Twosies and Threesies.

 I said to Archie, ‘But you could get put up against a wall and shot’.

My wee brother was standing huddled beside us in the close, out of the wind and rain, but his teeth chittering. Ma had told me to take him out from under her feet. But Danny knew better than to hang about with us big boys.  

Archie was a ginger nut, his red hair matching his cheeks. Not for him the tea-caddy on the high shelf, when the family silver—sixpences and shillings—was needed most. Money for emergencies was as foreign to him as the Parish’s fustian jackets and trousers and newish tackety boots the rest of us wore before the war. He’d even gone barefoot, with his knock-kneed brothers and sisters, in the slush and snow when he was wee. His da drunk the money his mother never had and beat her for good measure. He was big and broad shouldered and she sloped away to nothing but a whimper with matted hair in a bun, the colour of Archie’s.

A glaikit smile crept across Archie’s ruddy, wind-reddened cheeks. ‘We might make a few bob.’

Half-pennies and pennies weren’t our only currency. We collected bottles and jam jars from bins. Rich pickings if we went further afield and into city centre, but there were always other gangs of boys waiting to pounce on unfamiliar faces straying into their turf.

I paid two Jeely Jars at the doors of the La Scala for seeing stars. Archie sneaked in. Ready to wrestle lions and tigers, like Tarzan. Johnny Weissmuller’s name, Archie pointed out sounded suspicious. German enough for loose lips to sink ships. We were jumping on the back of the flea-ridden seats, giving him a roasting and them a dusting, rooting for the crocs to catch the former Olympic champion in the glowing rivers of the big screen.

Archie was ever practical, rolling drunks and emptying their pockets. I’d only ever heard him squeal once. I think it was in surprise. A broad-shouldered man in a muffler catching him a clip to the nose, when Archie thought he’d been lying on the street long enough to be sparked out. But crocodiles do that. Play dead.  The drunkie had booted him up and down the broken pavement and cobbled street until he got tired, and weaved away, going towards the Saltmarket and God knows where. But Archie had already curled into a ball. He’d plenty of practice with his own da. Nothing could hurt him.

Not for him chalk dust on a slate, the rounded copperplate of Abbotsford school, or working hard to get an apprenticeship in the yards or Dixon Blazes the blast furnace that lit up the sky like the Clydebank Blitz, but not just at night. Twenty-foot high gates were there to keep Irish Catholics out, even if you were born in Glasgow. Everybody knew that. Archie, whose family were poorer than most, best of us all.  It schooled us with a primitive sense of justice.

Archie’s sunken chin edged up a fraction. ‘You in or no?’


‘I’m in,’ Danny shrilled.

I hit him a whack on the side of the head.

He clutched his face and started bubbling. ‘I’m tellin’ Ma.’

‘No you’re no,’ I told him. ‘And you’re too wee to go, anyway.’

He peeked at me through his fingers and tried to squeeze out some more tears. I slapped him a glancing blow on the back of the neck, where his collar was up, but not enough to hurt.

‘Leave him alane,’ Archie growled.

‘Whit’s it got to dae with you?’

Fists clenched and my chest was stuck out, leaning in, with my green eyes squinting at him. He was the same and game. I was a head bigger than Archie, but we’d never fought. We’d shared more than the blackened sandstone of a single-end, broken floor boards, burst pipes and broken communal lavvies on the stairs when shite and pish splattered the stairs and washed the smell of carbolic away, and we had to clean our feet with bits of newspapers going out and in. The only rule that made it workable: keep your head down and don’t stick your neb in other people’s business. Archie had broken it and he had to pay. We both knew that.

But he hung back in a way he wouldn’t normally. I’d broken the rule too. A  Friday night. Da flush with wages and flush with work. Ma thought it would last forever. She sent me out for chips. It was snowing in drifts and so cold even the rats left the ground unmarked and bided in their holes. There wasn’t a soul about when I returned with the package of fish and chips, wrapped in headlines and clutched close to my chest. Then I heard quick steps muffled by the snow. I whirled around. He’d smelt the chips and vinegar. And the next minute he was pressing against me shaking, clutching onto my hand to get warm. I could tell he was starving. I peeled open the fish and chips, careful to keep Ma and Da’s portion separate. Handed him a bag of chips. He used it to warm his hands, held it up to warm his cheeks. I had to help him unwrap it. I hadn’t the heart to take a chip for myself, but had to feed him like a little bird, holding them out one by one and watching him swallow, until he’d enough strength to stand more freely. We never spoke about that. That was another rule.

