Colin Burnett (2021) A Working Class State of Mind.

I bought a copy of A Working Class State of Mind because I like Colin Burnett’s writing. I’m an editor on ABCtales and some of his fiction appeared online. Most of the other editors are English. Whisper it, we’ve even got an American. But he recognised the moron’s moron Trump as the narcissistic psychopathic puckered lips organism that he proved to be. I got nudged towards Colin Burnett’s work because as the resident Scot it was my domain. And Colin Burnett writes in the Scottish dialect of Leith as did Irvine Welsh in Trainspotting.

It’s a risky venture, because it limits the number of potential readers in a market saturated with fiction, and everybody shouting and nobody listening. But hey, even Rabbie Burns needed the helping hand of the Masons to become an international icon. The Scottish language promotes intimacy, and in getting closer to the language you get to closer to yourself and your class, or so James Kelman would have us believe. What resonates within us is who we are. And if you’re one of those that declare I’ve no interest in politics then you’ve not been paying attention. Politics is about power. And we the working class lost the propaganda war by the early seventies. The narrator in the first story, ‘A Working Class State of Mind’ puts it this way.

The greatest trick those in power ever pulled wis gittin the workers tae believe we aw huv equal opportunities. Fae the moment we first open our eyes and until the time finally comes tae close thum. Oor lives huv been mapped oot fur us by they’m fae the cradle tae the grave. In this country ‘cash is class’. When yur born intae a family wae a bit ae money and the right postcode, you’re oan the home straight while the rest ae us are jist warmin up fur the race.

A trio of characters run like Edinburgh rock through the stories. In the last story of the collection their backstory becomes the story. Dougie is about to go to Secondary School, the infamous Ainslie Park, but he’s got company, his wee mate Craigie is going to the same school. Dougie’s mum is trying to convince him it won’t be that bad.

‘That wis until ma faither decided tae inject himself intae the conversation.

“Son” he said, while lowerin his newspaper.

“Jist remember, eh? snitches git stiches.”’

The reader is already familiar with Aldo. Adlo is the ballast that makes most stories work; he appears as a wee skinny Asian kid with a kick-ass attitude. He’s a familiar figure in any working-class community. The hardman that takes nae shite. But he’s also funny, but not deliberately so. And he has a heart. In ‘Lost and Found’, for example, he rescues a stray puppy tossed like a hot dog from a car. We learn that Aldo had to split up from his one true love because he found out she was a Tory. I know the feeling well, having a big sister I slotted into that category, but there’s no divorcing her. The irony is there’s nobody more capitalist in his approach to the business of drug dealing than Aldo.  

In ‘House of Horrors’, for example, gambling is just a casual breeze.  ‘He didnae need the money as he made maire fae sellin snow than a doactur did fae savin lives. Still there wis aloat ridin oan this fuckin horse. Ma two grand, and Aldo’s yin.’

From ‘Wuhan to Leith’ and ‘Lost and Found’, Aldo’s innate capacity for violence is harnessed to indirectly help the community. But usually not in term of labour exploitation.

‘Business hus plummeted cos ae this virus. Ah’ve loast a lotae fuckin money, that’s fur sure. None ae ma runners will pick up or droap oaff fur me in case they catch it. Deep doon ah jist wish ah wis still dain ma community service cos nuttin wid deter they retards fae dain business. Thanks largely tae the fact that none ae thum are playin wae a full deck. Been buzzin oot ae ma nut maist ae the day. Oan coke and heavy bevyin.’

The weakest story in the collection is ‘Sebastian the Great’, possibly because there’s no Aldo. Here the narrator is Callum. He’s sipping watered down lager as he attends a literary even in Edinburgh. I guess we’ve all been there. I labelled them Americans. When asked what they have written they rhyme of a staggering amount of bullshit. And they’re hooked into the Scottish literary establishment. One guy I met had, like our friend Sebastian the Great, a grant from the Scottish Book Trust to write a book and was late by two years—but unconcerned. I read his book and it was shite, but hey, that’s my opinion. Everybody loved him, as does the middle-class in this story. The problem with the story isn’t in the facts. We know the publishing industry is dominated by the middle classes and mainly women. The problem with the story is it become a bit of a rant. Better if Aldo bust it up.

I’m becoming predictable too.  I hate the Tory scum. And what we’ve become. That’s my rant. But Colin Burnett puts it more eloquently. Read on.   


Noticed this about [adrenalin] andreline pumpin through yur veins, p14

Jeremey Kyle who wis convinced his cat wis the antiChrist. It wis summit tae dae wae the cat sittin oan his phone and diallin 666  (p16).

Ah guess General Custard must huv said the


same hing at Little Bighorn. And we aw ken what

turned up there, another load ae irate Indians [overwriting]

Ah feel like Leith’s answer tae Dr Dolittle 21

 And when the time comes tae draw oor final

breath, we’ve accumulated enough debt that our

creditors will be hoadin a seance. 24

The greatest trick those in power ever pulled wis gittin the workers tae believe we aw huv equal opportunities [all in it together] 24

Story about a spider. Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn.

The greatest trick

those in power ever pulled wis gittin the workers tae

believe we aw huv equal opportunities. Fae the

moment we first open our eyes and until the time

finally comes tae close thum. Oor lives huv been

mapped oot fur us by they’m fae the cradle tae the

grave. In this country ‘cash is class’. When yur born

intae a family wae a bit ae money and the right

postcode, you’re oan the home straight while the rest

ae us are jist warmin up fur the race. 24

House of Horrors.

ah’m oan yin ae

they zero­hour contracts. Ken, the hings where yae

dinnae ken if yur gonnae earn a quid or a livin wage

fae month tae month. And that’s why the bookies 28

As ah enter the shoap flair the young

cashier Megan wis chattin tae Auld Tam at the coonter.

Yince she cloacked ma presence in the shoap ah’m

suddenly bein cawed oor by her.

“Dougie” she says. “Come oor here fur a

second. Yae kin settle this argument fur us.” 29

A puny boay cawed Paul

who ah kent fae the boozer hud jumped oantae a till.

He wis a small guy wae prickly black hair and a

tangerine complexion, due tae his love ae the sunbeds.

Aldo knoacked this boays front teeth oot wae yin


Ah couldnae understand why Stevie hudnae

mentioned Aldo wis involved in the mayhem. Probably

thoat it went withoot sayin. Ah love the guy, ken? but

Aldo scares the shite oot ae me.

“Fur fuck sake” ah says. “Anywey, why are yae

whisperin? Aldo’s no even here” ah add as ah take a

casual peek aroond the room, jist tae be shaire.

ah’ve no seen Aldo in

here fur nearly a week.


mother and faither own and run a popular Indianoan

Portobello High Street. Aw his faimily are hard workin,

law abidin citizens, and they didnae ever toil fur

money. So there really wisnae any excuses fur Aldo

and the borderline insane wae the wey he’s turned oot. ‘A Little Taste of India’


might be a lunatic but he’s oor lunatic, 36

Now ah kin feel ma hert skippin a beat

and ma blood pressure seems tae huv went up a notch

or two efter aw that excitement fae the race. The hing is

though yae kin ask any seasoned gambler and they’ll

tell yae what ah’m aboot tae say: “A gid start doesnae

add inches tae yur dick.” 37

“How yae doin ya willy


Fae that remark ah didnae need tae be

Columbo tae ken who it is: Aldo. He alweys makes

the same stupid joke anytime ah see him


must be aboot 6ft 2 wae a muscular build oan accoont

ae bein a weightliftin and droid enthusiast. He hus

these tribal tattoos covered acroass his bald heid, which

doesnae make him look any less ae a looney tune.

Ah’m a haime help.”

This is the first time in

months ah’ve been anywhere near a win.

He didnae need the money as he made maire fae

sellin snow than a doactur did fae savin lives. Still there

wis aloat ridin oan this fuckin horse. Ma two grand,

and Aldo’s yin.


probably only gits tae see boays like this oan the telly.

