Celtic 1—0 Dundee United.

High winds in Dingwall. And memories of twenty-four years ago: Wim Jansen (1946-2022).  Just win. That’s all we asked of Celtic before the Old Firm game on Wednesday. The performance and lots of goals didn’t really matter. Just win. And for ninety minutes it looked just out of reach. Then Josip Juranovic down the right wing, Jota into the box and Liel Abada scores. Late goals count double.

 The spine or our team remains largely the same from the midweek (and let’s remember, well-deserved) victory against Hearts. Our talisman Jota drops to the bench, but comes on at half-time for Forest. Ralston and Scales come in as attacking full backs, but both were replaced in the second half. Taylor and Juranovic coming back into the team. Let’s face it, everyone in the current team is an attacking player, including Joe Hart who creeps forward beyond his box at every opportunity, but had little to do.

Early in the game, United broke from their defensive set-up with pace. I guess Rangers will try and do the same. And United had the first big chance on six minutes, with Sporle bending a shot past Joe Hart’s right-hand post. A minute later a big chance. O’Riley played a ball in behind the United defence. Giakoumakis, from eight-yards out, waited too long for the ball to come down, and a defender came in to take the ball away. Great chance, not taken. That was the story of his afternoon, before he was taken off. Abada played a ball into the front post towards the end of the first half, which Giakoumakis and a United defender got on the end of and it spun agonisingly past the post. He scuffed a shot from the edge of the box, well past the post. And in almost eighty minutes contrived to miss a sitter from six yards from a cut-back from Jota. Let’s hope his form picks up for Wednesday’s meeting. He was replaced by teenage winger Ben Doak, with Abada coming central.

 Liel Abada, who looked Celtic’s most likely player to score, was unlucky with an effort on thirty-one minutes. Ralston had let the ball get away from him on the edge of the United box. His two footed challenge took the ball and took out a defender. Ralston’s touch looks poor, and he seems to have regressed. But Abada slinked pass the defender and got his shot away. But Siegrist made himself big and the ball came off his hip and went out for yet another corner.

The best chance of the first-half came to the best player on the park in 40 minutes. A cut back from Forest to the penalty spot. O’Riley caught the ball, but bent it past the post. Celtic looked like scoring, but not from the fourteen or fifteen corners, or from free kicks. O’Riley, late on, for example, hitting the bottom of the defensive wall.  Our best chance from a dead-ball coming when Siegrist dropped the ball in front of Carter-Vickers from an in-swinging corner.

 At the start of the second-half O’Riley could count himself unlucky not to score from a ball swung in from deep in the half by Jota. Siegrist making a finger-tip save and pushing it past the post. It had the look of being one of those long afternoons when regret becomes anger.

Bitton, the Celtic captain, was booked in the first half. He stuck a foot out to bring down Tony Watt and break up a quick United attack with Joe Hart out of his goal. And he was sent off, with ten minutes of the ninety remaining, and misses the Rangers game. Taylor seemed to have been fouled on the edge of the Celtic box several times, but the referee played on. Bitton brought the United attacker down. The Israeli can count himself unlucky.

But it was the other Israeli that got on the end of the cross and shook the stadium when he calmly brought it down and stuck it away. He too got booked for taking his Celtic top off and celebrating with the fans. He capped a fine afternoon’s work. O’Riley was our most dangerous midfielder. But Abada was our most dangerous attacker. Jota coming on also made the difference. But sometimes, all you need is a rub of the green. We got it today.   

The Rise and Fall of the Krays, STV, ITV Hub.


‘Rise’—‘Fear and Fame’—‘Fall. The first episode charts how the Kray twins with a propensity for violence rose from a humble working-class background in the East End of London. We’re on familiar territory here. The wife-beating father, who kicked their mum in the stomach, and caused her to miscarry. But no mention of their older brother, Charlie. Her hairdresser told viewers, she never had the little girl that she craved. Pictures of the twins Reggie and Ronnie shows two cute and dark-eyed babies. Ron caught tuberculosis, a killer then, but Violet brought him from the hospital, and tucked him in beside Reg and he recovered. They were inseparable. In the boxing ring Reg had a bit more guile, and was under-17’s champion of England. Both their grandparents were boxers. Ron was more of a berserker. But they never stopped battling each other and the world. When Ron was sent down to Wandsworth and then sent sideways to a psychiatric unit, what he didn’t know—because  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest hadn’t been written or made into a film yet—was that time stopped. Prison time only started again when he was deemed medically cured of his psychosis.  He never was, but as long as he kept taking the tablets, the voices inside his head wouldn’t always manifest themselves in violence.

Reg did a swap with Ron in the visiting room. Ron pulling on Reg’s overcoat and swanning out. They couldn’t hold Reg, and Ron had escaped. He couldn’t have been that mad after all.