I swung a punch, but he moved and it caught him on the top of the shoulder. I took a step back because he was as good with his forehead as he was with his hands and gave no quarter. But Danny booted him in the shins.

‘Little bastard,’ he muttered, and took a step sideways, clipping him a blow on his sticky out ears. He started laughing.

‘That hurt,’ cried Danny with a thin, plaintive cry.

I told him, ‘You’ll hurt mair, if you don’t dae whit your telt from noo on’.

‘It’s no fair,’ Danny said.

Archie searched his pockets for the remnants of a dout darkened by shreds of tobacco he’d picked from ashtrays, and when he was stuck, from the streets. The makings held together with Rizla paper. He’d been smoking since he’d been knee-high, and had no fear it would stunt his growth. He struck a match against the close wall and sucked on the burning fag end, expanding his pigeon chest, and holding his breath, like a sleeping man at a feast scared to open his eyes.   

 ‘Twosies,’ I uttered the magic words.

The pungent smell falling between us. He held the fag with wistful care between finger and thumb, warming the inside of his cupped hand. Taking another, last drag, he passed me the fag.

‘You in or whit?’

I had to nip it hard between two fingers, and felt the burn on my lips as I sucked in the last of the dout, before flicking it away.

I licked my lips. ‘Suppose so.’    

 James Robertson (2021) News of the Dead

The cover of James Robertson’s latest novel, News of the Dead, has a blurb from Ali Smith: ‘A marvellous novelist’. I spend much of my time looking at marketing techniques, when I should be reading, or even writing. Get a big hitter, preferably Scottish, like Ali Smith to say something nice about your writing and copy and paste it to all of your other books. It doesn’t need to be a novelist or writer. Billy Connolly’s good press (Jane Godley Handstands in the Dark). A gold-leaf endorsement of Scottishness and quality. I don’t know Billy Connolly or Ali Smith. I have met James Robertson on the page before. I looked for a review of his debut novel I might have written, but couldn’t find it. His novel, The Testament of Gideon Mack was stupendous. All the fine granular details have fell out of my brain like sand in a broken sandglass.

News of the Dead offers that old trick of bringing things back to life. There’s a ghost that only a young boy, Lachie, aged eight, can see.  

‘Lachie Darroch came to see me, for the first time in a while. It was autumn, the leaves were turning and falling fast, and most afternoons it was cold enough to light the stove before it got dark.’

‘…What’s a ghost?’ he asked.

…He had this story and he knew he could tell it to me and I would not laugh. Or tell anybody else.

‘…A girl. She had a white dress on. Well kind of grey. It was quite dirty, I think.’

I’ve used that trick too, in one of my longer stories, Lily Poole. There’s a holy man. Saint Conach— the story setting, Glen Conach. I’d written something about that too, but hadn’t finished it. Stories are brought to life by believers, so that’s OK, I’m not sure I believed in it enough. No church recognised Conach as a Saint, but a follower left a Latin chapbook, which showed that like all men, he had failings and was a sinner.

Marj, the old buddy, Lachie visits, has an inkling who the ghost was, or indeed is. Ghosts an echo of the past—I was here—but also for some reason a marker of the present.

The Journal of Charles Kirkliston Gibb, a penniless antiquarian, which begins Sunday, 2nd July 1809 takes us back to the beginning of the nineteenth century and before that to the Jacobites and  Highland Clearances. His transcription of a Latin manuscript of Saint Conach and his miracles takes us back to the time of the Picts. A thread of time runs from the Middle Ages to coming to the Glen of the Corona Virus. A backwater that reflects back what Scotland was and is in a whimsical and realistic manner.  

A good book asks questions of you. News of the Dead leaves you thinking this could happen, or this happened. The circularity of time provides answers. Often, not as we expect, but perhaps recognise. Read on.

Celtic 2—1 Aberdeen.