Someboady who wis born wae a silver

cock in his mooth. Tae ma shock and the posh cunts

nerves, Aldo seems tae take in what ah jist said tae

him and he gestures wae his hands that he is ready tae

forgive the boay fur winnin by remarkin: “Yur right,


Sebastian the Great. 47


night ae networkin as a writer at yin ae these fancy

theatres in the centre ae Edinburgh. Aye ah goat

invited through makin the shoart list fur a playwritin


Maist ae the folk in here emit that

unmistakeable smell ae private education.

Cos ah’m someboady who

doesnae believe the middle classes own a patent fur a

wee hing cawed ‘imagination’. In other words ah’m the

great, big, dirty pink elephant in the room.

“Ah’m, Callum” ah tell him. Before takin

another sip ae ma watered doon pint.

“So, Callum,” he says “how long have you been


“The past five year” ah say “what aboot yursel,


“Oh, fifteen years or, so.” He says. “Writing’s

been good to me, you know?”

“Naw ah dinnae fuckin ken.”

“Ah’ve been peyed only the yince” ah tell

him. “And that particular commission wis jist

enough tae keep me in beans and toast fur a week.”

This sends him intae an unrestrained fit

“That’s Melvin Andrews, the playwright. The

Scottish theatre fund has just handed him twelve

thousand pounds to write a play about why his last one

was so bad.”

“But if his last yin wis sae bad” ah say “Then

why are they commissionin him again?”

“He’s one of the chaps,” he tells me

reassuringly. “You don’t question the credentials of one

of the chaps. Better to just write a cheque.”

lits be real. We kent as many astronauts as we

did writers when we wur growin up.

comin fae behind me: “I haven’t missed Sebastian

Wolfston’s talk, have I?”

Oot comes a middle aged elegant looking boay

wae readin glesses pushed tae the edge ae his nose.

Grinnin fae ear tae ear, so he is. He’s goat long and

shiny luxourious black hair. Which is only bested wae

his Colgate smile and a yellow scarf draped roond his

neck like some Eton educated disciple.

“I know a lot of you are just starting out on your

writing career,” he says. “But just remember one

important thing. Your first commission is likely to be

no more than five thousand pounds. But don’t worry.

Eventually you still start to make real money …”

Though, of course. Ah dinnae scream anyhing.

Ah jist sit there smilin and applaud back at him.

Along wae the rest ae these performin seals.

Or, mibbie,

even a new symptom ae the virus itself. Fuck

knows, likes. But what ah do ken fur sure is

ah’m self isolatin until ma beautiful English

mother tongue starts workin again.

“It wis inspired by ma hatred fur Boris Johnson

and of course ma own personal loathin fur the Tories.”

Sebastian stares wary intae ma eyes. Before he

bursts intae a high pitch fit ae hysterical laughter.

seat ah cannae

help but hink that ah’ve played aw ae these posh cunts

at their haime groond and actually won. 58

The Sleeping Giant 59

Ah said “Yae cannae

jist throw awey sivin year like a yaised rubber,

Cool as you like “Silly me, Douglas” she said “I

forgot you’re a student of Shakespeare.”

“Come on!” she hud said “Let’s make an

appointment at RBS.”

Choosin tae furget, inexplicably, mind you. The

yin fact aboot me that her and the entire world kent.

That ah um a degenerate gambler.

the mere suggestion ae shared finance is

insanity. And wis pretty much the same hing as handin

me a loaded gun.

how she earns twice as

much as me when she’s oot there teachin snotty nosed


ah meant tae ken that the selfish bastard

ah’d backed that day wida went and snapped his neck

efter failin tae sail oor the final fence.

ma plan wis tae huv the money back

in the accoont before she wid even notice.

last week

ah wis suspended fae ma joab pendin an investigation

“He was your responsibility, you were his

carer” she says. As if ah didnae hear enough ae that fae

Brian’s daughter and the rest ae his enraged family.

This wis a boay who survived the might ae the Third

Reich and a Japanese POW camp but in the end it wis a

simple peanut who cawed his number.

Aldo come tae inject


his ain lethal dose ae misery intae ma awready shitty

existence. Sure as shite tae. As ah answer the door ah’m

faced wae the steroid induced psycho that he is.

“Ah bumped intae Justine yisterday at that posh

coffee shoap in the centre ae toon ‘Sicilia’. She wis wae

some flash cunt cawed, Mario.”

“She wis wae Mario?” ah snap “that fuckin

chippy owner?”

“Ah ken this cunt is probably geein yur burd

her medicine the noo. 64

“Either that cunt Mario hus grown a third airm

fae somewhere or he’s goat a big cock” Aldo explains

tae me. 65

Ah only came tae invite yae fur a pint wae me

and Craig themorra doon at The Carousel. Craig’s goat

a new tart he wants us tae meet, true love apparently.

Aw and its quiz night tae. And as it happens wur

shoart ae a boay n aw.”

She went tae yin ae they places where they check yur

parents bank balance before agreein tae lit yae step

inside. St Johns Academy wis cawed. Nae doot yuv

heard ae it but in case yae huvnae then “We Are All

Posh Cunts” is actually the school motto.

Ah stroll through The Kirkgate. A wee shoartcut

taewards The Carousel. The place appears tae be

unusually quiet.

Justine wis alweys whingin in ma ear aboot how

ah shouldnae be best mates wae Aldo. Anytime his

name came up in conversation aw ah wid git fae her

wis “I don’t know how you can be friends with him.

He’s a stain on society.” Ah mean, dinnae git me

wrong, she hinks Craig is a fanny tae but at least she’s

marked him doon as a loveable yin. 69

“Savin the Kids” ah laughed. “Wur talkin aboot

Aldo here, no fuckin Bono. He jist hus a strict zero

tolerance policy oan cunts stealin his customers.”

Which jist so happened tae state the sentiments

ae maist ae the folk here: ‘Hibee Til I Die’.

“Fur fuck sake” ah crack. “Is there anycunt in

Edinburgh who doesnae ken?!” [no exclamation mark after a question mark, you  can have your own language, but not punctuation.

“Aldo, take it easy man” ah say. “The fuckin

hing is finished noo, anywey.”

“Naw, mate. We’ve been cairyin that cunt since

primary. He’s alweys been a doughball. Dozy prick

nearly drooned dookin fur apples yin year. He’s been a

fuckin liability fae day yin.”

“Aw” says Aldo. Before he shouts acroass the

room tae the lassie: “Excuse me love?! kin yae move

oot ae the wey, eh? Ah’m tryin tae cloack a tidy burd

and yur blockin the view!”

Craig seems tae be in a state ae utter disbelief.

“That is her ya prick. Caroline?! Wur oor here,


Aldo bursts intae a fit ae laughter.

“That’s her? Fuck me, Craigy son” he scoffs.

“Aw that snow really hus fucked up yur eyesight,

But Aldo hus decided he’s hayin none ae it. He’s

clearly grown tired ae ma depressed mood. And every

five or ten minutes he’s offerin me an E. He takes a

small yelly tablet fae his jean poacket. Huddin it up

intae the light. As if he wur apprasin a diamond.

“See this wee hing, eh? it’ll take awey aw yur

problems, Dougie.”

The pair ae us aw teary eyed and

moved. Well, try and live through ten year ae the

Tories ya middle class ersehole. That’ll gee yae suttin

tae really greet aboot.

These workin­class hero thoats disappear when

the voice comes in though. A female, familiar voice,

which isnae Justine.

“What the fuck are yur dain here?!” ah ask her,

in a terrified, panicked state.

Sheep without a Shepherd 85

Yae see ah come fae a corner ae

Edinburgh cawed Leith. A place that wisnae known fur

it’s vibrant art scene or welcomin personality. Insteed,

it’s moment in the spotlight came fae the exploits ae it’s

skagboays and high levels ae social deprivation. Ma

name’s Steven Scott, by the wey. Ah’m thirty year auld

and ah’ve hud maire dreams than opportunities.


kicks in the baws fae life than ah care tae remember,


Ma minutes and hours oan this planet wur

programmed tae be spent in some soul destroyin

callcentre fur a pittance oor minimum wage.

When ma faither wis a young man. Back when

he wis aboot ages wae me now. He worked doon at the

world famous Henry Robb shipyaird.

