Robert Edric (2022 [2020]) My Own Worst Enemy: Scenes of a Childhood.

Robert Edric is six or seven years older than me, but scenes of a Sheffield childhood are remarkably similar to mine. A writer’s job is to remember. I remember my da punched my mum. My sisters would probably make some excuse, as if it never happened. I don’t remember me wee brother setting his jammies on fire, and him being rushed to hospital. I was only a kid, but I find it strange I forgot what happened that day.

Edric does remember everything was paid for in notes and coins. Workers were paid cash in a brown envelope. His father gave him mum housekeeping money from it to keep the house and his three children—Robert was the oldest—as if he was doing her a favour. It was never enough. But that was her problem.

‘My mother, in her angriest moments—perhaps finally understanding all that she had forsaken in marrying this scornful, restless and resentful man, and subjugating herself entirely to him and bearing him two more children—would tell the story of how her prospective mother-in-law had warned her against marrying her own son. It was in his nature, my mother was told, to demean and belittle, to make anyone close to him as unsettled and unhappy as he was.’

Edric asks and answers the question, what choice did my mother have? She was six months pregnant. Abortion wasn’t an option then (or now, for many American women). She just had to get on with it, like so many others.

Their lives fitted around their father’s work and home life. Most evenings he went to the pub. The memoir begins when Robert is twelve years old. He’d been the only working-class kid to pass his eleven-plus and get a grammar school place. His father had come home early. That threw him a bit. He liked to be organised and know how much time he had to do his homework, and watch telly.

Telly had moved from being something you rented to something you owned. They got bigger and better. But they were still black and white. Colour hadn’t been invented yet. All of the houses in Sheffield were covered in a thick coating of stour from the many chimneys. New council estates were springing up, with inside toilets and all mod cons. They lived adjacent to the largest working-man’s club in Sheffield that had strippers on a Sunday afternoon—men only—but it had few parking spaces. Nobody much could afford a car. Punters generally travelled by bus or train.  But his da had a boxy car, with a big steering wheel, and he worked in the business with lorries. He knew how to make rudimentary repairs—the same as all men should. He made sure to box in any car that dared park in his parking space, outside his front door so they’d know better next time.

His da thought himself a snappy dresser, with his watch and jewellery a sign of how well he was doing. But he’d a terrible secret. He was bald.

‘he was now sitting in his usual place—his chair, beside the fire, facing the television, wearing an all too obvious wig to cover his balding head. He was still a young man—thirty-four or five—but his hair was already half lost, leaving a thin, carefully configured wreath above his ears and across the back of his head.’

Robert has to negotiate the public and private world his da has now created. His family know he’s bald, but they must act as if he’s not bald. His mum has already conceded the impossible is perfectly possible as long as they go along with it. His da is determined to drag everybody down to his level.

Robert’s escape route is public schooling. Something I abhor. But he finds fatherly figures whose first instinct is to be helpful and build him up. Not try and destroy what little confidence he had. Ironically, he was terrible at maths. He would never get a University place at Hull now because he failed the O’grade equivalent of maths, even when he re-sat it, he failed it again. He certainly wouldn’t have got a grant. A tenner a week, enough to live on, and to get away from his father. He wouldn’t get his fees paid now. And I’m not sure students would be allowed to study for a degree in Geography. Perhaps I’m mixing up the past with the present. We all do. F for failure. Your own worst enemy.  H for humanity, humility and humour. For some, Scenes of a Childhood will bring it all back. Read on.

Rachael Smart (2022) Ways To Fold a Swan.

Poets make the best writers. Ways To Fold a Swan is a chapbook. I remember Rachel Smart from when she was an editor at ABCtales (she probably still is). I read everything she wrote. Poetry mostly, but also prose. Story of the week stuff.

I like her writing because she writes about people I recognise. People like me. Working class, and unashamedly so. Words she recognises come preloaded with meaning.

‘Rouse, ravish, rape.’ Roe versus Wade. Tens of millions of poor women have suddenly been disenfranchised by a coterie of rich white guys. Hierarchies of hidden meaning.

The narrator, Leda, is on a journey. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on push bikes. Leda has to find out how to be more herself and not what other—men—want her to be. She needs to grow up.

‘Leda is different to others. She has been different her whole life. Her parents never made a meal out of it.’

First lines are important. It needs to ask questions of the reader, but also draw us in.

‘Her companion reckoning she’s got nice hair shouldn’t tip her mood, but it’s the one adjective that turn Leda wretched.’

