Damon Galgut (2010 [2022]) In a Strange Room.

Damon Galgut’s novel, The Promise, won the Booker Prize in 2021. In a Strange Room was shortlisted for the Man Booker almost ten years ago. This is a short book, split into three parts: ‘The Follower,’ ‘The Lover’ and ‘The Guardian’. I liked the ‘The Guardian’ best and ‘The Follower’ least. I doubt I’d have continued with the book if it hadn’t had the tag: Booker Prize-Winning Author on the cover. I’m not immune to hype.

Like the moral philosopher Dr Samuel Johnson on his tour of Scotland’s Western Isles seeking rarefied specimens of literature that expressed general, but universal truths. When a book has won a major prize and I don’t like it—such as Shakespeare’s work—the consensus is the reader rather than the writer lacks certain civilised values. In other words, he or she, you or me, is an uncouth ninny. Guilty in my case. I’ve heard so many times I should love Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, and when I do, I’ll better understand its majesty.  I didn’t dislike this book as much as I fucking hate A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, or I wouldn’t have continued reading it, but like everybody else my prejudices are my shortcomings.

‘It happens like this. He sets out in the afternoon on the track that has been shown to him and soon he leaves the little town behind. In an hour or so he is among low hills covered by olive trees and grey stones from which there is a view out over a plain that gradually descends to the sea. He is intensely happy, which is possible for him when he is walking out alone.’

The opening paragraph has the convention of a screen shot, which opens with scenery and then pans in to focus on the narrator. Present tense. Whatever happened has still to happen. The narrator is happy. The reader follows on.

We learn that the narrator is South African, like the author himself. He’s a tourist near Mycenae. He introduces himself to Reiner. He’s from Germany. His peccadillo is to dress in black. We find out he’s a control freak that always thinks he’s right. He wants to test himself against nature by walking great distances, building stamina and walking even greater distances. People and their cultures don’t interest him. Yet they fall into a homoerotic relationship, which is never consummated.

Damon is the wife or follower. This becomes clearer when Reiner comes to South Africa. His presence was not planned, but taken as a given. Reiner plans even longer walks through the continent. They divvy up tasks and what they’re meant to carry. But Damon is dependent on Reiner. He has no money, but notes down what he should owe. They have not been equals, but now the relationship is formalised as a wife dependent on her husband’s largesse.

But they do not become lovers. Damon hooks up with another group of white tourists who are also European. Christian is French, but can also speak English. Alice and Jerome are twins and Swiss. They speak only pigeon English. It is Jerome the beautiful boy, Damon falls in love with. But he can never get him alone and there’s awkwardness beyond language. Damon gets cut off from the group on the wrong side of the Malawian border post. He needs to get into Tanzania.

Paradise is never what is seems. Locals are dependent on the tourist trap, playing the role of faithful servants. Dr Johnson found it with the Scots. Damon finds it with the impoverished citizens of Africa, and later India. Damon for being so destitute seems to be always on the move and getting by without having worked much. Indolence pays. For Reiner, the explanation is he receives regular payments from home, and from saving from jobs he’s done, much like the twins. Money talks in any language. I’m not really sure what is says about Damon.

The novel is also told from Damon’s point of view. It’s his story. But instead of using the conventional ‘I’, narration is from an omniscient ‘he’ that is able to look at the present but also behave like an older and subjective ‘I’ able to evaluate choices made. That’s my reading of it.

The third part finds Damon middle-aged. He’s able to spend long periods in India. Again I’m not sure where the money comes from. He’s agreed to take a close friend Anna to South Goa. She agrees not to drink while she takes her medication that keeps her the right side of sanity. She flips quicker than a rupee tossed into the air. Anyone that’s dealt with mental illness will recognise what happens next. Damon hates her, but feels obligated to take care of her until he can get her back home. It’s a job he’s not prepared for, but he gets some help to navigate the Byzantium Indian hospital system by Anna, and other Europeans. (Anna is a former nurse who feels guilty about how her husband died.)

I’m beginning to tell the story, which in a review, isn’t great. We colonise what we know. Patronise what we don’t know. There’s a fair bit of Dr Johnson in each of us. Damon recognises that and that life is never more unfair than when it falls on you. Read on.  

Mayflies, BBC Scotland, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Writer and producer  Andrea Gibb, based on a novel by Andrew O’Hagan, directed by Peter Mackie Burns.



My partner said I’d like this. We don’t have the same tastes. She watches fuckin Emmerdale and Coronation Street. But she knows I’m a sucker for anything Scottish, with actors playing working-class characters. I’ve not read Andrew O’Hagan’s book, yet. So I’m doing it in the wrong order. Two-part series first. Book to follow.

I have read O’Hagan’s book, The Illuminations. It is set in parts of Saltcoats on the Ayrshire coast. I put the last part in for English readers. Most folk in Glasgow and the surrounding area of a certain age, know where Saltcoats is. It’s the kind of place where your mum took you to paddle in the sea and feed your wee brother to the seagulls.

Here we have Tully (Tony Curran) and Jimmy (Martin Compston) playing the natives that got away thirty years ago, returning to their seaside roots. Tully is an ex-English teacher. Jimmy is a writer. Not just any old writer, but a writer like Andrew O’Hagan that makes a more than decent living from his writing.  He lives in London with his playwright partner, Angela     (Natali McCleary). The focus fall more on Tully’s partner, Anna (Ashley Jensen).  The reason becomes apparent after the opening exchanges.


You cannae just check out, you’ve got responsibilities.

Who to?


I’m doing this my way.

Tully’s got terminal cancer. He doesn’t want treatment. He wants to go to Switzerland and end it. Voluntary euthanasia. He’s for it. Anna isn’t against it, in general, but only when it concerns the love of her life, Tully. She wants more time. More time with him.

Tully also wants to get together with the guys they used to hang about with. That used to be in a band that worshipped at the feet of Manchester bands that played The Hacienda in 1984.  New Order and The Fall feature in backstory when the lads from Saltcoats made a trip of a lifetime and thought growing old was not an option. Thatcherism was never an option. And the ability to rhyme off Robert De Niro’s three greatest movies was a given.

Youth goes north to go south and live forever.

Big themes, well worth a watch. I’m with Tully on that one. Cancer gets one in two of us. But it’s dementia, I fear. Aging population. One million of us have it. Projections for 2050, one-and-a-half million. My mum had dementia. My da had cancer. I said to my partner, if I get dementia, just shoot me. She said I wouldn’t know I’ve got dementia, because I’ve already got it. I think that was a joke.

I don’t know any writers with cash to spare for a trip to Euthanasia-land.  But I could maybe make Saltcoats. I don’t want to make death proud. I just don’t want to be alive when my brain is spaghetti oops. What’s your take on this? Or can’t you remember?

Debbie (Gilmour) Boyce, RIP.

‘Death begins when no one can remember you any longer.’

Reading is what I do. That’s a quote from a Fresh Water for Flowers, a book I recently read in which the main character is a cemetery keeper. I got a Facebook message from Biggins telling me Debbie was dead. I replied, I didn’t know any Debbies. Then I thought about it some more and sent another message, ‘Debbie Gilmour’?  

Her daughters Jasmine’s and Victoria’s Uncle Joe did the talking at the funeral for their family, which included a baby grandson. Wilma Biggins was Debbie’s pal. She died a few years ago, but there was a grim inevitability about it. Wilma wrote her own eulogy. She wasn’t there to read it, of course, but she reminded us she’d have done it much better. Urging her children when they saw only darkness to become the light. I can’t properly remember the rest.

 The same floral wreaths. Both were ‘Mums’. Debbie also a new grandmum. They lay inside their children’s lives and helped them rise. Helping hands. They were too young to let go. Debbie had buried her dad a few months ago. That was expected in the same way Pele’s death was expected. Debbie was around the same age as Ally McCoist is now. Her death was a tragedy. It wasn’t one of those funerals where he’d tell a funny story about her and everybody would laugh.

I must admit I like those stories. The crematorium seats 266 mourners. There wasn’t enough room. Over 300 mourners on a dreich day, all with their own stories of Debbie. I stood at the back next to Stan Henry. Debbie, he said, had babysat his and Anne’s son, Wullie.

  I hadn’t seen Debbie for years. Decades even. I didn’t know if she would recognise me. Kojak and Yul Brynner are usually the only people that are recognisably bald. And nobody knows who they are anymore. But she did. Jeez, she was working down my way in Dalmuir as a home help. God, could that woman cram twenty years into ten minutes’ conversation? Let’s stretch it to fifteen.

I walked up Mountblow Hill to her funeral. Debbie was always out marching along the canal from one job to another, out and about the back lanes of Whitecrook. She could easily have walked to the moon. Stephen, her eldest brother, used to run up Mountblow Hill barefoot. But he was just showing off. The Gilmours could afford Clarks shoes.