The shipyaird closed in ’84, likes. Efter ma dad

and his mates marched fae the gates. Aw the wey

acroass tae the auld state cinema in Great Junction

Street. A revolt which ultimately failed as a final stand

against the establishment. 87

huddin up a sign which read “Dinnae bring back the


Whether yae went

tae graft oan the shipyairds or doon the pits it gave yae

a life long sense ae camaraderie. Thatcher took that

birth right awey fae future generations.

tae. But only if yae wur willin tae die fur Queen

and capitalism “Here’s a rifle, son. Go oot and shoot


watch ma dad slip awey wae lung cancer.

And then ah hud tae sit and watch ma mum go capma mum passed awey wae cardiac

arrest. 91

Ma weapon ae

choice wisnae a rifle or a chisel, it wis a library caird.

It suddenly dawned oan me that education is indeed

power. And there’s nuttin maire dangerous in this

country than a workin man wae a library caird who

isnae afraid tae use it.

“Mr Scott” it says. “We are delighted to inform

you, that you have an unconditional offer to study BSc

(Hons) Public Sociology at Queen Margaret University

in Musselburgh.”

The world really is ma

oyster. 93

Glory Hunter 95

Aldo wis never a supporter ae Leith Star and he wis

never yin fur keepin his thoats oan the matter tae

himsel. Then there wis me and Craig who huv follaed

thum religiously since we wur auld enough tae wipe

oor ain erses.


since the majority ae thum are local lads and they

wid spend their weekends boozin doon at The

Carousel, jist like everyboady else. But when yur

talent’s bein cawed intae question by a six­fit two,

coked up, steroid induced mountain. 96

Fur oor big trip

oor tae face the dangerous Bonnyrigg Rose in the

Scottish Cup. This game is huge fur us, likes. As the

winner gits Clyde at haime in the nixt roond. And no

only that, but the match will be televised live oan

BBC Alba.

“Loast did they” he asked. Aw gloatin and

confident that this wis jist another glorious failure fur

the club. “Useless Motherfuckers.”

“Naw” ah telt him. “We fuckin won!!”

wearin a Leith

Star strip. And he kept mutterin the same words, oor,

and oor again “Wur in this taegether, lads”.

Honestly, it wis fuckin ootrageous. 100

Three supporter’s buses left fae

the Carousel at aroond quarter tae two. Bonnyrigg is a

wee workin class toon oan the ootskirts ae Edinburgh.


the opium ae these posh cunts is the blood, sweat and

tears ae the workin class. And the opium ae the workin

class is anyhin that blanks oot the realisation ae kennin

wur a mere slave tae the capitalist machine.” 102

“Excuse me, pal?!” he shouts oor tae the barman,

who is busy servin customers.

“Ma Granny coulda hit that baw harder ya fat

usless cunt, git yur erse in gear!!”

“Well, it’s cos he’s goat four fuckin fingers, ya

thick cunt!!” 107

This cunt is actually makin sense

fur yince. It’s no like playin by the rules hus goat me

anywhere before. This win wid set the the club up fur a

gid few years tae come. And lit’s be honest. Huvin

morals isnae what it’s aw cracked up tae be. 108

“Fur fuck sake, Aldo.

Yae jist cawed him the Jimmy Saville ae Scottish fitbaw.

Yae even tried tae pin an unsolved murder oan him fae

five year ago. He’s no taken the bait, ah hink its oor

noo.” 109

Aldo’s masterplan tae fuck wae Bonnyrigg’s

keeper hus proved tae be nuttin shoart ae a

masterstroke. 111

“Ah’m standin here wae a supporter who hus

follaed his team through the gid times and the bad.

What’s yur name, sir?”

“Aldo” he answers aw gleefully.

“Well, Aldo. Why don’t you tell me how proud

you are ae these players? This is a great achievement

fur yur club.”

“Aye, that’s right, Jim” Aldo tells him. There’s nuttin like the feelin ae community

spirit. And kin ah tell ma missus suttin, who’s back at

haime watchin?”


“We did it, baby! And you owe me ma hole

when ah git back!”

Ordinary Criminals 115

“Tommy, ah’ve goat suttin fur yae the dae” it


Ah thoat tae masel as ah turned roond: “Please,

God, dinnae lit it be this cunt” ― but sure as shit ah

wis faced wae this gleeful Postman Pat.

“Aw, that’s great, Gary” ah sais.

“Ah hope it’s gid news, Tommy” he tells me. 117

Accordin tae this glorified fish wrapper ma

Joabseekers Allowance hus been stoaped because ah

only managed tae apply fur fourteen joabs this week

instead ae the thirty these cunts wanted. Thirty joabs a

week? dinnae make me fuckin laugh, that’s maire the

Tories huv created since they miraculously goat intae


Ah goat tae

ma appointment at the Joabcentre oan Commercial

Street fur half ten in the mornin. Ma advisor wisnae

meant tae be seein me til ten tae eleven

Yince yur in this place that invisible Britain yae

only hear whispers aboot or see oan a thirty second

BBC news bulletin becomes clear as water. Aye, we’re

aw ordinary criminals in this place that’s the yin hing

that bounds us aw taegether. 123

“Sally, have you got the

vouchers for the Edinburgh North East foodbank


Ah must huv been standin aboot here fur at

least half an hour until ma name is finally cawed, “Mr

Cooper” a voice says.

Ah’m no messin likes, this wanker

looks like he’s yin cauld awey fae blowin his brains oot

. This [full stop on top line.]

Class Treason 129

Aldo and Craigy, are baith sat oan the vomit­worthy,

cream leather couch. Craigy looks sober, likes. But its

clear yae cannae say the same hing aboot, Aldo.

He then looks up at us aw teary eyed “Lads,

they’re the best runners ah’ve ever hud.”

Ah pause. Understandin what he meant but

hopin tae fuck ah wis in fact mistaken.

“Please tell me you’ve no goat thum droappin

oaff gear fur yae, Aldo?”

He smirks, pleased as you like. “Of course. Ah

git cheap labour and they git tae finally serve a purpose

in society. Everboady’s a winner.”

Yae could cut the atmosphere in the room wae a

knife. Ma hert’s still beatin like a Cherokee drum due

tae the rush ae adrenaline. Craig tries tae engage me in

conversation “Where the fuck hus Aldo goat tae?”

“That”s fuckin right” he barks. “Yur a middle

class wannabe. The dregs ae society.”

“Look in the fuckin mirror” he explains. “Since

yae goat wae her you’ve become a middle­class

wanker. Fur fuck sake, yae dress like a banker noo”

“She’s goat gid fashion sense, that’s aw. Only

makes sense tae git her advice.”

“Sure” he says, wae a grin. “Then there’s this


“What’s wrong wae it, likes?”

“It looks like a fuckin showroom.

Aldo continues oan wae his tirade. “A couple’s

night?” he tuts. “If ever there wis three words that

didnae belong taegether in the same sentence. Ah bet

yae went tae some posh theatre or suttin. Tae watch

some tart greetin fur an hour cos she’s loast her shoe”.

ootburst ah never really gave any ae this

any thoat. But as much as it pains me tae admit it, eh?

he’s actually goat a point.

Aldo wis speakin

sense and that ah really huv become a middle­class

prodigy withoot even realisin it.

From Wuhan to Leith 139.

Business hus plummeted cos ae this virus.

Ah’ve loast a lotae fuckin money, that’s fur sure. None

ae ma runners will pick up or droap oaff fur me in case

they catch it. Deep doon ah jist wish ah wis still dain

ma community service cos nuttin wid deter they

retards fae dain business. Thanks largely tae the fact

that none ae thum are playin wae a full deck.

Been buzzin oot ae ma nut maist ae the day.

Oan coke and heavy bevyin. Yae could argue it’s a

normal day fur me but ah hink it’s a mindset hing wae

the boredom n that, ken? Started oan the gear earlier

and ah’ve jist been chillin oot. Listenin tae a few tunes,

ever since. It’s no the same as bein doon The Carousel

Lost And Found.

ah’m surprised wae what ah

find inside. Insteed ae a white brick ae gold ah’m

huddin this tiny puppy in ma airms. And it’s starin at

me wae its huge baby seal eyes. Jesus, he looks at me.

Before he lits oot a tired yawn and he seems content.

Which astonishes me, tae be honest ­ seeins how he’s

jist been chucked oot a motor.

