Euro 2020 (in 2021).

Yesterday, Spain v Croatia. Spain dominate, give away an own goal (to be fair it was a corker). Spain equalise before half time. Go 3-1 ahead with ten minutes to go. Croatia bring it back to 3—3. It goes to extra time. Spain win 5—3. One of the games of the tournament.

I figured the next game would be boring and France would easily brush aside Switzerland as they usually do. France find themselves ahead 3—1, without playing particularly well. Switzerland score with the last kick of the ball in ninety-odd minutes to take it to extra time. Switzerland win on penalties. Kylian Mbappé one of the most coveted players in the world misses his penalty. His net worth as a transfer fee could probably cover the cost of all the Swiss players combined.   One of the games of the tournament.

I thought the England v Germany game was on at 8pm. I missed the first half hour. Lucky me. I watched the second half. If you don’t know by now Sterling and Kane scored to take England through. Pivotal moment. Sterling scores then with a dreadful passback sets up the Bayern Munich forward Thomas Müller  who has a one of one with the Pickford, the England keeper. He misses. Dreadful football. Worst game of the tournament (which I’ve watched).

Ironically, Sweden v Ukraine plays for a place against England in the quarter finals. England must be massive favourites to beat any of these two teams. That would put England in the semi-final. Can they win it? Phew, certainly hope not. I fancy Spain, whose beautiful football is a throwback to Barcelona. They’re not as good, of course, but most teams aren’t. A tournament where the underdog come good (apart from Scotland, obviously, who were out of their depth). Anyone but England.

Out of Blue, BBC iPlayer, written by Carol Morley and Martin Amis and directed by Carol Morley.

Schrödinger’s cat, observational effect and superposition, the multiverse, and our place in the universe to the power of…Einstein’s God doesn’t throw dice. Enough quantum physics to fill half a teaspoon. This is the backdrop for a routine murder mystery, with unsolved serial killer cases and socialites Detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) is called in to investigate as a possible homicide Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer). Hoolihan has issues and is a reformed alcoholic, but she’s grown old dis-gracefully. She’s the best in the business and has a preternatural talent for linking disparate clues. Almost a one-hundred percent success rate.

Ticking in the film noirish background there are the cases that got away. A serial killer that was never caught and grown silent over the years. It’s personal, Hoolihan’s childish memories trigger clues she picks up in the case, and, vice-versa. In particular a Brenda Lee I’ll Be Seeing You soundtrack that sends her off into past and present.  In the foreground, Col Tom Rockwell’s (James Caan) a Vietnam War hero and well-respected family in New Orleans whose astrophysicist daughter’s case she’s investigating.

A closed-box mystery of the Agatha Christie variety.  Jennifer Rockwell, with a gunshot to her brain, had been found dead in observatory in which she worked. The door locked. Prof Ian Strammi (Toby Jones) is the main suspect. Being Toby Jones, we know it couldn’t have been that killed her on this or any planet.

The case is solved not by plodding, but great intuitive leaps of faith by the troubled Hoolihan. Cynical colleagues such as Tony Silvero (Aaron Tveit) can only look on in wonder. This is a pleasant enough way to spend an hour-and-a-half of your allotted time, if you’ve nothing better to do. Turn your brain off and enjoy, as I did.   

Scotland 1—3 Croatia

One word—Modric. After the highs of Wembley, the lows of Hampden Park. Scotland sweated the loss of youngster Billy Gilmour. He does have a Champions League winner’s medal, but he was an unused substitute for Chelsea. Ballon d’Or winner, Luka Modric, aged 35, has four almost on the bounce with Real Madrid. He was back to his best, and scored a sublime second goal with the outside of his boot to put the Croatians ahead at the start of the second half. From a corner, he put the ball on Ivan Perisic’s head. The former Barcelona player easily outjumped Tierney to effectively finish the game, and the contest, after 77 minutes. If it was a boxing match, the Argentinian ref would have stopped it. But we toiled on until he blew his whistle.

Croatia had almost eighty-percent of the ball in the first-half. But the opening goal from Nikola Vlasic after 17 minutes was your basic, made in Scotland, effort. A ball to the back post, knockdown and we’re one down.  Briefly, we were back in it. Just before half-time, Callum McGregor did a Modric. He’s on the edge of the box and the ball falls to him. He guides it past the Croatian keeper and into the far corner.