The Krays ran their nascent empire from a snooker hall. They taxed local crooks, in much the same way crooked cops taxed the same crooks and sellers of porn and brothels. Career criminals paid their cut or they got cut. In much the same way, the entertainment industry was targeted. No trouble if the owners paid tax and fealty to the Krays. Muscling in on businesses and taking them over.

The 1960’s director of a film starring Barbara Windsor laughed as he told viewers how a couple of cars appeared and asked about having permission to film on their turf. He said he’d squared it with the police. But he had to employ two of the Kray’s henchmen. He told how a barman who’d charged him for a drink was taken from behind the bar and severely beaten by the Kray twins because the film crew were ostensibly their guests.

The Queen’s Counsel who represented the Krays and Barbara Windsor’s husband told how she was verbally abused when it got into the press that ‘the little sparrow’ of the East End, Bab’s husband was a gangster. But it added kudos to the film. More generally, it added grit to the hedonistic mix of new money and power. Their criminal empire began to shift beyond the East End with the acquisition of a casino and nightclub in the West End of London were the richest socialites and money-class lived and worked. It was in the former Ron hooked up with the upper-class homosexual and Tory peer Lord Boothby. The Kray’s mum, Violet, stayed in the same house they were born in, but the twins brought her hero Judy Garland to have a cup of tea and she crooned ‘Over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz.  Nothing could stop them, and more importantly for the media, they dressed well and had that criminal swagger.   

Hearts 1—2 Celtic.

Thirteen shots on goal in the first-half. Hearts had one shot and that was in the first minute. This was a game Celtic looked like strolling, yet with six minutes of extra time we looked to hang on. Liam Boyce scored from an offside position in the 62nd minute to fling Hearts a lifeline they didn’t deserve. Before he was played in Carl Starfelt, who again was bullied and had another shocker, clearly pushed Simms. Neither of our centre halfs won balls in the air, but Carter-Vickers was better than his partner.

The Keystone cop element of Celtic’s defending came to the fore in the 71st minute. Carter-Vickers tried to shield the ball on the touchline but gave away a corner. The roar from the Tynecastle crowd told you all you needed to know. Penalty, 72nd minute. Both Bitton and O’Reily had handled. Liam Boyce hit the inside of the post. A massive let up, especially since Rangers had scored at Ibrox.    

James McCarthy replaced O’Riley who went down with cramp. Giakoumakis spots Gordon off his line then tries to beat him from just inside the Hearts’ half. But an easy save for the Gorgie keeper.

Soro who came on for Hatte went off script with a minute of added time remaining and flung a cross into the Hearts’ box, which was easily picked up by Gordon, allowing the home team to finish with a flourish that died.

  A new look Celtic starting line-up dazzled in the first half and gave us victory. Bitton comes back from injury to fill in for our captain McGregor and takes the captain’s arm band. Reo Hatte, who has played one game for us, joins him in central midfield. His last game was a man of the match performance. And here he opened the scoring after 27 minutes with an explosive goal, picking the ball up from the centre-circle and driving forward, hitting the ball from around thirty yards. He strolled most of the game but tired late on.  

Big plus that Jota’s back, here he had shots on goal on 12th and 13th minutes.  Easy enough saves, but early on, he looked our most dangerous play. Even better was his tracking back.

Forrest also gets a start, and he too had a few half chances in the first half.

The key, again, is out number 9. We can go Japanese, but here we went Greek. Giakoumakis really had to shine, which he did. I’d give him man of the match for his goal and constant battling qualities. Every game is must win. The beauty here is any centre-forward we play seems to keep scoring as he did on the 35th minute, giving us that 2—0 lead and a cushion that our play deserved.  

O’Riley makes his debut. He’s six-feet two with good feet and helped boss the midfield. And showed what he can do setting up the second goal, with a forward pass into the Greek forward’s feet at the front post. A touch of class from Giakoumakis with a back-hell flick taking it in past Craig Gordon. This was a game we made hard for ourselves, deserved to win, but somehow looked to have snatched a draw.  Great win. Move on to Dundee United. Another must win.  

Jose Antonio Vargas (2018) Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.

I’m not American, nor undocumented. I’m not a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. I’m a British citizen, born in Scotland who voted for independence in the recent referendum. I’d qualify for an Irish passport on my father’s side and probably my mother’s too. Neither of them was born in Ireland. A product of the great diaspora, when the population of Ireland halved from around 12 million citizens, and then almost halved again. President John F. Kennedy’s grandparents made it to the land of the free: America. He wrote a book about it, A Nation of Immigrants, which did not touch on the bootlegging, gunrunning and sharp business practices his father used to get rich. The moron’s moron, President Trump’s grandfather emigrated from Germany. His mother, I’m sad to admit, was born in the Scottish islands.  