I had to read that line several times. I’ve grown proficient with words. I even know what semantics means. But I wasn’t sure what adjective Leda was referring. Then it hit me. ‘Nice,’ is hell of an insult. Nations don’t go to war, when they’re called ‘nice’. Relationships don’t break down over niceness. Leda is saying they do.

D. H. Lawrence wrote a poem about it. The English are So Nice/so awfully nice.

Lust doesn’t turn to hate, but an escape from the fate of so many other nice girls that can’t see who they are, or what they will become.

Leda claims a different self. An autonomous self, guided by a rejection of a male reading of Greek mythology.  Zeus, and how her namesake, was raped by an Olympian God who’d turned himself into a swan to claim her beauty. How Leda was meant to feel grateful for this, because, after all, he was a god.

In the same way, the driver of a ‘Vauxhall something drives by her. It’s a flashy white model and it slows right down when the driver gets close.

he says: Get in.

And then: Sweetheart you do hand jobs? She calls him a dirty bastard and legs it all the way to the hotel.’

He was simply kerb crawling and claiming dominion. In another story, she could think herself lucky.

‘The thing that really riles Leda about the word nice is it’s a cop-out.’

Leda isn’t willing to do that or play that role. Neither is Rachel Smart. I used to have a verbal jibe at her: Smart by name and Smart by nature. Jesus, I wouldn’t dare call her ‘nice’.   

Bernardine Evaristo (2019) Girl, Woman, Other.

Girl, Women, Other won the Booker Prize for Bernardine Evaristo in 2019. This mimics one of her twelve characters, Amma. Her play at The National, The Last Amazons of Dohomey is a popular and critical hit. Amma, the outsider, has become Amma, the insider. Bernardine Everisto, playwright, poet, author and critic has become part of the cultural elite. An insider and outsider.

Four chapters, twelve characters. Each chapter giving verse of their black lives. Evaristo has her own rules of how a sentence should look and construct meaning. Her characters are all related in some way, but also autonomous, orbiting each other until they come together in the After-Party.

Chapter One, for example, has Amma, Yazz and Dominique.

Yazz is Amma’s daughter from a sperm donation. Dominique is Amma’s soulmate. Young radicals, they put together shows featuring black women that are not prostitutes or stupid. It’s not black lesbian agit-prop. Not really. Although they both like women, they don’t have sex with each other. They like different kind of women. Dominique falls for the wrong kind, gas-lighting her, taking her to America, cutting her off from her friends who refuse to understand. Femicide is largely a male trait, but here is the black swan.

Winsome has retired to Barbados. Her family brought up in Britain visit her.

‘her favourite poetry book is called I is a Long Memoried Women by a Guyanese Woman called Grace Nichols

we the women/whose promises go usung/whose voices go unheard.’

Misogyny, class and race all have their place in a toxic mix of who are you? What are you?

‘[Winsome] and the reading group had the big argument, no, it wasn’t no argument, it was debate…about whether a poem was good because they related to it, or whether it was good in and of itself.’

I wasn’t sure about Girl, Women, Other. It took me several months to read. I’m not sure if it was because I couldn’t relate to it, the writing style, or it was just too other. I’m—dare I say it—too conservative.

Dominique, for example, finds herself on the wrong side of other—a trans troublemaker. Her conservatism was she announced a festival for ‘women-born women as opposed to women-born men’.  

But this is a book good and of itself. Auntie and Uncle Toms that add colour to the Tory scumocracy such as Priti Patel and Rishi Sunak should have this book at the top of their reading list. But they’ve no class and they’re the wrong class for that.  

Panorama, Undercover: Britain’s Biggest GP chains, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, undercover reporter Jacqui Wakefield

My partner recently had to go into hospital. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, Accident and Emergency. It was recently slated for having up to a thirteen-hour waiting time. We know there is little point phoning for a GP appointment on the Tuesday, after a Bank Holiday. The phone will ring off the hook. My tactic to avoid this is go to the surgery window and wait to catch the receptionist’s gaze. We’re an ageing population with more money needed to be channelled into health care.

What we get instead is Thatcherite ideology of the market knows best. The market does know best. It knows best how to take money from poor people and give it to the rich. In this case Operose Health, which is a subsidiary of private healthcare firm Centene. In the United States their looting of welfare funds led to them being sued by a number of State bodies for fraud. They paid the fine, but, of course, didn’t admit guilt.

What we have here is a different kind of fraud. A rentier class, who are paid a fixed amount for providing a service where there is no risk to the rich. We also did it with trains. Subsidised other nation’s rain networks and it gave them a guaranteed income.  