When Debbie was born a Daily Record cost 3d.  Their tribe of children Stephen, Gregor, Bonnie, Debbie and Darrel lived in a bought house behind us, the backdoor facing onto Shakespeare Avenue, which cost around ten grand. The Queen came to visit the Gorbals with Prince Philip. I’m not sure Debbie would have let Royalty in. Not because we were going to face the worst winter of the century, when birds fell from the sky with cold.  She’d a knack of closing rather than opening, when she’d a mind to it. The wee shuggly bathroom window on our fingers, for example. Pushing us off the wall. When Cammy, Jim and me were trying to get into Summy’s house, when she was babysitting. Summy went to the school of hard knocks. Still in Primary school, he was left holding the baby. Janey had Down’s Syndrome.  Summy’s mum had a drink problem that defeated her, but we couldn’t defeat Debbie. Debbie helped out. We quickly learned, we weren’t going to get in her way whether we liked it or not.

We’d cram into Peppermint Park without a peppermint. Debbie Harry and Denise, Denise was the height of glamour. The café outside the Oasis where you could kid on you were an American kid that drank coffee and knew how to work the jukebox. Debbie Harry again.

I’m pretty sure that was where she met Boycey. He was an arsehole like the rest of us, but better at football than the rest of us together. I think I saw him a few weeks ago walking the dog. I passed him on the bike. Didn’t recognise him at first, because walking the dog was Debbie’s job, and I’m short-sighted.  

We’ve all got different jobs. Different stories. Different memories to pass on like a baton, because when we talk about the dead, we bring them into the living world. Writer Christian Bobin suggests ‘words left unspoken go off to scream deep inside us.’ Amen.

Christopher Leonard (2019) Kochland: The Secret Histories of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America.

This is my non-fiction book of the year 2022. Ideally, it should be read before or after my film documentary of the year: Big Oil v The World. (A transcript of the third part of the series has been attached in Notes).

When people talk about disinformation or misinformation that’s a polite way of saying you’ve been lied to. Again and again you’ve been lied to. Your children are going to die. Your children’s children are going to die in such vast number there will be nobody left to count the dead. That’s what I believe. But I’ll be dead by then. What do you believe?




Notes: Big Oil v The World: Delay.

Directed and Filmed by Robert Barnwell.

Image: Drilling derrick working in the desert.

Voiceover: What do you do when the product you make threatens the entire planet?

ExonMobbil provides an essential component of modern society. Affordable. Reliable. And abundant energy.

More than 40 years ago, oil industry scientists warned that burning fossil fuels would cause climate change.

They were making eerily accurate predictions about high the C02 concentration in the atmosphere would be. 

Professor Tony Ingraffea:

I certainly didn’t grow up questioning fossil fuels. Or thinking about where energy came from. It was just 1950s, USA, everything was automatic, and

Pictures/dialogue from 1950s. Soon traffic will flow through every major city and capital.

Pictures of housewives looking in a 1950 oven

Fossil fuel was driving what we saw as civilization. And still today, I value what fossil fuels have done for the world

Pictures of 1950s cars on motorways.  Commentary [voiceover] this is the road to prosperity.

I was proud to be working in the oil and gas industry. But we each have to make our own decisions. Decide what to do with our lives. And when you change course, you change course.

Voiceover: 4 decades ago, a young engineer called Tony Ingraffea joined a government task force searching for new sources of oil and gas.

Professor Tony Ingraffea:

It was being driven, partly by this patriotic fervour. We didn’t want to be beholden to the Middle East.

US oil and gas production had just fallen off the end of a cliff. We were going to work very hard to make sure the US always had its own supply of fossil fuels. What’s not to like?

Voice over: The search led them to shale rock.

Professor Tony Ingraffea: Even in this small piece of shale rock [shown breaking rock in two] there is stored methane, which becomes natural gas when it is produced. And if one where to estimate the total amount of methane, thousands of square miles under all these states, it’s many, many trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

But nobody had thought of spending a lot of money getting oil and gas out of shale. Most of people in the industry, the vast majority of people in the industry, said it couldn’t be done.

[pictures of young] Professor Tony Ingraffea:

We did a lot computer modelling and concluded it was certainly possible.

Voiceover. After years of further research, the industry perfected a method of fracturing rock and horizontal drilling. FRACKING.

Professor Tony Ingraffea:

People realised then there was this untapped resource. We’ve unlocked the keys to the kingdom.


[image of city skyline, New York]

Voiceover: once fracking became cost-effective, Wall Street took note.

Russell Gold, Walls Street Journal 2002-2021

Most people in the oil and gas industry. Most reporters like myself, were covering it. Thought oil and gas in the US was over. We’d found all the good reserves. We’d drilled all the big wells. And shale changed all that. It was unexpected. It was dramatic. It was lubricated by billions of dollars coming out of Wall Street.

Cut to:

Image of Wall Street.

Talking head from 2002: American Clean Skies Promotional Video:

 Thanks to record production,  natural gas will continue to be a bargain. At Chesapeake Energy we explore for American natural gas.

[pictures of drillers and caption: North America has a 120 year supply.

Voiceover. The leader for fracking boom was Chesapeake CEO  Aubrey McClendon.

Denise Bode, CEO, America Clean Skies Foundation 2007-8.

Aubrey McClendon was a great visionary. He was one of the best natural speakers I’d ever seen.

Cut to: Picture of White House.

House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, 2008.

Speaker: We welcome you Mr McClendon.

Mr McClendon to House Select Committee: If there’s one message I’d like to communicate today, that America is at the beginning of a great natural gas boom.

Denise Bode, CEO, America Clean Skies Foundation 2007-8.

He believed that natural gas was the fuel of the future.

Mr McClendon Talking head from 2002: American Clean Skies Promotional Video:

Clean electricity. Natural gas is the answer. Just remember, pollution is no bargain. Natural gas is.

Voiceover: at the time most the world’s energy was generated by coal, which was sending greenhouse gas emissions to record levels. Aubrey McClendon argued gas was better for the planet because it released less C02.

Denise Bode, CEO, America Clean Skies Foundation 2007-8.

He said, what do you think, do we need an organisation or an association just focussed on the gas opportunities out there. So he started the clean sky’s foundation.

Video link: promotional: small girl blowing bubbles into the air. Narrator: what if America had its own clean energy? Abundant and available? For the next century or more. Impossibly, indefinitely.  Doing the world of good for our economy. Energy security. And our irreplaceable—planet earth.

It was just doing everything we possibly could to get the message out.

Russell Gold, Walls Street Journal 2002-2021

The fossil fuel industry tries to make this argument, we can be part of the solution. We will go out and drill the natural gas which will help us lower our emissions.

And then Aubrey McClendon starts abetting the most prominent environmentalist, Carl Pope, at the Sierra Club, executive director of the Sierra Club. The giant in the environmental movement.

Voiceover: Aubrey McClendon’s Chesapeake Energy secretly donated $26 million to the Sierra Club. America’s most influential environmental organisation.

Carl Pope, Executive Director Sierra Club 1992-2010

Well we were working with Chesapeake to kill coal. And they were providing us with financial support.

The concept we were trying to convey was eventually  we have to be off all fossil fuels.

[images of smoke from towers]

But we have to get off coal first, oil second, and gas third.

[Pope pictured talking 20 years ago] we have the opportunity to replace a very dirty fossil fuel, coal, with a much cleaner fossil fuel, natural gas, for the next 30-40 years.


The gas industry had gained a valuable friend in the environmental movement. It was an alliance Carl Pope would later come to regret.

Carl Pope, Executive Director Sierra Club 1992-2010

The Natural Gas Industry, excuse me, the Gas Industry, they’ve trained me to call it natural. There’s nothing natural about it. I didn’t understand how strong they were. I thought the big player was oil. Gas was a kind of junior cousin. Gas turns out to have a lot of political strength. Americans had been more fully sold on the myth that gas was green. And I didn’t realise how deeply that sunk into people’s brains and probably mine.


Several other environmental organisations went on to back natural gas expansion.

Aubrey McClendon would die in a car accident in 2016.

But by then, his campaign to sell gas as a climate solution had changed the world.

Russell Gold, Walls Street Journal 2002-2021

It’s sort of amazing that this guy in Oklahoma city helped shift the whole national dialogue about climate and fossil fuels. And just at a time when a lot of scientists were looking at this and saying, we really need to start reaming off fossil fuels and doing so he locks in the US to natural gas for the next generation.

Cut to:

Pictures of refinery from above. Voice: There are massive fracking booms happing in Texas, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania, much of the middle of this country.

It’s led to expansion of towns.

The oil fields feeding a red-hot energy boom.


Tens of thousands of fracked wells were now appearing across America. And the world. The boom attracted the interest of one of the world’s largest oil companies. ExxonMobil.


Cut to Newsreader. EX certainly marks the spot [Exxon] as ExxonMobil announces it’s buying XTO Energy. The $1bn dollar deal…

ExxonMobil here is making a bet on natural gas.