 A generation ago, there was a mass shortage of housing in Britain (sound familiar?) private-let landlords had signs: No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs. Scotland is a nation of dog lovers. And not many blacks lived here, and that’s not changed much. So it was a straightforward, No Irish, but that needed qualification. The Northern Irish Protestant varieties were warmly welcomed. It was the Catholic variety of Irish nationality that were called unpatriotic and a threat to the Protestant religion. Jose Antonio Vargas reiterates a maxim: We were over here because they were over there.

Terra nullius, Ireland was an empty land, apart from the indigenous tribes. Long periods of invasion across the Irish Sea, from Oliver Cromwell onwards, religious bigotry were combined with acts of genocide, the first country to feel the might of the British Empire before it had an Empire. The six counties of Brexit British Ireland are the last vestiges of colonialism in which Irish Catholics were moved from the land in much the same way they deposed American Indians and sent them to the unliveable rocky outlets. The grievances against King George III inherent in The American Declaration of Independence were much the same as those fighting for Irish independence. A country and its people should be able to define and defend its borders, but Irish insurrections were quickly put down, whereas in America, the common people won. Where people came from mattered less than the cause for which they were fighting. The Statue of Liberty enshrined this notion with the mantra: Give me your poor huddled masses. Varga notes the first documented case of a minor arriving unaccompanied was a little girl fleeing the famine, and arriving on Staten Island.

Vargas’s Dear America is a polemic written for the world’s migrant population.  He tells us the statistics, 258 million in 2018 and counting. He’s one of them. Which is another way of saying he’s one of us.

He tells us on the flyleaf how this came about.

‘My name is Jose Antonio Vargas. I was born in the Philippines. When I was twelve, my mother sent me to the United States to live with her parents. While applying for a driver’s permit, I found out my papers were fake. More than two decades I am still here illegally, with no clear path to American citizenship. To some people, I am the ‘most famous illegal’ in in America. In my mind, I am only one of an estimated 11 million human beings whose uncertain fate is under threat in a country I call my home.’ 

In Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 pilots in the 256th US Army Air Squadron, such as Captain John Yossarian fear their commanding officers are out to get them more than they fear the Germans they are ostensibly fighting. But he had to admit the devilish beauty of Catch-22. He’d be crazy to fly more bombing missions, but if you applied for an exemption not to fly that proved you weren’t crazy enough.   

Jose Antonio Vargas, aged 37, who has lived in America for 25 years as an undocumented immigrant falls into the category of those illegals that should be banished for at least three years if they’ve lived in the country without proper documentation for six months. If they’ve lived successfully in America longer than six months, for a year or more, the banishment lasts ten years. Vargas needs to return to the Philippines and apply for American citizenship in ten years, which will not be granted because he’s already being living here as an illegal, which is illegal. But he notes the American government still expects undocumented workers to pay federal taxes and there’s an official form ITIN which brings in billions of dollars every year. Ranging from $2.2 million in Montana to an estimated $3.1 billion in California.

Kurt Vonnegut, Wompters, Foma and Grandfalloons touches on this generalisation overstretch which applies to poor people in general and immigrants in particular. Rich men control the master narrative of The Little More Theory of Life:  

‘It goes against the American storytelling grain to have someone in a situation he can’t get out of, but I think this is very usual in life. And it strikes me as gruesome and comical that in our culture that we have an expectation that a man can always solve his problems. There is an implication that if you just have a little more energy, a little more fight, the problem can always be solved.’

Conservative Home Secretary, Priti Patel, whose parents Sushi and Anjana arrived from Uganda in the 1960s, admits that under the current system they wouldn’t be allowed into Britain, which is fair enough, but illegal immigrants shouldn’t be allowed into Britain because they haven’t went through the proper channels, but there is no other way of getting into Britain other than being, for example, a multimillionaire oligarch. The Windrush Scandal also showed the tip of the immigrant iceberg and what in America is called ‘expedited removal’. Deporting immigrants before they can come before a judge that will hear their case. Priti Patel’s attack on the judiciary has been well documented.

I was surprised that President Obama (‘Deporter in Chief’) outgunned Bush and all other American Presidents, or that Hilary Clinton—scion of children’s charities—didn’t include children of immigrants in her beneficence. She wanted to send them back so as not to create a legal precedent or, in other words, to create waves. This reminded me of the scandal sheets, both joking and serious, about Priti Patel’s apparent idea to employ wave machines to keep out immigrants like her parents. But they didn’t arrive in boats. They arrived by plane. Vargas notes that most illegal immigrants arrive in America the same way. Despite the hype and ‘build the wall’ right-wing propaganda, they continue to do so. And like him, they’re not Mexican, but Asian.  