He’s lovin the attention tae. A proper

showman so he is. Lyin sprawled oot oan his back as he

takes in her beautiful Hollywood smile.

“He’s so cute” she squeals.

“Aye, he’s awrite” ah tell her.

“What’s his name?”

ah mean his name,


Thank fuck ah’d watched Die Hard last night

Will yae look at this, eh? this wee hings a fanny

magnet. Ah mean, she’s practically goat her mooth

wrapped aroond ma cock as we speak.

He droaps doon oan the couch a depressed and


defeated dug. He stares up at me and gees me a soft

whimper. Ah try tae make him understand ah’m dain

this fur him:

“Listen, you’ll love it there and in nae time

you’ll be wae yur new family.

The drive up tae the ‘Paws Dog Sanctuary’ oan

the ootskirts ae the toon hus been hard fur aw


“Aye, yae kin, mate” ah tell him. “Ah’ve broat

ma dug Bruce here tae be re­haimed.”

He smiles at me “You must be Mr Ali?

“Oh, god no” he tells me. “He’ll be a new

member of doggy heaven.”

“Lower yur fuckin voice, you!” ah scream. “He’s

goat a gid grasp ae English!”

“Bruce, dae yae ken that guy, eh? Talk tae me,

son?” He replies in barks which grow increasingly

louder. It’s a clear “Oh, ah ken that bastard, awright”

if ever there wis yin.

“Did you throw this dug fae oot that motor a

couple ae weeks back, daft cunt?”

He smirks knowingly, as if in appreciation ae a

cherished memory. “Oh, that?” he says. “That mut’s jist

lucky ma petrol wis oan the rid. Or he wid huv been

gone fur a swim doon the docks.”

“Bruce, son” ah say “cover yur eyes, pal. This is

gonnae be fuckin messy.”

And believe me, eh? It wis.

Funny Money

Fur Dalhousie Castle is

almost certainly yin ae the plushest venues in the hale

ae Scotland’s central belt.

So, yae kin imagine ma surprise when ma

beautifully decorated invite droapped through the

letterboax. Especially when yae consider this particular

delivery wis sent fae someboady who lives oan sixty

quid a week dole money.

Ah instantly felt obliged tae share the excitin

news wae wee Brucie. Who wis busy enjoyin his

mornin munch.

“Brucie, son” ah said “Yur uncle Craigy is huvin

an enagement pairty”

The little man’s steyin wae Mrs Henderson fae

acroass the wey. Ah couldnae ask Christina tae look

efter him since we hud finished oan such unpleasant

terms. She hates ma guts. But ah’ll no bore yae wae the


distinctive lack ae talent

walkin up and doon the room. In fact, tae be honest

wae yae. Ah’ve no seen this many dugs assembled in

yin place since ah watched a hunner and yin

dalmatians in the 90’s. A reality which is as depressin

as it is demoralisin. Cos ah came along here wae much

enthusiasm and high hopes ae pullin. And that’s

exactly why ah pit oan ma best Ben Sherman shirt.

cloack the unlucky

bride standin there, as well. She’s the lassie wae the

animal print ootfit. Lookin every bit as if she’s a blond

beehive awey fae winnin a Lily Savage lookalike comp.

Ah’m startin tae question whether ah should git

up oaff ma erse and go in search ae the elusive, Dougie.

An unwanted physical approach

which startles me tae ma core.

“Awrite, Aldo” whispers a monstrous, ugly

voice, direct in ma ear.

And as ah turn tae reveal the soonds identity ah

see that it’s a vile lookin boay who’s wearin an equally

mignin burgundy cap. He’s also sportin a jaundice

coloured zippy which jist aboot pits him oan a par wae

Dougie fur the maist overstated fashion sense at this


“Dae ah fuckin ken you?” ah ask

“Nah” he says. “But…”

Ah stoap him midsentence “Well, ah dinnae

hink that needs tae change” ah say. Before ah wave him

awey like the bad smell he is.

Dougie responds wae a playful smile.

“So” he says, leanin forward. “Ah wis meanin

tae ask. What happened between you and Christina?

Ah thoat yae might go the distance?”

“That’s personal stuff, mate” ah tell him

“Widnae be right discussin it wae yae at a piss up. It

wis true love, me and her.”

Ma emotions git the better ae me and the pain ae

losin ma yin true love sets oaff the waterworks. Ah

bang ma fist oan the table “Ah cannae even say it”

“What did she dae, mate?” squeals Dougie.

“She wis a fuckin Tory” ah tell him, whist

greetin hard intae the tablecloth.

“A Tory?” he says “Ah dinnae fuckin believe

you sometimes, Aldo”

“Ah kept seein that Theressa May cunts puss,

when we shagged. Sometimes ah couldnae even git it


“Jesus” he says “That’s fucked up, Aldo”

“Well, it’s the fuckin truth” ah tell him.

Fur a brief moment we sit back in oor comfy

seats. Enjoyin the company as what we are. Two auld

generational mates. Nae naggin burds tae contaminate

the unspoken bond we share, either. Although he does

enjoy the company ae his missus, eh?

“Dougie, Aldo, what are you two dain here?”

it’s Sally, eh? a plump lassie wae a surprisin fizzy

personality. Her dress code resembles suttin yae wid

find doon Leith docks.

“That useless motherfucker” she announces tae

us. “He left us wae no a pot tae piss in. Ah hud the

choice ae pittin Peter in care or lookin efter him. Easiest

fuckin decision in ma life”

“So, what happened?” ah ask fakin fur the sake

ae fake interest. “Wur the social full?”

Dougie gazes acroass tae me “She means keepin

him wis the easy choice.”

“Really?” ah says. Starin at her aw shocked, n


“Of course, that’s what ah meant. Cheeky

bastard” she cracks.

“That’s, Leanne” She says “Marco’s sister. She’s

goat nae self­respect that lassie. Shags anyhing.”

“Eh, ah’m here tae see ma mate, Craig

Robertson” ah tell her “He wis broat in earlier.”

Even his fuckin eyes are jist lifeless slits. He’s clearly in

a bad wey.

“What the fuck happened!?” ah roar. 179

Dougie instantly springs up fae his seat. Lookin

absolutely shattered and pathetic “It wis the great


Ah pause fur a second “A great white did this?”

pointin tae Craigy’s unrecognisable puss. “Wis he at

Portabelly beach, or suttin?”.

Dougie explodes “Are you stoned, or what?!” he

screams “No an actual fuckin shark” he says, almost at

a murmur “It wis Mikey Hood”

“The loan shark?” ah ask.

“Fur fuck sake, Aldo. Aye” his teeth grindin

taegether as his temper escalates.

“How dae yae ken that?” ah say.

“Caroline filled me in oan how Craig came intae aw

that money fur the pairty”

“Right, and?” ah growl.

“He’s been passin funny money aboot. And the

daft cunt wis pumpin five grand worth ae notes

through Mikey’s clubs.

“Ah’m gonnae be seein that

bastard, Mikey. Real soon”

“Yae cannae” Dougie says, aw frantically.

“How the fuck no?” ah ask him.

“He said if you goat involved, or the polis. Then

this wid seem like a friendly warnin.”

“Listen, ah’ll square him up wae what Craigy’s

due. If that pits this shit tae bed. And Craigy will pull

through, eh? stronger than ever”

Ah kin feel the relief in his voice “You’re a gid

mate, Aldo” he tells me.

Ah noad in agreement. “Craigy kin dae some

chores fur me. Yince he’s back up oan his feet. What’s

the docaturs sayin?”

Ah’m riddled wae guilt. Hence ma offer tae pey the

five bags tae clear the debt. Still, better tae keep his SOS

call quiet fae Dougie.


ah’ve goat it oan gid authority that he’s in a boozer oot

Granton wey cawed ‘The Highlander’. No jist himself

though. He’s goat his muscle wae him tae. There

should be nae maire violence though. Oan accoont ae

no wantin tae make hings worse fur Craig ah’m gonnae

pey the cunt oaff and jist leave it at that. By the time ah

make ma wey back in the room. Suttin’s evidently

ratteld Dougie’s cage yince maire.