Overnight, ExxonMobil became America’s biggest gas producer.

Dar Lon-Chang was an ExxonMobil engineer, who worked on the company’s fracking operations.

Dr Dar Lon-Chang, Engineer ExxonMobil, 2003-19.

My peers when they were recruiting me knew my concerns about climate change. They told me ExxonMobil was the largest non-state energy company in the world. And even though oil and gas had been its bread and butter, ExxonMobil was going to be part of the energy transition over my career. And I believed them. They talked about gas being a bridge fuel to the future of energy.

Cut to promotional video from ExxonMobil. Speaker (an attractive woman) Claudia Napolitano, Engineer ExxonMobil.

I think that one of the biggest challenges the world is facing today is to develop all the energy we need in an environmentally friendly way.

Dr Dar Lon-Chang, Engineer ExxonMobil, 2003-19.

The fact that natural gas was much cleaner burning than coal, produced half the CO2 emissions of coal. Those are very appealing to me.

Cut to:

Overshot of a man walking in a snowy environment, leaving tracks.


But Chang also knew there was a major problem with gas if it’s allowed to leak.

Overshot turns out to be Chang on a snow hillside. Looking down.

Dr Dar Lon-Chang, Engineer ExxonMobil, 2003-19.

Natural gas is primarily methane. And methane leaked into the atmosphere can have orders of magnitude of more than 80 times that of CO2. But the reason why this is so important is because we only have a couple of decades to avert runaway climate change.


Pictures of Chang knee-deep and walking through snow.

Chang worried that the tens of thousands of new fracking operations across the globe could be leaking massive amounts of methane. Turbo-charging the climate crisis.

Dr Dar Lon-Chang, Engineer ExxonMobil, 2003-19.

It’s commonly known among engineers that all gases leak, and if you don’t take measures to check for leaks, and if you don’t take measures to prevent those leaks, then the assumption is your guilty until proven innocent.

I already felt that having so many unconventional gas wells was a ticking-time bomb for methane gas leaks. The more engineering infrastructure, the more wells and the more pipes, the more potential there is for leakage. When they are marketing natural gas as clean energy they are fixating on when natural gas when burned produces half the CO2 emissions of coal. But without measurement devices to verify that you’re not significantly leaking you can’t be sure your natural gas is actually giving you lower global warming impact than coal. There wasn’t much appetite from management to measure methane leakage, because if they found out there was a problem, they’d have to do something about it.


[Picture of a deserted road with a car on it]

At the time ExxonMobil and others in the industry said they were working to reduce methane emissions. But on the ground, some in the environmental community were documenting widespread leaks.

Sharon Wilson,  Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer, Earthworks.

I am hunting for methane that is escaping from oil and gas facilities, because that’s what I do. I’m a methane hunter.


[picture of the women in the car]

Sharon Wilson worked in an environmental watchdog group investigating methane emissions.

Cut to:

Sharon standing near refinery’s chimneys.

Sharon Wilson

This is an optical-gas camera.  And it makes the invisible methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas facilities visible.

Cut to:

Vision through camera, panning to roofs of refinery and showing in red and blue.  

Sharon Wilson,  Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer, Earthworks.

All of these pieces of equipment have leaks. There’s a lot of methane going off the flare. This is just a really, really, dirty site.

These emissions, what’s coming out of oil and gas sites, the fact that it’s invisible, has helped them to be able to expand. And helped them maintain that narrative of being clean. And, when, that is not the case.

Cut to:

optical-gas camera images of refinery.

The tanks are venting.

Sharon Wilson,  Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer, Earthworks

It started with local concerns, but then when I realised what a powerful actor methane is, I realised it’s a global problem.

Cut to:

optical-gas camera images of refinery. Susan moving her camera.

We need to move where that telephone pole is.

Sharon Wilson,  Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer, Earthworks

It was hard to imagine at first, how much gas is releasing from these sites—from everywhere.

And how many ways they release gas. All the way from the drilling. All the way it ends up in a power plant.


Cut to: picture of Susan holding her camera to her eye.

She kept sending her findings to regulators. And the press.

Sharon Wilson,  Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer, Earthworks

It’s just disbelief that you can show someone video after video, proof after proof after proof. And they still do nothing. I sure can’t compete with the oil and gas industry PR budget that they use to pump propaganda at us.


Wilson gathered evidence from hundreds of sites, including some operated by ExxonMobil. In a statement, ExxonMobil said:

It’s been an industry leader in the effort to reduce methane emissions. And has been used advanced technology to detect leaks.

Sharon Wilson,  Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer, Earthworks

What is happening in the US, particularly in Texas, it’s effecting people all around the globe, because methane is harming every single person, and every animal, and ever thing on this planet.


[picture of Wilson watching a tanker pass her]

As Sharon Wilson was sounding the alarm, a growing number of engineers and scientist were waking up to the dangers of methane leaks.


Including the man who’d helped pioneer the process of fracking.

Professor Tony Ingraffea, Cornell University

I became very much more concerned about climate change when I realised what shale gas and oil was going to unleash. That’s the great word, unleashed. Unleashed a tsunami of oil and gas. Yes…that’s what it did.

That’s when I started thinking contradictory, regret, and pride.

Pride that we’d done good engineering work to help somebody eventually figure out how to do it.

Regret that we’d helped somebody figure out how to do it.


By now Tony Ingraffea was the civil engineering professor at Cornell University.   And has spent years advising oil and gas companies.

In 2011, [13th March]  he and colleagues [Robert W.Howarth, Renee Santoro] published a critical report on the climate impact of fracking.

Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. 

We spent two years doing the research. Published the paper in a prestigious journal. And what Bob Howarth and I locked onto was this very crucial point: It’s not just CO2 that’s driving climate change. It’s also methane.

Professor Bob Howarth, Cornell University

We were the first people to look cumulatively at these emissions from shale gas. And what happens in all these steps. This is what we think methane emissions look like. If the leakage rate of natural gas is around 3% then it’s as bad for the climate as burning coal.

What we were suggesting was from the time you were really started drilling, all the way to final consumer, some percentage 3 to 5% is emitted into the atmosphere.


The report was the first to contradict the narrative that natural gas from fracking was a climate solution.  

Professor Tony Ingraffea, Cornell University

The reaction to the paper was disturbing. I had never been a co-author of a paper that created a political firestorm. And a scientific firestorm.

At first we were pilloried. Then we were ignored. I can understand people saying to me, ‘You’re a traitor—you took their money for 25 years!’  ‘You did their research.’  ‘And now you’re saying, stop!’

Yeh, OK, Yeh.

We had to endure a lot of personal attacks. For no good reason. It hurts. Some of those people were good friends. They don’t talk to me anymore.

My colleague, Bob Howarth, lost research funding.

Professor Bob Howarth, Cornell University

The pushback from industry and from academics that may not have some ties with the industry, although in many cases, they did, was strong.

The basic discussion was methane emissions couldn’t possibly be as high as we said.

Howarth opens his computer.

This is a screenshot of an ad [Google] after we’d run our paper. The American Natural Gas Alliance [ANGA] paid for Google ad that was up there for 22 months before they pulled it down.

‘Howarth: The Credibility Gap.’ ‘Research on methane…discredited by the scientific community.’

Says I’m a fraud.

The fossil fuel industry has a history of doing what they need to protect their interests. And they can be ruthless. That’s a fact.

Cut to:


The Cornell Professors were criticised by other universities including MIT. That year the influential MIT initiative published a study on the future of natural gas. Mainly funded by Aubrey McClendon’s Clean Sky Foundation.

Professor Ernest Moniz, Founding Director, MIT Energy Initiative, 2006-13

The future of natural gas here at MIT, I think we were ahead of the curve talking about the forthcoming shale-gas revolution.

Methane emissions are a very important greenhouse gas that needs to be addressed. It’s just that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are actually a minority of methane emissions. Fortunately, in contrast to carbon dioxide methane has a relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere. That doesn’t mean one should ignore it. It means that one should better limit new emissions.

Cut to:  advertisement. ‘The Future of Natural Gas’

Voiceover:  The Study promoted gas as a bridge fuel to a lower carbon future. It also criticised the Cornell study as ‘unsubstantiated’. Ernest Moniz insisted industry funding did not influence these conclusions.

Professor Ernest Moniz, Founding Director, MIT Energy Initiative, 2006-13

The point is we always believed in transparency. That’s…yeh.


The funding was part of a wider strategy by the fossil fuel industry. By 2012, oil and gas companies were pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into departments at prestigious academic institutions across America.

Dr Geoffrey Supran, History of Science, Harvard University.

The very research centres we assume to be independent,  are being funded by the very industry they are supposed to be critically investigating.

This high-profile MIT report trumpets the alleged benefits of fracking, while downplaying their downside. It has laid the intellectual groundwork for the reliance on methane gas as a bridge fuel. The problem is, these are to a letter the talking points of the fossil fuel industry.