To protect us from who? asks Vargas. He exposes the hypocrisy that the most rabid and right-wing Republican states rely more on immigrants to pick their crops and take care of their children and old folk and process their food than others that require more skilled workers. At the bottom of any food chain, real or metaphorical, the immigrant can be found—as we’ve also found with our NHS, with the alleged Boris’s Brexit bonus of £350 million a week going back to pay for services was just another piece of propaganda swallowed by the tabloids and sold for mass consumption.   

While at the top of the food chain, the winners, not surprisingly, are the already wealthy. The cost Vargas suggests is ‘astronomically absurd,’ and getting more so. He quotes from a 2014 article published in Politico (remember this is prior the moron’s moron, Trump)

‘the US government spends more money each year on border and immigration enforcement than the combined budget of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service and US Marshals…more than $100 billion since 9/11 going to private, for-profit companies.’

Dear America, I know you well, from films and televison. From Casey Jones to Champion the Wonder Horse. From Mork and Mindy to the Fonz, in Happy Days. From Shirley Temple to  Laura Ingalls to Farah Fawcett and Charlie’s Angels the only part of you that wasn’t white was the Wonder Horse. Dear America, you won World Wars. You were the richest nation on earth, but China has galloped alongside and is overtaking you. Your reaction to Make America Great Again is an old trick from the old country. Blame the other. Blame the immigrant. Blame the poor for being poor. Jose Antonio Vargas still lives in America. He didn’t keep his head down. He called you out and got away with it—for now.  

Alloa 1—2 Celtic.

The Celtic goals came in the first-half. We have a poor record on plastic pitches. Five changes from Monday night’s win against Hibs. Liam Scales comes in for Taylor. And Tony Ralston for Juranovic. He gave the ball away in the middle of the park in the first minute. And Mouhamed Niang could, and perhaps should, have scored, but his chipped shot went over the bar. A mix up between McGregor and Ralston again lets in the Alloa forwards. Julien was on the bench. This was probably a good game to give the French man a start. ‘Carl Starfelt has had a good game,’ said John Hartson. Commentator’s curse or wishful thinking? Sammon got in front of him and Stephen Welsh to bring Alloa back into the game and make it 2—1, and the nomadic former Kilmarnock player won most of his headers. Joe Hart had to make a good save from him ten minutes before half-time.  Starfelt clearly pushed Sammon in the back in eighty minutes as a sign of his frustration. Hart remains our number one, but Stephen Welsh replaces Carter-Vickers. Our soft-centre remains.

Further forward Georgios Giakoumakis gets his chance. With the first ball into box in 14 minutes, he opens the scoring with a superb finish into the top corner. A minute later he had a chance from inside the box, and with only the keeper, Hutton, to beat, he put it past the post. A header in the second half went straight into the keeper’s midriff.

 Maeda plays wide left and had three chances in the second-half: one a header and two chances from inside the box. He looked both sharp and blunt. He should have scored at least one goal.  

Liel Abada looked to have put the game out of reach for Alloa with a superb finish from outside the box, which he took on after a misplaced pass to Ralston came back to him. After a challenge with Niang, who made a number of fouls, Abada sat on the astroturf pitch and was taken off.

When Jota came on for an injured Israeli, the Portuguese winger briefly lit up the game, before it slowed and went back to fast walking pace at the edge the Alloa box. His trickery caused problems and he had a few pops at goal. Great to see him back. His goals took us up the table (five in five games). Whether we sign him at the end of the season is a moot point. Let next season take care of itself.

With Kyogo injured, the wealth we have in our forward line has become diluted, especially with our Japanese internationalists going to play for their country. Tom Rogic also disappearing for international matches. They’ll be missing big games against Hearts and Rangers.

McGregor gets injured with a head knock and possible cheek injury. McCarthy comes on. Guchi gets a start, and, as expected, looks tidy, but also got injured in the second half. Bitton, who has been excellent before Christmas, came on for him to help see the game out. We shouldn’t really be saying that against Alloa, but they had a chance, cut back from the edge of the box in the 92nd minute. A poor performance could have been disastrous. It was one of those games where Alloa can feel chuffed. They didn’t get hammered and Barry Ferguson can go with the plucky underdog tag. Celtic got the job done. We’re in the fifth round. That’s all that matters. Bring on the Rangers.  

Jennifer Worth (2009) Farewell to the East End.

You’ve probably not heard of Jennifer Worth. Certainly, I hadn’t, when my sister gave me this book. You probably heard of Call the Midwife. It’s one of the most popular programmes on telly and a massive hit for the commissioners at BBC. It’s got everything you need: nuns in funny wimples and nurses dressed in uniform (with nursing hats made out of doilies) no nonsense matrons and cute as pie, newly born babies, which provoke a collective aahhhh. Jennifer Worth is the author of Call the Midwife and Farewell to the East End.