70 GP surgeries and 600 000 patients. Jacqui Wakefield logged 300 patients waiting to get through to her. And she couldn’t offer any GP appointments for any of them. One ruse was to offer appointments with a cheaper option. Put them in a white coat. Give them a fancy title. Work them with appointment after appointment so they do the equivalent work of two GPs. That’s called efficiency savings. In other words, profit for destroying the worker’s health and the health of the people he or she is trying, but failing to help.

  A study of the equivalent of Norwegian GP’s, for example, found that the more highly qualified those practicing medicine the better outcome for the patient. Not only were they able to pick up early signs of disease and treat it earlier saving more costly treatments with knock-on effects at later stages. A virtuous circle.   

A vicious circle looks something like this model. Underqualified staff.  Clinical correspondence – medical reports, test results and hospital letters – that had not been read for up to six months.

In the Thatcherite model of health care, patients would be able to shop around for better treatment, where they weren’t treated to the indignity of having to spend days on the phone. Similarly, GP practices would compete against each other to bring in the brightest and best and innovate, while making a profit. In the same way we did with our prisons, or the probation service, before that was scrapped as being unworkable.

Scotland has largely rejected this carpetbagger model of modern finance. But the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was extended with many of the same principles. Give money to rich people for building something you could do cheaper and better with forward planning. We can clap NHS workers, while not giving them a pay rise and look for savings elsewhere.  We know how this looks. It looks very much like the one rule for the rich and one rule for the poor of Centene and their ilk. Efficiency savings are only efficient if they end up in a tax haven. We all know how that feels. Because we’re all in it together. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, ‘some animals are more equal than others’.  Some patients are more valued than others.

David Cruickshanks (2022) Stayin Alive. How PTSD (Nearly) Stole My Life.

Summy passed me working in Kerr’s garden in Shakespeare Avenue. It runs parallel with our horseshoe shaped street—and he stays in McGrath’s old council house, a few houses down—from home. He was taking his two sons down the road. I imagined it was to school or nursery. One of the boys fell behind, and he was acting up. Summy was firm, but loving with him.

Summy’s mum was an alkie. His step-dad was away working for the Shah of Iran. He spent a lot of his childhood looking after his wee sister, whom we labelled Janey Mongo. A version of Summy pops up in lots of my stories. Summy joined the navy. He signed on for twenty years when he left school. I remember him coming home in dress uniform and into Macintoshes Bar. We were going to the Oasis later. We told him he couldn’t go with that thing on him, but he went with us, anyway. None of us scored, but that was normal. I don’t know what ship he was on, or if he was a Falklands’ war veteran. That was normal too.

David Cruickshank’s life in Glenrothes in Fife was a version of ours. Some of my favourite books are coming of age and autobiographical: Cider with Rosie. Growing up in the Gorbals. This Boy’s Life. In the Mind’s Eye.  All Quiet of the Western Front.  War and Peace, arguably, bridges both genres. He claimed to have read it aboard HMS Fearless, on the 8000 miles journey to the Falklands. The loss of over 200 British lives came after the sinking of the ageing Argentinian ship, ARA General Belgrano. Anyone that reads War and Peace should have a medal pinned on his or her shoulders.

That’s not a very good joke. I read David Cruickshank’s book in almost one sitting. Putting one word in front of another can be harder than it looks. We become word blind.

‘I awake feeling like someone is prising my eyes out of their sockets with a rusty hammer drill, which is not as bad as I thought I would feel.’

‘I awake,’ should be I wake up, or I waken. A minor quibble. My da’s bigger than your da. But I don’t like the editing. The author, as a comedian, tries for a jokey tone. But too often no cliché is left unused. Descriptive phrases become puffed out. Adolescent lust, for example, becomes dreams about ‘motorcycle girl’. We all have them. I could tell you the names of all the girls I fancied from the age of around five. They all had Barbie hair and faces. Readers don’t need to hear about them. Strip to the boner is not always better.

‘Wee George is emerging from a sleeping bag like a maggot from a cow’s swollen belly.’

Similes that strain should be abandoned, especially if they are visual images that mix metaphors. A map of how did we get to this, with a gasp at the end.

My mum asked me to shave my da, before he died. She knew I didn’t want to do it, but I wouldn’t refuse her.  

     Lucy Easthorpe, When the Dust Settles, uses the Welsh notion of Hiraeth. A longing for home. A place that no longer exists. An innocence lost, but we can still hear the echo.