Professor Ernest Moniz, Founding Director, MIT Energy Initiative, 2006-13

Q Would you be able to talk about, generally, who funded the MIT Energy Initiative? Not necessarily that report.

A No. Let’s end there. If you want to paint that as some kind of black spot. Go ahead. Look at the output. Not the input. It’s very disappointing to be perfectly honest.

Cut to. Picture of Professor Ernest Moniz shaking hands with President Obama.


Moniz would become energy secretary in Barrack Obama’s second term, where he helped advocate for the natural gas boom.

Bolstered by the MIT study, the industry narrative of natural gas took hold in Washington.

[picture of the President and First Lady]

It became part of Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address, where he unveiled his new energy policy.

Russell Gold, Walls Street Journal 2002-2021

There’s this great irony of the Obama administration, he comes in promising to be the climate President. He’s going to address these issues. He really positions himself as I’m going after oil and gas. I’m really going to rein them in.

But by 2012, he’s standing up there in the State of the Union talking about natural gases.

State of the Union Address 2012.

President Obama [with Vice President Biden sitting behind him]: We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. [claps, cheers]

And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. [claps, cheers]

Sharon Wilson,  Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer, Earthworks.

When Obama said we’d a 100 years of natural gas, we panicked, because we knew the climate was changing so fast.

Instead of helping the public awareness, and the harm of what was happening, they just glossed over it all. And everyone became super-excited about this cheap, clean, energy that was going to last 100 years. It’s maddening.

President Obama [with Vice President Biden sitting behind him]: We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. [claps, cheers]

America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.

Professor Tony Ingraffea

We didn’t take the alternative path of drastically increasing investment in renewables. It should have happened in the Obama years and we’ve exacerbated the climate change problem for ten years when we could have been diminishing it.

Heather Zichal: Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate, 2009-13. 

Doing something for the first time. Taking advantage of this new resource. You don’t always know what you don’t know.  And over time, what we learned about methane emissions  as it relates to natural gas was very, very scary. I think the Obama administration tried to be conscious of all the implications of the shale revolution.

Did it turn out we had it wrong?

Absolutely. But at the time we didn’t know it was wrong. And it’s not as if we didn’t have the best scientific minds in the country working on that.

Cut to: news report showing helicopters spraying water.

Newsreader: a deadly Californian wildfire could spread

2012 is shaping up to be one of the worst fire seasons on record.

These kinds of events will become more frequent and probably more intense as a result of human-induced global warming.

Russell Gold, Walls Street Journal 2002-2021

By the second term of the Obama administration, his administration was beginning to get more serious about climate. It’s climate versus energy production, he’s starting to lean more on climate.

Cut to:

Climate protestors [young girl] holding placard: My future is in your hands.

Black Pastor shouting: ‘President Obama, do the right thing.’


There had been mounting public pressure to take on the industry.

Russell Gold, Walls Street Journal 2002-2021

There really was a multi-pronged attack on the oil and gas industry. But specifically at the fundamental nature of the oil and gas industry.

You’d been around for a long time, but your products are problematic. And you know they’re problematic. You don’t deserve to continue on in the long term.


Paris. [Eiffel Tower lit up]


Reporter: In Paris this morning a potential landmark deal has been revealed about climate change.


Even as he promoted fracking, Obama began a climate push that led to the Paris Agreement 2015.

[pictures of Obama arriving on AirForce 1]


The first global agreement to limit carbon emissions.


196 countries pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions

[pictures of Obama shaking hands with delegates at Paris Climate Conference]

Obama: I’ve come here personally, as leader of the world’s largest economy, and second largest emitter, to say that the USA recognises our role not only in creating this problem but we embrace our responsibility in being able to do something about it.


The President began to shift course on methane. Introducing new regulations to reduce emissions.

Heather Zichal: Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate, 2009-13. 

Their industry had a very aggressive reaction to the need for regulation. There was a litany of ideas of why it wasn’t a good idea.

Cut to:

Promotional video: derrick pumping in a field

Voice: Jack Gerrard, American Petroleum Institute, President and CEO,  State of American Energy speech: Natural gas is a key opportunity to further improve environment.  Methane emissions are down in the US. Yet they’re pursing a methane regulatory regime. Why do we need to go out and regulate?

Sharon Wilson,  Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer, Earthworks

The industry came out fighting those methane regulations like crazy. They said they didn’t need rules. They could do this voluntarily. 

Cut to:

Sharon setting up with her camera outside a refinery.

They were marketing natural gas as part of the climate solution. So while they were fighting back against these rules, I was just out continually showing how bad they needed some rules. Collecting more and more evidence, out on the ground. Out in the middle of those horrible, horrible emissions. I’ve been giving comments to the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency for 15 or more years.

I went to DC more than once. And testified for the Obama rules. Let them know what I was seeing on the ground. The evidence I was collecting. And the whole time the industry was there, denying this was happening. The industry was saying one thing. And I was presenting this evidence that what they were saying was not true. It was never true.


Obama also proposed and ambitious Clean Power Plan. To reduce the use of fossil fuels and support the use of solar and wind.

Republicans and the oil and gas industry, counterattacked.

Cut to:

News: Scott Pruitt, Conservative Political Alliance Conference.   [CPAC] This clean power plan is all about an anti-fossil-fuel strategy. To shut down coal generation and fossil-fuel generation in the generation of electricity and you should be very concerned about that. Because, what’s it going to be replace with? If it’s renewables, when? The cost of that is going to be insurmountable.

Cut to:

Pictures of windmills and blades turning.

Patrick Woodson, Renewable Energy Entrepreneur.

When we first started people thought we were a little bit nuts. Talking about giant windmills, to be honest.

Voiceover: Patrick Woodson ran one of America’s largest renewable energy firms. For him, Obama’s new plan, spelled opportunity.

Patrick Woodson, Renewable Energy Entrepreneur.

Back when we originally started there wasn’t much technology. We’d look for signs of really high winds. Trees just bent in half.

Cut to.

Patrick Woodson in fields with windmills.

I’ve got a particular fondness for this site, this is where, one of the places where it all began for me. You know, I’d like to leave this planet better off for the next generation. Than it was for ours.

We were going gangbusters, trying to put as many products in the ground as possible. It seemed like the greatest time to be in renewables.


Then you were seeing the folks that were opposing green energy were willing to fight us at all levels.

Cut to:

Texas Public Policy Foundation advert.

Advertisement> The false problem of renewable energy is taking billions of dollars from consumers and tax payers in Texas.

More than $13 billon of your dollars subsidize windfarms.

Patrick Woodson, Renewable Energy Entrepreneur.

There started to arise national opposition to projects.


Pictures of dead raptors, and fallen power lines. ENDANGERED.

Negligibly affecting property values and the environment.

Patrick Woodson, Renewable Energy Entrepreneur.

Groups were banding together who were funded in large part by certain members of the oil and gas community.

All of a sudden you’d see there was a playbook now. They’d generally start with the idea that turbans were too noisy.

That they were eyesores.

Eventually, if they couldn’t get traction with those arguments they’d move on to—dangerous, they caused disease,

Most of them were aimed at derailing local permits. Ultimately they’d try and put road blocks in to how you built them? create distance barriers or noise barriers. Or other things to make it harder to put projects together.

Cut to Obama speech:

When you start to see massive lobbying efforts, that by fossil-fuel interests, or conservative thinktanks, THE KOCH BROTHERS, pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards, or prevent new clean-energy businesses from succeeding—That’s a problem.  

Cut to: Picture of Obama sitting behind his desk in the Whitehouse.

Legal challenges stalled Obama’s Clean Power Plan. And his Presidency ended with his climate agenda in peril.


Pictures of swearing in of the 45th President of the US, DT.


The next President would finish it off.

Cut to, DT speech:

We shall determine the course of America and the world for many, many, years to come.

Cut to:  [Picture of DT at a desk signing an order]

Reporter: audio. Mr Trump who once called global warming a hoax signs a sweeping executive order this week, calling for regulators to rewrite President Obama’s climate-change policy.

Patrick Woodson, Renewable Energy Entrepreneur.

It just kinda makes your blood boil. And you hear these politicians talking about climate change, talking about denying the impacts.

We had to go on the defensive again. Trump’s vocal opposition to renewables and lack of faith in science and technology were big concerns for a number of us.

Cut to. Scott Pruitt, Administrator of EPA speaking on Fox News (Fox and Friends).

There’s been a change of direction. The message that the last 8 years where we had to choose between jobs and the environment. Those days are over. The war on coal ended. The war on fossil fuels ended.

Russell Gold, Walls Street Journal 2002-2021

If you look at the Trump administration, who they brought in: The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil;  Heading up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt, former Attorney General of Oklahoma, who had made a career for himself attacking the EPA, and trying to tie it up, so it couldn’t be a regulator;  heading up the Department of Energy, Rick Parry, a former Governor of Texas. They were all a lot of friends of oil and gas industry that went to Washington DC with the Trump administration.

Cut to Trump speech.