Her stories are a nostalgic poke in the ribs and collective wink at what we were like then for the reader to gawp at with wry amusement. The clean-cut, middle-class nurses and nuns living and working from Nonnantus House  (Sisters of St Raymond of Nonnantus) and providing a free midwifery practice to the working class women living in slums and within bicycling distance of the East End of London. Poverty came with the turf of unlit and bombed out houses overflowing with little cockney men and women with too many children, but they still got on with it and liked a good old fashioned knees-up. If that sounds clichéd, you’d be right.

There’s a glow from the stories, but the writing is awful. I struggle with the rights and wrongs of Scottish dialect. The debate for example of whether to go with fucking, fucken, or fuckin (with or without an apostrophe) is a matter of choice but helps set the tone.

For example, Cynthia a midwife has went missing. The postulants, nuns and even the Cockney caretaker are worried about her.

‘the police all go around in pairs, while we nurses go out alone even in the middle of the night.

No man would attack a nurse—even if he did it would be the worse for him, because the other men would make him pay for it.’

Good old-fashioned cockney values.  Listen to the nun, Chummy. ‘What-ho you jolly swags,’ she called out cheerfully.

Megan’Mave were identical twins and kept a fruit and vegetable stall in Chrisp Street market. They didn’t trust the medical establishment which has a contemporary ring to it.

‘An’ look at her constitooshun! It’s her constitooshun, see! No proper nourishment when she was a baby—ooh, terrible it was, I tells yer. Dad—he drank, an’ Mum—no good she was, couldn’t stand up to ‘im.

‘Welliclose veins, She ‘ad wellicose veins, see? Right mess they made of ‘em. Stripped ‘em they did.

Magan’Mave speak the author’s approximation of phonetically. Chummy speaks like the talking clock. The distance in language immense.

Joe Lawrence in the brilliantly moving East End Butcher Boy is pulled out of his bed by his mum. It’s a Saturday morning in the East End, 1972.

‘I think I’ve got you a job, get yourself down to Roy the Butcher cos he’s looking for some help clearing up on Saturday.’

Roy greets him with

‘You’re fucking late, the kettle’s out the back, now go and make us all a cup of tea, here’s a quid, walk over to  the bakers and get us a dozen doughnuts.’

‘Dozen doughnuts, love?’ said the lady behind the counter of the bakers.

Both books are true stories based on recollection. Jennifer Worth wanders off and into her character creations such as Hilda confronting the seemingly respectable middle-class abortionist and demanding her twenty guineas back in a slapstick confrontation. The author couldn’t have been there. It is fiction awkwardly dressed in factional clothes.

Facts are added to the story to give context. ‘Driven to extremes by despair, women will go to unbelievable lengths in trying to make themselves miscarry.’

She ends with noting how we’ve progressed (compare and contrast Roe v Wade being repealed in America state by state).

The Criminal Abortion Act 1803 was repealed in 1967. Knowing that I had been a midwife I was sometimes asked if I approved or not. My reply was that I did not regard it as a moral issue, but a medical issue. A minority of women will always want an abortion. Therefore it must be done properly.

I’d guess Call the Midwife on telly is much the same as Call the Midwife in book form. A diversion if you fancy it. I kept my copy on the lid of the toilet. You should always have a book in the toilet in case of non-medical emergencies. But if you want a proper book about the East End read Joe Lawrence.  

Elizabeth Strout (2021) Oh William!

I’m not a great fan of Elizabeth Strout. Yet I’ve read most of the books in this series (My Name is Lucy Barton, Olive Kitteridge, Olive Again, and Anything is Possible).William Gerhardt who Lucy was married to for twenty years, and had two daughters with, before they separated and she married David ( the cellist, and love of her life, who died last year) would explain it in terms of compulsion.

William admitted he had affairs when he was married to Lucy. That was connected to his sense of wealth and entitlement. His affair with Pam Carlson, for example was more of an afterthought. Lucy was friendly with her, but didn’t know they had an affair until he admitted it on their road trip. But the affairs didn’t mean much. Pam didn’t mean much. But he’d loved Lucy.  He questioned the notion of free will as beyond banal.

Lucy, as a successful writer, questioned everything, including whether writing is a vocation (the answer was Yes, in My Name is Lucy Barton, even for the 99% that made no money from the albatross of their gift) the same as being a priest or nun, or whether you could really know yourself. William had been her ‘rock’ (clichéd, I know) when they were married. But now she wondered if she created that myth to sustain herself. The questions Lucy asks herself are the questions we ask ourselves (plural) and the engine of their road trip to find out more about William having a sister. What I mean by that is he found out about her indirectly from a present he didn’t want from a wife that had left him about tracing his ancestors.  