More than we deserved, but we took it and believed the second-half could be so, so different. It was—they scored more goals. But it was also the same. They kept the ball better and made us look amateurish. Three games played, Scotland have scored one goal (which to be honest, I didn’t see coming) and conceded five. We’ve been sent homeward to think again. No shame in getting beaten by the better team, but it still hurts. Next time—we’ll win it.

An Impossible Love, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, writers Catherine Corsini, Laurette Polmanss, Christine Angot, and Director Catherine Corsini.

A French film, with English subtitles. Set on the cusp of the swinging sixties, it begins as a coming-of-age drama. We are told in voice-over by Chantal (Estelle Lescure and the older Chantal played by Jehnny Beth) how her mother, beautiful, young Rachel (Virginie Efira) meets Philippe (Niels Schneider) at a local dance. He’s down from Paris to sub-rural hicksville and works as a translator on the American army base. Rachel’s friend teases Phillipe and asks him to translate a phrase into Spanish, into Italian, and even Chinese. Phillipe obliges her, but it’s Rachel he’s after.

She’s an office worker and admits the boss hates her and demoted her after he tried to have an affair with her. Philippe waits for her to finish every night. They make love, or have sex, whenever and wherever they can. Rachel is in love. Philippe doesn’t believe in love. He gets her to read Nietzsche. Dazzles her with notions of the Übermensch, Beyond Man, the philosophy adopted by Nazis apologists. Philippe tells her he doesn’t believe in marriage and will never marry. He’s above such notions. And Rachel, with her lower-class Jewish origins, should be above such things too. As a parting gift, Rachel lets him cum inside her, rather than on her stomach as they agreed.

Inevitably, Rachel gets pregnant and gives birth to a girl, Chantal (our narrator whose story this nominally is). Chantal is registered as a bastard, with father unknown on the birth certificate. Rachel begins a crusade to get Philippe to legally acknowledge Chantal as his daughter. Perhaps even be something of a father to her?

Years pass. Rachel ages and Chantal grows from being a baby to a young girl. Philippe, like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray looks and sounds much the same. He agrees to be named as father but then changes his mind. They make love or have sex, again and again. It suits him, and he tries to convince her that’s what they agreed to. He’ll never marry.  And she’ll going on working in the same old office and living with her mother, waiting for him, hoping to rekindle that great passion in her life.

The lies we tell ourselves are the most difficult to unravel. Her life is on hold, waiting. The older Chantal narrates in voice over the changes that come in their relationship and hers with her father. Blink and you’ll miss it, when Chantal tells the viewer when it started. A smooth transition. Intention and desire unpicked in the movement towards the denouement. Elegantly done.

England 0—0 Scotland.

Scotland fans celebrated this 0—0 draw like Rangers’ fans invading George Square and mistaking it for the centre of Manchester, where they went on the rampage a few years ago. I got into the spirit by being late into the Albion, drowning my sorrows before I was sorry, and having to play catch-up by downing a pint in a oner (well kinda). It’s thirsty work hating the English. Before the game, we thought Steve Clarke had got the team selection wrong. No Rangers players, the Scottish Champions in a Scottish team. O’Donnell, who I admit has a suspiciously Irish Catholic tang to it, was playing (not that one), the diddy that plays for Motherwell, but played for Clarke at Kilmarnock.  My argument was O’Donnell was good at taking shys. It’s not much, but Steve Clarke’s cunning plan was to revert to type and turn Scotland into Kilmarnock. Go long and defend in numbers. It worked great.

Lyndon Dykes won every high ball. In the first few minutes, he and Che Adams was making the English backline nervous by being in their faces. We were on top. Inexplicably, we had the kind of defending that has marked Celtic’s season. At a corner John Stones was left a free header—it bounced off the post.

European Cup winner Mason Mount also slashed across goal after being played in by Raheem Sterling. The ball being given to the European Cup loser by Scott McTominay, who temporarily forgot he was a Scot. He flapped a bit after that mistake, but then upped his game to Kilmarnock levels.

That was about it for England. Harry Kane didn’t feature before getting subbed late on. Phil Foden, touted, and rightly so, as one of the most exciting talents in world football, was outshone by the likes Billy Gilmour (even though he’s an ex-Hun—I’m sure glad he’s at Chelsea and not Rangers).

Even the diddy O’Donnell had us lapping up his performance. He almost scored from a Kieran Tierney cross in the first half. The England keeper Pickford got a block, but the ball went up in the air and it looked as if Che Adams might header it in—but he didn’t.