I wonder if my da had post-traumatic-stress disorder.  David Cruickshank’s book is timely. We have war in Europe, again. The Belarusian writer, and dissident, Svetlana Alexievich The Unwomanly Face of War tells of a young girls surviving the collectivisation of Ukrainian farms by eating horse shit. Around six million died. It wasn’t so bad, because it was frozen and she could break parts off. Girl soldiers, during The Great Patriotic War, who carried no weapons because they weren’t enough, and men carried them. Their job was to lag behind Russian tanks, and when they were hit, try to save the men inside, by pulling them out of the burning shell.

It’s difficult to imagine. But not for David Cruickshank. When his ship was bombed and strafed, he was entombed in a stinky room, not much bigger than a tank. If the ship had sunk, he would have died. Stress doesn’t always leave a mark on the body. But our bodies don’t forget. We have lost that innocent non-awareness. Hiraeth. David Cruickshank writes from a place of knowledge. In joining the dots, he’s too many dots. But hey, it’s a cliché, but none of us are perfect. And if I see Summy again, I’ll need to ask him about his war. Ironically, Summy was always writing a book. We thought he was a fucking idiot. Don’t get above yersel. Stayin Alive and making do are staple relatives of Scottish working-class life.      

Armenia 1—4 Scotland

Good news—we don’t have to watch Scotland until September. Stand-out player, Stuart Armstrong scores a first-half double to give Scotland a first-half lead after a shaky start. Three minutes before half-time Hovhannisyan got two yellows and therefore a red and was sent off for a shocking tackle and sticking the head on John McGinn. Just before the end of the match, David Turnbull—a long term victim of injury—was assaulted by Kamo Hovanisyan. Another red card, but the game was petering out.  It was the kind of break Scotland needed after a disastrous start in which the back three looked like it had been selected from a pub team (no jokes about me playing for pub teams). Scotland lost a goal after four minutes and it could have been more, with balls over the top and any kind of set play causing chaos.

The referee had already rejected a claim for a foul by McGregor on the edge of the Armenian box, when a simple pass forward had Grant Hanley falling on the ball and falling over, hoping for a foul. He didn’t get it. Barseghyan made a simple pass across the six-yard box for Bichakhchyan to knock the ball past Gordon on the sixth minute.

Scotland’s equaliser came eight minutes later. Che Adams hadn’t scored a goal for club or country in sixteen matches. It showed here. He tried a spectacular overhead kick. The ball landed perfectly for Armstrong who stroked it home.

Jack Hendry, who had another horror show after getting bullied in Dublin, somehow got his foot to a ball Barseghyan is just about to pass into the net after rounding Gordon. Another simple over the top ball catches out the Scotland defence. That would have put Armenia ahead after twenty minutes.

Then the Armenians had the ball in the net, but VAR ruled it offside.

Patterson had a swipe at ball at the back post, missing a good chance. The Everton reserve player perhaps wasn’t expecting the ball. After missing so many games he probably wondered what a ball was.  

The game changing moment was the sending off. With three minutes added time in the first-half, Armstrong twisted the knife with a cracker of a goal and made sure Armenia were chasing the game. His first touch took him away from his marker inside the box. His next touch set him up. He fell over but picked out the bottom corner of the net.

As you’d expect, Scotland with an extra man started on the front foot and largely controlled the game. The back three, none of whom got pass marks, where no longer under the same pressure.  

Midfielder, Gilmour, for example, at last finding space and playing in Adams. But it was captain, John McGinn, who got our third. A great take from the Clydebank man, after missing a couple of good chances in the last few matches. Taylor flung in a deep cross that missed everyone, but Patterson on the other wing. He headed back across goal. McGinn took a touch to steady himself and fired home. Ten minutes into the second half and it’s game over for Armenia.   

Three minutes later, Che Adams puts it beyond doubt and it was just a matter of how many for Scotland. The Southampton striker showed strength and guile to take a pass from his Southampton teammate. He could have played Armstrong back in, but held off his marker to fire home. He stung the keeper’s hands with another shot and made a block in the Scotland box, before he was taken off.

Scotland made substitutes as the match became like a training exercise, in which they could and perhaps should have scored more. But Craig Gordon also had to make a few saves.  A double header against Ukraine in our next two matches. Things can change quickly as Ukraine know more than most, but the Eastern Europeans, who play every tie away, look too good for the mixture of average and awful teams in their group. That includes Scotland. I don’t expect Ukraine to lose any of these ties.   