Highlander is a notorious boozer in Edinburgh and it’s

a name that rings oot far and wide. It doesnae take us

long tae arrive there. Largely oan accoont ae the traffic

no bein that bad. Ah git the driver tae park aroond the

corner fae the pub and as soon as ah jump oot the rains

starts hammerin doon. This pub kindae takes me back

tae Saughton, likes. Wae it’s run doon appearance and

steel bars acroass it’s windaes.

Ah slam it doon oan the bar “What’s this?”

Mikey asks puffed up.

“That’s five grand” ah tell him “That’s Craigy

square wae yae, right?”

“Okay” he says, quietly.

“So, we’re gid?” ah ask him.

Tae which he smiles and taps oan the envelope

“The debt’s been peyed, aye. We’re cool”

A chorus ae laughter erupts fae him and his

entourage. And they’re too much in love wae

thumselves tae even notice what ah dae nixt. Ah walk

up tae the front door and begin boltin the place up.

As ah walk up back taewards they’m Mikey’s

still grinnin awey tae himsel. And he jist cannae fuckin

wait tae bait me some maire “Look aroond yae” he

says. Gesturin tae his five goons. “You might be a crazy

fuck, Aldo. But you’re oot gunned here, ah’m afraid”

“Lads!” ah shout. Ma eyes dinnae flicker fae

their direction. The hale place seems tae stand up in

unison. Instantly sendin the bar staff cowerin fur cover.

“Dinnae mind they’m” ah tell him, noaddin

behind me. “They’re only here tae make sure you cunts


Takeover 185

That wis

until ah came acroass this auld photo ae me and

Craigy. A snap taken before we embarked oan oor first

day there. We looked like a pair ae scared fuckin

rabbits. Ah came acroass the hing while ah wis helpin

the missus tae clear oot the attic.

That wis until ma faither decided tae inject

himself intae the conversation.

“Son” he said, while lowerin his newspaper.

“Jist remember, eh? snitches git stiches.”

“Joe!” ma mum snapped. “Leave the laddie


“Ah’m jist sayin” he tells her “Naeboady likes a


“Well” ma mum quips. “That school is different

fae when you wur there.”

Then a welcomed distraction appeared

ootae naewhere. In the form ae a knock at the front

door. It wis ma saviour, Craigy.

infamous Ainslie Park. A

proper school ae hard knocks. The buildin auld and run

doon. A neglected concrete Victorian memory.

Miss Robertson wandered in. And she wis

accompanied by a young skinny Asian boay who

looked shy and extremely timid.

She then gestured tae the mysterious

south Asian boay.

“I have someone I would like you all to meet.

This is Aldo and his family recently moved to the area.

He’ll be joining the class today and I expect that you

will all make him feel welcome.”

“Listen up” he announced. “Every Friday ah

want a quid fae every yin ae you’s. And dinnae go

runnin tae yur mummy and daddies and start tellin

tales. Or tae that bitch in heat who jist left the room. Cos

ah will find yaise. And believe me. It willnae be poetic.”

Craig chips in “The hardest boay

at the school. Far as ah ken, mate. Is a laddie called

Mark Thompson. Him and his mates deal green, n aw.

But he’s a right horrible bastard.”

“Soonds like a kindred spirit. Ah’ll need tae

meet him tae set up some new hoose rules.”

“Dougie, son” he said. “C’moan oot, mate.

There’s money tae be made.”

“Aldo” ah said quietly. “How did yae git ma

address? Ah ken fur a fact ah never telt yae it.”

“School records never lie, mate” he said, wae a


“He’s ma new mate fae school, mum” ah telt her

“His name’s, Aldo.”

She wis walkin oan water wae his compliments.

He hit aw the markers, likes. Everyhing fae her hair

style. Tae how she could pass as ma sister. He even hud

ma dad eating ootae the palm ae his hand. Laughin at

ma faither’s terrible patter and he even insisted oan

dain the dishes. Jist his wey ae shamin me in front ae

ma folks. And the nixt words oot ae ma dads mooth left

me paralysed

“Ah wish ah hud a son, like you, Aldo” he said.

“Aye, but ah pit the bin oot last night dad” ah


“Aye, the wrong fuckin bin, though.

“Dinnae you go swallowin yur tongue, Markie. Ah’ve

been meanin tae huv a catch up wae yae. Listen, eh?

you work fur me now. A fag gits selt fur fifty pence in

the playgroond? ah want ma cut. Ah’m a reasonable

man. Caw it a hunner per cent. Your reign ae terror

ends theday. And mines hus jist begun. Spread the

fuckin word.”

Ah realised that

naeboady at the school wid even dare try and mess wae

us ever again wae Aldo by oor side. It wis the first day

ae a friendship that wid stand the test ae time. And that

day wis truly yin tae remember.

Dr Richard Taylor (2021) The Mind of a Murderer: What Makes a Killer?

Dr Richard Taylor is a forensic psychiatrist. You know the sort: Wire in the Blood, Cracker, Those That Kill (Scandie noir). No, not that kind. They’re psychologists that tell you what kind of cheese the killer favours, what kind of street he stays in and how he was making humanity pay for his mum not allowing him mint humbugs. Forensic psychiatrists need to complete medical training and become a doctor (six years) and do another three to four years in their chosen field. A psychiatrist deals with what we used to call psychiatric patients, but are now called patients with mental health problems. The one in four of us. The forensic part is dealing with pattern recognition. Adjudicating between those that have committed an offence such as murder and know it’s wrong and those that are off their head. In the mad, bad, or sad equation that our court system deals with they deal with all three, but the emphasis is on the first.

‘My day job involves joint work between forensic psychiatry and law enforcement, my focus now is on managing those who make threats, or who are thought to pose a threat in one way or another. We call it liaison and diversion, and although the main outcome is facilitating access to treatment, there is also an element of harm reduction and homicide prevention.’

I found out I was relatively normal by accident. In the Afterword, the author’s final sentence makes reference to an adaptation of the Rorschach test and asks: ‘Other than a skull or brain, what else can you see?’

I hadn’t given the cover image any thought (although I should have given that if, or when, I self-publish cover design fundamental to selling one of the three of the four copies of your work) but when I looked again at Taylor’s cover; I could only see a skull. Nothing else.  I’m boring and normal.

Could I kill someone? Absolutely. I make no bones about that. But as I get older that becomes more unlikely. Anybody that is a reader knows about the triple whammy of having a shitty childhood, falling into drug or alcohol abuse (often both), falling to hold down a job. Fling in a personality disorder or condition. Often grandiose ideas and a complete lack of understanding of other people and the sort of narcissism that gets you elected American President and a danger to humanity.

Over two million incarcerated in the United States criminal system and more than 100 000 on life sentences. The human cost is staggering, but even conservatives are questioning the economics of tax dollars wasted.

Dr Richard Taylor is scathing about our criminal justice system. A botched privatisation of the parole system. A chronic underfunding of mental health services. He gives the example of a former criminal leaving prison in Helsinki having a house and job lined up. Here it’s a payment of £47 and good luck with the rest of your life, pal.  

Nature of nurture for the potential murderer. Not surprisingly, Taylor opts for both nature and nurture, but with the emphasis on the latter. The real criminals are in government, shouting about crime and increasing punishments—which as us a reader know, doesn’t work and never has. Remember SureStart? Getting in early and getting involved with those that needed help. Remember the austerity government of Cameron (honest gov, I sent a few texts for a paltry pay out of £150 million)  and Osborne (banker paid £650 000 for working one day a week) and how we were all in it together, while slashing funds for SureStart and taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. That’s nature. Human nature. It’s called greed and deception. It’s a fair cop, gov.  I can feel my blood boil, although as Taylor would point out, your blood doesn’t really boil. That’s clichéd as Tory scum.  

Terry Ross R.I.P. (25th Anniversary of his death)

Because we couldn’t go to the crematorium, we congregated outside the Drop Inn to do that clappy-tribute thing before Barry Brennan’s funeral. Laney Halley, with a toxic shock of blonde hair, and skin so pale—as if her parents were ghosts and not alkies, like the rest of us—whispered it was also Terry Ross’s anniversary. He’d been dead for over 25 years.