Stylistically, Lucy traces out an idea, and qualifies it by frequent, ‘what I mean by that’ as if she is having a conversation with the reader.

Unlike William, and the majority of her readers (who tend to be women and therefore more empathetic) she doesn’t come from money and tends to be insecure in ways many would recognise, and this spills over into panic attacks and depression (which are big business for the pharmaceutical industry).

There have been a few time—and I mean recently—when I feel the curtain of my childhood descend around me once again. A terrible enclosure, a quiet horror: This is the feeling and it was my entire childhood, and it came back to me with a whoosh the other day. To remember so quietly, yet so vividly, to have it re-presented to me in this way, the sense of doom I grew up with, knowing I could never leave the house (except to go to school, which meant the world to me, even though I had no friends there, but I was out of the house)…There was no escape.  

Authority as a writer, Lucy suggests comes from somewhere without and within. Somehow we’d recognise it. And she echoes other writers such as Robert M. Pirsig search for quality in the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  In a nudge to the reader of the absurdity of this she suggests William may have lost his sense of authority when he shaved off his moustache. Their two daughters had wondered—perhaps hoped— Lucy and William might somehow get back together again. But his mystique, with his moustache, is gone. Oh William! Is already sniffing around other women and it’s like old times with him asking her to vet them via Google.

They’ve been on a journey and they’re back to where they started. It’s not T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land, but the end-of-life secret of Elisabeth Strout/Lucy Barton isn’t what she thinks, but what she feels…What I mean by that…

Danny Weston (2021) A Hunter’s Moon.

Where there are sheep the wolves are never far away, Plautus.

Danny Weston weaves a spell that adolescent children—and those that think young—should follow under a Hunter’s Moon. A combination of coming-of-age drama, morality play and a supernatural thriller. It resonates with contemporary themes and Scottish folk lore.

Callum, aged fourteen, narrates. Kids will warm to him, because he is the feisty everyman-child. His father lost him in a card game to Fraser McCloud. And he’s been working for three months with little food and little prospect of paying off his father’s debts and getting home to his family.

Fraser, Cullum supposed, ‘was a bully for hire’. Rich Highland gentry paid him to make problems and people that have gone astray with their land rent, for example, go away.

When Colonel Chivers of Chivers’ Hall turns up and flatters Fraser offering him a job and cash up front to get rid of a wolf or dog that has been terrorising the locals it seems too good to be true.

‘In Callum’s scant experience, wealthy people were the ones who watched their expenses most carefully. It was how they got to be rich in the first place.’

 The Colonel made light of the task.  It’s a matter of public record that Sir Ewan Cameron shot the last Scottish wolf in Killiecrankie…20 years ago.

The beast seems to venture out of the Forest of Tay, and there are some in my locality who believe the place to be enchanted.

Fraser with Callum saddle their horses and go after their prey. Stories come back to them that the beast in the forest is more than flesh and blood,

Cu sith an ancient creature, summoned from the underworld by the walkers in the wood and sent out to avenge them. Three other men had went missing. All with one thing in common. They had taken money from Colonel Chivers and helped to cut down the trees that protected the ancient forest. The Clootie Well at its centre, if a person went there and made a wish it would be granted.

Andrew Sessions, the landlord of The Shepherd’s Crook, a big rambling inn, for example, had entered the forest with his wife and come back with what they most wanted, Mhairi, a baby girl clad in rags.  

‘Shargie’ the old-fashioned word for a foundling.

Locals treat her with suspicion, but Mhairi agrees to lead Fraser and Callum into the ancient forest to hunt the beast Fraser had been paid to kill. But there’s a spark between Mhairi and Callum.

She can read people and even read and write. Something Callum hopes to learn one day. And she has strange independent notions not congruent with bowing the knee to landed gentry of the times.

I found myself drawn to the forest…Beautiful. I saw wonders. I came to understand that the way we live now—with our houses and work and precious coins—that’s not how we were meant to be. Because, we are just babes ourselves, only in this world for a few score years. But the forest has been there since the beginning of time.

 A suspicion that all might not be as it seems, but the force of good will triumph and she will be able to save him—if the price is right for all. Read on.

Sometimes forever.