Lucy Easthope (2022) When the Dust Settles: Stories of love, loss and hope from an expert in disaster.

Disasters always happen in some faraway place. Then we forget about them. Not right away, but gradually our attention fades and we move onto something else, somewhere else. Lucy Easthope’s job is not to forget or look away, but to search for patterns and lessons learned. She offers a personal account of what it feels like to miscarry a much wanted child, time after time (she calls them ‘Titans’) but still live in hope for a better outcome. None of us can be experts in living, but she did have children. Here she tells us what she does for a living; hope is in her name and nature.

‘I am one of the country’s top experts on disaster recovery. I am called to size up the scale of what is to be faced and what can be done about it. Police and local responders might only see one incident like this once in their career but I have seen them over and over again: nuclear incidents, chemical attacks, pandemics, food shortages, fuel shortages, trains and plane crashes, volcanoes and tsunamis. Companies, governments, countries, all have to be prepared for catastrophe.’

Many of us watched on telly Grenfell tower block burning. There was a palpable sense of anger, but anybody that had been paying attention knew what would happen—whitewash.

Lucy Easthope, ‘The White Dove’ begins the chapter in a jokey way with thirty-five vicars turning up for enlightenment. You can’t leave God to sort out whose who and what’s what in disasters like Grenfell, where Disaster Victim Identification can involve the dust of one victim mixed with the dust of another and various other cremated items. Easthope recounts the lessons of ‘torturing the dust’ of Ground Zero after 9/11 (carcinogenic in the air causing even more deaths for those working on the site). Science, particularly DNA testing and retesting and retesting can be itself a form of torture for the victim’s families, but she suggests there should be an end point, when they should be allowed to grieve and the community allowed to recover.

Easthope had a meeting scheduled for 13th June 2017. She planned to bring together theologians and scientists and the police and coroners for a full day’s event. The scenario involved twenty years’ experience gathered in the field and ‘the sum of all my fears’.

A tower block. The destruction of ‘the furniture of self’. Personal effects such as toothbrushes and passports would be gone. Some effects would be damaged. But these would have to be picked over by specially hired contractors over several months and may well be contaminated and disposed of.

The residents of the tower block would come from diverse backgrounds. There would be concerns from them over the shortcomings of local authorities, building enforcement agencies and gas-safety sign off.

The training exercise would involve loss of life, fire and a great deal of ‘forensic uncertainty’.

‘There would be cremains and dust. There would be the most complex of DNA challenges: hard-to-access samples and no clear biological kinship and a lengthy drawn out identification process. With human slavery and trafficking on the rise, we would also not know who everyone was in the tower. Lost and hidden people might be in there too.’

The training day, Easthope admits started badly and ended badly, with the bit in between going to form.

‘We will never see another Hillsborough,’ claimed one attendee.  

Midnight, 14th June 2017. Grenfell Tower turned into a ‘burnt matchbox in the sky’.

‘In a grim echo of the scenario we had[not] explored in Exercise Unified Response, one woman heavily pregnant, lost her baby at thirty weeks.’

He was added to the death toll, bring it to 72 on February 2018 [cremains of those ‘slaves’ in the tower was not taken into account].  

Being prescient is her job. Her work as an expert has been downplayed and government funding falling. Politicians more concerned about how it will look on their watch. Image is all. The Grenfell cover-up is only a surprise if you expected some other outcome.

When the Dust Settles deals with Covid, which Easthope also accurately predicted before it happened. It does not deal with the big one, which is easy to predict and its effects well documented. Global Warming and the coming apocalypse which is more of a certainty than any tower-block fire or Covid killing tens of million so far, which we can multiply by at least ten to the power of three or four in the early stages.     

Catherine Belton (2020) Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and took on the West.

Over 100 days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Already the West has grown weary of fuel and wheat shortages and high prices. The eighth year of war. Russia occupying Crimea and Donbass regions, and almost twenty per cent of Ukraine since then, creating a land border, including access to the Black Sea. Catherine Belton’s prescient book is early and late. The modus operandi is in the title.

Ryzard Kapuscinski’s Imperium is instructive how it works. He was writing in 1994. Pre-Putin, the Yeltsin era.

‘The fall of communism in the state occurred relatively bloodlessly, and in ethnic Russia, completely bloodlessly. The great Ukraine announced its independence without a single shot being fired. Likewise Belorussia.

…It is interesting that blood flows only when blind nationalism enters the fray, or zoological racism, or religious fundamentalism—in other words the three black clouds that can darken the sky of the twenty-first century.’