How about these Democrats that want to get rid of oil. [crowd booing]

They want to get rid of natural gas. [crowed booing]

They want to go to wind…Little Darlin, I can’t watch the show tonight, the wind would just stop blowing.

Cut to:

Pictures of flares on oil, alight.

News Report: 

A reversal of tough Obama rules on greenhouse gas emission and fuel economy

News Report.    

A plan that would dramatically weaken rules on coal-fired power plants.

News Report.

New rules to make it easier for oil and gas companies to release methane.

Cut to:

DT speaking at The Economic Club of New York.

We withdrew from the horribly one-sided, economically unfair. Close your businesses down within three years. Don’t frack. Don’t drill. We don’t want any energy. The horrible Paris Climate Accord. That killed American jobs and shielded foreign polluters.

Russell Gold, Walls Street Journal 2002-2021

The Trump administration was very clear what it thought about climate.  It pulled out of the Paris Accord. That sent a clear message, globally, it was not going to act as a leader. 

I mean, those were very good years for the oil and gas industry.

Cut to DT speaking in Congress with Mike Pense and Nancy Pelosi listening to his speech:

The US is now, the number one producer of oil and gas, anywhere in the world.

Senators standing up and applauding.


But at this moment of triumph, the industry faced a new threat. Across America, legal challenges were beginning to emerge about Big Oil’s misinformation [lies].

Maura Healey,  Attorney General for Massachusetts

I recognise that fossil fuels have literally fuelled our economic development in this country. We’re experiencing now this reckoning with that history.

My duty at Attorney General is to enforce the laws, to protect people. My office has been involved in suits against tobacco companies. Suits against the opiate manufacturers. And the story of ExxonMobil is exhibit A for the worst form of corporate greed we’ve seen.

Cut to. Headline in paper. Politics & Policy.  16th December 2015 by Neela Banerjee et al.

Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuel’s Role in Global Warming Decades Ago.

Top executives were warned of possible catastrophe from greenhouse effects, then led efforts to block solutions. 


Healey’s allegations are built on Exxon’s documents, revealing Exxon had warned their bosses over 40 years ago that burning fossil fuels would lead to climate change.

Maura Healey,   the Attorney General for Massachusetts

And the question I have is why? In the face of that information Exonn’s products and then practices were going to be on climate and their own business model, why they made the decision to engage in this decade’s long effort to mislead and deceive the public. Why?

Cut to:

Pictures three plaintiffs with suitcases entering John Adam’s Courthouse.

Lawyer: My name is Justin Henderson. I represent ExxonMobil.

Cut to: Judges sitting behind screen, wearing face masks.


ExxonMobil deny the allegations. It tries to have the case dismissed on the constitutional grounds it has the right to express opinions on climate change.

Judge in reply to Justin Henderson’s opening statement.

‘When I read the complaint, it doesn’t punish your clients for its speech. It alleges, this is only an allegation, right as this point,  that there has been a forty-year fraud.’

Voiceover:  [pictures of a man walking in the snow, leaving tracks]

The revelations what ExxonMobil had known about climate change, shocked some of its employees.

Dr Dar Lon-Chang, Engineer ExxonMobil, 2003-19

I had no idea that in the seventies that there was already ExxonMobil work that the internal scientists were warning management about climate change. And they were making eerily accurate predictions about how high the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere would be. Why were they only coming to light through outside channels?

Why weren’t we hearing about this within the company?

I was very upset seeing that ExxonMobil had put so much money and so much effort into fighting the transition away from fossil fuels.    

Dr Dar Lon-Chang [voiceover] left Exxon Mobil in 2019.

I left because I felt betrayed by having devoted so much of my career to ExxonMobil on the promise that the company would take on the world’s worst energy challenges. And help the transition away from fossil fuels.

ExxonMobil is devoted to the expansion of oil and gas. That was clear when I was leaving the company.

Cut to:

Pictures of train on tracks.

Office of Maura Healey,   the Attorney General for Massachusetts.  Team Meeting. Three other attorneys at the table.

Well, it’s really good to see you and a lot has happened since we filed our case.


The court rejected ExxonMobil’s case. Dismissed it on free-speech grounds. Healey’s team is now gathering evidence and preparing for trial.

Maura Healey

Talk to me now what they’re pumping out in terms of methane?


Exxon are marketing natural gas to consumers and others as a climate solution. Saying it’s cleaner than other fossil fuels. Meanwhile, it is venting gas into the atmosphere, making climate change worse, in a dramatic fashion.

Classic misrepresentation and straight-up deception.

Older Colleague:

It’s greenwashing. They’re making themselves sound green, when they’re anything but.

Maura Healey

Win or lose this case. Our job is to tell this story.

We will see this through. All the way in court. It is so important that Exxon are held accountable for its wrongdoing.

Maura Healey [in her office]

I’m looking forward to us being able to get in the room with current and former ex-employees. And take their testimony and make them answer questions about what they did and what they know.

Maura Healey [talking to her colleagues]

You can’t lie. There’s a difference.


Nobody from ExxonMobil would agree to an interview. The company said the allegations are baseless and without merit. And there is no truth to the suggestion that ExxonMobil ever misled the public or policymakers about climate change.

It recently defeated a similar lawsuit brought in New York.

But the pressure is continuing in the courts. And now in Congress.

Cut to: Congress.

News report: A Hearing on Capitol Hill as the CEO’s of the biggest oil companies, Shell, Exxon, Chevron and BP.

Landmark hearing which puts the spotlight on the role of fossil fuels have played in accelerating climate change.


Apparent knowledge of it.

Gavel battered down. Ms Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman. House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The committee will come to order. This is a historic hearing. For far too long, Big Oil has escaped its responsibility to accountability.


In October 2021, top oil executives were questioned [on Zoom?] still under oath, about the industry’s history in casting doubt of fossil-fuel climate change.

Congressman Ro Khanna, Silicon Valley, California.

We won’t solve the climate crisis unless we solve the misinformation crisis.

Chairman of the subcommittee on the environment, Congressman Ro Khanna, Silicon Valley, California.

We initiated the investigation to find out what the misinformation was. What these companies knew. When they knew it. And it marks the beginning of scrutiny on them. They’ve been able to avoid, duck it. Not have to deal with it. Now they’re realising, they’re not going to get away with this.

Chairman of the subcommittee on the environment, Congressman Ro Khanna, Silicon Valley, California.

Speaking in Congress Committee: What do you have to say to America’s children, born into a burning world?

Find it in yourself today to tell the truth. It will be better for your company’s future. And it will be better for humanity’s future.

My name is Darren Woods and I’m the Chairman and Chief Executive Office of ExxonMobil Corporation.

Reads from transcript:

ExxonMobil provides an essential component of modern society. Affordable. Reliant. And abundant energy.

ExxonMobil has long recognised that climate change is real. And poses serious risks. But there are no easy answers.

ExxonMobil is committed to being part of the solution. Our scientists and engineers are applying their expertise to responsibly meet the world’s need for energy. While working to accelerate the transition to a world with fewer emissions.

Ms Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman. House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Mr Woods, I want to ask about some statement your predecessor Mr (Lee) Reymonds made in 1996 and 1997 about the inconclusive nature of the scientific evidence. Where they consistent with Exxon’s own scientists?

Darren Woods

Yes, Chairwoman, thank you for the question. Our understanding of the science has been aligned with the consensus of the scientific community as far back as 20 years ago. When you referenced our chairman at that time. As science evolved and developed, our understanding has evolved and developed as has our work and position.

Chairman of the subcommittee on the environment, Congressman Ro Khanna, Silicon Valley, California.

In the spirit of giving you the chance to turn the page for the company, I assume you’d acknowledge that Mr Renault’s statement was a mistake. And the company regrets it. Correct?

Darren Woods

Mr Reynauld’s statement was consistent with the science of the time…

Chairman of the subcommittee on the environment, Congressman Ro Khanna, Silicon Valley, California.

…I don’t even want to argue that…I assume now it’s a false statement and the company regrets making it? And would acknowledge that? Right?

Darren Woods

I think the expectation we would look at the time it was said and…

Chairman of the subcommittee on the environment, Congressman Ro Khanna, Silicon Valley, California.

…Forget whether it was consistent or not. Can you just acknowledge it was a mistake? And? You regret that statement was out there? Would you say that?

Darren Woods

I don’t think it’s fair to judge what we learned 25 year ago with what we know now.

Chairman of the subcommittee on the environment, Congressman Ro Khanna, Silicon Valley, California.

I’m disappointed that you’re not willing to to

Cut to: present:

Chairman of the subcommittee on the environment, Congressman Ro Khanna, Silicon Valley, California.

You can’t make changes, going forward, unless you accept responsibility for the past. If you’re unwilling to even say, ‘yes, we were wrong’.  And turned the leaf. If you’re continually going to defend the past, knowing the past was wrong, then you’re continuing to engage in misinformation and you’re continuing to perpetuate a corporate culture that is not coming to grips with the climate crisis. That’s a failure of leadership.