Two games a week now until the Rangers game at New Year. It isn’t too early to say—must win. After the disappointment of our defeat in Germany, much the same team. Nir Bitton, who I never rated, made me change my mind, with his last few performances, which bordered on man-of-the match. But with Jota in the team, that’s not going to happen, and he was at it again today.

James McCarthy needs to do the same, simply, to do better. The first few minutes, a terrible ball across the park from Welsh put the defence under pressure. McCarthy foul, gives away a free kick. Joe Hart lay injured for several minutes (four minutes added time at the end of the first half) from Christian Ramirez’s shoulder-barge.

Jota has been the most dangerous player in the last few games and scored many of our goals. Most chances coming from his wing. He scored again, the opener after nineteen minutes.

 Liel Abadda has had a decent start in a Celtic jersey. Now he’s under real pressure from James Forrest. He offered little in attack and was replaced by him after sixty minutes.

Abadda can count himself unlucky to give away the penalty. A foul on Bates, but with little or no contact. Lewis Ferguson equalised and after thirty-seven minutes. And Aberdeen came into the game more before half-time. Joe Hart having to make a decent save.

But Turnbull created the best chance just before the break. He swung in a deep cross to the back post. Stephen Welsh got a head to it, but squaffed it. Behind him was Kyogo, with a much better chance of scoring.

Former Celtic player, Dylan McGeouch was taken off at the start of the second-half. Scott Brown leaving later in the match, to a standing ovation. But in many ways, it’s our former left-back and sometimes winger, Johnny Hayes we can thank for our victory.

Ramirez had stood tall to a blockbuster shot from McGregor, knocking the Aberdeen player over and preventing an almost certain goal. Jota and Josip Juranovic came close as the second half began to mirror the first.

Twenty-four minutes into the second-half and Celtic take the lead. Abada, just before he was substituted, had a shot in the box blocked. The ball spun into the air. Hayes went to clear his lines. He hit the ball off McGregor and it ricocheted into the net.

Unlike the first-half, Celtic kept control of possession and the game. Ralston had a fine effort saved by Lewis. Jota got in behind the defence and hit the post. But with the game petering out, every corner and free-kick offers Aberdeen (and most other teams) the best chance to score.

 Juranovic’s audacious penalty might not have counted for much on Thursday in the Europa League, but his positioning and header off the line on ninety minutes won us three points here. You could just imagine Lewis Fergusson’s celebration if he’d netted a double for Aberdeen and the boys in blue.

Six-added minutes of injury time. Ange Postocoglou takes off Kyogo with a minute of it remaining and brings on Ajeti, which seems about right. The Japanese forward does the hard running for much of the team. In retrospect, we always come up with the right answer, but perhaps in midweek… Callum McGregor’s goal puts us back within four points of Stevie G’s bankrupt old team, whom after winning two games on the trot, claim to be back to where they were before—

Our next game, midweek, Thursday, Hearts. That’s all the matters. Hopefully, Rogic and/or Bitton will be back. I’m certainly not worried about Carl Starfelt. Christopher Julien has become a bit like the Loch Ness Monster, there has been a sighting of his head above the water, or so I’ve heard.  

Bayer Leverkusen 3—2 Celtic

With one game remaining in the group, Celtic play in the European C league after Christmas. No other Europa team has lost as many goals as Celtic. For ten minutes, near the end, we dared to dream—we’d come from a goal down to lead.

 Celtic started well, without creating anything. Bayer Leverkusen looked the more dangerous of the two teams. Frimpong, in particular, looked dangerous. He cut open the Celtic defence with an early one-two, but with no takers. Leverkusen’s first corner and Celtic were flapping. Ralston loses his man. The home team unlucky not to score. Sixteen minutes in,  Leverkusen’s second corner and Celtic’s old failing at cross balls returned with a bang. Robert Andrich started his run outside the eighteen-yard line. Ralston again loses him and he scores from outside the six-yard box.

Kyogo had slim pickings, a few half-chances. VAR got Celtic a penalty after a ball in from Jota showed the Leverkusen keeper, Hradecky, had wiped out Kyogo. We all know Giorgos Giakoumakis missed our last penalty, which cost us points at home to Livingston. Josip Juranovic was back on penalty duty. Here he was ice-cool, panenka, chipping the ball down the centre of the goal, it hitting the underside of the bar, before going in.   