In order to understand Russia and the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Ryzard Kapuscinski uses the analogy of another Russian writer, Yuri Borev who compares it to a train journey.

‘The train is speeding into a luminous future. Lenin is at the controls. Suddenly—stop, the tracks come to an end. Lenin calls on the people, for additional, Saturday work, tracks are laid down, and the train moves on. Now, Stalin is driving it. Again the tracks end. Stalin orders half the conductors and passengers shot, and the rest he forces to lay down the tracks. The train starts again. Khrushchev replaces Stalin, and when the train comes to an end, and he orders that the ones over which the train has already passed by dismantled and laid down before the locomotive. Brezhnev takes Khrushchev’s place. When the tracks ends again, Brezhnev decides to pull down the window blinds and rock the cars in such a way that the passengers will think the train is still moving forward.’ 

Boris Yeltsin brings in advisors from The Chicago School. They tell him to sell the train and the track and give everyone an equal share. Winner takes all. A new train with McDonalds and widescreen TV and a new track.

Putin is at the controls—indefinitely. Episode after episode of him wrestling bare-chested with bears and oligarchs is played on widescreen TV. His henchmen make early-morning visits to those that refuse to pay the market price in roubles for a ticket, or want to change the channel.

Catherine Belton tells the reader how Putin, with the help of the KGB, took over Russia, and threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. She offers a synopsis of who’s who in the Russian orbit that circles their supreme leader. He’s President for life. And the President can dismiss the Prime Minister, and any other public appointed body down to street sweeper. His inner circle get first pick on any deal worth around $40 million. State governors, for example, can haggle and war with each other their share, internecine battles that can lead to imprisonment and death, but one of Putin’s favourite sayings is it’s a private matter. Putin is number one, and unless fealty is paid, it becomes a public matter because that’s a private matter. 

The first names on Putin’s inner circle, the siloviki:   

Igor Sechin—Putin’s trusted gatekeeper. Like Putin, a former KGB operative from St Petersburg. He took payment of bribes and kept accounts, of who owed what. As Deputy Head of the Kremlin he helped organize Putin’s takeover of the Russian oil sector on which Russia’s wealth is largely based. Known as ‘Russia’s Darth Vader’ for his ruthless plotting against others. The power behind the throne. You don’t get to see Putin without seeing Sechin.

Nikolai Patrushev, former head of Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB.

Viktor Ivanov, former KGB, served with Putin in Leningrad KGB.

Viktor Cherkesov, former KGB, who ran the St Petersburg FSB.

Sergei Ivanov, former Leningrad KGB, and one of the youngest generals in Russian’s foreign intelligence.

Dmitry Medvedev—a former lawyer. Deputy to Putin when he ran the administration and kickbacks as Mayor of St Petersburg. Deputy head of Putin’s Kremlin administration. Chief of Staff for Putin’s Presidency, then President, with Putin as Prime Minister.  Obama famously thought Medvedev was a man he could work with, in the same way that George W. Bush (junior) looked into Putin’s eyes and said he’d seen his soul.

Putin’s custodians, KGB-connected businessmen. 

Gennady Timachenko, former KGB, worked his way through the ranks of the Soviet trade to become the first traders of oil products.

Yury Kovalchuk, former physicist, who joined with other KGB-connected businessmen to take over Bank Rossiya, which according to the US Treasury, became Putin’s bank.

Arskady Rotenberg, former Putin judo partner, who became a billionaire under Putin’s presidency.

Vladimir Yakunin, former KGB, worked undercover in the UN in New York, then joined Bank Rossiya.

The Family—Yeltsin

Valentin Yumashev, former journalist. He gained Yeltsin’s trust while writing his memoirs. Appointed Kremlin chief of staff in 1997. Married Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana in 2002.

Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter, but also his gatekeeper.

Boris Berezovsky, former mathematician, who made his fortune running trading schemes for carmaker AvtoVAZ. Wangled his way into Yeltsin’s family. Acquired Sibneft oil.

Alexander Voloshin, former economist. He started working with Berezovsky on privatisation of Russian assets. Transferred to the Kremlin, 1997 to work as Yumashev’s deputy.

Roman Abramovich, oil trader. He became Berezovsky’s protégé, but outmanoeuvred him and took over his business. Banker to the Yeltsin family, bowed to Putin after a period of Siberian exile. Sent to London, poisoned (Polonium?) when tried to intervene at the start of Ukrainian war, possibly out of favour, and therefore in danger.