When Terry Ross was born at the tail-end of 1962, quarter a million Glaswegians hung out of tenement windows and crowded the pavements, in torrential rain, to cheer the passing of a cavalcade of tram ‘caurs’. From London Road to Eglinton Toll, people placed half-pennies on the tracks and wept. And right on time, one of the trams broke down.   

Terry drank in my local, the Drop Inn. He told me, ‘I don’t go out any mair’.

‘Neither dae I,’ I picked up my pint of heavy from the table. In the low light, fag smoke soaked into our t-shirts and denims, although neither of us smoked. With a ringing sound, my pint knocked against the dregs of lager in his glass, almost knocking over the other empties.

We’d a bellyful of Bono whining on the jukebox, ‘All was quiet on New Year’s day…’ and he had to runaway, but U2 droned on, like the high-flying American spy plane counterpart on a mindless, forever, mission.  Fergus McCann had come in as the new broom to sweep out Parkhead and stop Rangers winning nine-in-a-row.

The curry-shop smell followed us as we fell into step in the lane behind the pub. He lived at the top end of the street with Laney and his daughter, Teri the terror tot, and baby Jack. Trafalgar Street tenements hadn’t yet been renovated. I’d walk up on to the canal path and across the bridge. We’d talk about the old days, now that we didn’t bother going out.

Terry’s older brother, Wullie, died when he was twelve-years-old, before I’d gone to secondary school. He’d fallen from inside a tenement loft in Dalmuir while trying to catch doos. The French feminised them, called them la pigeonnier and built cathedrals for them, but only the nobility were allowed to breed them. He was a talented footballer, Celtic wanted to sign him. Terry had that goal-scoring knack too, but didn’t seem interested in training, or anything too organised. 

Since he’d moved to Dalmuir, Terry’s wee sister, Denise, visited our pub. She’d the same shaggy, straw-coloured hair as him, and pushed her big square specs higher on her nose. A nervous trait. She sat upright like an old-fashioned puggy-machine jammed full of tenner bags in the wrong slot. She’d lost half her arm by injecting a dirty word into her veins, which made her a faceless nobody.

She snorted, ‘You used to be Jack O’Donnell, didn’t yeh?’

Darkness on Dumbarton Road made square mirrors of the pub’s latticed windows. But I was blind to my hair falling like pine needles from the top of the tree.  Bald men, of course, all looked the same, nothing like me: pink heads racked together like snooker balls until you whacked them with your cue, but you could only do that in the bar and we were in the lounge.

On our first day at secondary school, Terry asked my cousin, big Fudgie, for ‘a square go’ around the back of the P.E. block. Dade Simpson approached and claimed me. The Whitecrook team were trying to put us interlopers in our place.  Terry was their gang ringleader.

Our uniform was sweat-encrusted denim jacket and matching flared trousers, a small army of gold-buttoned Chairman Maos. Wrangler was king. Then Levi. Then Wrangler again. You could shape a plastic bag into a ship and sail it on your forehead to keep the rain from spoiling your feather-cut hairstyle, but hats were for old fossils on the telly.

Dee’s had a menswear shop across from Marathon, which had been John Brown’s shipyard. Dandruff spotted the fat guy’s pinstripe shoulders where he hung a tape measure. He peered through the door—daring you to venture inside. His jowls trembled when he balanced the machine on the counter that ate Provie cheques, ironed them, and spat them out in blue duplicate with a clunk. He had you. Your mum smiling beside you, a snapshot, guarantor of your trendiness.

My da, Dessy, knew how to deal with such grasping folk. He followed the honoured tradition of whacking the gaffer on a Friday. And picked up his books and started a new job on the Tuesday. Monday was for resting your knuckles. But when jobs weren’t plentiful, he couldn’t whack the gaffer on a Friday, or even a Thursday.  He turned down a job with the council, because he said he wanted to do a bit of work.

Terry’s da had it right. He was a bin man and followed the unwritten council rule of job-and-finish, and being in the pub for lunchtime. Curiously, he signed sick notes to our registration teacher, O’Leary, in handwriting remarkably similar to his son’s: ‘Terry Ross’s dad’.

The redbrick Beattie’s Biscuit factory faced our school gates. A tanker delivered chocolate and it was pumped into tanks, much like petrol was delivered to a petrol-station forecourt . Terry sneaked up, unhooked the pipe when the driver was inside, and filled plastic bags with chocolate, which he sold around the school for ten pence a bag.

‘Keep the edge,’ Terry muttered.   

We were supposed to be sketching a black ten-bob sannie left on the table of art class. My drawings resembled a mushy black banana, but without laces. It was an improvement on my sketches of the shipyard Titan crane, which we could see towering over the tenement roofs.

Our classmates gave up any pretence of shading with HB pencils to watch him. He tiptoed toward the wall and leaned so he could see behind it. He was away from a few minutes. I wondered if he’d already been caught. We were waiting for him to come sneaking back, or the Art teachers to crucify him in the supply cupboard, but not like Jesus, because we were a good Roman Catholic school. 

Most of us clocked the picture on the wall of a nudie woman. Her face a jellyfish paste. You couldn’t read the signature. But just as Salvador Dali could draw a bull with four or five lines, we could see the outline of her fanny, and that the ginger minger belonged to the token, woman, art teacher.

In the same way we imagined that P.E. teachers played endless games of fitba, or table-tennis, she set us the task of drawing the sannie without a mate, before wandering away to have sex with all the other art teachers in the cupboard.   

Below the desk, Terry flashed a tenner, before slipping it into his side pocket and perched on a stool.

Phone calls cost two pence, a dodgy dinner ticket cost ten pence, the price of a pint around fifteen pence. A tenner was an adult night out on the town, a visit to the chippy and a taxi home with a prostitute from Blythswood Square.

‘Where’d you get that?’ I whispered.

 ‘Out her purse.’

‘Jesus, whit if they search us?’

 ‘Nah, she’ll just think she’s lost it… And I left some change.’

During break time we often played headie-kicks outside the cloakrooms. The boys’ toilets were on one side. Girls’on the other. They sat with their backs against the windows, looking out to the playground, and we mirrored them on our side as preparation for the end-of-year school-dance.

Pieman, one of the Whitecrook team, was monkeying around the toilet stalls. He swung up and pushed the hatch on the roof aside, and sat, gallus, inside the darkness. It was an unexplored country. Terry led the expedition, and charted the land by crawling between roof beams. Poking holes in gyprock and plaster with a compass to provide natural light.  When he’d crawled far enough from the hatch, and pressed his eye against the hole in the ceiling, he could see girls’ heads and hear flushing toilets.

Instead of going outside to play headie kicks, there was a dose of the runs to get into the toilet stalls. Stories grew arms and legs.

 Big Kenny wheezed asthmatically, and said it was Shirley Collins in the stall. Jackie Reid and her were acknowledged as the most shaggable in our year, or any year.

Terry sneered, ‘How did you know it was her?’  

‘Because when she pulled her knickers down, her ginger fanny looked up and winked at me,’ he said.

That night after I’d left Terry, we’d been falling about laughing drunk. I never thought it would be his last. There’s a memorial stone for Terry beside his brother, William, in the graveyard at Dalnottar. I’m not sure where they put Denise’s stone. All those year ago. Laney reminded me about Terry’s death during lockdown. Aye, right, even Terry couldn’t have made that one up. None of us were going out any time soon.   

Emile Zola (1876 [2003]) The Drinking Den, Penguin Classics, translated by Robin Buss.

I tackled Emile Zola’s The Drinking Den before, but gave up after reading the first couple of chapters. I stuck with it this time and finished all thirteen chapters. It wasn’t like War and Peace, where when I finished it I expected a librarian (in pre-Covid times) to rush up and pin a medal to my tracky top. Nor was it like Zola’s Germinal or The Earth which I ripped through. When I turned the final page I felt a sense of relief. Job done, but if Zola hadn’t been Zola (if you know what I mean, with his reputation preceding him) I wouldn’t have bothered.

The plot of The Drinking Den is quite simple. It follows the ascent and fall of the laundress Gervaise Macquart over a twenty year period from the working-class slums of Paris around 1850. When the reader first meets her she has two young children, Claude who was eight and Etienne (who appears I Germinal) who is four. She was pregnant aged fourteen to Lantier, who was eighteen. He brought her from Plassans to Paris, but leaves her and his children destitute after taking the last five francs for himself.