Voiceover: [shows windmills turning on the plains.]

Unlike other oil companies, ExxonMobil is NOT planning to develop solar and wind energy.

Instead, it’s working on ways to capture, rather than emit, CO2.

ExxonMobil Advertisement.  

Carbon capture and storage can remove more than 90% of carbon from these energy intensive sectors.

One of the way ExxonMobil is advancing climate solutions.


ExxonMobil estimates there will be a four trillion dollar market for carbon capture and storage by 2050.

Professor Charles Harvey, Civil and Environmental Engineering, MIT.

It’s not at all surprising that fossil fuel companies would promote ideas and policies that promote the continued use of fossil fuels.

They can sell these fossil fuels.


Charles Harvey is an expert on carbon storage. And was a scientific advisor to a carbon-storage company.

Professor Charles Harvey, Civil and Environmental Engineering, MIT.

I got into this field because I wanted to make a contribution. I realised what we were doing was contributing to a false solution.

Carbon captures works in that you can capture the carbon and you can inject it deep underground. The issues is whether it’s competitive with renewables? Because it would be a silly thing to do if you could build wind farms or solar energy.

And that’s the case now. It makes me angry that the fossil fuel companies are using this for their own ends. It’s a clever, successful mechanism to slow down and derail the kinds of projects we need.

Carbon Capture is not actually the direction to go to actually stop climate change or prevent global warming.

Cut to:

News = Burning fires being bombed by planes dropping water.

Dire warning and stark reality.  

There is really one message that emerges. We are out of time.

Atmospheric methane is skyrocketing.

The international energy agency said the world needs to stop drilling for oil and gas.


The fossil-fuel industry no longer tries to deny the reality of human-cause climate change. But it maintains the world will need oil and gas for years to come.

Charif Souki, Executive Chairman, Tellurian.

No one’s been confronted by the cost. There’s consequences to actions.  


Charif Souki is a natural gas billionaire. And the executive chairman of Tellurian, an American gas company.

When you are confronted by an energy crisis of a climate crisis, you worry about what’s going to happen before the end of the month. Rather than what’s going to happen in 30 or 40 years.

Utility bills will double and triple this winter in Europe because there’ s not sufficient energy.

Do we all agree there’s a climate issue that needs addressed? Absolutely.

Is this the most important thing for people?



Charif Souki’s company, along with ExxonMobil and others, plans to increase exports of natural gas to the world.

Charif Souki, Executive Chairman, Tellurian.

You still need to increase energy by 50% in order to satisfy the aspirations of 90% of the world.

85% of the world’s energy is hydrocarbons. There’s no realistic way you can say we’re going to eliminate hydrocarbons.

The new (green?) mix is about 5%. So before it becomes a significant piece it’s going to take decades. It’s not going to happen overnight.


According to the international energy agency global greenhouse gas emissions from energy rose to their highest ever level in 2021. America remains the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas. And production is increasing.

Sharon Wilson,  Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer, Earthworks

It’s quite disturbing to see all the drilling rigs out here, drilling. New wells. More and more and more holes in the ground. We’re just going the wrong way. These emissions will impact everyone, all the way around the globe, because of what’s happening in Texas. It’s known as a climate bomb.

We can have a future, or we can have oil and gas. We cannot have both.


The latest UN Report on methane issues a stark warning. Methane records in the atmosphere have reached record highs. Boosted by oil and gas production.

Professor Tony Ingraffea

The science that we did has stood the test of time.  Hey, now they’re saying methane, really important. We really need to cut back on methane emissions.

Nods his head. Told you so. Sorry.

Dr Dar Lon-Chang, Engineer ExxonMobil, 2003-19.

The urgency around methane, it’s our biggest knob to get our greenhouse gas impact below the threshold where we’d be in safe space to avert runaway climate change. If we delay reducing our methane emissions to many decades in the future by that time it won’t matter. That time the runaway climate change will be at a point where it’s like an avalanche. And there’s no stopping it.

1979. Cut to: Images of Esso Oil ship.

Voiceover: It’s now more than four decades since oil industry scientists warned that burning fossil fuels could lead to climate catastrophe.

Maura Healey,   the Attorney General for Massachusetts

We’ve lost 40 years in the climate fight. 40 years.  We collectively have not done what we need to do. The drought. The famine. The storms. The fires. The devastation of rising sea levels. So much that could have been prevented.


Cut to: image of Vice President Al Gore coming off a plane.


It’s 25 years since the countries of the world came together to try and solve the problem.

Cut to Vice President Al Gore speaking 1997.

To those who try to obfuscate and obstruct, we say we will not allow you to put narrow special interests above the interests of all mankind.

Patrick Woodson, Renewable Energy Entrepreneur

The clock is ticking. And it’s been ticking for some time. I’m terrified that we’re not doing nearly enough. Fast enough.


The age of fossil fuels is far from over.

Professor Tony Ingraffea

We’ve unleashed the whirlwind. It’s not too late, but we lost the decades and now we’re playing catch-up.

What climate change means to me is looking into the eyes of my grandchildren and wondering what kind of hell they’re going to pay.

Narrator Caroline Catz.

Produced, directed and filmed by Robin Barnwell.

Albert Einstein.

Those who thoughtlessly make use of the miracles of science and technology, without understanding them more than a cow eating plants understands botany, should be ashamed of themselves.

Valerie Perrin (2020 [2018]) Fresh Water for Flowers. Translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle.

Don’t judge the book by the cover. We all do. The cover of Fresh Water for Flowers is iffy. Poor even. But it didn’t stop it being the clichéd: The Number 1 International Bestseller, more than one million copies sold.  Most non-international books (my book included) sell 12 copies, which we’re grateful for without the hype and headlines. But hey, although I bear a life-long grudge, I’m willing do dive right in. In other words, I start reading.

Some books I give one paragraph.  


‘When we miss one person everywhere becomes deserted.

My closest neighbours don’t quake in their boots. They have no worries, don’t bite their nails, don’t believe in chance, make no promises, or noise, don’t have social security, don’t cry, don’t search for their keys, their glasses, the remote control, their children, happiness.’

Books ask questions of the reader. The first paragraph is a conundrum. It goes on for another two paragraphs listing all the thing her neighbours don’t do. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed I’ve given the narrator a gender.


‘What do you expect will become of me if I no longer hear your step, is it your life of mine that’s going. I don’t know.

My name is Violette Toussaint. I was a level-crossing keeper, now I’m a cemetery keeper.’

My reading taste, I like to think, is eclectic. I favour social realism. Twee sounding homilies piss me off. I’d be lucky to finish more than ten pages. Sshh, don’t tell anybody, I finished 476 pages and if there were more, I’d have read more.

Secrets of writing an international number 1 bestseller. The reader must fall in love with the protagonist. He or she must be rooting for him or her.

Violette Toussaint is an orphan. Charles Dickens knows when characters are orphans, they have a slanted view of the world. They do not expect much and are rarely disappointed. We’re rooting for her from page 1. We like orphans to succeed because it confirms our belief that our world, for all its faults, runs true. That gives us an emotional attachment to the protagonist that is child-like, but keeps us turning the pages. We want Violette Toussaint to win and find love despite herself.  

Violette as the keeper of a cemetery is also the keeper of stories of time and place. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables had a cast of memorable characters that speak for themselves. Violette’s story must echo their story too. When the dead speak, even in diary form of first love and true love, they must be entertaining. This can be used as a plot device to bring characters together.    


‘Let them take me or let them take my loved ones since one day all cemeteries will end up as parks.

In 1997, when our level-crossing was automated, my husband and I lost our jobs.’

A protagonist needs an antagonist. Here we have him. Violette’s husband, Phillippe Toussaint. Her first love.  She worked, illegally, in a nightclub behind the bar when she was seventeen in 1985. She poured herself into him. The reader knows it will end badly.  

Women formed a speed bump behand Phillippe Toussaint. They wanted him. He wanted them. His workshy, ‘eternal adolescence’, had been a succession of stories about him taking and not giving. He despises his mother, but knuckles under and takes on her characteristics and condemnation of girls like Violette who have had no upbringing.

He the taker and she the giver, have a child. All books ask questions of readers. Here we have the core. What happened to their daughter, Leonine? Uncover the engine of the story and hear it roar.

‘Death begins when no one can dream of you any longer,’ is an inscription in the cemetery on the grave of a young nurse.

Grief is a love story. Police chief Julien Seul (alone) visits Violette in her new life of opening and closing times. He makes what seems to him a strange request. Life and love gather in the knots of their separate lives. Every story needs a catalyst.

Will he or will she? Does life have second chances?

Stories don’t talk about themes. Characters live them for us. When we turn the page and grow to know them, we get to know our better self. Sweet. Fresh Water for Flowers. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Neal Ascherson (2017) The Death of the Fronsac.