Celtic rode their luck, just before half-time it really should have been 2—1 to the home side.  Moussa Diaby hit the bar with a wonder strike. Amine Adli, the eighteen-year-old wonder-boy of German football, hits the post with the rebound.

Celtic, again, look like losing a goal from the first corner of the second-half.

Joe Hart keeps Celtic in the game with a marvellous double-save. An unmarked Moussa Diaby shuttles in between Ralston and Carter-Vickers. Hart spreads himself and saves his shot at the near post.  The ball bounces up.  Adli is left with a tap-in, but Hart scrambles to his feet, and gets his hands on the ball to deny him. The sort of save that can win games, or so we hoped.  

But Hart goes one better, he helps set up Celtic’s second goal. His quick kick out finds James Forrest. His first-time flick finds Turnbull. He plays into the space in front of Nir Bitton. The Israeli has been a revelation in the last few matches, but his forward pass to Kyogo is intercepted by Jeremy Frimpong.  The former Celtic player slips. Kyogo stabs the ball towards Jota. The Portuguese winger hits the ball first-time in off the post. With half-an-hour to go, Celtic are in dream land.

Reality quickly sets in.  Juranovic plays the ball along the Celtic eighteen-yard line. Florian Wirtz has a clear shot at goal, but he fluffs it.

But Celtic still have a bit of sting. Forrest, who had a decent game, tried to play in Kyogo. Finnish keeper Hradecky races out of his goal to play sweeper-keeper.

Hart makes another save before Leverkusen equalise. Adli in, but the Celtic keeper blocks. Both teams made a raft of substations. Celtic once again take off their front line. Bitton also goes off injured. James McCarthy replaces him to no great effect.

  Robert Andrich gets in Ralston’s face after he scores his second goal of the night on the 82nd minute and the equaliser. A sickner. Florian Wirtz floats one a ball over the Celtic defence. Amiri knocks it back from the touchline. Andrich from the penalty-spot scores.

Counting the minutes after the equaliser. Still, theoretically, a chance of the last-32 in the Europa.

Five minutes later that chance looks slim to non-existent. Diaby fires in and scores from the edge of the penalty-box.

Six-minutes-added time. Leverkusen running down the clock. I’m a great fan of the dog’s chance. We even have the pantomime of Joe Hart coming up for a corner.  Ralston somehow gets to the line and whips a cross in. David Turnbull gets across his marker with a minute remaining, but Hradecky makes a decent save at the front post. Game over. Celtic have never won in Germany. They almost did tonight. We’d even have settled for a draw, but same old, same old, defensive fragilities.  The league is our priority and the £40 million jackpot of an automatic Champions League spot. Dream on. Aberdeen on Sunday—another must win.    

Heather Morris (2021) three SISTERS.

I’m a reader. When I open a book magic happens. Or in Heather Morris’s case magic doesn’t happen. When God said to Moses, you cannot look—directly—at me, but when I pass you might see my glory. When I read a book if I don’t see God’s face, I’m not too disappointed. After all, even international and bestselling authors are only human. I’ll wait for the glory to pass.  And I don’t go very many places. The best writers transport you.

Where are we?

The three sisters, Cibi, Magda and Livi, sit in a tight circle in the small backyard of their home. The oleander bush their mother has tried so hard to coax back to life droops disconsolately in the corner of the small garden.

Livi the youngest, at three years old, leaps to her feet: sitting still is not in her nature.

‘Livi, please, will you sit down?’ Cibi tells her. At seven years old, she is the eldest of the siblings, and it is her responsibility to chastise them when they misbehave. ‘You know, Father wants to talk to us.’

‘No,’ three year-old Livi pronounces and proceeds to skip around the seated figures, giving a pat on the head as she passes, Magda, the middle sister, and five years old…

This is the prologue to three SISTERS. The reader knows who they are. They’ve been named. And the reader has been told twice Livi is three-years-old.

I ask again. Where are we? What are we?

‘Just keep walking. Livi. Stay in Line,’ Cibi murmurs to her sister.

Once they are through the gates, the girls are led down a tree-lined street, the first flush of sapling leaves waving in the cool breeze. Heat emanates from the harsh overhead lighting and Cibi is ironically reminded of a warm summer evening. They pass a grey concrete building, meeting the blank stares of young men and women who gaze back at them, expressionless, from the window.’