The Yeltsin-era oligarch who crossed Putin’s men.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former member of the Communist Youth League. He became one of the most successful businessmen of the perestroika era in the 1990s.

Mobsters and footsoldiers for the KGB—St Petersburgh.

Ilya Traber, former Soviet submariner, who became a black-market antique dealer in the perestroika years. A go-between for Putin’s security services and the Tambov organised- crime group controlling St Petersburg’s most strategic and lucrative assets, the sea port and oil terminal.

Vladimir Kumarin, Tambov organised-crime boss (‘night governor’).

Moscow footsoldiers and mobsters.

Semyon Mogilevich, former wrestler, known as ‘the Brainy Don’, who at the end of the eighties became banker to the leaders of Russia’s most powerful and organised crime groups, including the Solntsevskaya, funnelling cash to the West. Set up a criminal empire for drugs and arms trafficking. Recruited in the seventies by the KGB.

Sergei Mikhailov, (alleged) head of Solntsevskaya organised-crime group—Moscow’s most powerful—with close ties to the KGB. Criminal arm of the Russian state.  Cultivated links with Donald Trump in the eighties.

Vyacheslav Ivankov (‘Yaponchik’), dispatched by Mogilvvich to Brighton Rock, New York, to broaden the Solntsevskaya criminal empire.

Yergeny Dvoskin, Brighton Beach mobster. He became a Russian ‘shadow banker’ after moving back to Moscow with his uncle Ivankov. The Russian security services helped them funnel tens of billions of dollars for clearing in the West.

Felix Sater, (Dvoskin’s best friend). A key business partner of The Trump Organisation, developing a string of properties for Trump to cash in and keep the Organisation from bankruptcy, while retaining high-level clearance from Russian intelligence.  

The irony of the moron’s moron getting elected in 2016 is not that there was a cause for celebration in the White House, but jubilation and celebration in the Russian White House. Never had there been such a useful idiot in high office. Nigel Farage and little trumpet, Boris Johnson were also a useful gift. Brexit knocking five to fifteen percent off Britain’s gross domestic product and dividing the country. Scotland, for example, didn’t vote to be poorer.  

Putin, after Chechnya and Syria, invasion of Ukraine was an act of hubris. Oil and gas goes up in price and pay for his imperialistic adventure. As the West withdraws from Russia, there is a return to the old ways of KGB, and a Soviet world protected by wealth and power that Putin knows well. What emerges from Belton’s book is a cowardly man, much like Boris Johnson, promoted for the wrong reasons, but now he’s in power he intends to stay there. He’s already killed many Russians in the false-flag operations that got him elected President with an overwhelming majority after the Yeltsin perestroika experiment. There’s no reason he will suddenly stop killing citizens of his own country and others.

Will Putin’s People use nuclear weapons? Perhaps you may remember at the start of the ‘action’ his official media were talking about such things; speculation. He took on the West and went on a disinformation spending spree that elected a US President and helped through Aaron Banks fund Brexit for Boris. There is a familiar pattern of saying before doing. And blaming someone else like in the Salisbury poisoning debacle of nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Perhaps, a long-range missile, said to have come from Ukraine—and a ‘tactical, nuclear strike’ in reply. I wouldn’t bet against it. Putin’s a gambler with a grudge who thinks he’s owed big time.       

J.R. Moehringer (2005) The Tender Bar: A Memoir.

I did this in the wrong order (if there is such a thing) I watched the film of the book, before reading the book. For J.R.Moehringer, books are holy things. And I know where he lives because I’ve read the book. F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby Egg territory. J.R’s hometown, Manhasset, Long Island. Sigourney Weaver took her stage name from the guest list of Gatsby’s fictional legendary parties, which the whole of New York’s well-heeled attended. Gatsby wanted to win back Daisy Buchanan, who hid behind the money and killed somebody when drunk driving, which wasn’t really her fault.

J.R.’s Daisy is Sidney. Sidney is the one. J.R. finds that most of the men in the bar have a Sidney locked away in their soul. In the film, she’s black. But in the book, she’s more Farah Fawcett. Charlie’s Angels were beautiful as could be, but Farah was that level above. Sidney is that level. But we don’t get to her until 200 pages in. She’s waiting to disillusion him at Harvard and not Yale, where they met.

Maya Angelou, Human Family, gets it right:

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas

and stopped in every land,

I’ve seen the wonders of the word

But not one common man

I know ten thousand women

called Jane or Mary Jane

but I’ve never seen two

who really were the same

…We seek success in Finland

are born and die in Maine,

In minor ways we differ,

in major we’re the same.  