Historians that buy into the great-man theory of history learn how to write fiction. Look no further than the moron’s moron and 45th American President. That kind of stuff writes itself. Neal Ascherson isn’t that kind of historian or that kind of journalist. Wars are won by women and men doing their best while knowing that something bigger than them is happening.

The story begins in Greenock on the banks of the Clyde. Gateway to the Atlantic, during the phony war, where Allied ships gathered in its ports. The hero is Maurycy Szcuki. He’s a Polish officer, but his country no longer exists. Stalin and Hitler have divided it. Taken it as spoils of war in an uneasy alliance, claiming that Poland was a fiction. The parallels with Ukraine are obvious. Local sympathy hardening into suspicion and antagonism, trumpeted from pulpits, wondering when Poles are going to go home, after all they were Catholics—‘that means they can do anything they want’—even though they have no homeland.

Szchuki works as an attaché for the French navy. As well as his native Polish, he speaks French, English and later German. His pre-war uniform, which includes riding boots, is treated with mockery and suspicion by the locals. He’s billeted with another young Scottish naval officer, his wife and child, Jackie and her granny.

Much of the narrative is told from Szcuki’s point of view. But begins with Jackie’s.

‘One day Jackie came home early from school and blew the world up.’

Szcuki explains, ‘That story should belong to her.’ But it doesn’t it belongs to him, Major Mike. He unravels what happened that day when the world blew up and helps identify who was responsible. In many ways it’s the story of Scotland. Read on.   

Ali Millar (2022) The Last Days. A memoir of faith, desire and freedom.

Memoirs are made-up stories based on a subjective version of truth. But if you are a Jehovah Witness the only truth worth knowing comes from the Bible. The literal words of God. Ali Millar’s mum was a Jehovah Witness in the same way I was brought up a Roman Catholic. She was brought up in the truth, but she couldn’t keep up the lie.

Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit coming-of-age drama shone brightly. It illuminated the truth of what it is to be neither one thing, nor another, but to be fully human. Tara Westover’s Educated did for the Mormons what Winterson did for a form of Christianity. I can’t think of  Sikh or Muslim versions of these stories. The Roman Catholic version follows a similar pattern of elderly men gorging themselves on power and money. Women and girls subservient to their male leaders. We’re well-schooled in where that leads. Women’s rights being overturned. Taliban refusing to educate girls. The rejection of Roe v Wade shows the upswing of another right-wing patriarchy under the guise of religious freedom.

The Last Days reminds us that those buried under male ideology real people struggle and suffer. It’s also a reminder that Jehovah Witnesses’ leaders got the date of The Last Days wrong publicly twice. They have their martyrs and not just from the refusal of blood transfusions. Jehovah Witnesses were in Hitler’s Death Camps. They quietly refused to fight and follow.

 Ali Miller didn’t ask to be born into Jehovah Witnesses, in the same way I didn’t ask to be born Catholic. Family and friends indoctrinated us. Crin is an interesting word. A shortened form of crinoline.  Those big gowns women used to wear. A cloth ball gown or force field that set them apart. Crin is also short for endocrine. Feedback loops. Force field that make us who we are. Endocrinology is about emotions. We can’t just shuck off our beliefs especially if they’re ties into a sense of self. Our North Star, all of which we know and love coming from our mum.  

  What that mean for me was Mass on Sunday and some other Holy Days of Obligation and supporting Celtic. We went to a different school from Proddies. We were going to heaven. They were going to get relegated and go to hell. Fuck them.

For Jehovah Witnesses it isn’t that simple. They use the analogy of a burning building. It’s not them or us with a wall running all the way through heaven. They need to try to save us. Even if we don’t want to be saved. Jehovah Witnesses try and save us from ourselves. They need to show their Elders that they tried either by selling the Watchtower magazine, or chapping doors. Even though they shun higher education, choosing jobs were they can devote more time to their real work, they are on the clock for Jehovah. They need to tally up any door they have chapped and how they were received and report back to their Elders. Follow up in potential recruits. Proselytising is part of the package. What they’re selling is certainty in uncertain times.

As a child Ali was scared of the dark but not scared of spiders or creepy crawlies. She had a recurring dream:

‘of war, of Great Tribulations, of clearing the dead from the streets or being one of the dead cleared from the street. I should not be scared of any of these things, but I am scared of them because I don’t have enough faith’.

The structure of her book mirrors her world. Book One: Genesis; Book Two: Exodus; Book Three: Revelations.

The certainty of a child breeds the uncertainty of adolescence. Millar finds certainty in not eating. She wants to disappear. She wants control. She wants to gorge on her newfound sense of self.

Millar matches Janice Galloway in her writing and discovery of boys. Your parents might fuck you up. Boys and later men are happy to help finish the job. She recognises the twisted duplicity of the church and its Elders towards boys’ and girls’ sexuality. She is judged wanting, even after she is married to a fellow Witness and rising star of the Fellowship. The pettiness of wives happy to twist the knife and call her out. Her own judgement of herself is, of course, harshest.

Revelations, of course, uncover feet of clay. The Fellowship is always a test of faith. Ali Millar’s mother can choose to be its church and keep attending meetings at Kingdom Hall. She can choose to visit her daughter and grandchildren. But she cannot do both. Ali Millar is deemed one of the worldly. Outside the Church. Outside of God’s coming Kingdom. Her body will lie on the streets when the great reckoning happens. Her mum chooses the certainty of Kingdom Hall. Ali Millar chooses the uncertainty of real life. That’s one reading of it. What’s yours? Read on.

My Old School, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, Animation Director Rory Lowe, Director Jono McLeod.  


‘The subject of this film does not want to show his face.’

But we’re shown it anyway, in animation, in media coverage of the aftermath of the event. Seventeen-year-old Brandon Lee enrolled in Bearsden Academy in 1993. He wanted to become a doctor. You get a lot of doctors in Bearsden and dentists and their middle-and-upper-middle class ilk. Brandon Lee’s father was apparently a doctor. He’d made the phone call to the headmaster to enrol his son at the school.  His mother an international opera singer.  If you live in Bearsden, on average, you live ten years, or more, longer than those that live in Drumchapel less than a mile away, but it is worlds apart.  There was nothing unusual about a Bearsden pupil studying medicine at University and becoming a doctor.

It was not as if Brandon was working class. It was not as if he had been a pupil at the same school over a decade earlier. But his name then was Brian McKinnon. His mum worked in a care-assistant in a care-home in Bearsden. His dad was a lollipop man. By those measures they were a working-class family. He lived in the district and went to a school whose children were middle-class and expected to become middle-class too. Nothing unusual about Brian McKinnon. He recounted how his IQ scores when he was tested at eight and nine years old were in the top percentile range. He was a genius that got as expected top grades at school. He went to study medicine at The University of Glasgow.

His career in medicine didn’t last beyond the first year, which he repeated. He was asked to leave, consider a career outside medicine. Nobody remembered Brian McKinnon. Everybody remembered Brandon Lee.

Animation brings Brandon and his time at Bearsden Academy back to life. Pupils that knew him at that time pop up seated at school desks. Their cartoon avatars playing out the stories they told. Such as the confusion of Brandon having a car and driving his school friends to Glasgow. But when it looked like they might get stopped by the police, Brandon admitting he might have to say he was somebody else. The confusion of his dad apparently dying. Then his mum. Then his granny, whom he was living with. Brandon was meant to be keeping his head down.

Alan Cummings pops up like his middle-aged classmates to play middle-aged Brandon and discuss how he was ‘hiding in plain sight’.

Much was made of Brandon’s esoteric knowledge of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. In particular, the motivation of the main character Willy Loman and his relationship with his son, Buff. How time ‘bends’ enough for Brandon to be older than some of the teachers at the school. How he wasn’t recognised by others who’d also taught Brian McKinnon. How he was convinced he hypnotised the assistant-head so not only did she not recognise him, but did not ask for a birth certificate, or passport. She did not ask for certification of who he said he was. The answer may be much simpler. She was busy. We see what we want. More importantly what we expect to see. Even a crap magician plays on that.

Brandon ‘hiding in plain sight’, for example, had the starring role in the school’s annual play, South Pacific. He warbled rather than sung, but most teachers and pupils remember him as having carried the production. But at the end he had to kiss his co-star. The consensus among former pupils and teachers was that Brandon refused to kiss her at rehearsals, but said he’d do it on the opening night. It would be no more than a peck on the lips.

The girl Brandon apparently refused to kiss remembered it the same way. The production team got a video of the play and played it back to them and us. But the middle-aged woman, who was the girl—and love interest in the play—didn’t remember being kissed like that. She had to take a few minutes to decide there was something creepy about it. A middle-aged man had kissed the girl she was.

Brian McKinnon still it seems lives in Bearsden, in his mum’s house. Thirty years ago,   she was playing a role as his granny. Bearsden Academy is gone, replaced by housing. Former classmates of Brandon/Brian and their former teachers think there’s something sad about him. They suspect he’s still applying for places, perhaps abroad, where he can study medicine. Evidence for this comes from having possibly seen him in Bearsden library, which has computers.