Zola’s strength is showing not only how things look but how much they cost. When, for example, Lantier asks if she’s got any money, her reply sets the tone.

‘Money! Where do you expect me to steal it from? You know I got three francs the day before yesterday on the black skirt. We’ve had two meals out of it: those cooked meats don’t last long…I’ve got four sous for the wash…I don’t earn it the way some women do.’

Old Columbe’s drinking den was on the corner of the Rue des Poissnneirs and the Boulevard de Rochechouart and would be recognisable to Parisians of the time. Old Columbe was serving four sous’s worth of liquor in a cup to a little girl aged about ten. It cost four sous to get your washing done and four sous to get soaked.

Here we meet the roofer, Coupeau, in his workman’s smock and blue linen cap. He can’t understand how men can drink such spirits straight down. He’s in his thirties with good teeth and good intentions. He’s in love with the blonde-haired Gervaise and begs her to give him a chance. Her limp is hardly noticeable he insists and her children are still small.  But she’s finding her feet after Lantier’s sudden disappearance. She’s had a fight with Virginie which she’d triumphed and has steady work with Madame Fauconnier and has no time for frivolity. She’s on the up and up, but modest. A Victorian narrative dressed up in different clothes of a woman achieving happiness through a decent and happy marriage (to the likes of Bijou).

‘Heavens! I’m not ambitious, I don’t ask for much…My dream would be to work quietly, eat bread every day and have a fairly decent place to sleep: you know, a bed, a table, two chairs, nothing more…Oh, I’d also like to bring up my children and make good citizens of them, if I could…If there was anything else I’d like, it’s not to be hit, if I ever settle down with someone…it would be nice to die in my bed, at home.’

Contrast this modesty with her daughter Nana. ‘She had the large eyes of a perverted child’. Slut, harlot, prostitute is the way Zola describes her. The watchmaker’s daughter is painted in a similar way; incest between her and her father is in the way she flings her hips and flaunts herself.

‘Nana was sent to sleep at the Boches, and she cried.’ She was looking forward to sleeping in the big bed with ‘her good friend Lantier’.

The saintly Lalie, who watches her mum beaten to death by her father, becomes a little mum to her brother and sister. And while being whipped and beaten to death herself by her father and tied to the bed so she can’t stray, doesn’t waste time, but knits. Her last words mirroring the biblical forgive him he knows not what he does, while her drunken father weeps.  

Later, she (and the narrator, Zola) reflects poverty kills them, but not quickly enough.  Old Columbe’s drinking den is lit up like a cathedral for high mass.

Funerals cost money, around ninety francs. An average workman earns three to four francs a day. Goujet, who is in love with Gervaise, is paid around 12 francs a day for making bolts. This is later reduced to 9 francs a day. His mother is a spendthrift, budgeting for better days and they bank Gervaise’s rise and fall. We are at the heart of the French industrial revolution, but something is lost in translation and characters become clichéd as the language used.

Archie McDougall 5/7/1958—12/5/2021. RIP.

this is what a best man looks like (Archie on the right).

My brother Bod phoned to tell me Archie was dead. It was quick. I rolled out the platitudes. He was his pal, much more than mine. Archie only came to Clydebank once. And I was trying to work out when that was. I’d guess about ten years ago. Makadin (Davie Glen and Gordon Ritchie) were playing the bowling club beside my old school, St Andrews. That’s now housing. My next-door neighbour was there with his wife, and he’s now got dementia. I just went along to boo the band and meet up with Archie and Bod. Young Bod was seventeen and shouldn’t have been drinking. We went next door to play pool and laugh like schoolboys that had forgotten their homework and sneaked away from the band that was playing in the main hall.

Archie liked his music and could carry a tune. I’m the kind of guy the music teacher hands the triangle and asks them not to sing, and don’t dare move my lips, unless it was to say I was leaving. So we didn’t have that in common.

We both loved Celtic. Archie was born in 1958, the same year as Elaine C Smith, whom he looked a bit like, but with more of a belly laugh. Archie perched specs on the end of his nose to look down at you with that quizzical expression—that meant, fuck off with those kind of jokes.

1958, The same year ‘Gentleman John Ramensky’ British Second Word War hero and Scotland’s most notorious safe blower escaped from Peterhead’s maximum security prison for the third time was captured delivering gold, frankincense and myrrh to Archie’s Ma. She refused the gifts because they were knocked off.  Archie was four years older than me, but he’d tell me he looked younger because he’d hair, and was better looking, anyway. We both watched Casey Jones coming down the track on BBC Saturday morning telly and Zorro, with his swishing black cape, would make an appearance, cutting into the night like his mate Baz. And the other three wise men

Old Joe took Grangemouth’s three wise men, Bod, Baz and Archie in the opposite direction to show them the delights of his homeland. We all know about old Joe, who played international football with Ferenc Puskás, but escaped to the West and ended up in Grangemouth of all places. Did they make it out of the equivalent of the Hungarian Ship Inn? Answers on a postcard to yourself. That was 2016. Archie was hitting his peak season.

Bod joked Archie had another marriage in him. I think he was married three times and had eight more children than the Waltons. When I went to see Bod in Grangemouth, I saw Archie. Kevin had just started working and I’d first met Archie in The Ship Inn. The last time we were out, I’d a couple of cans in his house while we watched some of the Celtic game and went into the town. We might even have been treble-treblers. So that must have been two years ago, before lockdown. Three pints and I was drunk and ready for my bed.  

When Bod was having a hard time, Archie was the best man. For the second time, he stepped in and gave him a place to stay, and that was that. Deeds, not words, are what you’re remembered for.

Archie could be a bit forgetful. Perched on a barstool in Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport he closed his eyes for a moment and the flight home to Glasgow left without him. Old Joe couldn’t take him anywhere. That would be one of Archie’s last holidays abroad.

He worked to live, not lived to work. His last job was with the council, but before that he was a lorry driver. He was in no hurry to get anywhere; he liked to have a couple of pints in the local boozers with his mates. Listen to music, tell you it was shite, crack a pint glass on top of another to liven it up, give it bubbly. Archie liked to do a bit of moaning, but not about anything too serious. I’ll miss Archie, not because of his moping, but because he was one of the good guys. He was a distant pal. For my brother Bod, it will be like losing a brother. He was his best man in so many ways. RIP.      

Saved by a Stranger, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Presenter Anita Rani and Director Toby Trackman.

Brixton born Marc

 The format for this serious is simple, and it’s in the title. People who have been caught up in some traumatic, life-changing event, and some stranger has stepped in to help them. I’m sure I watched the last series, but can’t remember if I did. It’s a feel-good programme.  

The cynical part of me suspects if  an American documentary maker made this programme there would be supernatural elements, but the only angels here are real people. Anita Rani meets with Karl and Emina in the first episode and Marc and Peter in the second episode and does a bit of acting: Will we find these strangers, she asks? That’s like asking will Kylie and Jason Donovan marry in the final episode of Neighbours—of course they will—and live happily ever after?

Karl was in the train carriage where 26 people died on London’s Piccadilly underground line on the 7/7/2005 (another 26 died when a bomb went off on a bus). He was a student dancer, training to be a professional. After the explosion, he prayed to God to let him out, ‘I won’t be gay any more’, was his bargaining chip. God knew he was lying, because He was God, but He also had foreknowledge of the 7/7 bombings and that Karl would push past the stranger that held his hand and told him it would be alright, in his rush to escape from the carriage.

God would also know about the atrocities in Sarajevo during the Bosnia and Herzegovina war in 1992. He would know that a doctor would arrange for Emina and her sister, Edina, who required surgery and had Down’s syndrome to escape on a bus, taking young mothers and kids out of the sieged state to live in Birmingham. God would know that some of the older boys would be taken off buses and shot, and buried in mass graves. Buses would be blown up crossing bridges. But Emina and Edina and their mother would make it to safety. He would know that their dad made the right choice not getting on the bus, despite their mother begging him. And he too would join them in Britain. God would know Britain hates refugees—and poor people, in particular, even their own citizens that have the wrong colour of skin— but since this is a feel-good story, we’ll kid on we don’t. He’ll know that Anita Rani will go through the charade of not being able to find the paediatric doctor who now lives and worked in Holland.