The first paragraph of the book has a tag attached, so the reader doesn’t confuse it with somewhere else, somewhere interesting: Vranov and Topl’ou, Slovakia.

The second tag tells the reader, what year it is, because it could be anytime, but it is June 1929.    

The second paragraph transcribed, Chapter 7, Auschwitz, April 1942.

The narrator is Cibi, as she takes a stroll through the gates of Auschwitz, the gates of hell. She tries for irony, but finds only repetition, ‘blank stares,’ and ‘expressionless’ faces.

I do not see God passing. Nor do I see fallen humanity. Take out all the tags and I guess we could be in California, sunning ourselves on the beach, before nipping off to the local supermarket, which happens to be in a rundown part of town.

Heather Morris, international bestselling author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Her other works include Cilia’s Journey, which I’m glad to say is a journey I’ve made in abbreviated form, and Sources of Hope, which I have read in fuller form, is a writer who bumps along on the page dragging cliches behind her. But she must have something. I’m not quite sure what. I’ll not be reading any of her work again. You might think differently. Feel differently. Read on.  

Ophelia, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Writers Lisa Klein and Semi Chellas, Director Claire McCarthy

Ophelia, based on a book by Lisa Klein, who is also a screenwriter here (my guess that gave her leverage to adapt her novel for cinema/television) tells the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from a woman’s perspective, in much the same way Tom Stoppard put centre stage other peripheral figures in the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

I’m not read Lisa Klein’s novel. And I’m not a great fan of Shakespeare’s plays, or theatre in general, which for some people marks me out as a bit of a thicko. And they may well be right. But I’ve speed read the play. I also watched Franco Zefferelli’s version of Hamlet, filmed largely in Scotland. Mad Max, Mel Gibson in the titular role of the Prince of Denmark. Glen Close playing his glamourous mother, with a hint of incest. Alan Bates played the murdering uncle and brother of the king, Claudius. Homer Simpson played my favourite version of Hamlet. Blue-haired Marge as Queen of Denmark.

 If Ophelia was in verse such as iambic pentameter then it would have been curtain after five minutes. It starts rather with a more conventional trope, in medias res. Orphelia (Daisy Ridley) drowns herself, as she does in Hamlet. Time spools backwards to her childhood. A bit of a tomboy, she’s taken under the Queen’s wing (Naomi Watts) and made one of the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting.

She grows into a swan. So far, so conventional. She catches Hamlet’s eye (George MacKay) and they fall in love.

A secondary plot involves the Queen consulting with a witch to keep her beauty and aging at bay. The witch Mechtild (Naomi Watts with straggly hair) is also beautiful. Her backstory involves teenage pregnancy with Claudius (Clive Owen) who let her rot and burn rather than admit his own involvement and parenthood.

She might be in league with the devil with her potions, but she’s not in the league of Morgan Le Fey of Arthurian legend. Morgana Le Fey (Helen Mirren) in Excalibur. Merlin, Lancelot and King Arthur should have just given up and taken the knee in homage to such earthy beauty, as Claudius forces Hamlet, in the name of chivalric honour to bow to the new King of Denmark or commit treason.

I’m probably giving too much away, but if you’ve read Shakespeare or watched The Simpsons, you know Claudius gets his comeuppance. Ophelia? That’s for you to find out.  

My Name is Why (2019) Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay writes his memoir from a position of power. On the back cover, he lists some of his awards: BAFTA nominated, honorary doctorates, an MBE for services to literature, Chancellor of the University of Manchester. The last line is the killer. ‘He is British and Ethiopian.’

In other words, he’s a black man. He was the illegitimate son of twenty-one-year-old Yemarshet Sissy, a student at a Baptist Bible College in England, and he was born in Wigan. He was taken into care when he was seven weeks old, and placed with foster parents, Mr and Mrs Greenwood. His mother had to return to Ethiopia to care for her dying father. Her attempts to contact Social Services and bring her son home were rebuffed.