I wore a beanie beneath another two-tone wool hat. The colour of my hair was a snapshot of fashionable black and white. The Weird Fish logo and the outline of a silvery fish stitched into it did nothing to keep my head warm, but it was a freebie. Three coats added bulk to flab. Two pairs of trousers.  Worn one on top of the other on alternate days. So I wouldn’t look smelly, as if dossing in the high-flat bin sheds, beside the golf course. A wealth of cardboard and council lock-ups for the overspill of human household waste. Things they didn’t really need.  Lock yourself in. Knock yourself out. The cold always worked its way up from your feet. Shoes, leather boots or training shoes with three pairs of socks, it only carried freight. My body vibrated like the ding of a tuning fork. I needed to get up and stamp my feet. Light a fag, to warm myself from the inside. Rats sniffed the air with the end of their whiskers and pitter-pattered away like gentlemen taking a rest cure. Gave me time to ponder. Rub the palms of my hands together; get heat into the arthritic fingers of my left hand after that accident. My breath like a cartoon fog that once made my son laugh as we huffed and puffed against the french windows and made a smiley face out of condensation. An artist, I’d held his pudgy wee hand up so he could add to the happy family and pointy ear tableaux. But he’d wiped us out and got angry. Not understanding how we disappeared. Then I’d laugh and snuggled in. His furies were my joys. Then I checked my pockets and brain fog lightened and I released I’d no fags. Only rich cunts who lived in Bearsden could afford them, almost a tenner a whip. They smoked green or marijuana or some other medical nostrum to make them feel better about themselves, more alive and living on the edge. Silvery lungs kept away from traffic and busy roads and thoroughfares all their lives because of the polluted air poor folk gulp down and took for granted. Nae fags was a belter of a reason for drinking, but it was like a fish supper without chips and lashings of vinegar. I felt guilty about other people having such shite lives. But I had to screw the nut.  A big day in front of me. I folded the cardboard and hid it for later. Sometimes everything clicks like God standing tall at a Billy Graham revivalist meeting.

The wages of sin were death. Booze opens the door. And decide if it was for you, or not. You got a warped sense of self. Shite following shite. Something bad happened, like I couldn’t find my shoes. Not even the odd ones. Then I lost my specs in a fight that wasn’t my fault. Then I found out the buroo has stopped my money because I didn’t turn up for an appointment I didn’t know I had. And I’d lost a house, which admittedly was carelessness on my part. A big thing for them.  They were all cunts anyway. But I didn’t broach the subject, not to hurt their feelings. With God’s grace, I let it go. And went for a drink.

A lot can go on in a Tuesday, even though it was officially Wednesday. The routine involved me getting drunk and losing myself, but somehow finding my way home where I’d no home since my wife died. I could rarely be bothered moving. Cunts were always coming across to ask how I was doing. And where had I been hiding? It might have been nice hanging about for a chat, but I was too busy getting smashed.

There was always somebody belting out My Way on Karaoke, which my wife adored.  Just say the right word and there was always some cunt in the pub shouting they were fucking rotten. God’s truth. Usually, that was me. But I wasn’t particular. It could be anybody. I was willing to step aside. And I tried to be nice about it. Particularly if it was a fat bird with bat eyelashes squeezed like toothpaste into her wee sister’s glitzy dress. If it followed form, she usually had a brute of a boyfriend that told her lies. A Gordian knot for gorillas clenching their fists and growling. I had to tell him the truth, too. That was what prophets do.  It might cause a little minor incivility, but it hadn’t been me murdering a classic. That was how nations went into decline. And how you got barred from pubs.

Some nameless regulars winked at each other, and thought it was another form of entertainment. They’d ask the Karaoke chanteuse to sing My Way. Miracles happened. She was nothing much to look at. But she got through the song, Her Way. It wasn’t Frank’s way. And her eyes teared up. I thought we’d a bit of a connection. I wandered over to tell her that I loved her. And so did God. Somebody hit me on the side of the head with the butt of a pool cue.

‘You must be the boyfriend?’ I said, but didn’t wait for a reply.

It was pointless explaining karma, and I barred myself from that pub before it was mysteriously firebombed by angels. God didn’t even hang around to see what happened in the lounge bar. That was the night I’d turned a five quid bet into £6 666. I’d been the main topic of conversation since opening time, which was also closing time.

The devil grinned and dug me in the ribs sitting on a burnt-out bar stool. He did that thing where he offers you the whole world and chuckled. I shrugged. And told him I didn’t trust him. Not because he’d goat’s feet, after all some kids were born that way, and  as a teenager I’d danced to Tiger Feet, but because he had a ponsy English accent. I added  I was perfectly happy if he just sorted out my Giro situation. Drinking was thirsty work in the desert. I’d have to go somewhere else, pronto. That crucified me.

I raised my eyebrows and studied the gantry as I perched on a barstool. Carol the barmaid came over smiling her bonhomie smile. She was nice with blonde hair, but not to look at, but it wasn’t her fault she was born ugly. I might have mentioned that.

 ‘John,’ she said. ‘You know you can’t drink in here.’ 

‘I’m not drinking. Just looking.’