England dominated the early period of the second-half, and this was the way many of us believed the game would pan out. But Scotland held firm and didn’t look to concede and slowly, like Manchester City in the European final, they began to run out of routes to goal. Dykes shot at goal had us all on our feet (that’s the kind of lie short-sighted people use who can’t see their feet) when he beat the England keeper. But somehow Chelsea defender James got a heel onto the ball and kept it from going over the line. Bastard.

Scotland didn’t exactly pile forward, but we grew more comfortable, and dangerous when getting forward. Adams had a chance to hit the stand or goal, and being an Englishman in a Scottish jersey, he opted for the former. (He did have a good game, although Dykes, with lesser ability was more effective.) No one is the Scottish shirt let us down. Our fans celebrated at the end. And we tried to work out how (a) to get home and what pub was still open (b) how we can just mix out on the qualifying rounds by losing a late goal, or getting a draw when we needed victory. The kind of glorious victory in defeat Scotland as excelled at over the years. It’s been a long time since we went down to Wembley and ripped up the turf and ate it, just to show how tough we were. C’mon Scotland—but don’t expect too much.    

Scotland 0—2 Czech Republic.

Marshall Plan.

The Czech manager branded us long-ball merchants. And he’d a fair point, at least we weren’t playing Israel again. It seemed to be working quite well in the early exchanges. We were in and about their penalty box, without creating much.  Andy Robertson had a chance to put us one up. Missed it. In the second half, Lyndon Dykes had a chance to score (ahem).   

I’ve a long history of watching Scotland lose. The first World Cup I watched was in 1974. We beat Brazil, didn’t lose a game and were technically World Champions. Holland with Cruyff and Neeskins were the boys to watch. Germany sneaked it, as they often do. But I never thought I’d hear myself say I loved the Orangemen.

The Dutch were the best team in the next World Cup too. Argentina won it, but Archie Gemmill had us all out of our seats, with dreams of qualification for the next round.

We were 3-1 up against the Dutch, for fuck sake and all we needed to do was score another. We lost another goal. We were on the march with Ally’s army. Enough said.

Celtic is in my blood. I’m not really that bothered about Scotland, but like to see them beating England. Gone are the days when Celtic players couldn’t get a place in the Scottish starting eleven. I looked for players that represent the other side of Glasgow, Patterson should be playing. But O’Donnell’s was selected instead. My namesake is good enough for Kilmarnock and Motherwell, not for Scotland. Christie has had a terrible season. He was anonymous here, apart from one Laurel and Hardy moment when Christie and O’Donnell knocked into each other, but at least it was in the opposition box. Griffiths, who was in the crowd today, (I also spotted John McGinn’s mum, Anne, nee Gibbon, holding her grandchild, who married a wee guy that looked like Archie Gemmil, so you can see where John gets his footballing genes). Griffiths nearly done it himself with two superb free kicks the last time we played them at Hampden. But then we didn’t pick up Harry Kane. That’s the kind of mistake Scotland are good at. Lyndon Dykes isn’t a goal scorer, but I’m not sure what he is. Despite being long-ball merchants the difference between the teams was simple. They had Patrik Shick we had Landon Dykes.

Schick scored in the 42nd minute and 52nd minute. His first goal was something I’m familiar with as a Celtic supporter. A cross coming into the box. Two of Scotland’s centre halves jumped with Schick, but there was only going to be one winner. We were one down before half time.

We were two down at the beginning of the second half. Jack Hendry shot at goal, but his shot was blocked and cannoned to Schick, he chipped the keeper from around the centre circle. It was a thing of beauty. Whether Marshall should have been playing, or have been so far out of his box, is a moot point. Great goal.

Scotland took off O’Donnell and immediately looked much better. I can assure you I’ve not got an O’Donnell bias. Hopefully, Tierney will be back against the English. Beat them. Beat Croatia and we’ve qualified. Steve Clarke needs to take a long hard look at his team selection. Archie Gemmill must play against the English. If he can do it against Cruyff and Co, Harry Cane and the Chelsea boys should be no bother.  C’mon the Scotland.

Time, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, written by Jimmy McGovern and directed by Lewis Arnold.

Writer Jimmy McGovern guarantees quality, his production company is a must have drama factory for BBC, and his series gets the full marketing treatment and premium billing on Sunday-night telly. Our viewing habits have, of course, changed. I watched the first episode of Time last Sunday and during the week watched the other two episodes on iPlayer. That’s the new norm. Unless it’s Line of Duty, (none of which I’ve watched) expecting upwards of ten million viewers to tune in on a Sunday night is economic and entertainment madness. As consumers we want to watch when we have time. Or so the theory goes.