Classified as one of ‘the shit countries’, by the moron’s moron and former US President Donald Trump The Conservative Government’s current attempts to redraft what it means to be a British citizen, a stepwise projection in creating a hostile environment, with, ironically, Asian heritage, Priti Patel as cheerleader, which resulted in the Windrush Scandal. In another, less successful life, Lemn Sissay would have deported to Ethiopia as an illegal immigrant. His mother, if she was still alive, would fifty-two years after his birth, finally have had her wish, her son being sent home to the Amhara people. Lemn in the Amharic dialect, the author tells the reader, means ‘Why?’

There’s lots of whys that need answered in this short book. A hero’s journey doesn’t usually begin when they are seven-months old. Mrs Greenwood sung to him, ‘you are my sunshine, my only sunshine’. And it was to this paradise he always wanted to return.  

The Greenwoods were childless and Baptist Christians. They were doing the right thing.  Lemn was given a new identity, Norman and he was their sunshine. But then they had three other children. Christopher born when Lemn was one-year old.  Lemn was no longer their sunshine, his radiance was short-lived.

Child cruelty, or abuse, takes many forms. January 1980. Lemn was around twelve-and-a-half, and his foster parents—the only patients he knew—contacted Wigan Social Services and demanded he be removed from their home. Their cruelties compounded by making Lemn say he didn’t love them, and he wanted to leave.  He’d entered the system.

 ‘At fourteen I tattooed the initials of what I thought was my name into my hand. The tattoo is still there but it wasn’t my name. It’s a reminder that I’ve been somewhere I should never have been. I was not who I thought I was.

The Authority knew it but I didn’t. The Authority had been writing reports about me from the day I was born. My first footsteps were followed by the click clack clack of a typewriter: ‘The boy is walking.’ My first words were recorded, click clack clack: ‘The boy has learned to talk.’ Fingers were poised above a typewriter waiting for whatever happened next: ‘The boy is adapting.’ ’

His memoir is leavened by extracts from Wigan Social Service Reports. Grim reading. But try living it. Woodfield Children’s Home. Gregory Avenue. And the daddy of them all, Wood End. Wood End was notorious among  those in the know, children in care. It was the end of the road, where the bad boys went. It was where Lemn was sent at fifteen when his placement at Gregory Avenue had broken down. Like others he’d committed no criminal offence to morally or legally justify his incarceration. A Dickensian prison run by sadists and child abusers. Many of the residents would graduate to the larger prison system and a life thwarted by drugs and drink.

Miracles do happen. Lemn Sissay escaped from a total institution and flourished. An exception to the rule does not create the rule. Local Authority Care in Crisis, now where have I read that before?

Vice, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Director Adam McKay.

Described as comedy-drama, a biographical film about former US vice-president Dick Cheney. Christian Bale won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the most powerful vice-president in modern history. There is a contemporary joke that nobody is ever called Dick, but that’s about it.

There is nothing funny about Vice. At a push, I could probably name most of the President since the first wold war since it mostly involves saying Roosevelt over and over.

Vice President can become Presidents. General Eisenhower and Harry Truman spring to mind. And if you take a circular route, Republican, Vice President Richard Nixon finally got his feet under the desk at the Oval Office. Most were in agreement Vice was no more than a token job. A bit like being the President’s wife. Good for photoshoots and opening fetes.

Kamala Harris’s power, in contrast, lies her ability to cast a tie-breaking vote in a split Senate. But really, she’s waiting for Joe Biden to die so she can step into a real job.

Robert A. Caro shows how Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) spiralled into depression when his attempts to control the Senate were rebuffed and his attempt to manipulate the new American President, and darling of the media, John F. Kennedy were swatted aside with a smile. The man that had once controlled Congress and Senate reduced to a comic figure that was left out of briefings in the new Camelot.

Vice follows the path of an American boy made good. Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) telling him after a couple of drink driving convictions and barroom fights he was on the road to nowhere. He better ship up or ship out. He did both, while staying out of Vietnam and the armed forces on deferments.

Like LBJ, Cheney had a talent for politics. In one scene, he asks another intern what party  guest-speaker Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) belongs to. When told he’s a Republican, he says he’s a Republican too.

When working for Rumsfeld as an intern he asks him Cheney what he believes in. Here’s the joke part of the film. Rumsfeld slaps him on the back and laughs so long and hard, the viewer knows it’s a joke. The purpose of power is power.