The boss came through from the lounge to see what kind of fuss I was. That made me laugh. Just staring at him. He was the devil incarnate.

‘What you doing here?’ I asked him.

A demonic grin. ‘Aright John?’ he asked.

I studied the gantry again and licked my lips. The few customers that were in were laughing. The devil had that bad habit of playing to the gallery. His end of days was not complete without a ritual humiliation or a nation unravelling. Yet he was friendly enough, in an unfriendly way.

I placed a box of Swan Vestas matches on the bar. Tapping them up and down. The devil knew about fire. I had that on him.

‘You can’t smoke in here,’ he said.

‘I didn’t say I was.’

He started talking to Carol in that smarmy way, as if I was out of the pub and already somewhere else. Nobody could see me anymore. The punters went back to talking in their normal voices. And I no longer existed. The devil had done a job of me.

The devil knew so many people. That’s what made him dangerous. According to the experts, you’ve got to perform an exorcism. The inside track was always bogged up because that’s where all the horses run. You’ve got to go outside. Do something different like Jesus turning the other cheek.

‘What do you reckon, John?’ the devil pursed his lips and paused.

I shook my head. Jesus was waiting. I reached across the bar and lifted a bottle of gin. Pouring it over my head, I lit the matches. You could hear in the silences, puffing and panting and people running.

Celtic 2—0 Hibs.

No Kyogo, but a good night’s work. Before the winter break he was our go-to-man for goals. He almost single-handedly won us the League Cup final against Hibs. That was a game we dominated but lost a sloppy goal. Our defence is the weakest part of our team. Don’t quote me statistics. And although he got pass marks tonight, let’s not talk about Starfelt. We’re looking good going forward. Giorgos Giakoumakis missed his chance to impress with Kyogo injured. Now, although he came on and is likely to start against Alloa in the Scottish Cup, the Greek striker in on the bench and moved down the pecking order. Maeda starting ahead of him and scored the opening goal within four minutes.

Tom Rogic had a decent chance from kick off. But Celtic were lucky not to be a goal down in three minutes. Martin Boyle used his pace wide and swung a ball across the six-yard box. Joe Hart was nowhere. Nisbett at the back post missed a sitter. He swung a foot and hit the inside of the near post and the ball was scrambled clear.

Celtic’s opener came from their closing down play. You can see they’ve been working hard on the training pitch, with everybody knowing where they should be. Liel Abada won the ball high up the pitch. He gave the ball to Rogic, who picked out Daizen Maeda just outside the six-yard box and he finished.

Josip Juranovic scored the second on twenty-five minutes from the penalty spot. A cool finish. And there was no doubt it was a penalty. James Forrest shot was blocked. Abada went on the outside and attempted a chip pass. Josh Doig clearly handled.

Hatate brought the ball down on his chest and had a volley easily saved by Macey. Then, before half-time, Forrest was played in by Hatate and looked to make it 3—0, but the shot was deflected past the post. Hibs tried to play from the back and it suited Celtic, who dominated. But the tempo dropped in the second-half and Hibs came more into it, without looking threatening.

Starfelt had a few decent headers from corners. And he created a chance for Abada, in which the little Israeli hit the post with the ball and his body. Luckily, he wasn’t injured. Carter Vickers also had the ball in the net, getting onto a Starfelt header. But the Swede was penalised for a push.

Nir Bitton, who so impressed before the winter break, must be injured, he’s not on the bench. Hatate starts ahead of James McCarthy and won man of the match. The ex-Hamilton prodigy looks set for a long spell on the side-lines. With twenty minutes to go, Yosuke Ideguchi got his first-team debut spot. He came on with a raft of five substitutions from Hibs and Celtic. The game flickered to life again and quietly died.  

I don’t know anything much more than paper talk about the Japanese players. But we’ve seen Kyogo. And the impact he’s had. We seen James Forrest speaking Japanese to Reo Hatate in the dugout, which I must admit, surprised me, but such is the depth of preparation, it really shouldn’t. We’ve seen Jota, and it’s a blessing he’s on the bench tonight. The loudest cheer of the night, apart from the goals, was when the Portuguese winger came on. Ange Postecoglou came in with a list of players and they were bargain-basement signings. Even if every one of them was a dud it wouldn’t touch the money we’ve wasted in the last two years. And we know the opposite is on tonight’s performance is more likely to be players on the pitch and money in the bank. Six points behind Rangers. Narrowed to three tonight. And before the winter break we always seemed to be playing second, putting extra pressure on our team. The league is everything. Before the season started, many, myself included, thought it may be beyond Celtic. We know we’re going to play attacking football. We know teams are going to sit in, and we’re not going to act shocked and horrified when they do. We need to kick on and keep winning. Hibs, under Sean Maloney, gave it a go, but were outclassed. Simple.