The Howard League for Prison Reform tells us there are currently 78 037 people in prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales. David Leslie in Banged Up (published in 2014) tells us there are 120 prisons in England. Scotland has the highest number of people in prison or probation in the UK, and the highest in Europe. Statistics from the Council of Europe, a human rights organisation, show Scotland’s “correctional rate” is 548 people per 100,000 – behind only Russia and Lithuania. The correctional rate for England and Wales was 459, while the Europe-wide median was 318. That’s all the boring stuff nobody much reads. Jimmy McGovern knows this, people want stories they can relate to, and that’s what he’s selling us.

I’m sure I passed an ex-lifer walking down Duntocher Road on Thursday, who had been serving a sentence for two murders. He drunk in my pub, and he’ll be out on license. I talked to another guy whose son is in prison for murder. His date for release was put back because he got involved in a gym brawl. Then there is the ongoing case of a twenty-six-year-old Dalmuir lad, who was said to have been put in a bath of what was described as ‘a corrosive substance’, and later died. The number of murderers on license has doubled in the past five years. The Probation Service was privatised and renationalised because it was in such a colossal failure that couldn’t be ignored even by Tory scum.  But here’s the rub, our prisons are in a permanent state of siege and overcrowding. Yet crime levels are generally falling.  I live in a very quiet bit of Dalmuir with other old folk, nothing much happens, and that’s the way I like it. I don’t want drama.

Jimmy McGovern’s day job (most writers’ task) is not just making something happen, but to make things worse. So here we have the new fish, Mark Cobden (Sean Bean) sent to prison. He’s killed somebody, after drink driving. Is he mad, bad, or sad?

Well, he’s remorseful, but not really bad, after all he’s a middle-class schoolteacher and most prisoner are working class and come from deprived backgrounds (or ex-school teacher, McGovern had Sean Bean dress up at night as a woman and recite The Lady of Shallot [] to his pupils in a previous production, which is a poetry crime in extremis, so they have previous).

The twin strand of the storyline has prison officer Eric McNally (Stephen Graham) on the wing that Mark Cobden is imprisoned. ‘You were hard but fair,’ a former inmate tells him when he’s picking up drugs. But that’s to jump ahead.

Then you have the mad, Bernard (Aneurin Barnard). ‘Top bunk or bottom?’ Mark Cobden asks when he’s introduced to his new cellmate. Bernard’s body is covered in scars. He cuts himself, self-harms and is dragged away to the hospital wing regularly. He’s sick in the head. Prison officer McNally tells his mum, he’s sorry about what happened, but they were doing the best they could. The truth was most of the folk in prison were sick in the head. She doesn’t care. She only cares about her son.

In the preface to David Leslie’s Banged Up, he explains prisoner’s crimes range from the farcical to the terrible, but prisoners have one thing in common. Time. How to beat the boredom of being locked up 23 out of 24 hours, how to do time. Boredom is a killer. Drugs and bootleg booze a welcome relief. Cobden finds himself being stuck in his cell a bit of relief (like many others), because he’s been bullied by Johno (James Nelson Joyce). He steals his grub. Jumps in front of him in the queue for phones. And threatens to set his feet on fire with turpentine. He’s already flung a kettle of boiling water and added sugar so it sticks to a fellow prisoner he calls a grass. Cobden hides in his cell as a coping strategy.

The local Glaswegian kingpin on the block tells him that ‘his life will be hell’ until he hits back. Prison officer McNally’s life is already hell. His son is in a Young Offender’s and he’s told he’ll be assaulted unless McNally brings in stuff to the prison. McNally arranges with his governor for his son to be ghosted to another institution. But he’s sent a reminder that didn’t work. McNally isn’t trying to protect himself, but his son, and family. Hard choices.

Jimmy McGovern knows how to save face. Stevie (Dean Fagan) for example is Cobden’s new cell mate. And as part of retributive justice is allowed to tell his story to the victim’s parents. A lad he stabbed in a brawl. McGovern allows us to look at it in two ways. Stevie admits he was skint and took a drink from the man he murder’s pint, but he didn’t have enough money to buy him another. He’s in the sad category, but to save face he challenged him to fight. Took a hammering and stabbed him. It makes the convoluted sense that anyone living in a working-class district well understands.