Uncle Charlie is a playboy in the film with a fine head of hair. He, it seems, owns Dickens, but in the book, Steve owns Dickens, later called The Publican. It makes little difference. The bar had been there since the end of Prohibition, perhaps earlier. For regulars, it was the place to be. For irregulars, it was the place to be seen. Grandpa’s ramshackle dwelling provided a safety net, but Uncle Charlie and Dickens was home. At eighteen he’d a driving license and that was his entry card for a world he breathed in every day.  

‘We went there for everything we needed. We went there when we were thirsty, of course, and when hungry and when dead tired. We went there when happy and to celebrate, and when sad, to sulk. We went there after weddings and funerals, for something to settle our nerves, and always for a shot of courage, just before. We went there when we didn’t know what we needed, hoping someone might tell us. We went there when looking for love, or sex, or trouble, or for someone who had gone missing, because sooner or later everyone turned up there. Most of all we went there when we needed to be found.’     

Seven-year-old J.R. in 1972 has the gift of wordy-gurdy and is searching for a father-figure. He does make gravity defying leaps for a poor boy, getting into Yale for example, and getting a job, as copyboy, in The New York Times.  Steady as she goes, his life pitches and flings him curve balls. I laughed aloud as his Auntie roared at his nephew McGraw about how he had to get an operation and get back into professional baseball. He was on the lip of achievement and a big money deal, but now he was a loser back in Dickens, with J.R. Every bar has its story and story-tellers. J.R. loves the older guys and they, in turn, revere the owner of the pub, Steve, whose smile brings warmth to their lives. Only later does the reader find out about Steve’s plastic teeth.

We bring back the past by not forgetting it, and forgiving yourself your youth. A coming-of-age drama written with warmth, but also understanding. When the party is over, it’s over. Few of us get the life we deserve. But there’s a poignant note, 9/11 2001. His mum phoned from Arizona. Two adults watching planes crash into the World Trade Center. Peter Taylor, who’d tended bar in Dickens, one of the dead. Another forty-nine from home in the debris of Ground Zero. Amen.   

Ireland 3—0 Scotland.

Goal scorer against Armenia, Anthony Ralston retained his place in the Scotland team. Ralston went missing for the second Irish goal, but he’s one of the few that gets pass marks in a first half in which Shane Duffy made his mark. Celtic defending, two corners and almost two, or more goals for the Irish, with Duffy missing a sitter from three yards. Craig Gordon judged to have been fouled (he wasn’t) and dropping the ball onto the post, also from a Shane Duffy header.

The first goal, twenty minutes, back post, Duffy header back into the mix. Alan Browne reacts quickest and knocks the ball over the line with his chest. An Irish team that normally can’t create or take chances are finding plenty just by putting the ball into the Scotland box.

Eight minutes later, two goals up.  Man of the match, Michael Obafemi, who spooked the Scottish defence by running about a lot, takes the ball outside the box. He lofts a ball over the Scotland rear-guard. Tony Parrott heads it past an out coming Gordon.

Obafemi added a third, in the fifty-first minute, killing Scotland’s chance of taking anything from the game, even with Duffy’s help (he put one past his own post in the 94th minute). Obefami smashed a swerving shot from twenty-five yards into the middle of the goals. Gordon looked suspect, but I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

A fourth Irish goal was ruled out by the absolute minimum and a VAR call that a Scott Hogan back post header past Gordon hadn’t went over the line, but had been kicked away by Grant Hanley.  

Duffy’s slack passing helped create Scotland’s two best chances, both missed by John McGinn, in the first half. Ironically, since we were so far off the pace, the first chance would have been an equaliser, but Ireland went up the park, and made it 2—0. The other chance for the Aston Villa midfielder broughts a comfortable save for Kelleher. The Irish keeper, when he kept the ball off Duffy, almost guaranteed an Irish win, but in the opposition box, the opposite stood true.  

  Stuart Armstrong drops out and McTominay came into midfield, but the Southampton player came on in the second half, as did Billy Gilmour. Neither made much of a difference. A poor Armenian team beat Ireland in Dublin, the last team the Republic beat in their stadium was Gibraltar. Winless in twelve. The Republic has lost two on the bounce, but that doesn’t translate as a win for Scotland.  Ukraine are a class above the other teams in the group, even though every game is an away game for the Eastern Europeans. An easy win for Ireland, who closed Scotland down and won the majority of fifty-fifty challenges.