I think someone with an apparently genius IQ would see through that pretty quick. He’s in his sixties. Anyone with a phone has a computer. Nobody knew what Willy Loman was selling. What they’re selling here is closure that appeals to the middle-classes. It was an entertaining story in which nobody really got hurt apart from the protagonists. I feel sorry for the Brandon’s of this world.  

‘Above all do no harm’ is a maxim in medicine. Who did he harm?

Ye Olde Christmas Story

I never knew what to get Jesus for His birthday. He was good at batting away stupid questions like that. He’d been on a bit of a downer. I didn’t blame him. I usually got Christmas jumpers and socks. He got good enough intentions. Enough rosary beads to choke the planet. Portraits of the Holy Father. Whichever daft Pope was sheltering paedophile priests in the Vatican, smiling and holding a hand up in Benediction. Sometimes, looking frailish, not speccy, leaning on a staff, for a bit of variety. Sagging shelves full of plaster-cast people he grew up with and their dour looking relatives. Discoloured and their heads falling off. His Mother always smartly dressed in blue, dainty feet stamping down on the neck of a snake. He knew the snake too. They were kind of pals, but always scrapping.  Whatever present you got for Jesus, He already had it and you couldn’t surprise Him, unless you were a child like my wee brother, Bod.

Our first house was a single-end in Dalmuir. I guess we’d be called poor because there were lots of us. We were waiting for Santa, but got Jesus instead. Mum must have been praying again with the Holy Water and all that flung about us and splashed on the walls. I wasn’t very happy. I wanted a Chopper bike that wasn’t secondhand. One I wouldn’t have to share with my wee brother, a wheel each and shots each, and no fighting. He wanted a scooter. Jesus said, He brought Peace to the World. Fat chance.

He didn’t even bring chocolate or miserly Spangles. Said he was hungry. My sister, Jo, nudged me. This was when Jesus would do the good stuff. Water into wine. Da would like that. Because his job was to get drunk and not have a job. He’d taken all the money as usual and wasn’t in. Loaves into fishes or something like that, but I’d have preferred a hot dog. We could never afford them at the La Scala, ABCminors, or even sweeties, which we called swedgers, but maybe Jesus could.

Bod, my wee brother, said to Jesus, ‘How come yer hair is so dark—ur yeh a Paki?’

Jesus laughed and took him onto his knee. He had to be careful. Bod was a bit scabby and stinky, because that’s what wee brothers were in those days. It might have got Jesus’ seamless white tunic dirty. Bod tugged at his hair and beard. ‘Dae yeh use coal, or jist eat it?’

Bod was loving the attention, lapping it up. There was a hole in the couch, but it wasn’t called that. It was called something else, I can’t remember. It was covered over with a checked dishtowel that sometimes came into play for wiping snottery noses, cleaning dishes, or wiping the three-legged table behind the couch. Jesus might have escaped from the fires after harrowing Hell, or the tomb where Him and Mary Magdalene stood chatting while the world ended, but He wouldn’t have easily have escaped from the hole that wasn’t a hole.  

Mum brought Jesus a plate of soup. It was watery, mostly turnip with potato. She wasn’t a miracle worker. Bod was making the kinds of faces that declared he wasn’t for moving.  That made Jo leap forward and grab his arm. Mum skelped Bod on the back on the head. That got him girning.

She apologised to Jesus about the mess. Searched her pinny pockets and lit up a fag. ‘Sorry,’ she said to Jesus, her even posher voice going up a scale and upmarket, perhaps even as far as Bearsden. ‘You want a smoke?’ Held up her crumpled packet of five Regal in one hand like a playing card she’d just found and not hoarded. Extended her arm and other hand and other hand towards him, waving the lit cigarette end, smoke curling.   

Jesus shook his head. He’d a smile as wide as the hole in his side.

My mum pursed her lips. Her chin went down and back up again. She gave Jo the nod. ‘Get the salt. There’s no enough salt in it.’ Panic even in her poshest voice.

‘The soups fine,’ said Jesus. He lapped up another spoonful to prove his point.

Mum tugged at the right-hand side of her cardigan over her lactating breasts. Daft pictures of Himself with His heart shunted right-handed, off centre had pride of place on the wall. Bleeding all over the place in gory spumes of purple. His picture didn’t even look like Him. They should have sent them back to the Vatican and asked for their money back. But Mum would never do that.

Sev, my eldest brother, was nearer Jo’s age. He was sitting in Da’s seat beside the unlit fire. Turning the pages of an Oor Wullie annual, we’d read about a million times and trying to look unimpressed. ‘Did it hurt?’ he squinted at Jesus.

‘Don’t be askin such daft questions,’ Mum blurted out in her normal voice, glaring at him. ‘It’s nane o’ yer business.’

The annual fell into the side of the seat as he let the folded pages fall off his lap. ‘Yeh know, like gettin crucified an that?’

Jesus finished his soup, smacking his lips. We waited to say what He was going to say. ‘No bad.’

He got up to go. Before he went he picked Bod up and kissed his forehead. But my brother squealed. Tried to kick Him and wiped His lip marks away. ‘Fuck aff, yah darkie,’ he cried.

We laughed as if we’d never heard a swear word.

‘Yeh no gonnae float up through the ceiling?’ Jo clutched at her sides, because she thought she was so funny. Expecting us to join in.

‘In a while crocodile,’ said Jesus. But he just walked out the door in his funny sandals, clutching his sore side. He was laughing too. Maybe it was funny. Maybe it was sore.  

I opened my mouth and closed it. Wanted to ask Jesus about the bike, but it no longer seemed to bother me that much.

Being a positive type of person. No snow. Cold and wet. Typical December day. Dark in Clydebank for 3pm. My Mum died on Christmas day, years ago. It was hard to explain. We knew she was going to die, but thought she’d live forever as all mums do. I went up to the Crematorium . I’d planted ‘Winter Sun,’ mahonias, around her grave. Gold, myrrh and incense were alright for Kings, but I was on Universal Credit. Old enough to know it certainly wasn’t Universal. Any credit you had was given with one hand and taken away with the other. We thought then the world was getting better. What did Jesus know?

I told Jesus I was agnostic about heaven, but I wasn’t going there if my Da was there.

Jesus said I wasn’t to worry too much about that.

Mark Burrows (2022) Coo


On page 5 of the foreword, author Mark Burrows tells the reader, ‘the following is a work of fiction’, and whatever Kafka was thinking, people don’t turn into pigeons, but Tories are still cunts. Realism begins with truth. He might not have used those exact words. I might be factional with his realities.

Anger at the fuck-you world we’re forced to live in. Shit trickles down doctrines of Tory policy makers, you couldn’t make up. ‘Alone in a universe that doesn’t give a fuck’ about Milton Friedman. And if you’ve read The Celestine Prophecies (emmmm I probably have) you’re probably up your own arse and voted for Boris fucking Johnson and think comedians like Alan Partridge are comedians. You can go and fuck yourself as well.

I know the narrator, but I can’t remember his name. It’s on the page. But I’m off the page. I’m very angry too. I really should be paying attention. I read this book in one go. I’d read the larger manuscript on ABCtales at around 70 000 words. This is the slimmed down version. Around 17 000 words. Most editors ask you to knock around 10% off the word total and bring it back, so they can laugh and poke fun at you—payment in advance.

Feel superior as Nikki, the HRD, who is ‘very excited…We’ve been talking for ages about how we can differentiate ourselves in a crowded marketplace. How we can create the wow factor? What can we do that is embracing diversity, inclusion as well as being willing to think outside the box.’

Box ticking. The non-Keynesian answer:  payment in bird food. And it’s not even Captain Birdseye.

Mark Burrows has dropped much of the exposition. Let the characters speak for themselves. Staccato stabs of reality.  It’s happening now. Present tense. People really are transitioning into frozen slobs. They are being scapebirded. Your Tory scum something-needs-to-be-done brigade are getting very angry.

The narrator wonders if there is such a thing as working-class solidarity. We lost the class war, but also the propaganda war, we didn’t know we were righting. Nothing left but nihilism, self-hatred, chicken shit and and scrapping among ourselves.  We’re looking at The Final Solution and extra time. Leaders that will sort it. Get it done. But we begin with box ticking and back patting. All sounds familiar. This is not A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, because even then chirpy, chirpy, cheap, cheap things were getting better.

Listen and hear the truth. It won’t set you free, but you might reconsider what we consider normal in twenty-first-century Britain. 

‘What if? What fucking if? It’d be a relief to finally have something with half-decent sick-pay, holidays, a pension. What is a pension? Dole money for older people. Very cosy. Not that I’m going to grow old. Girlfriends have told me that already. Dead by thirty-five’.

Read on, Trainspotting for fellow birdies. A Coo world. Winging it. There must be a better fucking life.