God, despite hating gay people, killing them with AIDs, and in the words of former police chief of Greater Manchester, Sir James Anderton, ‘swirling around in a cesspit of their own making’ will know he’ll get the backing of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Brixton born black boy Marc will be diagnosed with HIV at the age of seventeen. Marc will find a saviour in a counsellor called John (Wilks) and a place of safety in the Landmark Centre. God will know that the Tories will unleash savage policies in the name of fiscal prudence which took money from the poor to give to the rich and shut off local authority programmes like Surestart and close places like the Landmark Centre.

God will know about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He’ll know about the Brexit border and every lie that Boris Johnson has told. Yet, God will know that the English voters found the little Trump to be good. He’ll know about Peter being shot in the legs by Ulster Protestant paramilitaries in 1979, and how his wife suffered post-traumatic stress disorder hit the booze and died young. God knows Peter will make it and have a pile of grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Peter will never forget the angel, a nurse called Betsy that pulled him through his darkest days in hospital. God knows Anita Rami will go through the usual hee-haw of being unable to find her, but then, suddenly, a chink of light. Ahhhhhhhhh…that’s nice.    

Rangers 4—1 Celtic.

spot the Ajer swerve?

Rangers 4—1 Celtic.

I expected Celtic to win this one. As I expected them to win the last match against Rangers in the Scottish Cup. I’m Celtic daft that way. Rangers do the clean-sweep of Celtic.  There was talk of John Kennedy getting the Celtic manager’s job. The argument went like this, all he had to do was beat Rangers at Ibrox, win the Scottish Cup and go through the rest of the season unbeaten, and create momentum. Neil Lennon did it after Judas Rodgers left. After the Scottish Cup defeat we went to Pittodrie and got a 1—1 draw. As meaningless fixture as this one you wouldn’t have expected a largely unchanged team. A team that excels in spurning chances and concedes regularly from corners and free kicks. Losing half their goals from most teams in the league that way and before this game, conceding four out of five goals to Rangers in the same manner.

Today was no exception. Where you watching Eddie Howe? For some reason despite Kennedy’s abysmal record, both as a defensive coach and as first-team coach where he’s now being talked up as the next Director of Football. I’m not sure what that entails. But it sounds like flinging good money after bad and creating jobs for the boys, in much the same way as Boris Johnson has done for the English Parliament. It’s getting to the fuck-off point, where we don’t really care, but, of course, we do. That’s the whole point of a pointless match.

I’ll start with the keeper. Scott Bain was OK today. He made one save you’d expect him to make. He’d little chance from Roofe’s opening goal, but when we use terms like should have done better for Morelos’s goal, it’s just another way of saying he should have saved it. Alan McGregor would have. Bain is a bang-average keeper and at best should be used as back-up. Letting Craig Gordon go was one of our many mistakes made this season. Barkas should have played against Aberdeen and today and should also play in the remaining two—even more meaningless—fixtures. Perhaps we’ll have a new manager by then. The most important games next year are the Champions League qualifiers. £30 million the pot could lift us out of below mediocrity.

I’m not a fan of the former Kilmarnock player Greg Taylor. Everything I said about Bain applies equally to Taylor. We should have kept Johnny Hayes. Taylor was OKish today, but that’s never enough.

Jonjoe Kenny is one I’ll be delighted to see going back to his parent club, Everton. Sometimes loan deals don’t work out. This one hasn’t worked out for some time. Yet, Kenny has nailed down the right-back spot despite making more backward passes than a table-tennis player. He was at it again today in the first goal we lost. The obvious signing here was Aaron Hickey, the former Heart’s player, whose Cup Final cameo last year, and in the game before that at Parkhead, should have our Director of Football making an offer.

Stephen Welsh, phew. I’m not sure he’s any better than Tony Ralston.  We want him to do well. A neat enough passer of the ball. Pretty good in the air for his size, but not good enough. Beaten on the edge of the six-yard box when he went head to head with Goldson at a corner when it was just 2—1. The same Goldson that scored a double at Parkhead early in the year. Welsh didn’t fare much better with Roofe. Defoe turned him inside out to score the fourth goal. I don’t think Welsh will do, but then again, I never got my head around the McManus and Caldwell pairing, but at least they could defend when it mattered.

Kristoffer Ajer was given the captain’s armband when he went off. I’m sure Ajer, in his own head, will imagine he had a great game. He helped set up the first goal to make it 1—1 after half an hour by leaping at the back post and heading the ball towards goal, for Edouard to score. He’d a few runs from the half way line that wiped out the Rangers’ midfield and backline and create chances for himself and others. But he failed the Bobo Balde test. When the balls coming towards you, you eat the ball and the man, and bounce back for more. My da used to call such players fanny dancers. I think he meant fan dancers. But I’m sure if he were alive he’d have Ajer in mind. His best position, ironically, has been right back, where he doesn’t need to defend like a man. Ajer will go to a big club, and fail to keep a first-team spot. Little does he know his best years are past.

Scott Brown, good old Broonie, isn’t near as old as Davis or Defoe. His 44th game against Rangers, he’s won most. A loser today. Morelos turned him too easily for the second goal. Brown wasn’t bad. He wasn’t good. He was Broonie. It was pointless to play him, because he’s already pledged his allegiance to another team, and we came away pointless.  

Callum McGregor. I’m a fan of McGregor, he got booked for taking out Kent, after the winger nutmegged him. Then he clattered Kamara. The ref played on, and yet another cross into the box was met by the chest of Roofe for the opening goal to the Ibrox team. Three goals in six minutes and we lost two of them. And we were a man down. I’m old enough to remember when ten men won the league and Murdo’s strike soared into the net, and we all jumped in the Jungle, raising the roof. That was never going to happen here.

James Forrest has become a better player since he’s been injured he’s the stuff of myth-making. What we can say with certainty is he gives 15 to 20 goals a season, and creates double that number. Here, given a decent chance, just before half-time. He fluffed his lines for the equaliser, played in by twinkle toes Ajer. He’ll still be here next season. We’ll need his goals and assists.

David Turnbull has been our chink of light this season. Scores goals and creates chances and he’s young. The type of player to build a team around. He got booked for kicking an ex-Celt at Pittodrie last week. I liked that wee bit of nastiness. It showed he cared. Today, he was largely anonymous. Had a great chance with a header, set up by Forrest, on the 56th minute to equalise but put it wide.

Moi Elyounoussi won’t be here next year. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. He’s scored some amazing goals and is our second-top scorer this season. The strike in Lille springs to mind. Alan McGregor’s fingertip save, putting the ball onto the bar, stopped him claiming the opening goal. I’d give him pass marks today. One of the few.

Odsonne Edouard scored the equaliser. Let the line and looked like doing it for us. But then it just fizzled out and was taken off for Mikey Johnston (which baffled me). The Frenchman is a great player, but not a great Celtic player. As a striker he’s scored 22 goals, some of them penalties. He should have grabbed at least a double in the last Old Firm fixtures. I don’t think he’ll make it to the top, quite simply, he doesn’t score enough goals. Great strikers hit 50 a season for Celtic. Mediocre strikes like Scott McDonald hit at least 30. Edouard has had a poor season. He’ll be missed, but if it was a chance he’d probably take too long and hit it past the post.

Ryan Christie would have started today, as he did at Pittodrie, if Forrest had failed a fitness test. Christie used to play in behind the striker and get us goals. His decampment to the wing shows him falling down the pecking order. He’s on the bench for a reason. I like Christie, and would like to keep him, but he’s off for nothing. His best matches this season have been for Scotland.

Ismaili Soro came on for Brown after sixty minutes. Newspaper reports linked him with a move to Tottenham. Yeh? Twenty million and he’s yours. I’ll need to wait and see how good he can be. He’d a few half- decent games before Christmas. And he should have started today. Gave the ball away for the third Rangers’ goal, which pushed the tie out of reach.

Mikey Johnston is better than Edouard. He got the last 15 minutes to show it. I missed Mikey, he gives you something unpredictable when teams defend deep against Celtic, as all Scottish teams do. He’s shown promise. Next season is the time to deliver for us all.