Realpolitik. Rumsfeld points to a closed door. He tells Cheney behind it is Nixon and Defense Secretary Henry Kissinger are having an unofficial meeting. When the meeting was finished tens of thousands of Vietnamese would die. Subtext. They are plotting mass murderer.

Drawing a line in the sand, Cheney gave his support to gay marriages since one of his two daughters, Mary (Alison Pill) came out as gay.  

There were other shifting lines in the sand. He was a hawkish Secretary of Defense (1989–1993) following the precepts of the Eisenhower Doctrine—any (oil rich) Middle Eastern country could request American economic assistance or aid from U.S. military forces if it was being threatened by armed aggression. 1st August 1990, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein sent Iraqi forces into neighbouring oil-rich Kuwait.

President George W Bush (senior) unleashed coalition (mainly US) forces in Desert Storm under the command of General Norman Schwarzkopf. February 24. Within 100 hours, Iraqi forces had been expelled from Kuwait in the ground war. With aerial dominance, they were sitting ducks.

[Not in the film, but worth quoting Cheney’s perceptive response to the invasion of Baghdad, in the first Gulf War: how many American dead is Saddam worth?]

 ‘Because if we’d gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it – eastern Iraq – the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq. The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families – it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.’

Vice Presidency (2001–2009).

We all know about what’s now called 9/11.

But if you asked me who the Vice President was at the time, I couldn’t have answered. The tone of the film is set early. George W. Bush (junior) (Sam Rockwell) is in the air metaphorically and literally when the planes hit The Twin Towers. Dick Cheney takes charge of the 9/11 fallout.  

But Dick Cheney had always been—more of less—in charge. The coup that LBJ had attempted had failed, but Cheney was the real power in American politics. The dithering George W Bush President, but the Vice President pulling the strings. Ironically, the power grab going in the other direction. The American President grabbing more executive power as the Twin Towers fell. Extra-ordinary rendition. Repealing the Geneva Convension. Spying on American citizens.

The invasion of Afghanistan was payback for 9/11.

Payback for his old bosses at Halliburton Corporation by adding billions of dollars to shareholder value. The invasion of Iraq’s oil-rich fields with evidence from a list drawn up before Saddam Hussein was found to have mass weapons of destruction—he didn’t have and links to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida hidden network in the paperwork with the weapons of mass destruction.  

Cheney, a hawk abroad, and conservative at home. No surprise with his fortune coming from a fossil fuel, Times 500 Company, he helped in the pushback for the ideas of global warming. He helped reframe the debate, through think-tanks sponsored by Times 500 companies as simply climate change, which sound much more palatable and less threatening. The kind of idea picked up the moron’s moron.

Cheney endorsed Trump in the 2016 Presidential election, but didn’t shut his eyes to how he got elected. Russian interference, or what he moron’s moron would call Russian help from their cyber networks, Cheney classified as ‘an act of war’. But he’d also have to have declared war on that American institution Facebook that cashed the cyber cheques made in Russia and created the images of hate that polluted politics (from a very low base which Cheney’s think-tanks helped fuel) and still does.

The film ends with the viewer finding out the narrator of the film is the man that provided Cheney with a new heart after his failed. I guess they should have saved it and given it to someone more deserving. But money talks loudest. Worth a look, but don’t expect to giggle.  


Portrait of a Lady on Fire, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Director Celine Sciamma.

French with English subtitles.

Writer and Director Celine Sciamma creates a beautiful vision.  I struggle to speak English, and growl at anybody that suggests I’m not working class. Yet the channels I watch most are BBC 4 and BBC 2. Academics in the late 1960s tried to cobble together a theory that showed an erosion of working-class values with a more affluent class of car workers in Luton. Embourgeoisement, aye, maybe, I like BBC 4 a tad too much. Just don’t call me a fucking Tory or think I’d voted for Brexit or that Etonian monstrosity, Boris Johnson.

The good thing about French cinema is they value the arts. We may have lost all our translators to the market (we don’t want to pay you the minimum, but if we can get away with paying less—we will) but on the evidence of this film, they have not.

Simple plot and complex characters gives a satisfying complexity.

In late 18th-century, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) remembers with the help of a painting in flashback— Portrait of a Lady on Fire—when she was commissioned by The Countess (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) on a remote Brittany island.

