage of Covid-19. The moron’s moron… shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Sweet silence.

Celtic 1—4 Sparta Prague.

I must admit a tinge of satisfaction. I knew Rangers were one goal down at Benfica. When I checked again they were 3—1 up and Benfica were down to ten men.  It ended up 3—3. Not quite a crisis.

Here we go again. All the fireworks at Parkhead were from the Czechoslovakian team. They scored four goals. Hit the bar and post. Every time the Czech team went forward they looked like scoring. Celtic have lost at home to Rangers, A C Milan and Sparta Prague in quick succession. We had a reasonable draw in France, a disappointing draw at Pittodrie and a decent win at Hampden.

‘They’re all over the place at the back’, was Alan Stubbs’s  summary after the third goal. Lukas Julis swept the ball into the net from just outside the six-yard box for a hat trick. Game over, after substitute Griffiths had scored on  the 65th minute to give us hope of a fight back, a draw, or even enough time for a win.  

But it was the Czech, number seven who made it look so easy. Karrison wasn’t far behind Julis for man of the match. Then again, he was up against Shane Duffy in a foot race, which the Irish man looked odds on to win. Duffy has the habit of making it look so easy for the attacker. Karrison swept past him, just over the half-way line. The ball was lost, the game was lost. Krejci added a fourth for Sparta on the 90th minute.

The Sparta manager claimed Celtic were the weakest team in the group. He retracted, and added, what he meant was Milan and Lille were leading their respective leagues, which were competitively stronger. He was right the first time. The stats don’t lie. Four European ties on the bounce lost at Parkhead. Not since Ronnie Deila, when we closed the top-tier, have Celtic looked so unconvincing in defence and powder puff all over the park.

Lennon has rolled the dice. Difficult to see what he does next. Laxalt and Rogic coming back have been positives. Elyounoussi checking his phone, after being subbed. That tells us all we need to know about priorities. Maybe he was checking the league tables.

Celtic are not in a good place. Out of Europe. We’ve all being saying the say thing, concentrate on the league. I wish it was that simple. Shane Duffy is the worst loan signing since—(stick your own suggestion in here). The Celtic defence is all over the place. So is the team. So is the management team. Sixty thousand Celtic fans who would have turned up for these games would have been short-changed had they paid good money. Robbed. We’re watching through the cracks in our fingers. Hoping that other mob crack first. Whatever they do, we can do better. We showed it again tonight. Away to Motherwell on Sunday—must win. What Celtic team will turn up?