Prisoners worst enemies are themselves is the message McGovern pitches again and again. And he’s right. But it’s not a vote winner. Locking so many people up, especially women makes no sense either economically (McGovern gets in the cost by admitting for every prisoner inside there’s an administrator’s wage being paid, and of course, added profit for private companies added as we ape the American model) or morally. Next to wrapping yourself in the flag, floggings and beating of prisoner is a sure way to get yourself elected and stay elected. The Honourable Margaret Thatcher, for example, favoured hanging and corporal punishment. Johnson favours whatever makes him sound less like the dim-witted pantomime horse he really is. Back to the drama. Yeh, worth watching. McGovern, as we expect, hits all the right beats in the right way and asks question of what we mean by atonement, and if such a thing as justice is possible outside The Book of Job?   

Donald S Murray (2021) In a Veil of Mist.

I had a quick read through Donald S Murray’s novel In a Veil of Mist. The Veil of Mist he refers to was inspired by something that happened. A marketing tool, the hook of this is inspired by true events (or factual as we like to call it). My favourite storytellers aren’t fictional writers but factual writers. You can slip a fag paper between the truth and lie.  

The story is set in 1952, the Ben Lomond operated and staffed by British sailors and scientists were testing biological weapons of mass destruction off the Isle of Lewis, Operation Cauldron. They failed to notice a fishing boat, Carella, in the waters nearby and sprayed the vessel with bubonic plague. Oops. It was hushed up, of course. The consequences could have been like the myth of a virus escaping from a lab in Wuhan.

The structure is in three acts: Beum (beat), Fonn (melody) and Sèist (chorus). And it follows the lives of island residents Jessie and Duncan, but begins with an insider account of what the scientists are doing provided by lab technician John who works on the Ben Lomond.

John was a believer in the myth that if we didn’t do it to them, they’d do it us, scenario, in which Soviet Russia and Communist China were stockpiling biological weapons. Britain was in competition and it was one we had to win.

It was the nature of the work that was getting to them all: the shifting of boxes filled with guinea pigs and monkeys from the ‘clean’ to dirty’ rooms; hauling cages to the pontoon that was fixed a short distance away from the sea below Cellar Head on the island…The guinea pigs chirruping fighting off the grip of gloved hands…The monkey agitated and angry, as if they were people complaining about their lot…The monkeys bit them in other ways their presence down below forcing men to ask questions of themselves, like why in the hell were they tormenting these poor creatures with gases and sprays.     

John’s faith in his work has taken a hit, but he’s still clinging on to his job. His head is filled with images of his wife, Lillian. He’s sure she’s cheating on him, but the man’s features are always blurred and he doesn’t know who it is. Lillian hates what John does. She wants him to stop and come home to her.  

Jessie first notices something wrong. She is what was referred to as a spinster of the parish, and is in her fifties and a beachcomber. She is used to locals drowning unwanted kittens, cats and dogs, but these washed-up creatures she doesn’t recognise. She wraps one of the poor creatures up in a hanky and takes it away. She shows it to local bus driver, Duncan.

When they come back to the beach there’s a clean-up operation going on. Men in masks and protective white suits. Some of the locals are a bit iffy about their discovery. Saying it didn’t happen, or they’d been mistaken.

The second act puts flesh on the bone. Duncan is ex-army, demobbed. He was stationed in Gibraltar, and driving a bus on Lewis suits him. He’s trying to work out what to do with his life and still stays with his mother, even though he’s in his thirties. The trauma of war bears down on him, but also the thought of a future, and bringing a wife to live with his mum, at home is something he keeps putting off. But he’s got his eye on a local girl, Ina. She’s got an eye on him too. Will he won’t s/he, takes us into act three.

Jessie faces a similar dilemma. She’s been faithful to her first love, George, who was that bit older than her, more Duncan’s age, when he went away. Most of the young men on the island did. It was the only way to make a life, to make a living. But he’d promised her, when he’d worked hard and put by the money he’d made in Canada, he’d send for her. Jessie heard different stories of how George had married a local woman, been injured, or killed. But she stayed true to him. But then another local man that is widowed, Neil, writes from Vancouver and tells her he’s coming home. Asks if they can meet. We know where this is going.

The denouement brings Duncan and Ina, Jessie and Neil, and John and Lillian to a crescendo. Much as expected. Nothing to write home about.