Marianne must resort to subterfuge to finish her work and get paid by the Countess, who can make or break her. Héloïse, is an innocent sprung from a convent after her sister jumped off a cliff, but she’s aware enough to know that a painting of her is a commercial transaction, and her image will be appraised by a prospective suitor in Milan. She refused to pose for a previous male artist. Marianne pretends to be her companion, who accompanies her on walks.

Art for art sake. Love for fuck sake.

The Trial of Louise Woodward, ITV Thursday 11th November 9pm, ITV Hub

Matthew Eappen would be around twenty-five now, had he lived. Nineteen-year-old nanny, Louise Woodward was accused and found guilty of shaking the eight-month-old baby in her care so hard it caused subdural hematoma and killed him.

Her trial, soon after the death of Princess Diana in 1987, was a media event—I don’t remember it, but watching footage Woodward’s pasty face was familiar from old newspaper stories.

Key players in the trial, such as the defence team, were interviewed. Many of the same high-profile names that had appeared during the O. J. Simpson murder case. Legal costs paid for by au pair companies that imported labour into New York’s prosperous boroughs. A service-sector also on trial, with the fear of further litigation from ‘shaken-baby syndrome’ a threat to their business model.

As were the middle-class parents of Eappen.  They were both doctors. Trials had been filmed, but until this case streamed only to a local audience. The court-room commentator offered insight into how their closed world was viewed through a lense. Woodward, for example, she suggested was a nervous smiler. That might give the jurors, and those at home, the wrong impression. And she didn’t cry. That was a no-no. But crying at the wrong moment, or inappropriately, could also set jurors against you.

The mother of Matthew, being blonde and pretty, helped their case. But she also didn’t cry enough. And those stay-at-home moms with less than the twin incomes of two doctors were less sympathetic to her need to work, and might have wondered why she wasn’t a stay-at-home mother to their two young children.  

The case itself was a closed-room, but not a mystery of the Agatha Christie variety. Louise Woodward the only suspect. She either shook the baby to death, causing internal bleeding behind the eyes, or she didn’t.  Her defence team took the controversial decision to go for all or nothing. They would not, for example, go for a plea of manslaughter with all its legal complexities and moral nuisances.  Woodward, if found guilty of murder, could expect a minimal of ten or twenty years on prison. Or if the sixteen jurors, whittled down to twelve to the dismay of the defence team, found her not guilty, she’d walk out of the courtroom, there and then.

The case rested on medical science. The prosecution had a text book open-and-shut case. Straight-backed white, medical men declaiming what happened. A pattern they recognised and could show, visually, using props.

The lead defence attorney asked an expert for the prosecution case to ‘imagine’ a different scenario than one he was trying to present. The expert refused, only to be rebuked the judge.

This is where the trail of Louise Woodward fails the viewer. We wouldn’t expect the parents of Matthew Eappen to take part in the re-construction of events, or even Louise Woodward, but we might expect the trail judge to take part and explain how he came to his extraordinary verdict (but twenty-fire years later, perhaps he’s dead).

Certainly, the prosecution team and its experts had little doubt of Woodward’s guilt of ‘shaken-baby syndrome’.

In contrast, her family, and supporters at her small Cheshire English village, portrayed her as a martyr falsely prosecuted for reasons they couldn’t quite fathom. Experts can’t be experts when they contradict a firm belief has become for many a way of life with a contemporary resonance from the election of the moron’s moron to global warming narratives.

The defence case rested on medical expertise, but with a different paradigm. Woodward had been in charge of the children. And she may have shaken Matthew, to help revive him after he had slipped into unconsciousness, but from bleeding to the brain that had happened before—when exactly, wasn’t important—therefore she had responded in a reasonable manner. The black swan argument.  All swans are white, but there might be a black one. And our experts will show you pictures.

Twenty-five years later, a defence expert recanted and agreed such a scenario might have been possible. Another expert sneered. Louise Woodward to him remained a murderer, who had—largely—got away with it.

Certainly, if she didn’t have such an overpriced defence team, it would be difficult to believe that she wouldn’t still be in jail. Portrayed as an English rose, who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, worked for her in the media (it would have been interesting to compare and contrast the treatment of black or Latino nannies for similar crimes). The world has moved on and Matthew Eappen remains dead. Whodunnit?  You’re the expert.